The Island Cat
So, I always said I would share some of my stories, so here is one of my favorites. For those who know me, you will recognize the names that I used. I will start off with a picture of my cat, Shakey. She is a wobbly cat (has CH) but is such a joy to be around.
The Island Cat
By Melissa Basinger Green
Pumpkin sat on the hill overlooking the small grouping of houses below her. This was her island, her town, her people, and it made her proud to survey it. She felt the warm breeze from the ocean ruffle her fur and she purred with contentment. Her eyes closed as she felt for the emotions of the people below float up to her. Most of them were good, but two spots stood out to her. She contemplated them, assessed them, then stepped off the rock and headed for Gabi’s house.
Gabi sighed as she finally placed the sleeping Kylie on the bed beside her twin, Hailey. “How could two toddlers wear me out so quickly?” She thought to herself as she dragged herself back to the kitchen to clean up the mess from lunch. While Everitt spent the day in the hard work of catching shrimp and lobster, she spent the day chasing the twins around and keeping the house clean.
As she washed off the plastic table where the girls ate, she noticed a movement in the window above her. She looked up to meet the amber eyes of Sunshine, the cat that no one owned, but everyone fed and took care of. She smiled as she opened the window, letting in Sunshine with a bit of warm breeze. “Good afternoon, Sunshine, is it my turn for a visit?” She asked.
Sunshine jumped down and wound through her legs, purring. Gabi reached over and picked up the few pieces of hotdog that the girls had not eaten and dropped them in front of Sunshine. “Here you go, sweetie, leftovers. Not as good as fish, I know, but still good.”
Sunshine looked at her and meowed as if to thank her. Gabi smiled as Sunshine quickly ate the hotdogs, then curled up in a chair to watch her wash the dishes. The warm soapy water and the light hitting her eyes from the window made Gabi sleepy, but she knew these dishes needed to be washed. She just hoped her girls slept long enough to give her a bit of a rest before going again.
As Sunshine carefully cleaned herself spending an excessive amount of time cleaning her paws, Gabi finished the dishes, cleaned off the counters and stove and picked up the toys strewn around the house. She was surprised to discover that very little time had passed since she had put the girls down, so she curled up on the sofa with her favorite book, cherishing a few moments of rest and relaxation.
A while later, Gabi startled awake realizing that she had fallen asleep on the sofa. She looked at the clock and was surprised once again at how little time had passed, yet she felt refreshed as if she had just slept for hours. She smiled and wondered where Sunshine was.
She found Sunshine in the room with the girls, curled up between them, purring. She leaned against the doorframe and pulled out her cellphone to take a picture. The light hit the bed just perfectly, leaving Sunshine in a beam of light that made her appear almost golden. The photo would make a wonderful gift for her mother for her birthday. She smiled contently as Sunshine opened her eyes and sat up, stretching as she did so, then headed out of the room.
“Ah, time for you to leave already Sunshine?” Gabi asked, as she started towards the door, followed closely by the orange tabby. “Thank you for your visit, I always seem to feel better afterwards, almost like you have given me an extra hour in the day.” The cat paused on the threshold and gave her a knowing look, then trotted off down the hill. Gabi smiled once again as she heard her girls talking in the bedroom. Refreshed, she thought now that she could handle pulling out the plastic pool and letting them play in it while she read some more.
Linda sat in the window of her Pap’s house and sighed, the beeping of the heart monitor behind her seemed to be counting down the time to her grief. Ever since her Pap had his latest stoke, he had been deteriorating at a fast rate. Memories of fishing with him, hiking through the woods nearby and hunting deer skipped through her mind with the echoes of laughter past. Saying goodbye was always so hard.
Below her own sorrow, though, was a worry that her father, Aaron, would not make it onto the Island in time to say goodbye to his father. She had been fifteen when they had moved from the Island for her father’s new job, and it had hurt her so much. She had found new friends but came back every summer to visit. This summer, though, she had returned to find her Pap in bad shape, and she knew it was only a matter of time, even though her Gram seemed to be in denial. She had called her father every day, begging him to come back. It was not until the second stroke the week before that her father had given in and booked the flight and ferry. She looked at her watch and noted the time, still six hours before he would be there, IF there were no delays.
