The cat sits on the windowsill looking into the warm kitchen, the family moving back and forth with the puttings away of dinnertime. "Bridgett, come look at this," the man says, which elicits a demanding meow from the cat that he can hear through the single pane window.
The woman walks in, her eyes following her husband's pointing finger. She sees the cat. Not another feral cat, she thinks.
Her mind races. She has contacts with cat rescue folks, she knows people who do trap-neuter-release. If she could trap this cat, she could at least keep down the population. The cat watches as she moves through the kitchen to the back door. The cat jumps down from the windowsill to greet her.
This is no feral cat, she changes her mind. "Go ahead and get him a bowl of food," she says to one of the children who have started to gather in the kitchen. "I'll call Elizabeth."
The cat focuses on the food, a kibble mix of random shapes that the family keeps in a metal tin for the feral cat, Wooly Bear, who lives under their front porch in the wintertime. 100% sass, demanding, completely feral, hisses at everyone. But this new cat wants to be part of the household. This tiny slick black cat, skinny, hungry, wolfs down food, purring and lifting his head to meet the hand of the little girl who has come to see.
Elizabeth runs a cat rescue organization, mostly for cats on their tenth lives (out of nine, you see). "If you want to foster, we'll add him to the family, but I don't have room for him," is the answer. She comes over to see if he's got a microchip. He doesn't. He manages to pee on her face when she lifts him up to check gender.
The family puts him on the front porch with the bowl of food and goes inside to see what should be done. They can't take in a cat. They have three cats. They have a daughter with a cat allergy, and cats have to be tested against her allergies before being brought into the household. One of their cats is brand new.
"We can't bring in another kitten, one that isn't fixed, one that's going to spray. Who knows if he's sick with something that will infect our other cats? Hickory is so old. We can't do that." These are the words of reason from the man standing in the kitchen.
"I'll call around to shelters tomorrow," the woman concludes. She goes back out to the porch but the kitten is gone, and a big feral cat she doesn't know is eating the rest of the food. Ridiculous.
The next afternoon, the cat comes back. Sits on the kitchen windowsill again. The little girl, Daisy's her name, sees him and tells her mother. This time she's ready, and locks him in the downstairs bathroom. Gets the cat carrier. Calls Elizabeth for ideas.
No shelter has room. No room at any inn.
Outside, this affectionate kitten will surely die or turn into a feral cat with a short bitter lifespan. Maybe it won't be a cold winter but maybe it will. There is one shelter, not a no-kill shelter, but they accept all cats. At least he won't die in the cold.
She scoops him into a carrier. "Can I come with?" Daisy asks. Surprising herself and Daisy, the woman says yes. She speeds to the shelter before it closes.
It's a girl, not a boy, the intake worker lets them know. The woman sighs. She writes them a donation check. She feels bad. "What should we name her for our file?" the intake worker asks.
"Hickory," says Daisy. The name of their 16 year old black female cat sitting in front of the heat vent at home. The woman, noticing that Daisy isn't reacting to the cat dander AT ALL, almost scoops the cat up and runs out the door. But she remains detached. Sensible.
Daisy and her mother leave. The cat has 5 days to wait to see if an owner comes. Then they will spay her and put her on the adoption list. She's friendly and cute and young. Her chances are better than most.
In the car, Daisy says what the woman is thinking. "We should go back and get her and foster her for Elizabeth."
The woman calls her husband to report on what's going on. "Are we going to go back in 5 days and bring her back home?" he says. They've all lost their minds.
It's all so ridiculous. Why am I letting this cat wedge herself into my life like this? It is DECEMBER. Christmas is 21 days away. I have so much to do. Two girl scout camping trips. Crazy Christmas plans. Church decorating. There is so much on my plate. Why did she come to my windowsill?
Emails of confession and explanation follow. Elizabeth knows the folks at the shelter. She will drop them an email and explain. Pull the cat for the woman to foster for her organization. They figure out which one she was. They put her on the list for pick up on the 10th.
She won't belong to them. She will belong to the rescue, but live in the house with the kids and the warm kitchen. She will snuggle with tubby Jack and fight with Percy and give Hickory a wide berth. She will get a new name, not a hand-me-down moniker assigned to a homeless nameless cat. She will wait for a new permanent place. But in the meantime, she will overwinter with people who make mistakes and blunder and apologize and act like fools. Hard-headed, but not hard-hearted.