He is a gray-black tabby with no remarkable features to set him apart from any other tabbies. He is plump, squat and somehow makes me think of a tank. His eyes are lackluster. He does not appear mangy. He looks clean. He is a stray cat.  

I spot him at the foot of the steps to my back porch this late summer afternoon. My hands hold two heavy sacks of groceries which I nearly drop at the unexpected sight of him. In fact, it takes me a moment to even register that this furry, whining thing is a cat. 

I carefully step around him (for whatever reason I assume he is a male) and cautiously place my bags down on the porch. I watch him while simultaneously inserting my keys into the lock afraid he might try to get in, but he does not move from his position at the foot of the stairs.

Once inside the kitchen, I see him through the backdoor window. He whines incessantly but still does not move from his spot. I feel, then, it is safe enough for me to open the door and retrieve my groceries not that I am really afraid. 

I go about my business putting items away while glancing out every minute or so to see if he is still there. I find that is really not necessary, though, because I can clearly hear his incessant and irritating whine through the walls of my home. 

Food. He wants food. Obviously. Immediately tuna fish comes to mind and just as fast as that thought comes, I think, “Do I really want to give this random cat my fancy, prime-fillet, imported tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil that costs me $5.59 a can?” 

Yes, I eat quality tuna fish and yes I pay a quality price for it. I am worth it.

I am going to tell you about myself right now. I am a 34-year-old single, above average attractive woman with light copper colored hair and green eyes that have often been described as striking. I live on a lovely desirable, tree-lined street in a small home that is the perfect definition of quaint. A home I own 100%, though, that was not the case less than six months ago. 

Five months, two weeks and one day ago, I co-owned the house with my fiancé, Heath. I don’t have to say the words “to make a long story short” because the story is short. Our engagement blew up spectacularly. As devastating as it was and still is (for my heart is permanently decimated never to be restored again), I did get to keep the house. Heath gave me his half.  I consider that more than fair since we had been together for over three years with me truly and blissfully feeling that he was my soul mate, my one true love. It was pretty ugly when I went to visit his office that day and found him kissing his assistant Heather with his hands up her blouse. 

Anyway, the cat. I am not an animal lover by any means. The closest I ever came to a pet was with my childhood friend Naomi’s cat. She had this orange-stripy thing she called Tiger Lily. Naomi was obsessed with the thing while it bored me to no end. I especially found it annoying when she talked on and on about all the adorable little things Tiger Lily would do. I didn’t care. She didn’t notice that I was never really listening. 

I decide now that I am going to call this annoying cat, Tiger Billy, not that I expect or plan for him to be around for long. I think “Tiger” because it reminds me of Naomi and “Billy” because well he just doesn’t remind me of a “Lily” but I like that it rhymes with “Lily.” Why I am even giving him a name?

Whenever I am feeling annoyed or inconvenienced I tend to take a deep breath – an extended huff of some sort. It’s not a conscious thing but a kind of automatic reaction I developed over the years. This is what happens when I open the can of tuna and spoon half of it onto a dish. I step out onto the porch. Before I go down the steps to place the dish next to him, I stand on the porch and look right into Tiger Billy’s eyes. I speak over his whining, “Look, Tiger Billy” I say firmly, “I am bringing down a dish of very, expensive, delicious tuna that you certainly will not appreciate.  Eat it, go away and don’t come back!”

It’s like Tiger Billy is dumb and doesn’t hear me. He keeps up with the whining as I go back inside. Dumb cat. It takes him a few minutes to realize there is food available for him and then he starts vacuuming it up. 

Finally, his whining has stopped and when I look out the window he is no longer situated at the bottom of the stairs but is instead settled comfortably on top of my wicker table top part of a porch ensemble I purchased from a high-end outdoor furniture store when Heath left. At least, he chose to settle on the tabletop and not the custom-made chair cushions. 

Enough! I think Tiger Billy has wasted enough of my time. I close the curtains, but I am not sure why. I guess I don’t want to see the cat and I don’t want him to see me for whatever reason. 

I pull out some grilled chicken and lettuce from the fridge and begin to assemble a salad. I am contemplating on whether I should indulge in the higher calorie blue cheese dressing or the lower calorie balsamic when my cell phone starts vibrating on the kitchen table. I see Annie’s name pop up on the screen.  

Annie is a close friend, but we haven’t spoken in a few months which is understandable because she recently became a mother for the first time. I am curious as to why she is calling. 

When I pick up, we go through the usual pleasantries. I am happy to hear her baby is doing well and I comment on how cute she is even though she is neither cute nor ugly. She is a newborn baby like every other newborn baby who has tiny, undetermined features. 

Then Annie gets to the reason she is calling. She tells me that Heath has become engaged to Heather and she didn’t want me to hear it through the grape vine. I tell her that I appreciate her letting me know and then I cut the call short. I know Annie understands. 

Oh, how cute I think. Heath and Heather! Heather and Heath! Engaged. So sickly, sweet. It is like someone poured a cup sugar down my throat. 

I shove the salad ingredients back into the fridge and decide I am going to consume a bottle of wine for dinner. It is not chilled. It is a bottle that is sitting in a cabinet with a bunch of other unopened bottles that I have received over the years as a gift for one occasion or another. I rarely drink but tonight I will finish the entire bottle and go to bed in tears. Heath and Heather? How could he? 

As expected, I am hungover the next morning. My head is throbbing painfully as I call the office to inform them that I am taking a personal day. I am not worried about it in the least. It is now July and this is only the second day I have taken off since the start of the year. I suppose I am saving my days for some over-the-top vacation but the truth is I love my marketing job and I am working diligently towards a promotion. I also hate to take off for fear that I might miss something. 

