“Get out! You lazy bitch!” The man yelled and the cat shot out dodging a whisky bottle that smashed at the doorway.
The old dun-colored cat refuged behind the dustbins across the street, watchful of her master reeling through the hallway until he slammed the door. Her deep scars whispered to her that this was the last time and the door will remain shut forever. The mulish cat refused to accept it and lingered for weeks in the outskirts of the property, hoping that her meows could soften the heart of her master and grant her a loaf of breath or a place next to the heater.
Her scars were right.
The cat wandered in the city in search for a new home, winter was coming and her bones were too old to endure the cold but gaining the sympathy of humans it was no easy task for her, the years had robbed her silken fur, her slim figure and tender eyes. From that beautiful kitten that drawn the sighs of everybody at the pet shop only a fat cat of chipped ears and disheveled fur remained. The abuse made her forgot lovely manners and now she was a surly cat full of resentment. Soon she realized that in order to survive she had to find a way through her own means.
One evening she arrived to a cul-de-sac that seemed like the perfect place. At the end was a huge laundry that worked night shifts for cleaning hotel’s linen and the hot steam coming out of the boiler could provide the heat needed to resist the frost and the dumps of the Chinese restaurant at the corner were the right place to hunt for aliment. When she was ready to camp, was visited by the biggest bevy of rats she had ever seen. Her first impulse was to attack them but even she was ten times bigger than a rat, she was outnumbered. On second thought she chose diplomacy.
“Good evening,” she said swinging her tail.
“Evening Ma’am,” answered a black rat with white blotches and long whiskers that emerged from the herd standing in his back feet. “May I ask you what brings you to our humble abode?”
“I’m looking for a place to shield from the winter.” Answered the cat puzzled by the gentleness of the rat.
The rat crunched and the herd argued in a language that the cat couldn’t understand.
“I’m afraid you can’t stay,” the speaker rat came out again and the rats surrounded her.
“Wait!” said the cornered cat. “This is just temporary and don’t have intention to harm you. Further, I can help you to drive off other cats that come here.”
The rat went back to the herd and discussions held place again. “You can stay,” said the mottled rat. “You have to keep a promise to avoid harm any of my sons and you can stay until winter ends. You may eat from the garbage can all the tofu, potatoes and the soy, some of my sons are allergic to the tofu.” The rat pointed out. “But you must stay away from the dumplings, the duck, pork and the ramen.”
The division made by the rat seemed unfair but with no options at winter’s eve, the cat accepted the truce, even knowing rat’s reputation, an enemy of her enemy—humans—was her friend, she thought.
For the upcoming weeks the two managed to coexist peacefully. They shared the food as planned, the cat repudiated Tofu, but once again, it was better than nothing and the boiler provided enough heat for her and the two-hundred-members family.
Winter’s days passed slowly in the mouse-world comprised by the small cul-de-sac. She felt lonely and homesick, but being a cat has advantages, all nights she lied on the roofs beholding the dense cloudy sky and her narrowed pupils opened up making her able to see the moon and the stars through the clouds and from time to time a shooting star that reminded her of the days of summer.
One day, the owners of the Chinese restaurant packed up and took a cab to the airport to spend the holydays in China. The restaurant remained closed and as the days elapsed, the cans emptied. No more duck, nor pork chops or dumplings, the only thing that remained was the tofu and suddenly the hunger overpowered rat’s allergy and the quarrels started.
By the third day of shortage the truce was broken. They still shared the territory and the calefaction, but the cat had look for her food in other place.
The cat wandered for the entire neighborhood in pursuit of nourishment until she found an apartment building three blocks away with a dumpster rich enough to worth the daily travel through the snowy streets. She kept secret the location of her stash, but rats are jealous beings, constantly stealing the aliment from each other, and their looks toward the fat cat were not as polite as the first time. With no sign of the reopening of the restaurant the cat knew that her time was running out and soon she would became just a fat steak for the conspiring rats, but leaving at that point was equally hazardous than staying.
