The International Writers Magazine: Cat's Bring Happiness
The Touch of Ermine
In a sleepy little town, nestled high in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, lived a grouchy and cantankerous old coot named Clutch. The year was 1980.
Clutch was pushing eighty years of age. A well worn sliver of a man who had once been the apple of every woman’s eye when he was young, he had grown into an ornery old codger who believed that life had dealt him a losing hand of cards.
Many years ago, his wife Esmerelda who was the most wonderful and beautiful girl he had ever seen, upped and left him. She had put up with enough, after he went into a tirade because she dented the fender of the car with a snow shovel. After cussing her up and down, he hit her with the shovel too. It wasn’t a telling blow, but it got the message across.
Clutch had been so very proud of his shiny black Model T Ford. He even beat up the salesman for lying to him. The poor salesman told Clutch that he could have the car in any color as long as it was black. Clutch doesn't remember the black part of the conversation and swore he saw Fords in other colors. He didn't really. The Model T only came in black.
Developing into a perpetual drunk, he no longer had many working parts of his body. His stomach ached constantly. He thought the "shine" made it feel better. It really didn't, but he did sleep without pain. Most of his teeth had been knocked out in fights, and his fingers couldn't grasp anything for long before he'd drop it from the pain in his arthritic joints. Clutch's right eyelid no longer opened either. The result of an encounter with a kid's knife. He didn't much mind though, because there wasn't too much that he wanted to see anymore anyway. Clutch was no-one’s friend and that suited him fine. “People are just a pain”, he’d say.
One day while limping through the woods, the ground covered with leaves of every color and variety, he heard the moaning sound of an animal in obvious distress. Following the sounds he came upon a gray tabby cat, whose leg was caught in the viselike jaws of a trap. The straggly haired animal looked up when he saw Clutch approaching. Clutch could have sworn he felt the cat’s eyes pleading as they met the stare of his one good eye. Ordinarily, Clutch would’ve continued on his way and left the dying animal to its fate. He knew the usual result. He again started to move away. As he did there was movement on the side of the cat that caught his eye. He looked again and noticed two small kittens trying to feed from the injured mother. For the first time in years, he felt empathy for the little group of defenseless animals.
He knelt down and removed the trap from the cat's leg. The cat immediately tried to move but was too weak, and slipped back to the ground. Taking off his hat, he placed the injured animal and her babies inside and returned to his cabin. He cleaned the cat and used some of his home remedy methods on the injured leg. He fed the animals and as he did, an attachment began to form. Days turned to weeks. Clutch fed the cat and the small kittens and made sure they had a warm place to rest. He began to enjoy watching the youngens roll and frolic. And my, how the small cats were growing. The mother's leg miraculously returned to normal, and she was able to move around and play with the young kittens.
By the time winter came, Clutch had grown to find comfort in the companionship of the animals as they came to him seeking affection and warmth from the cold. He enjoyed petting the soft furry creatures and enjoyed the return of affection when they licked his stiff stubby fingers with their coarsely coated tongues. He became saddened at the thought that he could have enjoyed this companionship long ago, had he befriended some of the other animals he had left to fend for themselves.
He began to drink less and also allowed himself to drift back in time to remember the day he lost his love, and grieved sadly. Time passed and Clutch clouded over that hurt and became happy with his newly found company.
As luck would have it, one day, a young boy came to his door. The door creaked at the soft knocking. As Clutch opened the door, the mother cat scampered out. Upon seeing the boy it jumped into his arms, licking the boy. The young boy shielded his eyes as he looked up at the chizeled features of the old man standing in the doorway. The cat's joy was obvious. Clutch knew instantly that the boy was the cat’s owner and he would have to suffer the loss of his friend, for surely it remembered the boy, as the young man stroked the cat’s hair gently.
"Gee mister", the boy exclaimed excitedly. "You found my cat. I've been looking for her for months. She was going to have kittens and she wandered……” Just then the kittens, Jam and Peanut, came scampering into view, from around the corner of the house. The boy haltingly finished his sentence. Clutch looked down into the young face. “I named her Ermine,” he said to the boy.
Sadly, Clutch realized that his companions would be leaving. As he allowed his shoulders to droop, he opened the door and extended his arm for the boy to enter. He invited the boy inside and told him to have a seat at the old pine table. The boy looked around and felt a sadness for the old man. He could see the frayed drapes on the windows and felt that at one time, the place must have looked very nice. A faint smile appeared on Clutch’s face as he explained how he happened to come upon the animals in the woods as the boy listened intently.
The young boy was bouncing in the chair as he listened to the story of how the mother had been caught in the trap and how the old man felt sorry for the cat and took them to live with him. The young boy smiled broadly and thanked Clutch for caring for the animals. As he looked up, he noticed the saddened expression forming on the old man's face. He felt that the old man knew that he wanted his cat and that he would be left without the animals he had helped and seemed to enjoy as companions. The young boy asked if there was anything he could do, in return for Clutch’s kindness to the animals.
A surprising response was heard from the old man.
"I wish I could live my life over", Clutch said with tears forming in his eyes. For too many years I didn't care about anyone or anything. Now even the comfort I've found is about to leave,” he said softly, just loud enough for the boy’s straining ears to hear.
"How about if you keep Ermine," asked the boy. “After all you did for her, you deserve to keep her,” he said as he handed the purring animal to the old man. "I’d like to have the kittens though for my young brother and sister to play with.”
“Why thank you son, I'd really like that,” Clutch said feeling excited at the young boy’s generosity. The cat licked his stubby fingers and cuddled in the man’s hard hands.
“That's very kind of you”, Clutch said smiling.
"I better go now", said the boy.
“Can I come by to visit Ermine sometimes?" he asked.
"You sure can", Clutch responded, as he placed the kittens in the boy’s arms.
The boy rose to leave, gathering the two small cats. He smiled at Ermine and petted her gently, as Clutch held her gently in his hands. Clutch opened the door as the boy stepped through the doorway. Clutch followed the boy out the door and waved goodbye as he watched the boy walk down the path.
Ermine suddenly jumped from his arms onto the porch and into the old rocking chair that Clutch used for his day dreaming. Clutch spent many a day softly stroking the cat in that chair. He sensed that the cat would stay with him and he smiled warmly at the animal. Clutch waved to the boy as he stepped joyfully down the leafy path taking him toward home. The boy turned and waved a number of times and Clutch could see the smile on the young boy’s face.
As the boy moved out of sight, Clutch turned, a smile breaking over his features as he looked at Ermine snuggled in the crook of the old rocker. He entered the cabin and as he closed the door, he noticed that somehow, the cabin seemed brighter. His gaze covered the room from floor to ceiling. The frayed curtains looked like the day his wife had first put them up. Blinking with both eyes, he removed the patch and looked around the cabin. The room looked like a home again. It hadn't been this ways since...
He heard a knock at the door.
Opening the door, his face froze in amazement. He saw her standing before him. She had a shovel in her hands and a worried look on her face. It was the look that had been frozen in his mind for years.
She spoke. "I just put a dent in the fender of the car, Clutch. I'm so sorry."
He reached for her and folded his arms around her, clutching her to him. He was surprised by his feeling of strength. It was his beloved Esmerelda.
As he looked past her, he saw the shiny Ford sitting in front of the porch. He shook is head in disbelief. Incredulously, the year was 1922 again. He looked at his lovely wife, as a broad smile shone from his face.
“That’s all right my dear, it was bound to get a scratch sometime.”
He promised himself he’d do a better job with their lives this time.
© Tom Loftus June 2010
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