“Aw, look at the poor deranged homeless cat,” I said to Cleo as she trotted across the graying snow, crystallized, melted and frozen again. She stormed towards the drying deck when she saw me looking at her. She meowed harshly, alarmingly.
I had stood on the cool wood boards of the deck watching her as she rubbed her neck on the rocks ringing the fire pit. The dark gray shapes, angular in spots, rounded in others had melted from the snow just recently, emerging inch by inch from their winter cover and revealing the charred wood and bits of stick from our last fire at new years.
“What is she doing?” Morgan asked as he sat in the late afternoon sun listening to the rush of melt water in the gully across the road. I cocked my head to the side in consideration, watched Cleo flatten herself against the snow so she could reach the rocks with her neck and answered, “I don’t know.”
I wondered if there was some remnant of food on the rocks, some grease dripped from smokies skewered on shaved sticks and held, sizzling, over the yellow flame until the skin turned black in spots, bubbled and split.
Cleo, clearly, was lost in the moment, oblivious to our presence, to our voices, as she ground her neck roughly against the hard surface with such vigour I almost felt the scratch of rock against my own skin, the cold grayness of it lost in the shadow of the trees.
When she glanced up and saw me, she turned away from the rocks and stomped across the snow, feet barely sinking in to the white cold with each step. She meowed her alarmist meow, high-pitched and solid and full of words as though she had the most important thing in the world to tell me.
But I couldn’t take her seriously. Not looking the way she did, with the fur on her neck soaked through and stuck together in tufts of black sticky soot. She looked like a bedraggled stray that had lived in a garbage dump for the last ten months waiting for space aliens to arrive.
Her fur from shoulders to cheeks was caked with dirt and slicked into whorls. Her green eyes bulged from her face in a kind of desperation, looking wider and rounder than normal because of her skinny neck, all wet and wrung out.
She truly looked deranged and neglected and forgotten, which seems sad, but it made me laugh because she is not those things, she is Cleo and Cleo has her very own brand of crazy.
“I don’t want to pet you,” I said, sidestepping as she tried to rub her grubby neck up against my jeans. She tiptoed in a circle and headed for me again still biting off short, sharp meows and I put my hand down to push against her side, redirect her towards the house.
I sent her inside, pulling open the wooden screen door with a squeak and watching her hop across the threshold and I wondered if she knew the sad state she was in, if she knew that she did indeed look like a poor homeless creature.
When she appeared later that evening her fur had been neatly licked dry and fluffed back in to place, but it had a gray hue, like coal dust, as though the stark white of her fur was constantly cast in shadow. I wondered how long it would take before it was restored to its former pristine condition. And then I stopped wondering when the next day she was back rubbing her neck on the fire pit rocks, and this time she brought Chestnut with her.