Miss Nickel Catmium, who has appeared here from time to time, has even more of a story than most cats. I keep promising to tell it.
What happened was, as I was heading into the gym one cold icy January morning, a little grey streak detached itself from the long, sharp winter shadows in the car park and squirted off into the jumbled scrub behind the HVAC plant. The gym is the only non-Asian business in a middle-sized village of Vietnamese and Cambodian shops, supermarkets and restaurants, whose management has had to shave the shrubbery repeatedly to thwart rat harborage, so if I were a cat I would hang out there for the pickings.
After a few more sightings I was watching the cat shoot past the front windows one day when Lowry, one of the older trainers, materialized behind me. Lowry’s hair is grey-brown, his voice gravelly; he has thighs for arms and a slight bay window, convex but solid, like the top of a hand packed quart of ice cream.
“Look at that poor little guy freezing out there,” he said. “I wish we could get him in.”
“Me too, but I can’t get close,” I said.
“I always see him when I’m opening up at five.”
“If I bring food and a dish, will you feed him when you see him?”
“Sure, I’ll keep it in the office…” Lowry looked over his shoulder at the day manager, who was obliviously on the phone.
“I’ll put a carrier in the car if you can catch him.”
I sat on the recumbent bike and thought about names. The cat looked like it maybe weighed all of five pounds, which is a nickel in gym terms (as in, “Put a couple more nickels on the bar and see if I can break my PR”), and was about the color of a nickel coin against that day’s snow, at least from a distance. When a cat practically names itself you are in trouble and have to swim with the current. Nonetheless, I really didn’t think Lowry was going to have much luck.
We were both there once at the same time as the cat was, and dished up a whole can of human grade meat onto a picnic plate left over from my past political shenanigans (it was the deep forest green used on the campaign posters and concealed well in the shrubbery). Tabby stripes showed up on the tail as Mr. or Ms. Cat tiptoed cautiously down and gobbled every crumb, but stayed resolutely out of our reach.
Around the middle of March, on a crisp sunny day, I pulled into the lot to find the cat bounding and prancing back and forth in front of the picture window, a little like one of those young folk so hungry for employment that they’ll take a job twirling and brandishing a business sign on the sidewalk, possibly in costume. I dropped my bag and hied back to the office. “Cat food? Plate?” I said.
“Is he out front again?” said Lowry. “Let’s get him.”
“I don’t think we have his confidence yet…” I said while the cat inhaled half a can of food. I stepped out, the cat retreated, I put out more food. Gulp, prance, up on the hood of the nearest pickup truck, down again to the pavement. Lowry lunged. The cat zinged across the parking lot. I scrambled to the back of the Sledmobile and got out the carrier, a shallow suitcase-like affair with a hinged lid. I still didn’t think anything was going to happen. The cat darted back toward the dish and then, as it saw Lowry hovering, under a large SUV with off-road clearance. Lowry hit the dirt like a Marine staying below covering fire, scrambled under the SUV until only his legs were showing, then slowly began to back out; first his head and shoulders, then his stevedore’s arms, and finally the dumbfounded and, for the moment, paralyzed cat came into view, rump first. I swung up the carrier lid, he crammed the cat in, I shut it, and said “Aack! Now what?!”
“You got a cat,” he said.
There is a special place in Heaven for a man who will dive under a vehicle, bare-armed, to grab a cat he knows nothing about, even by the rear end. Lowry is kind of private and doesn’t usually talk or even meet your eyes much, but at that moment, he could have asked me to marry him.
I gather the day manager never did notice any of this. Some people see so little, as the saying goes, they could referee wrestling.
I started to drive direct to the vet, then caught my breath and turned home. The spare bedroom had already done service as something of a cat triage area. There was already a litter box in there and a water dish. I could close two doors between it and the rest of the feline household.
I set the carrier on the bed and opened it. The cat shot under the bed and stayed there all night. In the morning, this is what I found I had.
to be continued…