Bill And Two Cats

by Roy Wilson

A long time ago I learned a very valuable lesson.  At least, I think I did.  One of these times when I'm sure I know what it is, I'm going to write it down so I won't forget.  I'm also quite sure you will agree there is a lesson here, and if you do, perhaps you will tell me what you think it is.  Let me relate a story to you, and see if you agree.

In the summer of 1957 I rented a small house on a quiet street in Pomona.  The house sat far back on the lot, near the alley, and the landlady had the front house.  She had a son and a new husband, and the three of them were my only neighbors.  I think her son Bill must have been about 17, and he spent most of his time in a huge garage in the back.  He had a bedroom back there; and since he and Ben, his step-father, didn't get along very well, it was the best arrangement.  The two of them took great pleasure in hating each other, but not in front of Bill's mother.  She was always trying to get them to do things together, but it didn't do any good.  Nothing could make them like one another.

Ben was in his seventies and nobody in the neighborhood could figure out why Grace had married a man so much older than herself, but she was a real churchgoer and so was he.  That's where they met, down at the First Baptist Church near the park.

Bill, of course, slept in on Sunday mornings and every Sunday about noon you could hear the old man yelling about how Bill was going to go to hell if he hadn't already arrived.  Ben did a lot of nasty things to Bill, and often would lock the house when Grace was away so Bill couldn't get into the kitchen and get anything to eat.  Once, Bill looked for his car keys for a couple of days and finally found them in the old man's cigar box.  He was so mad he grabbed Ben's Persian cat and stuffed it into a suitcase which he shoved under the daybed on the rear porch.  Ben could hear the cat, but it was days before he actually found it.  That cat damned near died, and the incident just made it that much worse between Bill and his step-dad.

Have you ever seen an old tomcat that doesn't have much use for people?   The neighborhood had a really big, mean, fierce old tomcat that roamed the alley in back of the garage where Bill had his room.  Bill's step-father hated it cuz it had once tore into his prized Persian.  So of course Bill fed it and encouraged it come around.  Not that Bill could touch it of course, because it had been feral a long time.  It would spit and snarl if you even looked at it.

That tomcat was all teeth and claws!  Still, it got used to the can of cat food Bill occasionally put out for it and it would hang around.  The old man threatened to shoot it or poison it, but mostly he just threw rocks at it.  Ben had no use for Bill or the tom, and wasn't quiet about it.  He thought the two of them were much alike.

One Sunday the old man went to church early and Bill's mother went out to the garage and talked Bill into going with her to the service.  Well, after church she gave Bill some money and Ben saw her do it.  He slapped her in front of Bill and a few of her friends, yelling about the money.  Later, the more she tried to smooth it over and get Bill to just forget it, the madder the young man got.

So Billy and his mother went home.  She went to the kitchen and he started to the garage.  And that's when he saw the Persian again, sleeping on the back porch.  Once more he grabbed it, only this time he took it to the park down the street and gave it to some kids.  Told them they could keep it, too.  Then he went home and took that same suitcase from under the daybed on the back porch, and asked his friend Zooie to help him take down a huge fish net from the rafters of the garage.  They waited together for the tomcat.  You know, the mean one nobody could touch.  The one that was all teeth and attitude.

And did I mention the claws?

Ben came home from church alone that day.  Still mad, too.  He sat in his chair for a long time and didn't say anything, but after awhile you could tell he was wondering where his cat was.  He got up and looked all over for that fat Persian, finally going out to the back porch where the daybed was pushed up against the screen.  With a deep scowl on his face he got down on his knees to look under it.

You know, it's just amazing how much one cat sounds like another when it's scratching to get out of a suitcase.

Billy joined the Navy that afternoon.

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