Kathie Freeman

Chapter 2

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Trouble in a Blanket

When Beth climbed out of Sam's truck that afternoon she was carrying a small bundle, not much bigger than I was, wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. Walking up the sidewalk, she hugged it tightly to her body, as if protecting it from some invisible danger. Once inside the apartment, she went straight to the bedroom and curled up on the bed, still cradling the mysterious bundle close beside her. Naturally curious to see this great new treasure, I hopped up to have a look. Much to my surprise, Beth shrieked and pushed me away.

"Sam, get her away! Get her off the bed!"

"Darling, don't be ridiculous. Tiger isn't going to hurt the baby. She's just curious, that's all." Sam sat on the side of the bed and lifted me onto his lap. Beth glared at him and scooted farther away.

"I don't care, I don't want her around my baby. You know what they say, cats suck babies' breath. Just get her away!"

"Beth, I'm surprised at you, believing an old wives tale like that! You of all people should know better, with your college education and everything."

"You leave my education out of this!" Beth snapped. "Anyway, she might accidentally lie across her face and smother her, or she might get mad or jealous and bite her. It's just too dangerous."

"Now listen, honey, be reasonable." Sam's voice was showing signs of impatience. "You read the paper, and you watch the news every day on the TV. Have you ever once heard of a cat attacking a baby or harming it in any way?"

Beth frowned. "I guess not. But it COULD happen. I mean, you never know, right? Oh, Sam, please. I just don't want to take any chances. Just keep her away from the baby, at least for a few months." Sam sighed. He carried me out of the bedroom and set me gently on the little rag rug in the hallway.

"You wait here," he told me. "I'll be right back." I sat down in front of the door and waited. I could hear their muffled voices from inside the room, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.

After a while Sam opened the door and hoisted me into his arms. He carried me inside and sat down once more on the bed. They had unwrapped the bundle and I saw for the first time the strange new creature they had brought home. It looked almost like a miniature person, but it sure didn't act like one! It didn't walk or talk or do anything a regular-sized person does, it just lay there on its back with its eyes squeezed shut tight, making little grunting noises and waving its arms aimlessly about.

Sam placed me on the quilt close to the creature and stroked my back. "Tiger, I want you to meet Donna. She's our new baby, and she's going to be living here from now on." I stretched out my neck VERY cautiously and sniffed its nearly-bald head while Beth watched suspiciously. Just then it jerked its arms again and I jumped back, retreating to the comfort and safety of Sam's lap. He chuckled and scratched my neck. "You see, honey. There's nothing to be worried about. She just wanted to know what it was, that's all." Beth didn't seem very convinced.

"Just the same, I don't want them left alone together."

For the first few days Beth kept the baby in the nursery most of the time, in the little bed with the railings, and about every five minutes she'd drop whatever she was doing and hurry in to check on it to make sure it was alright. After about five days of not getting anything done, she got herself a sort of little harness made of blue canvass, so she could carry it with her wherever she went, and believe me, she did exactly that.

Sam and Beth acted as if this "Donna" creature were the greatest thing that ever existed in the whole wide world, although for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. She had to be taken care of ALL the time. She couldn't even feed herself. She howled a lot, even in the middle of the night, and whenever she did, one or the other of them would have to get up and feed her, or change her clothes, or pound on her back, or carry her around the room for an hour or two.

She didn't seem to be good for anything except to hold on their laps and make silly faces at. If they got her to be a pet, they made a mighty poor bargain, I'd say. They'd have been a lot better off with another cat, or at least a puppy, something I could play with once in a while.

It seemed like Sam and Beth spent every waking moment taking care of the new baby. I hardly got any attention at all. Once in a while Sam took me on his lap and petted me, but Beth rarely even touched me anymore. I honestly couldn't understand why. I hadn't done anything wrong that I could think of, so why should she be so angry with me?

All their friends came to visit again, eager to cuddle and coo over the new baby. No one noticed me at all. I rubbed against their legs and tried to sit on their laps, but they all just pushed me away! It was like I'd suddenly developed the plague or something.

Soon the weather turned cold and those interminable rains began again. I seemed to spend most of my days just sprawled on the windowsill, watching it come down.

