I entered my building’s courtyard at dawn on a clear, cold November morning. I brought a bowl of tuna and a cat trap. I placed the bowl at a specific spot under one of the two box hedges that lined the walk and laid the trap nearby. Every morning I brought food to the same place; it was the trap’s only appearance.
I’d come for the benefit of a feline warlord in winter named Lemmy. I’d been feeding Lemmy on the sly ever since I first met him in the courtyard at least three years ago. Obviously feral, I appreciated the defiance in his attitude that wouldn’t allow him to beg. Oh, he certainly gobbled down what I gave him and shamelessly came back for more–but not once had he ever sought pity.
I used to feed Lemmy a few mornings in a row, then days, often weeks would pass until I’d see him again. Just at the point where I’d stop looking for Lemmy, I’d be on my way to the laundry room and there he’d be, insolently waiting for service under the hedge, licking fresh wounds.
“Hiya, Lem–Sure’d hate to see the other guy.”
But the sun sets on both the fixed and the free. Toward the end of summer clouds had formed in Lemmy’s eyes and he’d stopped fighting. It was clear that his wenching days were done and that the young toms had his number. Lemmy didn’t disappear anymore. The deposed king slept away his days somewhere under the building, emerging only at feeding time.
Lemmy was due at any moment, for in his decline he had begun to keep something similar to a schedule. I had neither disguised nor baited the trap. Though Lemmy was indeed a feral feline warlord in winter, he wasn’t a stupid feral feline warlord in winter.
I backed away from the hedge, for Lemmy didn’t like to be crowded. I stood on the stoop, lit a cigarette and waited. According to signs posted at every entrance, smoking was “absolutely” forbidden on the premises. So was the feeding of “stray” animals. “Health and safety” concerns.
I was also waiting for someone else who usually came by at the same time five days a week. Sometimes the stars line up right; sometimes you can control a situation no matter what the signs say.
That “someone” arrived before Lemmy–which was awesome. She was maybe twenty-five and still freshly pretty. A recent newcomer to the building. But it was easy to predict the areas in her face that would betray her. Her chin was recessive to the last degree of acceptability and her nose was just shy of being too much. Time pulls and pushes in the least flattering directions. And if a girl needed to be uglied up a little to learn humility, it was this one. She was a practitioner of the old “fake it to make it” personality tactic that fools only men too young to know better and those too old to change. We despised each other–although till that day we had never exchanged more than passing hellos in the hallway.
It was my fault that she almost hit me with the door on her way out to work. Her hair was still wet from the shower and her freshly applied makeup had yet to take on her face, still slightly puffy from sleep, the shower notwithstanding. Her eyes hardened upon seeing me; she nodded curtly and would have brushed past if I hadn’t jumped her with a showstopper.
“If you have something to say, say it–don’t you ever tape an unsigned note to my box again, little girl–this isn’t fucking high school.”
And for a second I felt sorry for her. There I was, a sixty-three year old woman–admittedly a tall, tough looking copy of that make, but still a sixty-three year old woman–and this girl was afraid of me. But I got past the feeling.
“Just remember what I tell you,” I added. “And you go on and tell the landlord about this. I won’t deny it. Go ahead, tell Mom.”
When I was a girl I learned that there were people so cowed by the rules that they’d never swing, even if it meant their soul. She was one of those. The world breeds them like insects anymore. New stereotypes are created every generation: social media-assassin girls and their “wait in the car” boyfriends. Born to occupy the children’s table from cradle to grave. Steady states of arrested development.
A flash of honest anger followed by a calculated expression, that wouldn’t have been natural when I was her age, crossed her face. I already knew she wouldn’t–we both already knew what it was about.
“All right, I will do that,” she said. But she said it while moving away from me. And as she stepped off the stoop I feigned to follow, which caused her to rush and almost trip over the cat trap. One of the oldest bully tricks in the book, but it gets them every time.
“Don’t forget to tell Mom you caught me smoking in the courtyard while feeding that stray cat you complained about in your note, little girl.” I called out to her. “Don’t forget a word.”
I watched her disappear into the parking lot around the same moment Lemmy appeared under the hedge. “Hiya, Lem. She went away mad. Must have been something I said.”
He began to eat with heart touching slowness, and even in the morning gloaming I could see that he was missing a fang that had been there the day before. There were cobwebs all over his matted fur; he was even less there than yesterday.
“Lem,” I said, lighting another cigarette. “The stupid little girl wants the landlord to do something about me and you. She wrote it in a letter. Animal Control–well, for one of us.”
I kneeled beside him. If I was very deliberate, he’d let me touch him once in a while. I scratched the top of his head. “I brought this out,” I said, nodding at the trap, “as a question of sorts…I think you understand…I’m going in for a moment. But I’ll come back for your answer.”