As I was heading from the living room to the kitchen, it occurred to me that I had not yet fed the cats.
“Goddammit!” I thought. It had been a trying day already. Nothing particularly difficult had happened. In fact, I had made quite a bit of progress earlier on one of my pet projects. Still, I did not relish the idea of venturing into the cold to feed the needy animals. It was late. I did not want to smell the foul aroma of wet cat food in the can — it clings to one’s clothes and lingers in the air for hours. No, I did not want to feed the cats.
I gathered the feeding supplies – a cup of water, a can of the wet stink, a bowl of crunchy dry, and a fresh bowl – and loaded them onto the little red and white checkered tray that used to be my daughter’s. My good, heavy faux wool coat hung sloppily from the back of one of our dining room chairs. It was conveniently handy, but I was worried about soiling it with the stink of the cat food, God forbid I spilled any. There was no way I would be able to maneuver the feeding supplies and my shoes to the front door and still manage to worm myself into a different, less precious jacket. Besides, I was angry, stubborn, and beginning to feel a bit guilty for neglecting the poor beasts recently banished to the bitter cold winter outside.
“fuck it,” I muttered and slid my already cold feet into my slippers. I snatched the tray and shuffled to the front door. The cold air pouring in around the door did nothing to improve my mood. “Fucking Bughs!” – the usual litany for any and all disrepair in the house rolled out easily, comfortably. It felt good to unload some of today’s anger and guilt onto the incompetent bastards that sold us the house. That always felt good.
I hit the storm door lever with my free hand and start to push it open as the wind galed against it. I had to drop my shoulder and bear into the glass to get the door to move. With no hat, and sporting only a pair of pajama pants and soccer sandals, I stepped out into the frigid night air as a particularly feral gust of wind sheared across the front of the house. The winter wind stirred up dried leaves, and whipped at the old blanket we used to insulate the rickety cat house. The air was so clean and crisp that it tore the breath from my lungs, leaving me gasping. The needles of pain storming my naked toes proved that my feet were not yet completely numb, but well on the way.
“Babies,” I cried. Before my teeth could close to sibbilate the word, a minuscule gray and white blur melted across the porch to my feet. Smitty moved like a snake – low and quick and quiet. He was always hungry at meal time, and I was late tonight.
I set the tray on the little gray patio table and Smitty materialized. He did not move from the ground, but appeared at his food bowl instantly. He was a gray hunger, fully prepared to gnaw through the steel cat food can to get to his dinner.
“Frieda,” I called. The cat blanket mounted perceptibly, and birthed a tangle of calico fur. Frieda threw out her front paws and gave a good, long, big cat stretch as I poured the dry food into their cast iron food bowl, tinkling. The food dish was a cat iron cat, with a pair of stainless steel bowls nestled in her back, like some ancient Egyptian shrine to the Gods of Cat Food. But Smitty and Frieda are cats, and cats are incapable of worship.
Frieda got to work on the dry food while I popped the tab to the wet food can. My eyes ran over the warning label twice: Pull lid back slowly. The fine black type contrasted sharply with the yellow label of the can. I remember wondering that such a warning was necessary, presumably to protect some simpleton from a lid-inflicted laceration. After this evening, I knew that the warning was against something far more dire than a simple flesh wound. Cut fingers eventually heal, but nothing in this world can remove the reek of cat food from a warm winter jacket. Nothing.
As per our usual dance, Smitty began to eat from the can as soon as the stench escaped its protective plastic inner lining. I shooed him away while trying to spoon the foulness into the one of a pair of Garfield-adorned plastic food bowls. I enjoyed the thought that these cats had no idea who he was each time I looked at Garfield’s smiling face on those cheap, dollar store bowls. By this point, my feet had gone completely numb — not only the toes, but straight back to my heels. My fingers and ears had taken over the duty of flooding my thoughts with frozen pain. The wind was stabbing through my fleece, and the night’s icy fingers were stating to squeeze the muscles of my chest and back, suffocating me with their chill.
Hastily, I slapped the food bowls down as close as I could to the cat house, hoping for even the slightest protection from the wind. Smitty was left pacing the table top, disappointedly examining the empty cat food cat. Frieda, on the other hand, shifted mid-chew from the plain dry food to the apparently more appetizing slop now endorsed by Mr. Garfield. I scooped Smitty up with one hand, surprised again at how light he had become since moving outdoors, and dropped him a bit urgently onto the porch by the food. I dropped the clean water bowl onto a frozen-over patch of ice and sloshed in a fresh dose of dinking water. It was so cold out here that the water would probably freeze solid before I made it back to the front door. As if in evidence, the morning’s water bowl clunked solidly as I dropped it into the food tray.