Christmas came, and again those wonderful boxes were stacked under the tree. They spread out a blanket for Donna near the tree and began the game. Beth picked out one of the smaller packages and handed it to Sam.

"This one's from your mom. It says 'Open Me First'," she explained. Sam ripped off the bright red wrapping paper and pulled a shiny new camera out of the box. Beth squealed with delight. "Fantastic! Now we can take pictures of the baby!" Then just as quickly her smile faded. "Oh, but we don't have any film." Sam laughed at her downcast face. He pointed the camera at her and snapped the shutter. The camera flashed and Beth blinked.

"Silly goose," he grinned. "There's film in the camera, and four extra rolls in the box. Did you really think my mother would give us a camera and no film?" Beth smiled, a small embarrassed smile.

"No, I guess not," she admitted. She picked up Donna, who was still lying on her belly on the floor, and snuggled her against her shoulder. "Take one of both of us," she instructed. Another snap, another flash, and the deed was done. "Now let me take one of you." She handed over the baby and took the camera and another happy smile was recorded. Then it was time to get back to the serious business of opening presents.

Box after box was opened, and present after present was piled in front of the baby. I waited patiently for mine, but no one even looked my way. Presents for Donna, presents for Beth, presents for Sam. More presents for Donna, but nothing for me. Nothing at all.

I nosed among the empty boxes and rooted out a nice long blue ribbon to play with. Sam stood up, and for a minute I thought he was going to play chase with me, but no such luck. He quickly gathered up all the papers and boxes before I'd even had a chance to start tearing them apart. All I had left was that one pitiful ribbon, and no one even to share it with. I dragged it into the kitchen, stretched out on the cool floor, and chewed on it while I tried to figure out what to do. There had to be a way to get them to play with me.

When I came back into the living room Sam and Beth were still taking pictures. Sam picked up a pink rabbit's fur teddy bear and poked it at the baby as she sat cradled on her mother's lap. Beth tried to get her to play with it, but she just sort of picked at it. What a waste! I strutted over and knocked that silly bear right on its fat, furry behind. Then I grabbed it by the ear and dashed across the room.

"Tiger, no!" Sam yelled. He snatched the toy out of my mouth, rather roughly I might add, and gave it back to that dumb old Donna, who still just sat there and stared at it. I was both angry and hurt. What right did they have to push me aside and give all their love to this intruder? After all, I was there first!

Over the next few months Donna began to show some promising signs of becoming an actual person. She could hold toys in her hands and stick them in her mouth, and the cooing and gurgling sounds she made were sometimes almost human. Still, she really wasn't much more interesting than your average stuffed animal, yet Beth was completely taken up with her. She spent more and more time playing with her, sometimes neglecting her housework and Sam's dinner in the bargain.

She talked to her, sang to her, and carried her about the apartment showing her things. She sat her in a little seat on the living room rug and dangled brightly colored toys and rattles in front of her. When Donna finally reached out and grasped a red plastic teething ring, Beth was overjoyed, and when she could actually sit up by herself, even Sam seemed to consider it a major milestone.

Eventually Donna learned to do something really spectacular. She learned to crawl! Sam and Beth were beside themselves with excitement. What an accomplishment! Well, big hairy deal! I could crawl when I was less than a day old, and I couldn't even see yet, so why should they think THAT was so amazing?

In the days that followed I tried again and again to make them notice me. I dragged my beat-up old necktie through every room of the apartment, but no one followed. I batted my rubber ball into Beth's feet in the kitchen, but she took no notice whatever. I even hauled out my battered and tattered old catnip mouse from behind the stove. I carried it into the living room and laid it at Sam's feet, but when I meowed for him to throw it for me, he only reached down, patted my head, and went on reading his newspaper. I tried throwing it around myself, but all the good catnip smell was gone, and I soon got bored with it.

