You are on page 1of 3

The Kitten with Sad Eyes

by Douglas Page The dusty white kitten peeked around the corner of the garage door, leaning in from the sidewalk side, only its head visible in the doorway. I was seated a few feet to its left, perched on a stool at the workbench cleaning an antique pipe wrench and listening to a Padre game in the garage of our new house. We had just moved from the concrete maze of Redondo Beach to southwest Escondido, close to the edge of the wildlands in San Diego's North County. Unfamiliar critters left strange footprints in muddy garden soil and morning dew on the decks. At night, shrieks of barn owls and yips of coyotes disturbed the silence. It was September, 1979. Interest rates were at 10 percent. The Padres were in 5th place, 18 games out of first place. The house had sat empty for a time during the endless escrow process and the visiting kitten was probably unused to seeing the garage door open with a human occupant inside. It looked about three months old, time enough to find bravery sufficient to match its curiosity. My kids must have been off somewhere and the stillness drew an explorer to my door. The kitten had the rough, unlicked look of an outside cat. Maybe it was hungry or thirsty. "Hello there," I said softly, looking down from my stool. The kitten was about 10 feet way. It didn't flinch or flee when I moved. Its mouth moved slightly but I couldn't hear its tiny voice. Probably from a litter belonging to the family next door; feral cats don't usually greet new residents. Maybe this kitten, the color of white chocolate candy, had been dispatched to welcome me. I continued cleaning the tools I'd found left behind by the previous owners, an elderly couple named Carlson. Mr. Carlson informed me they were moving to a condo closer to town and he no longer had any use for the collection. It was all mine, if I wanted it. Of course I did. The garage contained a treasure of miscellaneous hardware and woodworking tools, garden implements, and drawers full of oily wrenches, clamps, neglected chisels,

and coffee cans and mayonnaise jars full of unsorted nails, screws, nuts, and bolts. Carlson had raised his family in this custom house and was sad to leave it. But, his children had moved on and his wife was ill. He was happy to pass it on to a new family whose three grade-school-age children could now enjoy the bike trails, creek beds, and tire swings that dangled from ancient oaks. It was a perfect house for a young family, secluded behind a wall of towering eucalyptus. Immense granite boulders the size of tool sheds and bread trucks had been pushed and piled to make room for the sprawling boomerang house that rested at the end of a driveway that followed a dry creek bed up the slope. The house sat a steppe a hundred yards from the bottom of a draw that continued to rise miles away to the northeast. When the spring rains came the creek would awaken as white water from above charged past on its way to flood road at the bottom of the drive on its way to nearby Lake Hodges. A county park followed the other side that road a half mile or more to the north. The kitten paused a few seconds, then popped a step down into the garage and looked up at me with its head cocked slightly. It looked thin and tearful, yet it wasn't afraid of me. There was something odd about its appearance. I slid off the stool slowly, knelt down and made a clicking sound with my tongue. I held my hand out. This kitten did not react like a normal kitten, coiled and eager to pounce and play. This kitten had sad eyes. The kittens mouth moved again but produced only the faintest rasp. When it came forward a step to sniff my hand I grabbed it gently, cradling it to my chest, and slipped back on the stool. Theres something incongruous about a sad-eyed kitten. Why wasnt it chasing sibling tails or stalking bugs in tall grass? This tiny, thin baby cat, shivering in my grasp, seemed content, maybe even anxious, to be held. I stroked its coat softly but no purr came. Then I felt something like a collar around its neck, but there was nothing visible in the fur. Collars on kittens? Who bothered with anything like that? As I fluffed under its smoky fur trying to find the collar the kitten stiffened and looked at me sharply. "I'm sorry," I said. Then I found it. A twine knot. Someone had tied a loop of twine around the kitten's throat, perhaps weeks ago, probably

when it was a new-born, then left it to grow into its own noose, to strangle slowly, hour after hour, until speaking, then swallowing, and finally breathing became agonizingly difficult, and then impossible. What sort of a cruel, unhappy cretin could have done such a thing to an infant creature, to condemn it to starve and suffocate in silence? By the time the kitten found me that day, its skin had grown almost all the way over the twine, like a rope embedded in tree bark, forming a ridge the thickness of a lamp cord. I pulled the knot gently, then cut the twine with the blade of a pocket knife from the workbench and tugged softly to pull it away from the skin. The twine popped loose from its flesh seat like the seal on freezer bags. The tiny kitten held my gaze and hardly flinched. "There," I said. "That's better." I petted its coat to stroke away the malevolence, then I put the cat on the floor. It made its way back to the door, climbed awkwardly over the step and stopped. It turned once and looked at me, its eyes still moist, like a departing lover looking back just one last time, then it rounded the corner and vanished. I began leaving a bowl of milk in that corner of the garage at night. It was always gone in the morning, but I never saw the kitten with sad eyes again. jdp 14feb2010

Related Interests