As she looked back at the window, she caught sight of an orange cat winding its way down the hill and smiled. Butterscotch was known as the island cat and her Pap had always loved spending time with her. She looked to make sure that her Gram was not near the room, then returned to the window and opened it just enough. Butterscotch climbed the tree to the window and easily jumped to the sill.
“Shhh, Butterscotch,” Linda whispered, “If Gram sees you, she will throw you out.”
Butterscotch gave her a knowing look, then jumped up on the bed and burrowed deep under the covers, hidden from view. Linda smiled as the lump curled up to Pap and started purring. Pap suddenly moved slightly, his hand finding Butterscotch and a slight smile came over his face. Linda gasped as she watched his fingers rub the cat’s soft fur. He had not moved or made a sound for two days, yet he responded to Butterscotch.
Linda thought back to the first time she had met Butterscotch, though it had been a different Butterscotch at that time, one with slightly lighter fur and darker eyes. Everyone on the island knew about the cat, and everyone had a different name for her. It was always a she, and she never seemed to get sick or hurt. She also never would stay with one person, insisting on visiting everyone. The men always saved her a little bit of fish, and several people were known to leave her milk when they knew she was around.
Every ten years, or there about, the island cat would disappear for a month or two, then another one, looking similar, but slightly different and thinner, would show up and take over where the other one left off, making her rounds and checking on the residence of the island. No one seemed to know how this occurred and if the new one was a child of the old one or a new cat entirely, but everyone agreed on one thing, life was easier on the island when the cat was around. She thought of the many times she had needed just some extra time on a project and Butterscotch would show up and time seemed to slow down just enough for her to finish the project. And last summer, when Phil had returned from college and they had discovered that the friendship from their youth was blooming into something far more serious, Butterscotch had often shown up while they were walking along the shore. Those days had seemed to last forever, with Butterscotch seeming to make the days stretch just enough for them to share every important memory.
Oh, many people laughed at the idea of a cat being able to change time, but Linda believed Old Man Asher on this one. Butterscotch always seemed to know who needed extra time, and always seemed to show up and give it to them. Now she lay, curled up beside Linda’s Pap, helping to bide the time for her dad to come say his goodbyes.
As she sat contemplating this, she heard voices from downstairs and recognized Phil’s voice. A smile spread over her face as she quickly left, bounding down the steps to greet the love of her life.
Phil was in the kitchen harassing her Gram when she entered, the twinkle in his blue eyes making him even more handsome as he held the coffee mug just out of Gram’s reach. “Oh, no, ma’am, you told me coffee was bad for you. I mustn’t let you drink this!”
“Oh, Phil, quit teasing her.” Linda said as she danced into the room. “You know if Gram doesn’t get her daily allowance of coffee that she turns into a monster!”
“A monster, eh, my grandchild!” Gram answered as Phil finally handed her back the coffee. “I do believe you have become much more of a coffee addict then I’ve been. You do realize that you drank over ten cups of this stuff yesterday, right?”
“Oh, Gram, I was just trying to stay awake to work on my summer research.” She replied. “With that new pod of dolphins swimming through, there was a lot of information to gather!”
Phil wrapped her in his strong arms and kissed her on her forehead, “Ah, my little marine biologist, always following those dolphins!” Then he got a serious look on his face and asked, “How is Pap holding up?”
She thought about telling him about Butterscotch for a moment, but knew that her Gram would have a fit, so she just smiled and said, “He does seem just a little better. He actually moved a bit while I was just up there.”
She noticed her Gram turn away, hiding the tears behind her coffee cup. Once she was composed, she turned back, “Well, that’s good. Look, honey, you’ve been up there with him almost all day. Your cousin Brianna will be here shortly to spend some time with him. Why don’t you and Phil go out and enjoy this beautiful weather?”
