BELINDA THE CAT
Belinda hid behind a row of wild Japanese maple trees. The man who lived there rarely trimmed them so they looked like the hair of an African-American ballerina who danced whenever the wind blew. So far Belinda had fooled them all. Plump as if she dined on fresh salmon every night, she was a feral cat, who had no home. And didn’t want one.
Once, many years ago, she lived in a dilapidated house on Carver Street. An old man and his wife would pet her and feed her what scraps they had after his welfare checks stopped coming.
On a rainy day they opened the front door and with what strength they had pushed Belinda out the front door. She complained terribly – what would happen to the couple – and then she found out.
The old man had been a hunter, taking down geese from a nearby pond – honk! honk! honk! – and deer who roamed the back woods – and now he used the rifle on himself and his missus.
The noise nearly deafened Belinda’s ears. She rolled over and over with great mewls and was despondent for days.
She roamed the front and back yards, determined no one would see her, though she saw all. At first she stopped at a huge brick house where the garbage can was easy to knock over. She learned the owners had two dogs, Duke and Duchess, who barked up a storm even when pine cones fell from the trees. This would not be her home.
Hollybush Road was more promising. When the moon beamed down from the sky, she explored. Sometimes a silver airplane was high above. She approved of the sound, gentle and rhythmic, with red lights flashing. How surprised she would be if she knew people were on board.
Later on she would find out.
A cat must always be on the prowl. Enemies roamed the back woods on Hollybush Avenue. She would make herself a little bed out of soft grasses, lie down and wait for a tasty mouse or an underground vole who would come up to experience the diurnal world.
Noises sounded like a baby crying. Wah! Wah! Wah! An animal similar to a dog, which she learned was a fierce coyote, munched on a bunny, who was naïve and looked in wonder upon this reddish dog-like creature.
Belinda would never forget the sound the bunny made, even as she covered her own soft ears.
Her favorite time of day was in the mid-afternoon when birds gathered in bird feeders up and down Hollybush Road. Soft brown sparrows. Tiny cheeping chickadees. Smaller wrens.
Patience. Don’t give away your desires. Her heart raced. Finally, she pounced.
How she enjoyed the cracking of the soft bones. Spitting out the feathers, she savored each tasty morsel. If only the old couple could see her now. Had they eaten birds, she would have brought them into the house on Carver Street.
Crouching behind the Japanese maple tree, she watched as a procession of people walked by. Large people, small people. People who pounded the pavement running, their tanned legs in shorts, sneakers on their feet. One young woman had purple sneakers. The woman stooped down and retied them, then shaking her mop of blonde hair, resumed running.
“What did you say, honey?” a mother said to her little girl who was toddling after her. The mother also led a prancing white and brown dog on a leash. The dog was in its glory. Looking back at its owner, she sat on the grass and pooped. The woman, in gloved fingers, deposited it in a plastic bag.
Half a dozen leashed German Shepherds trotted down the street. There was a regal quality to them. A sense of pride and certain of their beauty. Belinda wondered if she had qualities like that, but it was hard to fathom how she looked. The folks on Carver Street had a dirty mirror where she watched herself.
Whatever happened to that dingy old house?
On a street called Davisville, a neighbor worked doing demolition duty. Explosions caused dust and pieces of boards and front porches to fly up in the air. Men in blue jumpers and orange hard hats scurried away from the detritus.
“Danger! Danger!” she heard them call.
Romping home, she hid behind her Japanese maple tree.
“Yes, this is my home now,” she thought, pleased with herself. All the birds she could eat, mice, rabbits, and a few gardens, with chicken wire protecting tomatoes, sweet potatoes, deep purple eggplant. It was too difficult to get inside but told herself it was only a matter of time.
A little girl was on the sidewalk, riding what looked to be a real car, all pink. Her father walked behind her.
The winds came and went. Belinda felt nothing behind her maple tree but unprotected folks swayed on the sidewalk. Hair blew wild. Jackets puffed up. Leaves, autumn leaves, swirled like they would never stop. People coughed and sneezed.
“Hurry home,” she heard people say.
One more mouse would be nice. Before she could get ready, she heard the sound of an airplane tumbling down from the sky. It twirled like a top and plummeted closer and closer to the Hollybush neighborhood.
The enormous airplane, which read “Delta” on the side, landed right in the middle of the street.
An explosion produced flames that spiraled upward toward the sky. An emergency door opened and men, women, children and infants slid down a chute.
Hair was on fire.
Screams tore through the air.
Screams of anguish, unbelievable!
What could Belinda do? This was her home and she wanted to help.
A baby was held in someone’s lap. She was screaming bloody murder.
Belinda crawled into the baby’s lap and rolled around, trying to soothe her. It worked.
Next she found an old man and old woman who looked like the folks from Carver Street. She leaped into their lap and then crawled up their arms and shoulders and their screams were hushed.
Sirens blasted down the street. Red fire engines arriving one after the other.
“They’re here. They’re finally here,” sobbed the people.
Blasts of cold water flooded the street.
Folks got down on their knees and prayed.
“Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy,” they sobbed.
The man who lived in the house came out wearing his blue pajamas.
“Good God!” he yelled. “Never in my life! Never in my life!”
Belinda went up to him for the first time.
He reached down and petted her. Such soft fur, he thought. He held the door of his blue house open for her. She looked at him and the inside of the house.
“I think I’ll stay outside,” she thought.
T H E E N D