We love cats, but we haven't had one in years. We live on a road with heavy traffic where the speeders top 90mph at times. Worse, the drivers are mean. They run off the road to hit animals that walk along the edges. I've seen drivers get stuck in ditches while trying to run over a squirrel. They'll even drive off the road to run over an animal's corpse. We keep our dogs and children in a fenced-in yard and turn down offers of free kittens.
Occasionally a feral cat lays claim to the backyard. It gives the dogs something to bark at and exercises the field mice who visit our garden. They seldom last more than a few days before the road gets them.
The latest cat is different. She's a larger than average calico, and she's bold enough not to bolt at the first sight of us. She's brave enough to stalk the fat mouse who eats out of the the dogs' food bowl, and she's smart enough to stay out of the road.
We were surprised to hear a cat in our backyard late one night. The calico was an experienced huntress and this yowl had a "cat up a tree" quality to it. We turned on the lights and went outside. The yowls became more plaintive. We walked over to our tallest tree, and the yowler started sounding like a kitten.
Suddenly there was a rustle of leaves and the yowls came from another direction. For a while we played chase with our mysterious visitor. We would move to one side of the tree and it would move to the other. Then a grey flash took off across the yard, and we got our first look at the cat.
It was a tiny grey kitten, barely old enough to be weaned. As it headed for the bushes at the back of our yard the girls squealed, "A totoro! It looks like a totoro!" It did resemble the scene from _My Neighbor Totoro_ where Mai chases the two little totoros through the underbrush.
We herded the girls back inside, explaining to them that if the calico was the grey kitten's mother, then maybe she would return for it once we were gone. We didn't tell them that she might have abandoned it with us. If that was the case, it looked like we had a cat. But for how long? Everyone we knew who could keep a cat already had one. It would be impossible to keep a cat locked up in our house. We keep the doors open in mild weather, and the children keep the doors open most of the time. Maybe the calico taught her kitten how to stay out of the road. Maybe the lesson sunk in. Maybe.
The kitten followed us back crying, but whenever we opened a door he took off. We hoped he would be gone by morning.
He wasn't. My husband found the kitten sleeping on top of the engine block the next morning on his way to take Brighteyes to a morning art class. He plucked up the kitten, Brighteyes squealed, the kitten sprang away and had to be chased out from under the car.
I sat a bowl of milk on the front steps where Sunshine could watch the kitten from the window. He drank it greedily and put up with her shouting, "It's a kitty!" over and over again. We played with it for a while, opening the door to make it run away and closing the door to make it come back. It was a bold and bossy little cat as long as the door was closed.
The next morning my husband plucked the kitten off the engine block again and gave it to me to hold. The kitten was male. He didn't try to scratch or claw. He put up with being held and petted by Sunshine while Brighteyes reluctantly went off to her class. When he began to look scared I put him back outside with some meat scraps. He stalked the kitchen door the rest of the day, especially after my husband brought home a bag of kitten food.
That night was the Summer Solstice. I was afraid the bonfire would scare the kitten away, especially since my husband's idea of a "proper" firestarter is the quarter-million BTU propane torch with the six foot flame. But after it was all over we heard the kitten crying back at the kitchen door as usual.
The next morning we thought we heard the kitten but we didn't see him. He wasn't on the engine block or under the car. I was a little worried, but thought he might be sleeping off some ham fat we gave him the day before.
The day wore on. There was no sign of the kitten. The food and water out front for him went untouched. Our girls asked about the kitten. We told them maybe his Mommy had come back for him.
The next day came. There was still no sign of the kitten. We began to smell something new though. Around the kitchen door was the unmistakable stench of a fresh corpse. We looked all around, but we couldn't find the body. We didn't see any animals other than our dogs in the backyard. Even the mice couldn't be found.
The days went by, and we saw no sign of the kitten at all. My husband and I came to believe him dead. The bag of kitten food was set back for the dogs.
The Fourth of July came just over two weeks after we had first heard a cat up a tree. My husband stepped outside right after dark to prepare for fireworks and called us all to come, quick! We saw the calico crouching under our car. She launched herself into the night towards her home. A grey flash took off behind her.
It looked just like a totoro.