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She Calls Me Dude

by P.M. Merlot

The face of a short haired cat

P.M. Merlot is an Adjunct Professor for Arcadia University. She has an MS in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University. When not engaged in the technical, she is a street photographer in Southern New Jersey and occasionally ventures into other genres.  Her cat, Dude, continues to enjoy his new life with her.

     For days I watched her from behind the fence. Like a synchronized clock, she would exit the back door at 7 P.M. and open her garden shed. Out came the wheelbarrow, rake, shovel, an assortment of small garden tools and last of all garden gloves. She tended a portion of her backyard every evening in the brisk spring air. Once dusk began to settle, her ritual of putting everything back began. Darkness forced her inside and I watched the lights flick on and the blinds close. I wanted to meet her, but feared the sight of me would frighten her prematurely to the inside of her home. I was homeless, starving, and becoming more desperate each day.

     On the streets my nickname is Star, street shortened for Van Gogh's Starry Night. The others think it's funny, but I don't find much humor walking around with part of my left ear cut off. The nights are bad here. Really bad. That's when machismo begins. Who is the toughest, meanest, and strongest on the streets? Not me. The jeering begins, the verbal taunting, and then slicing one another. I'm not interested in fighting. I don't care about turf or territories. All I want is to be left alone. I'm a runaway. Yeah, I chose this life for now. But, I'm looking for a new mom. Forget a father. He was the one who drove me into this life.

     Her backyard is now meticulously landscaped and primed for summer. The care she has taken confirms my notion for adoption. I am still behind the fence, peering, waiting, and decide to approach her as she weeds her herb garden. I know the aroma of the herbs: oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, and parsley. Maybe the aroma will induce a receptive response. I hope for one. Entering her backyard dynasty through the gate seems too pretentious. Humble, I must approach her with humility. I find an opening in the fence that is large enough for me to squeeze though. I'm in.

     "Hold the eye contact. Let her see those round green eyes," I say to myself. She sees me coming. I sashay down the walkway. "Rose, Come here. You got so thin." "Huh?" I look around. It's just me. I continue on. Our eyes are locked now. Just when I get within arms' distance she spins me around and grabs my balls. "Oh, you're not Rose! But, who are you? " she asks. I'm motionless not knowing if I should run or answer her. In a perverted way, I like the grab. I hadn't been touched for so long, her bold indiscretion pleased me. Though now I stand unable to speak. In self-preservation, I back away. Eyes still locked.

     "Who are you? Where is your home" she persists in questioning me. I don't answer, but she let's me hang around. I'm thin, but my ribs don't show yet. My hair's not too bad looking as I've been trying to look decent. I must look decent enough for her. She doesn't offer me food or a drink. Instead, she keeps weeding the herb garden and furtive glances at me are made. I sit, watch, and enjoy her brief company. Dusk has fallen and the ritual of returning all garden tools begins again. I know what follows and leave with another night on my own.

     Early evening encounters continue for about a week. Still, she offers no food or drink. A thunderstorm threatens above as the winds whoosh through the leaves. Skies darken, thunder rolls, and lightening flashes miles away. She looks at me. I'm scared. I know the danger as well. "You can stay in the shed tonight," as the door is unlocked and opened. It's pouring now and I scatter in. At least I'm safe. Midnight comes, door still open, and I can see a motion of round light coming my way. It's her checking on me. "Goodnight, sleep well," and she's gone.

     A new ritual begins as I return "home" around 7 P.M every night. She unlocks a second shed, opens the door, and lets me in. At last, I find food, drink, and a freshly made bed. She's cautious not inviting me into her home, but she's compassionate. It's summer and sleeping in a shed isn't so bad. I'm not taunted here, bullied, or attacked in the darkness of the night anymore.     Wicked thunderstorms are also a new summer ritual here. One night, she hesitated in letting me into the shed. I don't think she knew what to do with me. This couldn't go on forever. She would have to decide what she would do. She looked up at the sky, this time very ominous, and let me in. It was a good decision as at 1 AM 70 mph straight line winds hit the entire town and as daylight came it looked as if a giant storybook lumberjack went mad with his ax. Hundred year old trees blocked streets, crashed into houses, downed power lines, and we simmered in 100 degree heat. Derecho-that's what came to town. I could tell she was glad she kept me safe that night.

     After that I started showing up at her backdoor. "Ruff! Ruff!" A dog, not a dog! Vinnie peered back at me. "Come in and meet Vinnie," and she let me in. Vinnie was not a young dog, and I could tell he was not well. He was a friendly one, elegant with his long white hair, and black eyes. A Maltese. He was her life. This was her test. She wanted to see if I would be kind to him. "Who couldn't like Vinnie? Even me."  I passed the test and that night she moved my bed, food, and drink to the basement. "You can stay here now. But, you can't go upstairs to the house." "OK, OK, I can do that," my eyes now spoke.

