More thoughts on my hometown:
The cats of Sheldon crowd around my grandparent’s porch, eating cut up pieces of meat and lapping milk from a can my grandfather sets out. I long to pick one up, collar it, and take it home, to set it safely among my sophisticated, city things. But the cats’ enormous eyes beg me to leave them in peace, to allow them to fill their bellies without worrying I might scoop them off to a brighter world. They fill the town, unchecked and unloved. I smuggle them extra food for the long days ahead. My grandmother has been known to suddenly turn on these pensioners, refusing to set out food after months of leading them on. The men and young boys alike would take joy in shooting them.
My grandparents took in one cat as a permanent guest, an ugly gray tabby with a sweet face and years of hard life behind her. Before my mom’s marriage and escape, the cat had kittens on the back stoop of the yellow house, behind a towering lilac bush that has since rotted away. My mom and I conspired together, giving up all luxuries for months so she could be spayed and the kittens vaccinated. My heart ached at the possible fate of those kittens. My grandmother, catching me crying with fear, would yell at my silliness, saying dead kittens were just a part of life. My mom and I kept one vivid kittens for ourselves and the mother, who I preferred, stayed with my grandparents.
I named the mother cat Duchess after a pampered cartoon cat who was rich, wore diamonds, and drank milk out of a crystal saucer. Our Duchess was thin and old even then, with misshapen paws from where a butcher passing as a vet had de-clawed her. The name never fit her, was almost an insult. My grandmother called her Ladybird after the hundreds of small winged creatures she brought home over the years. Even without claws Duchess was a deadly hunter. She made you feel that she only accepted milk and canned food as a courtesy.
Duchess loved me and insisted on sleeping next to my heart during the summer months I spent in Sheldon. Year after year, she never forgot me. Her ragged ears and sweet breath filled me with maternal longings. I was proud of her affection, her preference for me. She was someone to look forward to.
Duchess died during the winter, outliving her son who led a rather reckless life. My Grandfather told me she had died in her sleep and then later that summer, forgetting his lie, cursed the unknown person who had shot her. To my mind every person in town is a suspect, never to be trusted.