The following night, the cat undertook her habitual voyage for food through the desolated streets, but this time during a snowfall. It was too risky, but the cat was clever, she knew that rats will not follow her, they hate cold and the snow will delete any footprints before the next morning, keeping her secret safe.
The street was peaceful until a sobbing woman broke the silence. She left the apartment building and jumped in a car. The woman abandoned the place in a hurry without looking back, leaving only the tires’ trail that lost behind the white curtain of snow.
The cat had come so far in this weather to go back empty-handed. She hurried to the dumpster but a bawl coming out of if frightened her. The wary cat climbed the side wall to have a look from above, and she became startled of her finding, a newborn human left over the garbage. He was naked and shaking in cold, just barely wrapped with a flannel.
This was a familiar image for the old cat, she witnessed the arrival of each baby of her past owner. Babies are fragile creatures that in the inclement weather will perish in minutes. Perhaps was the best, thought the cat, to die before they grow and bring so much pain like the one was inflicted to her. It was rancor speaking, but she was determined to listen to her scars this time. It was better to leave with an empty stomach, she decided.
The cat landed in the dumpster and gave a last look to the baby before departing. Perhaps was the nostalgia of old memories, but she stayed beholding more than planned. The baby ceased crying, finding some comfort with the presence of the cat, forgetting about the cold and waving his little chubby hands towards the cat like trying to reach for his mother. The cat turned away but before she could accomplish ten steps the baby bawled again.
The crying bristled the fur in her back and remembered the feeling when her kittens were pulled apart from her, too young to defend themselves from the hardship of life. That night a baby was abandoned and in this mad world, she was the closest thing to a mother and the only mean of survival.
The cat climbed back and thought in the only possible way to keep the newborn warm. She sat on him, strewing her fat body—that loathed so much—in order to transfer her warmth. The baby relaxed, but the cat knew it was vital to find help, because she couldn’t shield the snow for the entire night, both will be frozen by daybreak, but she couldn’t leave in search of help neither.
She meowed hoping that someone could come into her aid. She did it for so long that her fur ended covered in white and her tips were numb. The helpless cat witnessed the darkness eating up the whiteness of the snow at the street. The black blotch was formed by the bevy of rats that were devouring everything in their way. Diplomacy and manners were just a romantic mirage that hid the true nature of those animals fueled by instincts that were a day apart of becoming cannibals.
Her preservation instinct kicked in with thoughts about abandon the baby and climbing back to the wall, at this pace both will be dead anyway, but something inside her made her stay.
The wave of drooling rats advanced over her, eating everything in the dumpster. She fought ferociously throwing blows without giving up an inch, but the horde finally engulfed her. The rats’ muzzles bitten her, their claws ripped her skin and their teeth plucked her fur. After satisfying their hunger, the rats flew in the same way as they came, but this time leaving behind the white snow tinted in red.
The cat confirmed that the baby was unharmed and plummeted waiting for the cold to finish the job. Her last breath of hope abandoned her and she turned to the sky to witness the halved moon for last time and released a meow.
A puzzled girl peeked in the dumpster drawn by the meow. “Oh!” The girl exclaimed when saw the wounded cat that revealed the baby lying beneath her. “Oh my God,” her hand flew to her mouth and quickly took her jacket off to wrap the newborn.
The girl took the baby inside forgetting about the wounded cat that hardly climbed the wall to see through the window that the little one was safe and in good hands. The snow raised an inch and an ambulance arrived to the place. The paramedics rushed inside and took the baby with them. The cat followed them until the ambulance and the back doors shut behind them.
The cat meowed to the little one in goodbye and exhausted collapsed on the bed of snow.
The doors of the ambulance swung open and a paramedic descended to pick up the moribund cat and placed it in the stretcher beside the baby, who expressed comfort of a kind when saw the feline.
After all, in this cruel world they only had each other, thought the paramedic.
M. Ch. Landa