“Actually, that’s why I’m here.” Phil stated, “My Dad brought in a ton of shrimp today, so we were going to have a big shrimp broil down on the beach with Aunt Stephanie’s big pot over a bonfire. I was hoping you could get away long enough to join me there, then I’ll take you to the dock to meet your father later this evening.”
“Oh, that would be perfect.” Linda answered. “Gram, do you want to join us?” She added, not wanting to leave her grandmother out.
“Oh, no,” Gram replied. “I really feel like I should stay here. The nurse is due in a few hours, but she might just show up early.”
“Okay.” Linda replied, a little let down. Her grandmother had not left the house once since this past stroke, and it worried Linda. “Well, if you change your mind, just come on down.” She leaned in and kissed her grandmother’s cheek, then took Phil’s hand and they headed out the front door.
On the path to the beach, they met Brianna carrying a basket of warm rolls and a book that Pap had read to them many times tucked under her arm. “Oh, Bri,” Linda exclaimed, “are you going to read to him? I bet he’ll love it!”
“Yes.” Brianna replied, “I thought it might comfort him, or at least help me pass the time. What time does your dad get in? My mother was asking because I think everyone’s planning on coming to the house then.”
“He should be in by nine.” Linda answered, “Oh, and I wanted to tell you. While I was up there, Butterscotch came in through the window and snuck under the covers to curl up to Pap. He actually woke up a little and petted her, though he didn’t open his eyes or speak.”
Brianna gave an obvious sigh of relief. “Good! If Butterscotch is there, then he’ll live long enough for your Dad to give his goodbyes.”
Phil laughed at this. “You and your family!” He exclaimed, “I’m sure the cat gives him comfort, but I’ll never believe that he has any effect on time!”
Linda and Brianna shared a smile, they knew that most of the island did not believe like they did about Butterscotch, but they did not care. From their little girl days of dressing Butterscotch up in doll dresses, they had always known that there was more to the island cat than most people realized.
The girls quickly hugged each other, and then went their separate ways, both feeling better knowing that Butterscotch was with their Pap.
Aaron stood anxiously at the front of the ferry, watching the island get closer and closer. Since it was ten at night, all he could see were the lights, but he knew exactly which lights belonged to which family. His eyes focused on a two-story house about half way up the hill from the dock, noting that the light in his father’s room was still on. Knowing how little time he had left to say his goodbyes, he willed the ferry to go faster than he knew it ever could.
Finally, the dock was close enough to see, with his daughter waiting near the end, holding hands with a red-headed man. “That must be Phil.” Aaron thought to himself as memory of a small red-headed boy danced through his head. As a boy, he had always seemed to be in the middle of trouble, but both his mother and daughter had assured him that he had calmed down a lot. He wondered just how serious this young man was about his daughter, but then shrugged to himself. He was here on a more immediate matter, and he doubted that worrying about his adult daughter’s relationship would get him anywhere.
As he finally stepped off the boat, Linda grabbed him in a hug that spoke more of the situation than words ever could. He dropped his suitcase to the ground and wrapped his arms around her, feeling her tears on his chest. Home, the smell of the ocean, of fish, of the boat, his daughter’s shampoo; all of it wrapped around him making him realize just how much he missed living on the island. He had been struggling lately with the decision of his retirement; should he take it this year or wait another five or ten years. Standing there, at home, helped him make that decision. He would take his retirement and return home to help his mother survive her grief.
Linda finally pulled back and looked up at him. “Pap is still alive, Brianna is up reading to him, and Butterscotch is in there, too.”
“Butterscotch is with him?” Aaron asked, feeling a bit of relief. “Good, we still have some time then. Shall we head up to the house?”
As he reached for his suitcase, and met air, he realized that Phil was holding it and standing slightly apart, not wanting to interrupt the reunion. He smiled and stepped forward, holding out his hand, “You must be Phil. You’ve grown up quite a bit. I’m Linda’s father, Aaron.”
