Two or three months ago, I began to suspect that we had a guest in the basement. The first sign was some minor destruction, enough boxes overturned and bins knocked from shelves that I was moved to research the possibility that there had been a small earthquake in our little town. But no: what was happening in the basement was not seismic. It was animal.
Soon I could smell it. Once I saw it, a dark shape visible only for a second as it disappeared into the shadows. Coon? Maybe. But it was a cat. Soon we realized that it wasn't a cat at all, that it was two cats. And that the two cats would always be faster than we were. You can't chase down a cat who doesn't want to be caught. Don't even try.
It would be necessary to change the playing field. A cat's brain is about the size of an almond. Ours weigh about three pounds. We should be able to do this.
We began to feed them: the only thing worse than two feral cats squatting in our basement would have been two dead cats down there that we couldn't locate. Doing the laundry, sometimes I would see one of them -- if he caught my eye, he quickly disappeared.
An uneasy peace settled in: food and water twice a day, the occasional sighting. A litter box down there for latrine duty. Time went on.
But we already had two cats. We used to have three, but Santana went home to Jesus this winter and I have hopes that Ben may follow -- they were littermates and 22 years old, which is as old as any cat needs to get. I was looking forward to one cat; I was not looking forward to four.
I had hoped to drug them with catnip and grab them while they were stoned. But not every cat goes for catnip, and these two didn't. Food, then. We lured them upstairs with dishes of cat feed. I stood out of sight, holding a blanket which I hoped would descend suddenly upon them while they ate, throwing them into a confusion which would up the odds in my favor. Q sat in a chair, giving me silent hand signals as to their whereabouts. But I failed. I was just not sudden enough. The cats were too fast. My blanket fell uselessly to the floor.
In the end, we tied a length of twine to the doorknob and waited. When they emerged from the basement began to eat, we pulled the door shut behind them with a bang that sent them headlong out the open front door, across the yard and out of sight.
I think of them, these two vagabonds who took shelter with us from a terrible winter. It's spring now -- still chilly, but cats have fur. I would like to have gotten close enough to them to grab them and get them fixed, at least, but they had no desire for closeness. All we could do was a short-term gift of food and safety. But then, a gift isn't nothing just because it's not everything.