by Sheila Connolly
Being the new kid in town isn’t easy. I didn’t want to be here at all, and I sure didn’t want to have to meet all the local kids and try to make friends with ‘em. Some of them are okay, but there are others who think they have to show me just how tough they are. I don’t much like to fight, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Wish I could say things were getting better, but I’d be lying.
What is this? The opening to a new cozy, or maybe a YA novel? Nope, it’s about cats.
A few weeks ago an unfamiliar cat showed up in the neighborhood. Ours is a neighborhood that has more cats than dogs, and we’ve met most of them at one time or another. We have two cats, but they’re inside cats, although they know most of the locals because they sit on our screened porch and watch them. Our neighbors next door have a lovely tiger named Henry, who comes over to our house and very politely asks for a snack (yes, his owners feed him well). Softies that we are, we give him one.
But back to the new cat. We think he was abandoned. When he first showed up he was very vocal—he’d wander the neighborhood yowling. While he’s male, we don’t know him well enough to check if he’s had The Operation, but I don’t think he was looking for love–he was hungry. And distressed.
He kept making the circuit of our block, and, as I’m sure you can guess, we started feeding him. He is pathetically grateful. It also became clear that he isn’t a feral cat, because he’s happy to have us pet him, although we haven’t quite reached the sit-on-the-lap stage. But he’s definitely used to humans and contact.
Why am I rambling on about a stray cat? Because I realized that watching New Cat introduce himself to the other cats around here has been kind of a microcosm for species interactions—and useful for writing.
New Cat was spooked at first, since he wasn’t used to surviving on his own. He made his first social overtures to Henry next door, and soon he was sharing Henry’s back porch with Henry occasionally, rolling over and baring his tummy. Submissive behavior, right? Henry is a very considerate cat, so he accepted New Cat politely, and they seem to get along fairly well. Henry still claims first rights to any plate of food, but he’ll leave some for New Cat. New Cat waits his turn.
Then New Cat started interacting with our sibling cats, Dexter and Lila, through the porch screen. Ours are very easy-going and friendly, so they were more curious than hostile. They’d sniff noses through the screen. Our male hissed a few times—this is, after all, his turf—but they quieted down before long. Dexter is the gregarious cat of the pair, and soon enough he was doing the back-roll-tummy-bare thing with New Cat. Lila just watches.
I have to say that not all of New Cat’s interactions have been as happy—he came by one day with a bleeding ear, so he got into it with some unfriendly cat (I suspect the chunky all-black one that wanders by now and then, looking like a thuggish Harbinger of Doom).
Maybe there’s a cozy story in here somewhere. You know: stranger arrives in town, not necessarily by choice, and tries to make friends. Some neighbors welcome the newcomer, others are more hostile (like the evil Black Cat, the villain of the tale). So far the only body has belonged to a squirrel, and that was Henry’s doing—or at least, he disposed of the evidence. Fitting in at a new place involves patience, and a degree of politeness. And for a cat, it may also mean fitting in with the humans, so they keep feeding you, which is greatly helped along by a display of gratitude and affection. New Cat is not dumb.
I am in favor of adopting cats in need (and making sure they’ve had The Operation and all necessary shots). But most of our cats have been chosen, with the exception of a pathetic black kitten my husband found in his parking lot at work, years ago, who turned out to be one of the nastiest cats I’ve ever known. Which doesn’t explain why we kept her for twenty years. She didn’t get along with people or other cats. She bullied every other cat we had during her time with us. She also peed on carpets. But we always felt we had an obligation to her, since we’d taken her in.
But I don’t know what we’re going to do about New Cat. My sister-in-law, who has at least six cats ranging from wild to house-bound, says if you name a stray cat, you’re sunk. Uh, I have a name for New Cat. Cozies need happy endings, right?
Okay, one small plug for Razing the Dead (released last month), but only because it’s appropriate to Independence Day just past: the story revolves around one of the nastiest battles in the Revolutionary War, the Paoli Massacre in Pennsylvania. The monument on the battlefield today is the second oldest in the country; only the one at Concord is earlier.