Marisa watched closely as the skinny calico cat eyed the can of tuna in the back of the trap. She stood motionless as the cat put her left paw on the edge of the wire and furtively sniffed the air. Her hunger finally overtook her apprehension, and the door closed on her as she entered the cage.
Marisa grabbed the trap by the handle and set it in the bed of her pickup truck. “Good girl, it’s ok,” she said, trying to soothe the frightened cat. She started the ignition and hoped to make it to the clinic before dark to leave the calico for her altering the next morning. Once done, she would release her back into her neighborhood where she had survived her entire life.
Although she had been called a “crazy cat lady” by some people in the neighborhoods where she had done feral cat trap-neuter-release, or TNR, in the last few years, she didn’t look the part. With her petite frame and long blondish hair, she actually looked younger than her thirty-nine years.
She drove along the dusky road and reflected for the few miles until she reached the animal clinic. This neighborhood was different from most of those where she had done TNR. Although she had discovered or been made aware of cat overpopulation problems in various socio-economic neighborhoods in Rome, her relatively small Kentucky hometown, this one was more upscale than most. As she prepared to turn out of the neighborhood onto the main road, a sound from the last house on the right caught her attention. She turned to see a young woman run out of the house screaming, with a large man right behind her. The girl dropped a kitten in her hands onto the sidewalk and ran into the yard. The man chased after the kitten, but it quickly moved away from him. He then moved toward the woman with his hand raised in the air. Shocked at what she was seeing, Marisa froze for a second. Then she rolled down her window and called to the woman, “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” the girl answered meekly. “She’s fine. Mind your own damn business. Get back in the house, Sally!” the man yelled. Marisa glared at the man for a moment, trying to decide whether to take further action. He walked back into the house and slammed the door. Marisa looked toward Sally, who reached down to pet the kitten before following the man back inside. Marisa just shook her head and drove away. She had thought about asking the girl if the kitten belonged to her but, under the circumstances, she thought better of it. She remembered a time not so many years ago when she could have become like Sally. Rob, her ex-boyfriend, had been an alcoholic, verbally abusive jerk who seemed to take pleasure in chipping away at her then almost non-existent self-esteem. Had she not been self-sufficient and employed, she wondered if she could have ended up stuck in the destructive relationship. Luckily, she had left him and decided to adopt, probably one of the best decisions she had made. Although she was still single, she was also the proud mother of a smart, cute funny now 11-year old son, Mario.
Marisa was feeling very blessed as she turned into the shelter/clinic parking lot. She unloaded her cargo and rang the buzzer. Dan, the new animal shelter director, unlocked the door for her. “Working late?” she asked. It was almost 8:30 and nearly dark on the warm August Wednesday night.
“Yeah, a little, just trying to get acclimated,” Dan looked down at her with a smile.
Marisa transferred the cat from the trap to a clean crate and gave her a sip of water before leaving. She wished she could feed the hungry cat more, but she couldn’t have anything else until after her surgery the next day.
“Thanks, Dan. Just call me tomorrow when the vet’s done, and I’ll pick her up,” she said as she was walking out the door.
“Sure, Marisa.” Dan said as he brushed his still mostly-brown hair out of his eyes with his fingers.
Marisa headed home in the now pitch dark. She’d make sure Mario was doing his homework, make a quick dinner and head to bed so she could get up in the morning for her paying job.
“Hey Mario, did you finish your homework?’ Marisa called into his bedroom. She got no answer, so she nudged open the door. “Mario?”
“Hi, Mom,” Mario said absentmindedly, looking up from his Wii console.
“I hope you finished your homework before you started playing games,” she said, tousling his black hair.
“I did. What’s for supper?” he said.
“Hotdogs, macaroni and tomatoes & cucumbers. Come on and eat. It’s almost bedtime.”
The two ate quickly and quietly. Although she was tired, Marisa couldn’t help but marvel at Mario’s appetite. When he was younger, he was prescribed medication for ADHD with severe hyperactivity. The medication curbed his appetite, making him the smallest skinniest boy in his class through the fourth grade. However, when his focus improved and he was able to quit taking his Adderall, he started to eat like a teenage boy and he quickly caught up in growth with his peers. Despite eating everything in sight, he remained on the skinny side.
With his jet black hair and eyes and coffee-colored skin, Mario bore little resemblance to his adoptive mother. His birth mother had been American, but his father was Hispanic. Although Marisa noticed it much less than she used to, sometimes when they were out together in public, they still got strange looks from people trying to figure out their connection. In some ways, though, they were a lot alike. They were both left-handed, both had thick , lush eyebrows and both could be pretty hyper on occasion. Marisa liked to remember their similarities more than their differences.
“Baby, you’d better get to bed. You have school tomorrow,” she reminded him as she cleared the dishes.
“Ok, Mom, just one more game,” he said. He kissed her on the cheek and ran down the hallway to his room.
Marisa tried to imagine what her life would have been like without him, but she couldn’t do it. She fed Oreo, their cat, and she fell asleep as soon as she lay down on her bed.