The door to Donna's room was open, and I slipped inside. I hadn't been allowed in for several months, but it was pretty much as I remembered it. One side of the crib was down, and a small crocheted afgan hung almost to the floor. It was soft and fluffy and smelled of baby powder, so I rubbed my cheek against it to leave my own scent. I jumped into the crib and nosed around under the covers. More baby powder. I sneezed. The pink fur teddy bear leaned against one railing, its glassy eyes staring into space. I nudged it and it fell on its side. I bit one of its paws and shook it gently.

The raw animal smell awakened something wild deep inside me. I growled and shook it hard. Its lack of response irritated me and I seized it with my paws and rolled with it across the mattress. I flailed wildly with my rear feet, sending up a cloud of pink fur. I jumped away and pounced afresh, my savage instincts aflame with this novel sensation. I rolled and tumbled, kicking and tearing fiercely.

A seam popped and some foam beads came out along with some cotton stuffing. I hooked into it with my claws and yanked at it with my teeth. More stuffing. Tufts of pink fur covered the blanket and clung to my body. Every kick brought another wad of cotton and beads. The head came off and rolled onto the floor. I followed and batted it back and forth across the room a few times. Finally, tired and bored, I left it in a corner and wandered off.

Beth came into the bedroom where I was busy washing the downy grey fur on my belly. She grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and toted me to the front door. Without so much as a word, she tossed me onto the sidewalk and slammed the door behind me.

I was stunned. I didn't know what to think. Going from a soft bed in a warm apartment to a cold, hard sidewalk in the middle of February wasn't part of my plan at all. The ground was still damp from the previous night's rain. The sky was completely covered with gloomy grey clouds, and a cold wind cut through my fur. This wouldn't do at all!

I meowed at the door, but there was no answer. I meowed a bit louder. Still no response. I stood on my hind legs and scratched on the screen door as high as I could reach, but still no one came. I climbed almost to the top of the door, searching for any kind of an opening, but there was none. No way in at all. Things did not look good.

I sat down on the doormat to consider my predicament. As this was the only door in or out of the apartment, sooner or later someone would have to open it. Then I'd have a chance to get back inside. Anyway, I couldn't believe they really meant to leave me out there. It was my home, after all, and what I did wasn't really so terrible, was it?

I curled myself up into a tight little ball to get as much protection as possible from the icy wind. Nothing to do now but wait. After what seemed like hours the door opened. It was Sam. I tried to push past him into the warm room, but he blocked the way with his foot.

"Oh, no you don't," he said firmly. He came out, closing the door behind him, and I noticed for the first time that he was carrying my food and water dishes. He led the way around to the side of the building where there was some slight protection from the wind. Sam placed the bowls on the flagstone paving under a large canvas awning and seated himself on a faded lawn chair. I jumped onto his lap and tried my best to make up to him.

"I'm sorry, Tiger," he told me. "You just can't do things like that. I understand how you feel, believe me. I don't blame you for being jealous, I'm a little bit jealous myself, but that's the way life works sometimes. The baby comes first now." He petted and cuddled me and talked to me for a long time, more than he had in months. I couldn't understand everything he talked about, but his voice was kind and gentle. I was sure they had forgiven me, and that everything was going to be alright.

Sam put me back on the paving stones and straightened up. He walked back around to the front door and I bounded happily along beside him. At the door he stopped and I rubbed against his leg and purred. He bent down and stroked my back.

"Sorry, Tiger," he said. "I wish I could let you back in. Maybe in a few days she'll get over it." He slipped inside and I was alone again. I couldn't believe it! I thought they loved me! How could they shut me out of my own home? Surely it was a mistake. I called and called as loudly as I could. No answer. I scratched at the screen and called again, but it was no use. My most pathetic yowls met with only silence.

It was getting colder and I was hungry. I returned to my food bowl and ate most of the dinner Sam had left for me. Then it was back to the front door to try again. Surely they would let me in now. They had to! More scratching and calling but still no response.

It was now late afternoon and the sinking sun had thrown a chilly shadow over my once happy home. I could see lights coming on in the windows all over the neighborhood. All those people were snug and warm in their houses, just as I should be. It wasn't fair! What did they expect me to do now? Where was I supposed to sleep?