     I was her guest in the basement for six weeks and one early morning she took me out of the basement.  Carefully, she buckled me into the passenger seat. I was scared shitless. Rather, I was so scared as to where and what was going to happen to me, I thrashed around, cried, and eventually peed myself. She remained calm. We arrived thirty minutes later at the doctor's office for a health check, needles were stuck into my body, and the next thing I knew a day passed. She was gone and I was with strangers. "Did she abandon me? Was I in foster care? Is that what she did?" Later that same afternoon, she returned, buckled me back into the passenger seat and took me home. I wasn't free to roam around during the day anymore. The basement was my new home 24/7. I felt like a prisoner, but my warden treated me well. No thoughts of escape, this life was better even in a basement.

     One day, she opened the basement door that led upstairs to the house. "Come on up," an invitation was made. Leary, I followed her command and ascended the steps. Vinnie greeted me, his tail wagging so much it felt like a fan, and I stepped inside. I looked around. "Nice house. As nice as the yard," I thought. Her eyes followed me. She appeared uneasy. A strange male now walked about her home. I was careful not to appear too assuming. All day I was under her watchful eye. Night came and I remained upstairs. Time now for bed.

     Bedtime was another ritual that I soon learned. Her good bedding was folded and moved to the foot of the bed. A worn comforter placed on top, blanket and top sheet pulled back, and a single pillow placed on the right side of the bed. Vinnie was always in the same spot in the kitchen, growing weaker, and it seemed always asleep. She would retrieve Vinnie, say "time for bed" and place him on the left side, next to her. She kissed him goodnight and rolled over to her side. Vinnie was complacent. Her eyes followed me, "You too, time for bed. Bed." It was a real bed, a really good one like you see advertised on TV. "Oh, it's a Tempurpedic. Good for the joints," she answered before I had a chance to ask. Unlike Vinnie, I did not abide her request. I do things on my own time and when I want to. Eventually, I slipped into bed with them.

     Summer passed and the horrendous thunderstorms subsided. But, it was still hurricane season. On October 29, Hurricane Sandy hit. Storms always came in the night. Skies opened pouring all earth's water on us. I could see the branches bow and bend from the window. She had the news on television while surfing Facebook checking the status of the storm. The eye of the hurricane was heading towards us. Whether or not that was or good or bad, we did not know, but nobody went to bed that night until 2 A.M. It wasn't bad for us, but the day after was spent again with the news on TV and flipping through Facebook posts  of the rest of New Jersey being ripped open. We survived another storm of the century together.

     Thankfully, winter was uneventful. But, spring brought another storm though different. Vinnie's health was worse and even I could see his ribs. I could see the worry on her face wondering how she would face his final days. She tried everything to get him to eat, vet visits, more medication, and he appeared to rally. We had a great time the night before he died. Vinnie behaved like a puppy, playing fetch, kissing his mom. Even me. All of us scampered around the house. Bedtime came and it was the usual ritual. We did not know it would be the last one we would all have together.

     I tried to wake her up at 6 A.M. I sensed death, imminent death. She did too. Her eyes opened unusually wide for the morning. "Vinnie?" He wasn't on the left side of the bed. She ran to the kitchen, "Vinnie?" Back to the bedroom, "Vinnie?" There he was on the floor and she scooped his limp body into her arms. His eyes were open, glazed, body still warm. "Wake up, Vinnie!"  she screamed, "Wake up!" He died in her arms. I will never forget those next minutes, the wailing, screaming, and hysteria. I waited for the police to knock at the door, as surely she was loud enough to awaken the entire neighborhood. Our eyes locked. She ushered me down to the basement and locked the door. She got louder, then very quiet. I suppose she didn't want me to see her in this most unpleasant moment or that she wanted some private last moments with just the two of them. When the basement door was opened again, Vinnie lay wrapped in his doggie blanket, readied for cremation. She grabbed me and held me tight saying, "Vinnie's dead. He's gone."  She clung to me so tight I felt uncomfortable, yet I remained.

     The weeks that followed left both of us in our own depressed states. Who could imagine that a dog who slept all day could be missed so much? The house became eerily quiet. I'm not much of a verbalizer either. She cried while I searched for any remnants of Vinnie's scent in the house. I was given a lot of attention, but the adjustment was difficult. I would lie in Vinnie's spot in the kitchen. That made her cry more. Vinnie's cremains were brought home two weeks later and the ritual of grief began again. This went on for several more weeks until she left the house leaving me behind. A strange man named Pete came to see me everyday. I hid under the bed waiting for her to come home. She returned from vacation, much better, and I couldn't help myself from attaching me to her at every possible moment. Unlike, dudes like me.

     It's been a year since I jumped that fence, butted my head against her hand, and rubbed everything she touched with my face, including her.  My days are spent watching birds at their feeders in the winter and butterflies in the monarch garden she planted this year. In between, I nap in Vinnie's bed or on the afghan she places over her good bedding. Evenings are full of play with her and a brushing. I've learned the meaning of words like: no, get down, come, bed, brush, play, treat, and love. She's accepted my cat behavior rather than trying to remake me as a dog. When she opens the front or back door, she does so carefully, glancing back to see if I'll bolt  outside. Nope. Our eyes lock as I intimate I have no desire to leave her house.

     We've been though a lot in a year. She calls me "Dude." I don't know why. She had my balls cut off-neutered she says for my own good. But, she says it was that first strut down her sidewalk. That's how I got my name. She turned out to be a really good cat mom. Even for a tomcat.

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