I opened the back door of the Coffee Shop and caught the eye of the short-order cook at the grill.
“Is it OK if I take this kitten?”
The cook laughed. “Are you kidding? That screech was getting on my nerves.”
So, Booger came home with me. She only stopped giving her heartfelt lamentation when I pried her off my jacket and forced her mouth into a saucer of milk. I think she underwent a kind of “instant weaning,” but she figured it out. Then, she slept in my pocket the rest of the day, emitting a loud, rumbling purr ... a sound that, like her cry of distress, seemed abnormally loud for such a small creature.
There was a major problem with Booger’s becoming a part of my household – Jack, my Jack Russell. However, I thought I had a solution.
Booger would be a barn cat. I would create a perfect environment in my old abandoned barn, complete with food, an old tattered blanket and an endless supply of mice. But when I deposited Booger in her new home, she was immediately unhappy, emitting a yodel of misery that followed me back to the house. I told myself that she would adjust, and I would come each day with Friskies and love.
It didn’t work, of course. When I returned the following day, Booger was gone. I searched through the saw briars and broom sage around the barn, leaving food and milk in the old feed-room. After three days, I gave up, hoping that she had found her way to a neighbor’s house where she was now warm and content. I found (heard) her a week later in the old garden, covered with beggar lice and terrified. It took me several hours to clean her up, tugging each sticky burr from her fur while she continued to give that anguished cry. Although she endured the “cleansing,” she obviously considered the ordeal a personal attack. I don’t think she ever forgave me for that.
Eventually, we worked out a living arrangement. Booger lived in the attic and since Jack was afraid of steps, she was beyond his reach. Although she left each day, vanishing into the dense woods above my old farmhouse, she returned each night, exploding through Jack’s “doggie door” entrance in the bathroom and racing to the top of the stairs where she sat giving Jack and I a baleful stare. Obviously, we were not to be trusted. She only visited her food dish after we were in the bed. We lived like that for 10 years.
Two years ago, I decided to give up my old farmhouse. The roof was leaking and I had passed several uncomfortable winters there due to the absence of insulation and dependable heat. I was fortunate enough to qualify for an apartment in a community complex that catered to the poor and elderly. Jack went with me, (although he had to pay rent, too) and we suddenly found ourselves basking in well-heated rooms complete with a dishwasher and a garbage disposal. However, Booger remained in the old farmhouse. There was no place in my new community for a maladjusted kitty.
As fall turned to winter, I worried about “the woolly booger” that lived in the attic. Although I had cut off the heat and the electricity, I went by each day and left food in Booger’s dish. Within a month, the house was filled with cobwebs, mold and mildew. When the first snow came, Booger abandoned the attic and moved to the front porch. In time, I came to realize that she had established a vigil and was waiting for me. I hadn’t heard that banshee wail in several years, but now it returned. Each day, as I trudged through the snow and mud, Booger greeted me with loud recriminations. She had been abandoned again.
I guess guilt did me in. More and more, I had misgivings about Booger’s fate and as I listened to that anguished wail each day, it came to be a mix of both despair and accusation. “Where have you been?” she seemed to say. As the house became increasingly bleak and inhospitable, the cold, empty rooms filled with dust devils and little “tumbleweeds” composed of Booger’s fur; I made a decision.
I turned the electricity on and hooked up a heating pad for Booger to sleep on. I discovered that if I stayed a while, my old cat became less fretful. I brought books to read, and a radio that picked up an FM station in Asheville. One night, I dozed off in my chair and woke to find Booger in my lap, her mournful meow reduced to a vibrating purr, like an idling engine or a car.
And so I came home. Despite the protests and advice of my friends, I talked them into loading my battered belongings and making the trek back to Rhodes Cove. Several old acquaintances helped me clean the house, remove the mildew and fire up the wood stove. Jack was obviously pleased, and we are now gradually “rediscovering” the pleasures of familiar things – the little stream in the front yard, the rain crows on the ridge above the house and the merits of solitude. It is time to put chickens back in the empty lot and plant tomatoes in the garden.
Did I come home because of my old cat, Booger? Well, that would make me some kind of fool, wouldn’t it? But it is gratifying to see Jack and Booger asleep in the same chair, their noses buried in each other’s fur. Each night, Jack burrows beneath the quilts on my bed and Booger sleeps on my pillow where she can keep watch on the silent fields and the night sky through the window. After all of those years of glaring at us from the attic steps, she has finally managed to “insinuate” herself into our lives.
Sometimes, I think it is the other way around – that Jack and I have finally managed to sneak into Booger’s world. When I stay up late reading and listening to music, I sometimes see Booger in the dark kitchen where she lays on her back purring. She is a chubby cat now after so many years of painful thinness. She rocks slowly back and forth, shifting from left to right in a kind of an ecstasy of contentment. Then, she will explode, vaulting to her feet and racing away up to the attic, down and out of the house, leaving the “doggie door” clattering, and then back to the kitchen where she sits and washes a foot, her huge, green eyes watching me.
It took a while to realize that Booger is ... playing. And more than that, she is celebrating. Finally, everything is where it should be.