I looked around for a possible denning site. The front yard was wide open, but a high board fence enclosed the back of the lot. A squarish opening led to a great black empty space under the house, but I wasn't about to venture in there. Who knew what dangers might be lurking back there in the dark. I preferred to stay out in the open where at least I could see what was stalking me.

Near the front corner of the building a large leafy bush hung its branches all the way to the ground, implying shelter from the cold. I crawled underneath and tried to find a dry spot where I could be more or less comfortable. It wasn't much defense against the biting wind, but it was better than nothing at all, and I didn't seem to have much choice.

The lights in the windows winked out one by one as the inhabitants behind them prepared for bed. The windows above my head went dark, too, and I knew Sam and Beth would soon be asleep. I missed my soft bed and the warm bodies beside me. I wished with all my heart that I could be safe inside where I belonged. What a miserable way to spend the night! Maybe in the morning they would let me back in. I hoped so. I sure didn't want to spend the rest of my life sleeping under that bush!

Finally I fell asleep. I woke up several times to find the night still draped around my resting place, but eventually morning did come, and the cold night died a quiet grey death. I stretched the chills out of my aching joints and crawled out of my leafy shelter. My food bowls were still where Sam had left them yesterday, but someone had sneaked in during the night and eaten my leftovers. I returned to my post at the front door to wait for Sam. I didn't have to wait very long. He was out bright and early with a can of tuna and the bag of crunchies.

"Good morning, Tiger," he smiled. "I see you survived the night in one piece." After filling my bowls and changing my water, he gave me a few quick strokes and headed back inside. I tried to follow, but once again his foot blocked the way. A short time later he came back out, got in his truck, and left for work.

I didn't see Beth all day. I explored the tiny yard and chased a chattering squirrel part way up the tree, but I didn't dare go very high. I'd never climbed a tree before and I wasn't sure how I'd get back down again. Most of the day I just slept. When Sam came home from work he fed and cuddled me just as he had the previous evening. How could he could act like he still loved me, and then shut me out like that? I ate quickly and returned to the front door.

The wind was crisp and cold, and great ugly black clouds piled up across the sky. Big splattering drops of rain dampened my fur as I dashed for the sanctuary of the bush. Unfortunately, it didn't shelter me for very long this time. The rain pounded its way through the leaves, and soon I was soaking wet. I tried the feeding station around at the side. The canvas awning deflected some of the driving rain, but gave no protection whatever from the freezing wind. There was only one place left to hide.

I scooted around to the back of the house and slipped through the opening into the great blackness underneath. It was damp and dirty and full of spider webs, but at least it was shelter. I still didn't go very far inside, just enough to get away from the wind and rain. I knew there were other, bigger cats in the neighborhood, and I didn't want anything between me and the exit, just in case!

It rained all that night and most of the next day, so I was pretty hungry when I finally emerged. Sam had evidently put out my breakfast at the regular time that morning, but there wasn't much left in the bowl. I finished off what little there was and then proceeded to try and clean my coat. That was a pretty big job in itself, as I was covered from head to tail with dirt and spider webs. I hadn't made much progress when Sam came out with my evening meal.

"There you are, poor girl," he sympathized. "I hope you found a dry place to sleep last night." I rubbed against his legs and purred to let him know how glad I was to see him. I guess he wasn't so glad to see me, though, because he pushed me away instead of petting me. "Sorry, girl," he said. "These are my good work pants. I can't have you getting them all dirty." So I was "dirty" was I? Well, I expect he'd be dirty, too, if he'd had to sleep where I did!

That night the tomcat from up the block came by and paid me a visit. He wanted to play, but I hid under my bush and swiped at his nose when he came poking around. It would have been nice to have a playmate, but he was just too big and rough to suit me. A couple of weeks later, though, I started having those spring-type feelings again. This time when he came around I let him stay.

About two weeks later I began to notice changes in my body. For one thing, my belly was beginning to get a bit rounder. Slowly at first, hardly enough to even notice, then more and more every day, until by the end of about six weeks I was really quite tubby. I was going to have kittens.

I was so proud, I wanted everyone to know about it. I told Sam each time he came out to feed and pet me. At first he didn't notice the difference, but soon I got to be so big it was obvious even to him. He felt me all over, rolling me on my back and probing gently at my bulging belly.

