This is the story of a neighborhood. And of a cat. And of a loss.
It all began about a year ago when a calico cat started showing up on our porch to visit our indoor tabby through a window screen. They leapt at each other, scratched at the mesh, meowed. We considered them friends.
Then one day, the calico showed up at a cookout we had in our backyard. She jumped up onto an empty chair and sat, moving her eyes from person to person as the conversation traveled. From that day on, we called her Barbeque. Or BBQ. Or BooBoo. Or just BB. And we loved her.
Throughout the fall, Barbeque would show up at our backdoor. Sometimes we fed her a handful of cat food. Sometimes we would just pet her. Occasionally, she would suddenly pop up like a gremlin at the kitchen window and call to us. It was frightening and funny at the same time.
Next door, the people with dogs knew her, too.
She walks right to the edge of their leashes, they told us, and teases the dogs.
We all laughed about her precociousness.
Unlike our own pet, who is quiet and reclusive, Barbeque would talk constantly. She had a charming habit of arriving at the same time we got home from school or work. There she would be, yapping away and rubbing against our legs. Often, she walked in front of us acting like a cheerful private escort to the door. She never seemed to mind that we didn’t let her in the house. Visitors thought she was our cat and tried to let her in. But she always stayed outside, sometimes sleeping on a chair or stretching on the sidewalk. More than once, we had to shoo her out of the street, where she would sit — naive about cars and unconcerned about danger.
When winter came, we worried about BBQ. Although she wore a flea collar and had a healthy-looking stomach, we never saw her come or go from any house. We put a box filled with downy clothes on the porch for her, in case she got cold in the night.
Other neighbors, who had dubbed the cat Hobo because of her roving ways, asked if we knew anything about her family life.
No, we said, but we love her.
Yes, they agreed, she was a sweet cat, and one that got along surprisingly well with their finicky pet.
Hobo is no hunter, though, they told us. She chases and chases and chases bugs and squirrels and the such, but never gets a hit.
We all laughed at that, too, and secretly vowed that someone would take her indoors when the cold set in.
One day, when we were out for a walk — with BB in tow — we heard a man call out to her. It sounded as though he called for “Marigold,” and off BB ran to meet him. “Come on, Maggie,” he said.
“Yes,” he said to our inquiry, “she has a home.” Then BB and the man, whom we would now refer to as her dad, walked into the house across the street. In the midst of our happiness about BB’s connection to a family, we lamented that she was not really available for adoption.
Still, the next time BB showed up on a cold night, we worried that she had been left behind because her dad’s house was often dark at night. So we put a dish out on the porch and began feeding her regularly. We officially considered her a part of the family, and she returned our affection with rubs and meows and the most pleasant of personalities.
This spring, we got up the courage to ask the folks at BB’s house about her status.
“We’re moving,” said a man there. It was bad news.
“Any chance we can keep the little calico?” we asked jokingly, but with underlying wishfulness.
He smiled. And the answer was no.
On moving day, our neighbors stopped by.
“Have you heard about Hobo?” they said.
We commiserated about how we’d miss her, reminisced about her antics, said what a bad hunter she is, lamented our loss.
Later that day, when the moving van was packed, BB was nowhere to be found. Her dad knocked at our door.
“Have you seen Magnolia?” he asked.
Magnolia? We were so stunned to hear the cat’s actual name that our answer came slowly. No, we said, we hadn’t seen her for hours.
“Well, I’ll go next door,” he said, staring pensively past us and into the yard, his arms folded across his chest. “That lady said she wanted to keep Maggie, too, so maybe she’s there.”
In a bold move, we asked for his address — so we could visit BB. Skeptically, he gave it to us and left. We never saw them take BB, but we know she’s gone from us.
Yesterday, we took in BB’s bowls from the porch, which, we have noticed, has been rather quiet. Hers was a neighborhood life, one of connection and friendship and steadiness. And ours is a neighborhood loss.