I had a dream about a crazy cat lady last night, so I want to write about her today.
Right across from my apartment in Queens, there was a halfway house where a group of gang members and recovering drug addicts lived. Every night, there would be music pulsating through the windows, and boisterous yelling and laughing seeping through the rickety wooden walls. Whenever I played outside with the neighborhood kids, I would always keep one eye curiously latched onto that house, and wildly imagined what life may have been like inside. Was there a leader of the house who had his own throne room? Was there a secret room with kidnapped victims? Was there a pitbull of abnormal size guarding the premises? For a child, I had quite the imagination.
I never got to get a glimpse inside the house. But I did make friends with the lady who lived in the basement, and we called her Cora the Crazy Cat Lady. She never told us her name, but every time we witnessed her exiting her home, there would always be at least five cats who darted out with her, and an equal amount (perhaps more) entering alongside her. My friends and I used to bet how many cats she actually had, and then the day finally came that we would be able to see with our own eyes just how crazy she was.
She was hobbling past us in her beat-up black winter coat (although it was a sweltering, hot day in New York that day), dragging along a large carpet-material bag that looked like it was stolen out of the set of Mary Poppins. She was unkempt, her gray hair poking out from beneath her very old and dirty NY Yankees cap. She paused directly in front of us, and we all held our breath. Peering directly at me with her dark, yellowing eyes, she practically snarled, “HEY. WANT A CAT?” I nodded slowly, but immediately regretted it. What if I never came out again? What if I was to die a horrible death of being maimed and eaten by a million furry cats? I grabbed the nearest friend I could find (which was another regret because it turned out to be Bobby, a scrawny white kid who often had asthma attacks and never carried around an inhaler) and the three of us walked over to her house. I could feel the rest of my friends saluting me farewell behind me.
She was definitely crazy. Every fire/hazard/health/safety code was broken 1000 times over, and there were cats EVERYWHERE. Small to big, young to old, black to white, spotted to striped, every cat in existence was inside that tiny basement. CCCL waved her gnarled hand over her population of creatures, muttering “Take one, I have too many.” I didn’t know whether she was joking, but by her hacking and high-pitched shrieking of a giggle, I assumed she did.
Bobby was having a freak-out. He began to breathe rapidly, sweat sliding down his pasty skin. I grabbed the closest cat I could find and we ran out of there like bats out of hell. The poor cat bounced dangerously against my chest as we sprinted across the street and into the crowd of kids who cheered with relief at the sight of us. In broad daylight, I lifted the cat Simba-and-Rafiki style in triumph, only to be met with horrified gasps. I looked up and dropped the cat in disgust. The mutilated face peered up at me and it casually licked it’s splotchy black fur. This thing had a massive underbite, so her jaw jutted out with crooked fangs, and one eye was shut tightly as the other in all its bright golden glory swiveled to examine each of us. She was thin as a twig, and yet again, fate forced me to choose the worst out of the bunch.
After we got over the shock, she actually became our mascot and we named her Hideous. After dinnertime, all of us met in the street and we fed her every leftover we could collect. One kid actually stole an eye-patch from the drug store and we constructed it to fit over her dead eye. Over that summer, she began to fill into her loose skin and with our care, started looking like a normal cat. Before I went to bed, I would peer down and see her on the street, licking her paws and playing around the large box we found for her.
One evening, we were playing with Hideous and CCCL showed up around the corner, limping towards her front door. Our cat seemed to sense her, and immediately leapt towards her. We cried out in protest, but before we could do anything further, Hideous disappeared with CCCL through that dreadful door of doom. As each of us drifted home one-by-one, I sadly gazed at the door. I never saw Hideous again, but concluded that even Hideous never forgot her first true love.