I drag myself to the kitchen and before I even get a chance to fetch what I had planned – ginger ale and Tylenol – I hear the whining. Oh, the cat. How could I forget about Tiger Billy? I pull back the curtains and am slightly taken aback to see he is sitting upright on the table and staring at me. The minute we make real eye contact, his whining escalates. I am not in the mood to hear whining when I am sick from wine, so I reluctantly grab the other half of the tuna fish from the fridge, put it on another dish and go outside to place it on the tabletop. I shut the door and close the curtains in a slightly violent way and resume my original goal of nursing my hangover. 

After about two minutes the whining starts again. Tiger Billy whines and whines and whines. There is no hesitation. No breaths in between. I can’t stand it. I want to wallow right now. I want to be depressed about Heath and Heather’s engagement. I deserve that don’t I? But this cat is a disruption to my desire to be deeply sad. I need to do something. 

I go outside to shoo him away. I stomp my feet (which is a bit ineffective due to my soft slippers) and demand he run off. Instead, he stops whining and starts nudging and circling around my lower legs. Then he goes down the stairs, stares up at me and starts whining again. When I move closer to the steps to chase him away again, he walks off a few feet until he is at my neighbor’s fence. 

I turn around thinking he is leaving, but he is right back on the porch and at my legs again, circling and nudging. Then he goes down the steps again, looks up at me and whines again. I become fierce now. I stomp harder and yell louder for him to go away. This time he walks further away, under the fence and I follow him into the neighbor’s yard until he jogs off lightly. I think he has given up. Finally. But the minute I turn around to head back towards home he is at my feet again. He is more than comfortable swirling around my legs. 

This is it. I bend down to give him a little pinch but he is too quick for me. He simply runs between a row of bushes into the next neighbor’s yard. Done, I think as I turn back again to walk home. After a couple of steps, though, he is at my legs again. This time he purrs as if he is content. The nerve. 

This must end here. I lunge towards Tiger Billy as if to chase him and I do chase him right into the next yard. What if the neighbors are seeing me right now? What if they see me later on some camera footage? Great, I think. Outside footage of the gal who had to rescind her “Save the Date” cards because she caught her fiancé fooling around with his assistant. I will have you know I invited my immediate neighbor and my neighbor’s immediate neighbor. They will clearly be concerned that I am losing it. My next thought is at least I am wearing a high-quality silk pajama set with luxurious slippers. 

As I stand near a swing set, I am hoping that if I am seen, it is easy for an onlooker to realize that I am simply involved in an odd situation with an odd cat with an odd name. Predictably that is when Tiger Billy begins his little dance around me again. Besides the added purring, he is now gently rubbing his nose into the fluffy top of my slippers. 

I am fuming. I think I may feel a fiery steam seeping out of the top of my head. Maybe if I run after him for a longer period of time, he will run for a longer period of time and I will lose him. I am in shape. I can run so I go for it. 

I stop in the middle of neighbor number four’s yard. I stand there for a long second realizing Tiger Billy is not around. At that realization, he is back at my feet. Of course he is. 

This house has been vacant for awhile and I think it is vacant right now as it feels that way in the quiet of this morning. I heard it had been sold to a divorced accountant who works in the city. 

Tiger Billy doesn’t stop doing his thing. I decide I am going to give up. If Tiger Billy follows me home, so be it. I will call Animal Control. 

Just as I turn around the back door of the house opens and a man comes bounding out carrying a load of cardboard boxes stacked inside each other. My presence startles him and the boxes escape his arms and scatter to the ground. 

“I’m sorry!” he says surprised by my presence. Then he sees Tiger Billy and his face lights up. 

He walks towards me looking relieved, “You found him!” he exclaims. “You found Turbo!”

Tiger Billy goes to him and the man picks him up and begins petting him, “I am so glad you are back Turbo. God, I was a so worried. What were you thinking to run off like that?”

I watch this joyous reunion go on until the man snaps out of it, remembers there is a woman in pajamas in his yard and says, “Excuse me. Don’t go. Stay there. Let me just put Turbo away.”

It's not like I could easily move anyway. This guy is amazing looking, and I am caught in a trance. I place him in his late 30’s or early 40’s. He has a full head of beige-blond hair and the warmest brown eyes I have ever seen. He is tall and fit. I could barely take my eyes off his arms as he petted Tiger Billy. They were so solid and muscular and so kind as if arms could be kind. 

Soon he comes out of his house and is walking towards me. When he reaches me, he extends his hand, “I’m James,” he says with a firm handshake, “I just moved here from Westerly. I can’t thank you enough for returning Turbo to me. He’s been with me since I found him as a stray kitten.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” It comes out in a stutter, and I feel so awkward I might collapse. I manage to say, “I’m Emilie and welcome to the neighborhood.” It sounds flat and unenthusiastic. 

"Nice to meet you, Emilie!” he says and his smile makes me want to dissolve into the lawn. 

James goes on to say, “Turbo escaped from his carrier yesterday and I thought he was gone for good,” he adds and then asks, “How did you find him anyway?” 

“Well,” I answer truthfully, “He showed up at my door and he kind of led me here.”

“Interesting,” he said. He looks at me more closely. I don’t even want to know what he is thinking.

He asks, “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee? I am not settled in yet, but we can sit on moving crates and you could tell me how you found Turbo.”   

I mean to say yes but instead I say, “I am in my pajamas.” To my own hears it sounds like a robotic statement. 

“So?” he says. 

“So, okay.” I say as I follow him inside.

It is six months later when my phone rings. It’s Annie calling. I have barely said hello when I hear her exceptionally cheery voice.  She informs me that she has received my wedding invitation and that she wouldn’t miss the wedding for the world. “I am so happy for you and James,” she says but then asks, “But who the hell is Turbo Tiger Billy?”

March 02, 2023 17:46

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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