"Oh, Tiger!" he scolded. "What have you gone and done now?" As if I had committed some great sin or something! He disappeared into the house and came out a few minutes later with Beth. She squatted down and looked me over disapprovingly, but wouldn't touch me, though I rubbed against her leg and sang my loudest.

"Great. Just great." She gave me a bit of a shove with her foot. "What are we supposed to do now?"

"We?" Sam sounded surprised. "She's your cat! You promised to keep her inside when she was in heat, remember?"

"Well, how was I supposed to know? Anyway, it's too late now. You'll just have to get rid of her."

"Get rid of her! Just like that? This is a living creature, Beth, not a sack of garbage. You can't just go and dump your responsibilities because they've gotten to be a little inconvenient. Just what do you expect me to do with her, anyway? Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a good home for a pregnant cat?" Beth crossed her arms and scowled.

"I don't care what you do with her. Just drop her off someplace. Somebody'll take care of her. All I know is we can't have a bunch of kittens running around the place." Then she stomped back into the apartment, slamming the door so hard the windows rattled. Sam sat down on the front porch. He sighed a great, deep sigh and pulled me onto his lap.

"Looks like we're both in it now, Tiger-cat." I purred and pushed my cheek against his arm. I knew I could count on him, at least.

Two days later Sam came out of the garage shortly after breakfast, carrying a big cardboard box with a lid on it. He set it on the ground beside me and removed the lid.

"Come here, Tiger. Have a look at this." I stretched up and peeked over the edge. Inside there was a nice, soft layer of rags, covered with an old green towel, the perfect nest box. Quick as a wink I hopped inside. I purred and meowed in my sweetest voice to let him know I approved. He'd come through for me after all. Sam smiled and patted my head. Then he fitted on the lid and picked up the box with me inside. This was something I hadn't expected.

He carried me a short distance and set the box down again. I bumped the lid off and found myself alone in the cab of his pickup. Sam returned a few minutes later with the sack of dry food and some cans, and found me perched on the seat waiting for him. He popped me back into the box and covered it again. I tried to push my way out a second time, but this time it was too heavy for me to lift. The engine started and we drove away.

I didn't say anything for quite a while. I was disappointed that they weren't going to let me back into the apartment, but I was sure that wherever Sam took me would have to be a nice place. He loved me, I knew, and he wouldn't let anything bad happen to me. We rode for what seemed like a long, long time, and I began to be uncomfortable. It was stuffy in that box, and I wanted out. I called to Sam and he answered me in a quiet voice.

"Easy, girl, we're almost there. Just be patient." I asked him to please let me out of the box, I wouldn't get in his way, but I guess he didn't understand. He just kept driving and didn't talk anymore. Finally the truck stopped and the engine died away. I heard the door open and felt the box being carried from the cab and lowered to the ground. Sam raised the lid and patted my head.

"Well, we're here." I peered over the rim of the carton, eager to see what kind of place he'd brought me to, but I was sorely disappointed. Around me were some large, square buildings, an empty parking lot, and a street with no cars. No trees, no houses, and no people. Only Sam and I, and a few old newspapers blowing across the lot.

I didn't like this new place at all, and I told Sam as much, but he acted as if he didn't hear me. He opened the cans of food and emptied them onto a piece of cardboard next to the wall of one of the buildings. He laid the bag of dry food on its side and filled an old plastic dish with water. He walked back to the truck and I followed. He climbed into the cab and I jumped onto his lap. He started the engine and sat there a moment, very quiet.

"Goodbye, Tiger," he said softly, and kissed the top of my head. Then he lowered me to the ground and closed the door. The truck started moving forward and I had to dodge out of the way of the rear wheel. I ran after it as it rolled out of the parking lot and into the street, but it was out of sight before I got halfway down the block.

I sat down on the sidewalk and waited for Sam to return. I knew he wouldn't leave me alone for long in a place like this. I kept watching the street where he'd gone, but there was no sign of the truck. After several hours I got tired of waiting and walked back to the spot where he'd left my food. It was late afternoon and I was getting hungry. I ate my fill and went back to the street to wait.