Out of the corner of my eye, something moved. I jumped. I thought it was a snake or a rat or anything. Early in the morning, before my coffee, I can be a bit skittish. At least, I was that morning, back when I took early morning walks before work.
After a moment, I recovered, turned and looked at what it was: a litter of kittens, piled together for warmth with no mama cat in sight. They laid together on the sidewalk, all six of them, near an overgrown and bramble-filled lot.
I figured they'd probably be gone if took the time to go home and find a box. Instead, I bundled them up in my t-shirt and carried them back to our townhouse.
Jen was in the bath when I brought them in to show to her.
"We can keep two," I told her, not even discussing whether we should keep any. The lease was rather specific about pets, but the neighbors had them. Fair was fair.
They were only a couple of weeks old, filthy and covered in fleas. I called the animal shelter, who warned me that bringing the kittens to them would likely result in their quick death. I told them we'd find homes for them, but asked if they knew how to get rid of the fleas.
"Warm water and mild dish soap," the animal shelter said.
Flea spray, the lady on the phone assured me, would be lethal.
I washed them all, one by one. None of them liked it, but we got them clean, got them fed and quickly chose our two kittens to keep while locating homes for the others. We wound up choosing the one orange tabby in the batch and a brutish, black fuzzball that seemed like the bully of the litter. I named them "Karma" and "Moose."
There was some discussion and disagreement over the naming of Moose. Others in the house had different ideas, but I pigheadedly refused to cooperate and eventually the name stuck. It seemed fitting. He was kind of a dumb lug.
The funny thing is neither cat really liked me all that much. They preferred the company of everyone else in the house, even the kids who tormented them regularly. The cats and me just never bonded. I was just the guy who changed out the litter box and occasionally took one for the team when it came time to wash off the fleas.
I kind of resented that for a long time. These should have been my cats. I'd saved them from certain destruction, fed them and given them shelter. I'd loved them, but they were indifferent. My contributions to their well being did not amount to the love they wanted.
A few months ago, that started to change, I guess. With age, they mellowed. Maybe they finally forgave me for the baths. I don't know, but now, it's not uncommon for me to wake up to see one of them nudging my hand, demanding to be petted. It's not unusual for one of them to squawk and mewl at my feet when they're hungry. They'll sit with me when I read, watch TV or just stare out the window.
The end of my cohabitation with the artist formerly known as Mrs. Lynch is nigh. Boxes are packed. She's told me what she's taking with her and now, we're just counting down the clock. She's taking a little furniture, the kitchen table and her vintage console stereo (which needs a new needle for the record player, if anybody knows where to get one). She's also taking the dog, which is her dog and has always been her dog and could not live without her, but I'm keeping the cats.
I'm glad they like me now, the cats. I kind of need for them to.