Contest RecapMidlife Collage sponsors a weekly contest of midlife short stories. U.S. citizens and legal residents age 40 and older may enter. The Editor selects five stories for publication on our website each week. Readers leave comments and Facebook thumbs-up likes urging the panel of Judges to choose a contest winner. Readers also send the Judges their opinions of the best story on our Closing Arguments page. The contest period is Monday through Sunday noon PT. The first-place story enters the Winner’s Circle and receives a cash prize of $50. Winners of a $50 cash prize are eliglble for a $100 contest, which we run quarterly. See the Submissions Page for the Contest Rules for details. ANYONE, worldwide, age 18 or older can comment on the stories in a contest.
Emily, my one-year-old gray tabby, was following me all over the house. She wanted to be in my arms every minute, and I couldn’t get anything done. It was time to find a friend for her, so I went to the local animal shelter.
All of their cats were beautiful, clean, healthy, neutered and litter-box trained. It was a difficult pick, but one caught my eye. I’ve always wanted a black cat, and this one was so black I couldn’t see the contour of her face. She lay in her cage like a beautiful black velvet trophy, peering at me through two of the brightest yellow eyes I have ever seen.
I was so caught up in the sight of Robin—their name for her—that I didn’t hear them tell me she was a feral cat. Even if I had, it would not have meant anything to me. I was not an experienced cat person, so I did not know “feral” meant “wild” and that a cat found in the wild is almost impossible to domesticate.
Emily was my first cat, and Robin would be my second, so I was new at this. I was so smitten with this black beauty that nothing they said would have made any difference. I was sure she was the one for me. I left the shelter with Robin in a carrying case in one hand and her cozy bed plus some food for her in the other.
It surprised me that Robin was so fearful. She spent the first three months crouched behind the dryer, sneaking out late at night to eat and to use the litter box. Emily and I would peek at her behind the dryer, but we could only see those bright yellow eyes, like flashlights shining back at us.
I didn’t understand this behavior and called the shelter for help. They suggested that I open the rest of the house to her. When I did, she found new places to hide, the fireplace warmer, even up in the loft where the central air was installed. Any attempt to touch her sent Robin flying to her latest hiding place.
This went on for another few months, so I began to have doubts. Was I so enamored by her beauty that I didn’t ask the right questions? What could I do with such a skittish cat that runs away from me all the time? Yet, I did not think it was right to return a cat that might be rejected elsewhere. I decided to keep her no matter what. She was not really the cat I wanted, but I couldn’t send her away.
It took a full year before Robin would even be in the same room with me or let me touch her for a second. Meanwhile, the relationship between Robin and Emily blossomed. They were inseparable, with Emily—the larger of the two—leading the way and Robin trailing after her like a kid sister.
One day I couldn’t find Robin. She disappeared off the face of the earth. I had never seen her run for the door, but if she somehow got out, there’s no way she would survive the animal kingdom where I live. There are coyotes, bears, woodchucks, raccoons, foxes, even a vulture lurking about. And Robin was a lightweight. You could lift her with your pinky.
Days passed and still no sign of Robin. Emily and I were inconsolable. Emily cried daily and would lead me to the basement stairs and drop down there.
My son and I searched every corner of the house, but there wasn’t a clue as to where she was or what happened to her. As the days passed, I felt hopeless. Perhaps, a good family found her and she was happy—but being a feral, she could never get close to people.
Finally, I tried to come to terms with the loss. With heavy heart, I went back to the shelter and forced myself to look for a replacement—twice. I tried but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though Robin didn’t relate to me, she was part of my family and I couldn’t replace her.
A few hours later, I was sitting at my kitchen table and heard five meows. I glanced at Emily and her mouth hadn’t moved. Both Emily and Robin had squeaks for meows, so it was unusual to hear a real meow coming from the wall between the kitchen and living room.
I called my son and had him come over and search everywhere again. My house has an attic that is nothing but a crawl space. My son crawled around and noticed that there were paw prints in the dust just over the corner of the kitchen where I heard the meows. He also noticed that there was insulation out of place.
We wondered if Robin was in the wall, so we went back into the kitchen and my son cut a hole in the wall beneath that attic spot. We were surprised to discover an old pantry that had been sealed off. There was no floor to this pantry, so the empty space went straight down below the kitchen floor.
No matter how much we called Robin, we could neither see nor hear her. I reasoned that if Robin fell into that wall, she would be in the basement ceiling, so we went downstairs and my son cut a hole in that ceiling.
I knew that if Robin were still alive, she could not possibly jump eight feet from the ceiling to the floor. We set up scaffolding so if Robin was in there, she would have a way to get out and climb down.
It was too much to hope for as she had been gone for sixteen days. Can anything live that long without food or water? And during that time, there had been a heat wave. Could she survive all the obstacles, no water, no food and sweltering heat? But then, there was that meow. Where did that come from?
The next morning I jumped out of bed and sprinted to the living room. I looked past the couch to Robin’s bed, and THERE SHE WAS, weak and exhausted with one swollen eye, but she was alive! I gasped. She was so weak, I let her rest and eat for a few days before taking her to the vet. By the third day, her eye was healed, her energy was restored, and it was as though those sixteen days never happened. She bounced back so fast, there was no need to take her to the vet.
While it was a miracle that she survived sixteen days trapped in a wall with no water and no food during a heat wave, the biggest miracle was that when she fell into the wall she was a feral cat and when she came out of the wall, she was a domestic cat. She no longer runs from me and even rubs her head against me lovingly. Robin’s ordeal transformed her into the cat I so eagerly brought home from the shelter.