Jenny saw the cat on a March afternoon that was blustering full-on with a rare Texas snowstorm. She had been staring out into the blue-white dissonance beyond her apartment window, lulled by the gentle drift of the flakes. Snow came rarely to her part of Texas — Jenny was thirty and had only seen a few snowfalls. When it did come it always calmed her as it made a peaceful snow globe of the world. Indeed, it seemed to cleanse everything around her, covering the junk-laden field next to her complex with a blanket of white. It silenced the nearby interstate highway, turned the cars in the parking lot into giant loaves of snow-bread, transformed the leafless, gnarled scrub-oaks into slender frost-fairy trees.
Through this bleak but beautiful wonderland the cat came snuffling. Jenny had seen her many times — a black and tan tortie with copper eyes that lived in the junk field and always stayed aloof. The cat trooped aimlessly through the snow, chest-deep on the animal, and Jenny’s heart ached. Previously, when she had called to it, the cat had always fled. She decided to try once more. She opened her patio door and made a tsk-tsk-tsk sound with her tongue.
The cat’s head snapped up at this. She stared at Jenny for a long moment, then perhaps cold and desperation got the best of her, and she darted into Jenny’s apartment. Jenny shut the door.
The cat simply stood still in Jenny’s living room, her tail twitching as if danger lurked in every corner. She was scrawny in the legs, neck and chest, but her belly was distended — a bloat of starvation, perhaps. Her fur was frosted with little ice crystals that glistened in the wan light of the window.
“Oh, sweetie, I wish I had some cat food.” Jenny went into the kitchen to see what she could find.
There was very little in the fridge. J.D., Jenny’s boyfriend, was supposed to stop at the store on his way home. He was already quite late. She found some canned tuna in the cupboard and popped off the top. When she placed on the carpet, the cat ate it with fervor. After this, the cat seemed to relax, and began to explore the apartment. At last she climbed up on the couch and curled up on Jenny’s blanket. Jenny sat in J.D.’s recliner and watched the cat with such excitement she felt like a ten-year-old girl.
Jenny was silently cursing J.D. when he finally came home after dark–laden at least with grocery bags. She went to help and the smell of his breath assaulted her. “Really? You went out drinking?”
“Had to take a break. Roads are shit.”
“So you drove home drunk?”
“Nah, I’m fine. But speaking of drinking—” He pulled a twelve-pack out of a bag. “And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you.” He offered her a bottle of wine.
“Er, thanks. Did you get any food?”
Jenny rifled through a bag until she found some ground beef. She opened it and put some in a bowl.
“What’s that for?” asked J.D.
“We have a guest.”
J.D. scowled as Jenny took the bowl to the cat. “No way,” he said. “You know I hate cats.”
“It’s freezing outside. She’ll die.”
“I do. She stays, at least until the snow’s gone.”
“God damn it,” he said, cracking open a beer. “Last thing I need. You get rid of it. If you don’t–”
“I been looking for an excuse to light outta here, Jenny. That’s right. It’s me or that cat.” He picked up a spare beer and retreated to the bedroom, where he began to play on his computer.
Jenny looked at the cat. “Don’t worry, kitty,” she said. The cat, munching away at the hamburger, didn’t seem to be worried.
That night, Jenny awoke to an ungodly howling sound. J.D. snored away next to her in a drunken stupor, his arm draped across her. She thought for a moment that someone must be dying in the next apartment, then she remembered the cat. She lay still. She didn’t want to wake J.D. He might toss the little fur-ball out into the snow. But she was worried.
A little later, the howling ceased. At length J.D. coughed and rolled over. Jenny slipped out of bed.
She turned on the hall light and peeked into the living room. The cat was busy licking away at the slick fur of her six new kittens. That ten-year-old girl’s heart blossomed anew in Jenny’s thirty-year-old chest, and she smiled. She grabbed the unopened bottle of wine from the fridge. She was going to celebrate while she could.
The next morning, Jenny and J.D. had the Armageddon of all arguments about the cats. When J.D. left, he said he was moving back in with his mother. He said he’d be back on the weekend for his ‘shit.’
Jenny brought out her laptop and logged on to her office network. She worked through the morning, glancing from time to time at the kittens, who wrestled one another for a place at the mama cat’s teats.
At noon she took a break and approached the cats.
Mama Cat eyed her suspiciously as Jenny looked over the clowder of kittens, their fur now dry and fluffy–their eyes still shut tight. Jenny longed to pick one up, but had heard somewhere one shouldn’t touch new-born kittens. Instead she risked a quick pet of Mama Cat’s head. The old cat gazed at her, then began to purr.
“It’s me or the cats,” J.D. had said. Remembering, Jenny smiled. She’d been looking for a simple, drama-free way to get rid of his drunk ass — and make him think it was his idea.
“You just made things a hell of a lot easier, Mama Cat,” Jenny said. “I think you guys can stay as long as you like.”
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Mirror Dance, New Myths and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.