I pulled my neighbor’s red door shut behind me and grinned. This was the easiest money I’d ever made. Feed the dog twice a day for a week and don’t let the cats out. This, I could do. It was my first afternoon as an official babysitter of beloved pets and I thought the world, the pets, and myself were sittin’ pretty. You know, starving artists have to take whatever employment they can, but this wasn’t half bad. So thought innocent me the whole way to the grocery store and back. The sun had set in a splendor of gold and I was whistling as I stepped up to my front door.
I stopped. There was a cat in my neighbor’s driveway. A black and white cat. Now, you need to know that my neighbor had vividly described her beloved, black and white pet cat Buster. You also need to know that I had never seen said cat (or it’s tabby sister) as both had decided I was a terror not to be faced for all the coaxing in the world. I had taken the job without a glimpse of my charges. I stared at this cat. Surely it wasn’t Buster. I’d locked the doors, I knew I had. But why else would there be a black and white cat plopped in the middle of that particular driveway? Our street doesn’t have outdoor cats. We have foxes, bears, coyotes, raccoons, and deer in our yards. I stared at the cat with rising panic. My neighbor’s words of warning flooded my brain: whatever you do, don’t let the cats out. They’re declawed, impossible to catch, and won’t last long outside. Instantly, I knew two irrefutable facts: if that sleek little menace escaped me it would be eaten by coyotes and it would be all my fault. Not only would my neighbor dislike me and refuse to pay me, I would become known as the cat-killer of Woodmoor estates.
I dropped my groceries. I ran. So did the cat.
It leapt the back fence as I barged in the front door, stumbling through the kitchen and out to the deck just in time to see it settle on a porch chair. The game of cat and girl began. I stepped out, ready for battle. I moved an inch: it moved. I stepped forward, it stepped back. Kirby, the golden retriever, ran back and forth between us in a frenzy of friendliness. Neither cat nor I noticed; we were locked in a game of cool strategy. I bent down, “here kitty, kitty,” I murmured. One paw forward, one back. A flick of tail. I got it to the door stop. Put a finger out. I grabbed for the scruff of its neck. “MeOW,” it screeched as I whisked my hand from its jaws. (Can’t you just hear the conversation at the doctor’s office? “So why are you getting a rabies shot?” – “Oh, I was trying to drag a strange cat into my neighbor’s house.”) It leapt back, escape in its eyes and I panicked. I didn’t think, I lunged. I grabbed that silky, squirming thing, tumbled into the house and dropped it on the floor.
And then it hit me. What if this wasn’t Buster? I sighed and lunged again, past fearing rabies, dumped the cat in a tiny bathroom and slammed the door. He shrieked in outrage. I plugged my ears and ran for the kitchen. The only way to prove this wasn’t the beloved Buster was to find the real one. And his sister. All in a three story house that was entirely dark. I searched the basement first, fumbling for light switches through a maze of bedrooms and storage closets. That spider-up-my-spine chill of being in dark, deep, lonesome places came flooding back, a ghost from childhood, and it was with the wide-eyed terror of a five-year old that I sprinted back to the main floor. Panting, I stood, straightened my shoulders and tried to consider myself an adult.
Up to the next floor. Aha. A dark flash round a bedroom door. I dashed in. Not a whisker in sight. I searched the whole room until the underside of the bed remained. I knelt, sneezing at the cat hairs (yes, I’m allergic) and carefully lifted the bed skirt, expecting every second to have my eyes clawed out by a terrified feline. In the farthest, darkest corner, in a space the size of a bread box, I spotted a pair of green eyes in the underbed gloom. Couldn’t for the life of me see the color of its fur though. At that second, in pranced the tabby. Nose in the air, stiletto-like paws. She looked pure disdain at me down her well-polished pink nose. I glared. Ya coulda shown up a few minutes earlier Miss Tabs. Okay. That made three cats. Which meant the caterwauling demon downstairs was a strange, probably wild cat that I had dragged into my neighbor’s peaceful home. Lovely.
Oh, and then? After pitching (gently) the instigator of my troubles out the back door (he would just have to fend for himself with the coyotes) I trudged wearily to feed the dog in the garage. Kirby has the eyes of the golden retriever in the movie Up. I made very sure to shut the house door behind me so the darn cats wouldn’t have a half chance of escaping. Now, wouldn’t you assume that if a key fit every other lock in the house it would fit the one in the garage? Me too. It didn’t. I scoped my predicament. No cell phone. (Of course. I never, my family chides, have my phone in potentially dire situations.) Assuming I could get the garage door opener to work, there was no telling if I could keep that rambunctious giant of a dog from sprinting. I was already ten minutes late for church. No time to dash through the neighborhood. I made my decision. I crawled out the dog run.
All I’ve gotta say is I’ve earned every penny my neighbor pays.
And I’m never going to own a cat.