By: Kathleen Gallow
Through the cold winter, we would catch a glimpse of him occasionally, slinking through the backyard, his tail low, always glancing behind him furtively, ready to leap or streak off at the slightest sound.
He was a black cat, gaunt, heavily matted untended coat, with yellow eyes that looked out at the world without love.
We would remark to each other idly, “There goes ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ again.” A name we had begun to call him and which seemed to describe his strange and almost menacing appearance.
The neighbor had caught him once in a little baited snare in order to examine him since he had noticed a gaping wound in his side—no doubt a souvenir of an encounter with a dog. It was found that the wound was healing well and the man released the cat. "He’s wild," he said. "I’m sure he has no one. He must live off the land."
Our youngest son John began calling to the cat when he would make his weekly or monthly trip through our lawn. He would stop and stare, then go unheedingly on his way to nowhere. Then John thought to lure him with food and water, and gradually the cat came to accept us and would trust us enough to sleep in the garage at night on an old fleece-lined jacket spread out on the floor—but only if it was near the slightly-opened garage door; he had had enough encounters with the realities of life to know that a cat-bum doesn’t allow himself the luxury of curling up in a nice cozy corner that is out of the wind—and not suitable for quick getaways.
But he stayed. He wouldn’t come in the house, wouldn’t allow us to get near him, but he stayed. Sleeping at night in the garage, disappearing during the day. Coming for his food and water. We began then to call him ‘Blackie,’ a much more respectable name for an almost-friend.
With the warm weather, his trust increased. Now we could coax him over and he submitted, at first hesitatingly, then eagerly to have his ears scratched. Gradually, his trust grew and one day he was not just ‘our cat,’ we were ‘his family.’
“We’ve got to have the vet examine him,” my husband said. “If we are going to take him in this winter, he’s got to be looked over.” The trip to the animal hospital seemed to be accepted with the resignation of having endured much; the shots were accepted, with dignity. “He’s a surprisingly sturdy cat,” the vet told us. “Must be about five years old.” No, his patchy fur was not mange, as we had suspected. “Just has never been combed out and the fur balls up and pulls itself out,” the doctor said. We made an appointment then and there for a grooming job for him.
They took him in that next week—19-year-old John and my husband. Just outside of the Animal Hospital at County Road C and Snelling, John was carrying him under his arm to the hospital door when a dog barked. All of Blackie’s old instincts of self-preservation welled up in him. With a leap he was out of John’s arms and headed for the heavily thicketed area surrounding the hospital.
All morning they looked for him—my husband sacrificing his rest (he is a night worker) to comb the brushes for Blackie. He was gone. We took up the search in the early evening—talking to children on lawns, people on the streets, describing Blackie and asking them to call if he was sighted. We brought food and water to the site where he had last been seen.
That night we were very quiet at the supper table. Each was remembering how Blackie would wait patiently on the back steps for his supper. I could almost see his shadowy outline on the steps as I turned out the lights for the night.
He’s gone, of course. We all know that now. Reason tells us that he won’t find us five miles from home with a maze of houses, highways, people, shopping centers in between.
He must think life is a strange and uncertain game. He knew the good life for such a little while—he had thought he had found somebody for his own. He lost it as quickly. He is now just another stray skulking through somebody’s back yard or tipping over a garbage can, with annoyed homeowners who run out to curse him and run him off, or idly sit and watch him move quietly through their yard and say, “There goes Rosemary’s Baby again.”