Shadow Cat was a gray kitten I found in an abandoned yard the summer before fifth grade. I visited him several times before deciding he was even more alone than me. The house was empty—an eviction notice on the door, dust on the windows, trash piled around the yard.
Shadow Cat was a tiny little kitten in a tan pet carrier at the middle of the trash pile. A mostly empty bag of kitten food and an empty water bowl were in there with him. I came, fed him handfuls of his food and brought new water. I read him fairy tales from the library. I told him my own stories too, the ones I wrote in my rainbow leopard notebook and kept hidden under the bed.
Eventually, he wasn’t afraid of me anymore and I found out why he’d been left. He was a tiny little gray kitten and his back legs didn’t work. He couldn’t walk.
When the food was gone, it was time for him to come home. I knew I couldn’t have any more pets—my older sister would not allow it.
I was nine, scrawny and hungry, most talented at moving through the world unnoticed. My sister, ten, a giant. She reached her full height at eleven. That summer she was almost there, a 5’9” ten-year-old who ruled the neighborhood, the head of its pack of bullies and a terror to all.
The year before, she had killed my turtle with our mother’s perfume. She took a beating for the perfume and I buried Speedy in a shoebox with his favorite rock. She killed Phoebe the Parakeet when I laughed at some silly little thing she said. Her friends laughed too. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember coming home to find my beautiful blue friend dead on my pillow, just like I remember the chemical stench and my turtle dead at the bottom of his tank. I knew Shadow Cat would not be safe if she found him, but that house wouldn’t be left empty forever.
When she was away for a sleepover, I went in the middle of the night to bring him home in his tan pet carrier. It was huge and heavy and too much for my little nine-year-old arms. I pushed it for part of the way. He knew to be silent, I don’t know how.
I hid the crate behind a broken old rocking chair in the corner of my room. Hidden under a mountain of stuffed animals, my Shadow Cat was safe and happy and my own little secret. I stole cat food left out by neighbors or fed him half of whatever I could find for myself. He drank milk when we had it, I figured out he didn’t like soda pretty quickly. Chicken nuggets were OK, but macaroni and cheese was not.
We had adventures. He was a lion or a panther or a small dragon in my stories. Sometimes I’d decide he was a girl and we had tea parties with the bears. He didn’t like clothes.
Months passed. Summer ended. School started.
My sister found Shadow Cat one day when she beat me home. She said he was meowing.
At first, it was OK. But, he liked me best. He was growing and getting stronger and better at walking. He was a happy cat who came scampering out from under the bed when I got home and liked me best.
This was not OK. Everyone liked her better. It was the way of the world. I tried to teach him, to protect him. But, one day, she picked him up and he bit her. She smiled, but I knew it wasn’t OK.
I watched him. I snuck him everywhere except school. I was careful until the day I wasn’t. It was Halloween. She was to go trick-or-treating with her friends and I with mine for the chance of a bag full of free candy. That was the end.
She killed him with a baseball bat. Beat him to death in front of her pack of henchmen. A dark cat on Halloween night. Thrown away like garbage because I wasn’t there to bury him.
I see Shadow Cat in every gray cat. This happy little kitten that could barely walk, under the dubious care of an elementary schooler. The world is a dark place if you only remember the bit about the baseball bat. Remember the summer we were not alone.