It was a quiet Saturday morning and I was reading while having coffee in the kitchen of my haunted house in the country. I heard a car pull in, so I put down Francis Bacon’s Essays and went to the door.
My friend Monica was outside struggling with a plastic box and two heavy paper grocery bags.
– Hi! I have a surprise for you!
I took the bags and the plastic box from her and carried them inside. When I turned around, there was Monica standing and holding an overweight and very frightened tabby cat.
– This is Penelope. She’s two years old, declawed and housebroken. Isn’t she a sweetheart?
The cat jumped out of her arms, awkwardly landing on the kitchen floor. She looked around, terrified at the strange unknown surroundings, and then dashed through the hallway and up the stairs.
– You know my friends Paul and Andrea? Well, they split up. Andrea is staying with a girlfriend who’s allergic to cats and Paul is leaving on a six-month posting with the military in Germany. So I thought: Geoff is living alone in that huge country house, he needs company! Isn’t that a great idea?
“Uh... Sure, sure,” I said, shocked at the thought of this unexpected and uninvited feline guest.
– You don’t look happy. Come on! It’s going to be fun and good for you! And anyway, it’s only for a few months until Paul comes back from Europe!
– Uh... Sure, sure... Uh, you want a cup of coffee?
– Oh, Geoff, I’d love to but I have to scoot! I’m meeting Jenn, Rosie and Sally who want to show me a cottage we’re supposed to rent for the summer on Lake Patterson! You should come and visit us sometime! We’ll have a barbecue!
Monica gave me a peck on the cheek and rushed out, leaving me with the litter box, a bag of kibbles and the cat’s dish on the kitchen table.
I put some cat food in the bowl and set it down on the floor, and then I went upstairs to look for Penelope.
She was nowhere to be found. I checked everywhere: under the beds, in the closets, in the bathroom. I called her. She had vanished completely.
Cats have the ability to hide at the most unexpected places where adults cannot find them however hard they try. Photo courtesy of Zebra Jay, many thanks!
OK, I thought, it’s understandable. The animal has had lots of changes to adapt to lately; it’s normal that she is traumatized. I’ll let her be, when she’s ready, she’ll come out of hiding.
For three days, I did not see the cat. I knew she was there because the food was disappearing from her bowl and I could see that the litter box was being used but it was as if I had an invisible cat.
Then one night, as I was watching a movie in the living room, I saw Penelope cautiously sneak into the kitchen and go to her bowl. She crouched and started eating. I could hear the crunch of the kibbles under her teeth.
As I was watching her, a mouse emerged from a crack in the floor and scurried to the cat’s dish. The cat stopped eating, looked puzzled as the mouse took a kibble from the bowl and ran back in the floor with its prize. Nonplussed, Penelope returned to eating.
I could not believe my eyes. What kind of a cat was that? I was providing food and shelter to that beast, the least she could have done was help me get rid of rodents!
I was furious. As I got up, the cat saw me and ran back upstairs.
I went after her, determined to discover the freeloader’s hiding place. Again, I looked everywhere until I found her on the top shelf of a linen closet, lying on a pile of towels.
The next day, I went to visit my girlfriend and told her about my new guest and the incident I witnessed.
She laughed and then said:
– After all that cat has been through, she needs stability; she needs a home. Bring her here for a while, I’ll take care of her and the kids will love her.
My girlfriend had two children from a previous relationship: a five-year old daughter and a two-year old son.
For two weeks it went surprisingly well. Penelope quickly ran out of hiding places in my girlfriend’s house because the kids were too good at finding her. Once they found her, they pulled her ears and tail while trying to play with her. Penelope realized quickly though that if she went to my girlfriend, she would protect her from the children. After a few days she even let herself to be petted.
I figured female kinship had won out.
Then after two weeks, Mark, a friend of my girlfriend’s needing a place to crash for a while, showed up with Joe, a very old and meek German Shepherd with a bad case of flatulence.
Penelope did not get along with the new canine visitor and would viciously attack the huge dog when no one was watching. Being declawed, she could not hurt the dog too much but old Joe was so frightened that he regularly lost total control over his bodily functions.
Finally, my girlfriend called me to say I had to take Penelope back. So much for female kinship.
So I went to pick up Penelope and recoiled to my country house.
On our return, I noticed that something had changed. First, she did not run to her linen closet but walked instead. Then that night, as I was lying in bed with the light off, she came into my room, climbed onto the bed and lay down beside me, resting her head on my hand.
I guess she had realized that the large silent country house and its quiet owner were an improvement over noisy children and stinky old dogs.
When Paul returned from Germany six months later, he did not want his cat back. I kept Penelope until her death, ten years later, but never managed to make her understand that she was supposed to catch mice.
Maybe Penelope's problem with mice was ambition: mice were too small. She needed large and dangerous-looking animals as opponents. Who would make a fuss about a mouse anyway?