I seem to have adopted another cat, although “adopted” isn’t quite the right word, as that implies some sort of conscious decision on my part. “Acquired” might be a better description of my relationship with the small black cat that started turning up around the Journal office this past summer, hanging around the wild rose bushes beside the museum.
It was jet black, without a hint of white, and that it was a feral cat was obvious: although cats normally come to me, it would flee as soon as I tried to get near it. Still, it appeared healthy enough, and I enjoyed catching glimpses of it as it made its inscrutable way past my window or spread out on a patch of grass to take the sun.
Then one day I watched as it stalked something, crouching for a few moments of complete stillness before pouncing. I expected to see it stand up with a mouse, and was taken aback to see it with a large grasshopper in its mouth, which it proceeded to wolf down.
Now, I know that feral cats can’t afford to be picky eaters, but the idea of the poor little thing having to eat grasshoppers made me wince. Next day I brought some cat kibbles with me to the office, and put them outside in a bowl before retreating indoors. There was no sign of the cat, but when I checked the bowl 10 minutes later the food was gone; not so much as a crumb was left.
I bought a bag of cat chow, and began putting food outside each morning (the bowl is cleaned out overnight, I suspect by more than one cat) and then again before leaving each night. I had a bucket of water outside the front door of the office for any dogs walking down the alley beside the office, and put another one by the food bowl at the other end of the building for the cat(s) to enjoy.
The black cat began warming to me, ever so slightly, in that I could get within five feet before it would retreat into the rose bushes and watch me warily as I filled the food bowl. Its black coat made it disappear into the shadows; its unblinking yellow eyes were the only indication it was there.
I leave the back door of the Journal office open while I’m there, to let in a little air, and one day, as I was getting ready to leave, I saw a flash of black in the back office, where the lights were off. The cat had clearly come in the back door and, panicked, was darting about, trying to find an exit. I had closed the back door by this time, so for a few moments we played tag as I tried to get to a door to open it and the cat tried to get away from me. That was back in August, and it seems to have mellowed a bit, as more than once since then it has ventured in through the open back door, presumably seeking respite from the cold autumn wind.
On Monday, as I sat in my office writing, I again saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned slowly to see the cat in my doorway. It froze when it saw me, but instead of fleeing paused for a few moments and eyed me up, then made its leisurely way into the front office, where it disappeared from sight. Rather than fluster it by following, I left it be, and a few minutes later saw it back outside, its curiosity sated for the time being.
Will it ever trust me enough to come so close that I can pat it? I’m not holding my breath; it maintains that air of wary watchfulness. But I think of my favourite lines from one of my favourite Thomas Hardy poems, “Snow in the Suburbs”: “The steps are a blanched slope / Up which, with feeble hope / A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin / And we take him in.”
I like to think that the cat in the poem, hungry and cold and expecting another door closed in its face, found a warm fire and a bite and a sup awaiting it. It’s a lovely, heart-warming image, and it’s why the back door of the office will remain open for as long as my visitor wants to stay.