One warm day in the summer of 2005, I was headed upstairs with a basket of laundry when I heard a yowl through the landing window. I peeked out at the strip of trees and shrubs that separated our house from the neighbor’s to see what the fuss was. I only saw greenery and the driveway. Later that day, I heard the yowl again. That evening, again. It soon became a habit that in the evenings and early mornings we heard the yowling outside. It was no doubt a cat, but it wasn’t our cat, a medium-haired calico named Madeleine, nor was it any neighbor cat we knew of. None of the neighbor cats made noise. But this one did and did so insistently.
My husband Ethan and I went about our lives as usual: working weekdays, fixing up the house, walking the dogs, cycling, gardening. And it was one bright afternoon in June when I was weeding my parking strip, the square of land between the city sidewalk and street, that a gray cat sauntered through. He was a mix of Russian Blue and Calico with light stripes. He paused, blinked at me, and yowled quietly. He waited for a response. When I didn’t offer one, he leisurely walked on.
The next Saturday, as Ethan and I left the house to go bike riding, we noticed the gray stray sitting on a rock in the parking strip near where I’d weeded. This time he had a note taped to his collar. It read: “To whoever’s cat this is, will you please put a collar on him because it’s worrying a neighbor and her cat.” What a weird idea, we thought. Why put a collar on the cat only to ask that a collar be put on the cat? I guess the person who’d written that note had assumed this little cat would return to his owners with the message on his neck. Instead, the paper simply got in the way of his mouth.
A few days later, as I was setting out the garbage can at the street, I noticed the gray cat lounging in the shade of a front yard shrub. When he saw me, he whapped his tail. He had the prettiest yellow eyes. I couldn’t help but bend down and pet him. As soon as my hand touched his head, he arched his back and met my fingers. He let me rub his neck and when I stopped, he circled around and rubbed my wrist for more. Suddenly I was on the phone with my husband. “He’s such an affectionate little stray,” I said. “So sweet. Doesn’t bite or scratch at all. He’s very mellow.”
“Oh no,” my husband said, a lightness in his voice. “Did you name him already? If you named him, it’s all over.”
“Yes,” I said joking, “I named him Alexander.” This was a reference to a TV show we’d recently watched where an odd woman names her paper maché doll, “Alexander.”
He laughed. “We can’t have another cat,” he said.
“But we can’t lock him out. I’m not doing what I did to Maddie.”
In an earlier time, before we adopted her, Madeleine had come to our front porch, wanting to come inside. I’d closed the door. Now I vowed to never do that again.
“Let’s wait awhile,” my husband said. “If he’s that nice, then he’s probably someone’s cat.”
The next evening, Ethan and I went to dinner. As we came down the porch steps, we noticed the gray stray sitting on the horizontal beam of our front yard fence. He was perched with his feet together like a cat statue, his face, blank. As we passed through the gate, he didn’t scat. He didn’t yowl, he didn’t saunter around, he didn’t come for affection. He just sat there in silence. “Go home,” I said, and waved a hand. He blinked at the wind I created but didn’t move.
At about 8:30 when we came home, the sun was setting. The light of day was that orangey weak light where shadows grow and odd slices of objects are illuminated. The gray cat was sitting in the same spot on the fence rail, the silly note still attached to his neck. He hadn’t moved in an hour and a half. “He has nowhere to go,” I said. “Why don’t we let him in and I’ll take him to a shelter tomorrow.”
“No, I don’t want to do that,” Ethan said.
“Just for the night,” I said.
“No, we’re not going half-way. We’re not putting a note on him and letting him be someone else’s problem. We either take him and make him our cat or we don’t.”
I smiled a defeated smile. “Then I guess we have a second cat.”
In the weeks that followed, I kept an eye out for signs on posts and on bulletin boards for a missing gray cat. There were none. No neighbors knew the gray cat. No one had asked around about him. But there was a large apartment building a block away from our house and renters often moved in and out. We concluded someone must have left the gray cat behind.
That someone left behind the mellowest, friendliest cat I’d ever met. He lounged wherever we put him: on the couch, on a table, on the floor. He loved snuggles. He got along with our dogs, nestling his head against my dog Arrow’s legs. Maddie was horrified by the new interloper but she eventually got over it. During the day, our gray cat liked to go outside and roam but he always came when I called out the Russian Blue version of his name: “Aleksy!”
In 2005, our vet estimated Aleksy was six-years-old, which now makes him at least 18. He’s been with us through so much: the passing of our two dogs, my husband’s cancer and recovery, our three children, our two new dogs, changes in jobs, and a move to a house with a more spacious yard where he could hunt birds and explore nearby woods. He’s an old boy who stays inside now but he’s as spirited as ever.
I’ve often wondered why he chose our family to live with. Maybe he knew my husband and I were a harmonious pair, maybe he sensed our house had good energy, maybe he heard us talking compassionately to the other pets. Whatever the reason, Aleksy chose us. He’s like that. Very decisive. He’ll always let you know what he wants, whether it’s to play with a crinkle ball or curl up in my daughter’s arms. Most often, he does this in the early morning, as the darkness gives way to light. He sits on the stairs and lets out a yowl, not to find a new family but to be given breakfast. The sound of that goofy call makes me glad every day he’s in our lives.
About the author
Karen Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle, Washington area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and Master Pruner. When not digging in the dirt, she writes. She has an MFA from Goddard College and has been published in in Rooted: An Anthology of Arboreal Nonfiction, Women Writers, Women’s Books, Minerva Rising, Specs, Hip Mama, Opium, Garden Rant, and others. Her piece about motherhood is on the Mothers Always Write website. She’s married to a very patient husband and has three kids, two dogs, and two cats. If you liked what you read, please sign up for her newsletter at www.karenhugg.com.
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