By popular demand, I've decided to post "The Tabby on the Corner", a short story I wrote this summer as part of my admission portfolio for grad school. My friend, Stephanie Skinner-Hinton, nicknamed this "the Crazy Cat Lady Story" and it kind of stuck.
This is a true story, something that happened last spring near work in California, PA.
No cats were harmed in the writing of this story.
Enjoy, and feedback is encouraged.
The Tabby on the Corner
I work in higher education, for a university that is finally coming into its own. A beautiful place, really. Centuries-old red brick buildings mark the time while new construction rises to greet the growing freshman classes. It’s peaceful there, with closely manicured lawns, blooming trees and the occasional gray squirrel scurrying around to keep things interesting.
Our administration continually reminds us to practice “town and gown” relations. Basically, how we need to reach out to our neighbors in town to show them that we aren’t so bad, really. So whenever I have the opportunity, I go out of my way to be nice to the residents and show them that we are actually kind of nice. REALLY. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. But you can’t fault me for giving it the “old college try”.
My long morning commute to work is fairly uneventful. A travel mug of coffee and the drone of morning talk radio keep me from spending too much time with my deeper thoughts. My drive is also a time when I mentally run down my list of I-need-this-tomorrow-sorry-I-didn’t-get-this-to-you-sooner items that landed on my desk at 3:30 the day before.
My usual route in the mornings includes a self-imposed detour down side streets in order to avoid the town’s lone traffic light. I have taken this route every morning for the past four years with nothing exceptional to report. Except for one morning. This particular morning was the first day of school for the local children and there was lots of activity. I made my left turn at the bank and traveled on to the corner.
I stopped at the sign and watched as a small black and gray tabby cat sauntered into the intersection. She paused to look at me, sat on the pavement and proceeded to groom herself.
It was 8:05 a.m.. I was officially late for work and still had to find a place to park. I looked around to see if the cat’s owner was around. She was. A small girl my daughter’s age was waiting on the corner for the school bus with her grandmother. They watched with curiosity to see what I would do. Knowing that I would never harm the cat, I rolled down the window.
“PSSSSST!” I said at the cat, which looked up from her grooming with curiosity.
“Oh come on, Kitty, I’m late for work” I said. Kitty didn’t budge. Instead, she began grooming her tail. Sensing the cat wasn’t going to move out of the way, the little girl walked cautiously into the street and scooped it up. She returned to her corner and waved her thanks that I didn’t harm her pet.
The next day I followed my same route with the same mug of coffee and the same talk radio show. I reached the corner and voila, there was Kitty. As I reached the stop sign at the corner, the cat padded out into the middle of the road and sat on the pavement. Just sat. Tail curled around her legs and looking at me as if she expected something.
“Great,” I thought. “Here we go again.”
I smiled amusedly at the grandmother and granddaughter and rolled down the window.
“Stubborn kitty you have there,” I said.
The old woman looked at me with curiosity. “Yeah,” she said. “She follows my granddaughter to the bus stop every morning. Most of the time she stays on the sidewalk until the bus comes. But for some reason she likes to stop your car. She doesn’t do that to anybody else, and a lot of people come this way to The College.”
I looked at the grandmother and thought how remarkably she looked like my very own grandmother. The same small frame, the same silver-black hair and careworn face I remember. My grandmother passed away four months before, so the sudden flash of memory was welcome and soothing. I smiled at her and laughed. The little girl walked into the intersection and retrieved Kitty. I waved and wished them both a good morning and drove off grinning.
Each weekday morning, the scene repeated itself.
It was a routine I came to look forward to as I made my way to work.
Soon the temperature began to drop and the first snow fell. On particularly cold and snowy days the little girl’s parents would escort her to the stop instead of her grandmother. They didn’t know about their cat’s strange attraction to my car, so those mornings the mom held the tabby safely in her arms while they waited for the bus. I would fingertip-wave at the girl and she would always smile and fingertip-wave back.
The Christmas holidays approached before anyone really took notice. In preparation for my two-week-long break I came in a bit earlier and left for home a bit later. I missed seeing the grandmother and her granddaughter and thought about them often. I looked for Kitty every morning but she was never there… always heading home as soon as her girl boarded the bus.
December moved into January and school began again for the local children. I made my usual turn at the bank and saw the familiar form of the gray and black tabby scoot quickly into the intersection. I pulled up to the stop sign and Kitty pricked her tail up in an inquisitive question mark. I looked over and saw granddaughter and grandmother there, braced against the cold wind. I wound down my window and made a brief greeting. The grandmother commented on the cold weather and hoped I had enjoyed my Christmas holidays. I wished them both a happy new year as Kitty spotted a stray blowing leaf and took off in chase. I moved through the intersection and off to begin my day at work.
But then, something happened that made everything different. On this particular Wednesday morning I pulled into the intersection to see that Kitty wasn’t there. I looked to my left and saw the little girl holding her. The grandmother waved for me to stop. I did, and wound down my window.
Grandmother walked slowly towards my car, wary of the snow and ice.
“Good morning”, she said in a voice that was cautious, but welcoming.
“Good morning!” I replied.
“I have a gift for you, “ she said. “I hope you like it.”
From her coat pocket Grandmother’s gloved hand retrieved a single item. It was a miniature Pittsburgh Steelers knitted cap with a safety pin on the back. I had a pin very much like this one when I was a child but had lost it somewhere along the years.
“This is for September. Please put it away until then,” she said.
How sweet that Grandmother had taken note of the Steelers logo on the back window of my car.
“Wow!” I said, looking into her hazel eyes. “That’s wonderful! I will definitely wear this! Thank you!”
“I have something else for you,” she said. “I hope you like angels.”
Out of her other pocket she pulled a small plastic sandwich bag. Inside was the most beautiful crocheted angel pin I’d ever seen. The stitches were so small it gave the appearance that the angel was a solid piece of lacy fabric instead of a long white strand of carefully knotted yarn.
I looked at her with wide eyes as Grandmother continued.
“I have macular degeneration. Had to give up my knitting and crocheting ‘cause I can’t see too well anymore close-up. This is the last of my work. I want you to have it. Something told me that this angel was for you.”
My own grandmother loved angels. She never left the house without an angel pin tacked to her shoulder. The many shelves in her small apartment were lined with angels of all kinds, from wooden to crystal. This gift was more than just a token of thanks for ensuring Kitty’s well being. It was a gift of memories and a reminder that no matter what crossroads you come to in life, there is always something pleasantly unexpected waiting for you at the corner.
I grasped the thin plastic of the bag with my fingers and marveled at the angel’s beauty. There was a small slip of paper inside. A message was written on the paper in an old-fashioned hand. It read:
Hand crocheted angel pin by Marge Hartley.
“You made this?” I whispered.
“I did,” Mrs. Hartley said.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “My gosh, thank you so much!”
Mrs. Hartley smiled and backed away from my car. She joined her granddaughter and they both smiled and waved. I drove on to work with a tear in my eye.
So on this ordinary morning, standing here on the corner in the snow, was an unexpected messenger. That little angel pin meant more to me than Mrs. Hartley would ever know. It was the embodiment of all the memories of my grandmother. At a time in my life when I was truly at a crossroads, this small handmade token reminded me that no matter what, I was never truly alone. There was always someone to be there for me and to watch out for me. Like my grandmother who I believe still watches over me, so alike the angels she admired in life. Like the people whose smiles and waves I’ve come to depend on to brighten my mornings. Like the tabby on the corner.