21: Look What the Cat Dragged Home

21: Look What the Cat Dragged Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Look What the Cat Dragged Home

We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.

~Harrison Ford

I had been settled in my new home for only a few days when a loud voice brought me to my living room window. Concealed by lace curtains, I peered out at my new neighbor, my only neighbor. He stood in his driveway talking to himself, a cleaning rag clutched in one hand. When he gave the hood of his car a vicious swipe, my heart jumped. Even though I couldn’t make out his words, his tone was clear. And even from across the road I could see paw prints on his car. Paw prints from my cat.

“See what you did, Duncan?” I murmured. Duncan jumped up on the back of the sofa, nestled comfortably beside me, and peeked out the window. A scratch behind his ears started him purring. Duncan was a shelter cat. When I moved from the city to a small house in a rural New England town to give myself a fresh start, I decided to give one to an adult cat as well. We would both be able to breathe out here.

I still remember the day I found Duncan. Out of a long row of cages at the animal shelter, as I passed by, he had stuck out his black and white paw and touched my arm. Being an older cat, he had been up for adoption for a long time. It hurt my heart to see him in that tiny space. “Let me see this one,” I said, smiling at the attendant. Duncan snuggled in my arms. He was warm and sweet and he gave me head bumps and little cold nose kisses. He sure knew how to work me. Maybe he could tell how lonely I was. My fiancé and I had split up six months earlier and there had been no one since. I wasn’t ready. It was impossible to put Duncan back in that cage now that we’d met, so he went home with me.

At the new house I felt confident it was safe to let him out. He had been cooped up for so long I couldn’t bear to keep him inside. The property was situated at the end of a long dead-end street with only two houses nestled next to six acres of woods. Duncan roamed around the fragrant pine forest in obvious delight, sunning himself anywhere he pleased — stretched out on warm rocks, sprawled on the wooden deck, or sometimes all nice and tidy, arms folded under him, on a car hood. He never killed anything or brought anything home. I often found him snoozing on my neighbor’s back porch. Thinking he just didn’t know where he lived yet, I’d go fetch him, only to find him back over there the next day.

Although I hadn’t officially met my new neighbor, a clerk at the market told me that he was a police officer, a detective by the name of Ken. It felt good to have a man like that nearby. And this particular man was sure easy to look at. The clerk also informed me with a wink that Ken had been asking about me, which made me panic a little. I didn’t know what to do with that information.

That day when Ken stopped muttering and wiping at his car and finally drove off to work, I breathed a little sigh of relief and turned to face my day. Still in light summer pajamas, with a fresh cup of coffee, I wandered into my new den and turned on the computer. As it booted up, a woodpecker worked on the large maple tree that shaded the house. Working from home as a legal transcriptionist was heaven and my day went by quickly. When the afternoon breeze turned soft, Duncan and I enjoyed a little nap in the hammock.

There was a good view from my office window and around sunset I could see Ken’s car as it made its way down our shared dirt road. He parked and exited, hesitated a moment, looked down at the ground, then over at my house. He banged a fist gently on his car roof as though he had made up his mind about something, slammed the car door, and started to walk across the lawn.

Well, here comes the conflict, I thought. I quickly combed my hands through my hair, patted down a spot in back that always sticks up, planted a smile on my face and opened the door as Ken was about to knock. He quickly jammed that fist in his pocket and offered the other in a handshake. “Hi, I’m Ken Stone.” He jerked his thumb behind him. “I live over there. I wanted to come over and talk to you. I have a little problem.”

“Oh?” I tried to look innocent and immediately wondered if a cop could tell I wasn’t. His voice was pretty friendly for a guy who had a problem.

Ken rubbed his chin with the back of his fingers. “All right, here’s the thing,” he said. “I have two huge steaks I’ve been wanting to put on the grill, but I hate to eat alone.”

That was not what I had been expecting. Duncan chose that moment to come to the door and wind around my legs.

“Hey, little fella, how are you?” Ken said.

“You like cats?”

“Always had a cat growing up. I’d have one now but my job keeps me out of the house too much. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“He’s a shelter cat. I just got him a few weeks ago.”

Ken crouched down to pet Duncan and the cat responded like they were old friends. “Those are the best kind.”

I couldn’t play dumb any longer. “Look, I know he left paw prints on your car, I’m sorry about that.”

Ken gave me a dismissive wave. “No problem.”

“I saw you this morning and you didn’t look too happy.”

“You were spying on me?” When he stood back up I realized how tall he was. He broke into a grin that brought out two perfect dimples. For a moment I almost forgot what we were talking about. Oh, yes, the paw prints. “No, not spying. I heard a voice and I looked out.”

Ken turned his body slightly and tapped his ear. Nearly hidden under his dark hair was an earpiece. “I was talking to my partner.” He shook his head and raised his eyes heavenward. “Our case is not going well. We lost a key witness this morning.”

“But you were cleaning your car and —”

Ken cut me off. “Just bird droppings. Your cat is fine. In fact, bring him over for dinner. You will come, won’t you?”

I felt a grin forming on my face. It had been a long time since I had been in the company of a nice man. Duncan was sitting between the two of us staring up at me.

You did this, didn’t you? I thought.

“Sure, we’ll be over,” I told Ken.

Duncan and I had saved each other.

~Jody Lebel

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