The young man took his hand in a firm grip. “I remember you well. You once helped me get out of trouble when I accidentally spilled Old Man Asher’s bucket of clams.”
Aaron laughed at the memory. “Yes, I remember that. You were always such a little scamp, never slowed down for anything. What are you doing now?”
“I’m studying History at the same University as your daughter. I hope to one day run the museum here on the island.” He replied.
“That would be wonderful.” Aaron answered. “Joe does a good job with it now, but I know he is getting ready to retire.”
“Yes.” Phil replied as they got into his green sedan and started up the hill, “I hung around down there enough as a kid, and I have some plans for renovations that I think would bring in more money from the tourists every summer.”
They continued chatting on this subject until they pulled into the driveway of the home Aaron had lived in from infancy. The house seemed to be full of people as he got out, but it was his mother who ran out to him first, finally letting the tears flow that she had been holding back for almost a week. He held her close as his eyes met his sisters over her head. He knew this time would come eventually, but he really was still not prepared for it.
Once inside, he wove his way through cousins and friends, making his way up to the only quiet room in the house. As he entered his father’s room, he noticed the orange cat lying next to his father. “Ah, Butterscotch.” He stated softly, “Thank you for staying with him for me.”
As he made his way to the chair beside the bed, Butterscotch greeted him with a head rub and purred as he scratched her ears. She jumped down from the bed when he lifted his father’s hand up to his face and disappeared out the door.
“Father,” he said gently to the man in the bed. “Father, it’s Aaron.”
His father’s blue eyes opened and met Aaron’s gaze, and a smile slipped quickly through the wrinkles of his face. “My son, why are you here?” He asked.
“I came to visit you, Father, and to see Mother.” He answered. “I am going to retire this year, so I also wanted to talk to Mother about moving back home.”
“Oh, yes, that would be good.” The old man answered. “We’d love to have you stay here. You’d be much closer to Rebecca’s grave here, you know.”
A tear slid down Aaron’s face at the thought of his beloved, late wife, who looked so much like the daughter downstairs. “I know that Father, I know that. It would be good to come home.”
The old man simply smiled and closed his eyes. “I’m so tired, son, so tired. It would be good to know that you were here to help your mother with the house.”
Aaron watched as his father’s breathing lengthened in sleep and knew that he had made it home just in time. As tears fell out of the corner of his eyes, he made a note to leave some fish out for the island cat tomorrow.
Pumpkin slipped through the door of the house, not even noticed by the many people there to say their goodbyes. She knew that death would take Pap soon, certainly within the next day, but she was content in knowing that he had his son by his side one last time for their goodbye.
She quickly found her favorite path; one no human could tread. It wound its way down the hill and to the West, bringing her out behind Old Man Asher’s house. He sat out front on the stoop, his dinner resting on his knee as he watched the lights of the boats skim over the dark waters. She purred and rubbed up next to him, knowing he was keeping a piece of that fish on his plate just for her.
“Finished up at the house, eh?” He asked her as she settled into her meal, “Must mean his son came in on the last ferry. Good. Much as I didn’t get along with him, still wouldn’t wish him to take the path to Heaven without saying his goodbyes to his son, eh, Pumpkin?”
Pumpkin answered with a meow, her tail swishing back and forth. Yes, her day’s work was done finally, and it was time to settle in for the night. She sat beside her favorite person for a while, watching the lights with him. No words were needed between them, they were just happy to be with each other. She reached down and started licking her paws, turning back the time. Her day would come when she would have to say goodbye to Old Man Asher, but she was determined to hold it off for as long as possible.
Linda could see the old man from her porch, with the orange cat sitting beside him. Two old spirits enjoying the nighttime air. As sad as this time was for her family, she also knew that they would work through it together. And Butterscotch, or Sunshine, or Pumpkin, whichever name you gave her, would always be here to help. A smile touched her lips and she leaned back against Phil, knowing that she would always welcome the island cat into their home and leave her fish and milk.