“Hey there, big kitty, how you doing…c’mon, sleepyhead, wakeup….Cinnamon?”
The boxy head pops up; icy green eyes scan the human face on the other side of the bars. Recognition never comes, and all enthusiasm fades as the cat’s eyes glaze over with disappointment and disinterest.
The woman standing there checks the card on the stacked metal cages that hold cats from the local rescue. Surprise flashes across her face when she reads that the large cat with a most inelegant head is indeed a female. Cats are usually defined by a slightly feminine grace, even the males. The girth of this particular feline is impressive.
She is appropriately named. Her fur is deeper than butterscotch or peanut butter, and while she would fall into the category of orange tabby, her coat is a dark, two shade variation of rusted pine needles. Her profile card says that she is nine and her former owners surrendered her because they didn’t want her anymore. Surrendered; the softened, politically correct term for abandoned, guaranteed not to inflict guilt upon an owner. No one forced them to give up the animal.
The profile cards admit when owners move, develop allergies, have a child of whom the animal is jealous, or returned to the rescue because he or she didn’t get along with earlier acquired pets. Cinnamon’s tag clearly indicates that she is no longer wanted.
Other people stop by the cages, read the cards, and cautiously poke their fingers through the bars to scratch behind an ear or under a chin. Cinnamon returns to her nap just beyond the reach of the grasping fingers; she is oblivious to the kind words and prying eyes.
She has seen this all before on the faces of these humans who stop by to look at her and her fellow rescues. Their eyes search first for the kittens or at least the young cats a year old or less. Then they read the cards on the cages, making mournful noises in their throats over the rescued strays. They compare each cat to one they’ve known at some time or other (This one looks like Lucky, only bigger or Doesn’t that one resemble Jane’s cat, Dartmouth). They cheer victoriously when a cat allows itself to be petted; more so should the slinky creature meow as if for their pleasure. They chuckle at funny names bestowed upon the cats (Witherspoon, Merlin, or Chairman Meow).
Cinnamon doesn’t care about any of this, but then neither does Ziggy in the bottom, left-hand cage. They continue napping, lending to the aloof reputation that cats enjoy and proving sullen, dog-loving boyfriends correct when they claim cats aren’t as nice or cuddly as dogs. Cinnamon does not need or want to go home with the young women dating these idiots. In fact, she doesn’t need anyone, or at least that’s what she wants you to believe.
Sometimes, during the hours she spends at the pet store in the small room with a glass partition, she wonders in cat fashion how long she’ll be here. And where are her owners? Why never crosses her mind because it isn’t her fault. She does wish the store employees wouldn’t prop open the door to the room. The store can be quite noisy, especially on the weekends.
On the days that Cinnamon graces the public with her wakeful presence, her peridot eyes, and her expressionless visage, she likes to sit upright in her cage with tail wrapped around her front toes. From this position, she regally dispenses judgment like Bast. Go ahead and assess me if you dare. Her countenance would lead one to believe that she could read thoughts.
If she could, she would find humor in those running through the head of a man who really wants another cat but doubts the two he has at home would get along with her. His boys, both under two years of age, can be quite rambunctious at times. They would probably torment Cinnamon relentlessly as she attempted to nap. He imagines a scene in which Cinnamon rises like a disturbed lioness that tears into his precious fur babies with tooth and claw. Yes, perhaps, he’ll leave this one for someone else.
Then there is the young couple with two toddlers in tow. The mother, pregnant to the point of bursting, repeatedly corrects the children rattling the lock dangling from Cinnamon’s cage. The temptation is too much, and the mother must remove her offspring who tries to climb the front of the cages. She calls to the father who lingers a moment in the glass room, considering Cinnamon for adoption until a vision of a black lab playing with his grade school-aged children passes through his thoughts.
A little girl, who has been promised a cat for her birthday, complains to her anxious parents that she couldn’t rename the dumb, old cat because she probably wouldn’t learn her new name. She balls her fists on her hips and shouts Muffin. Cinnamon ignores her. When the child says Cinnamon, the cat’s head moves. The little girl stamps her foot, shouts I told you so, and dissolves into a tantrum of tears. She is dragged, screaming, from the store.
One woman passes up the opportunity to adopt Cinnamon because she fears cat fur would stick to her cabernet colored suede couch. An elderly couple decides against the option because they worry about who would take the cat in the event she outlived them. Another couple admires her, but their children are grown, and they want to start traveling; finding someone to watch the pets is such a chore.
No matter. Cinnamon is not in a hurry to go anywhere. Her owners might return at any minute. Maybe tomorrow.
One by one the lights in the warehouse-sized store begin to go off for the night. The staff scurries to finish sweeping and arranging displays. They grab coats, purses, keys, and lunchboxes. One calls out goodnight to the rescue cats. Then it is dark and silent, except for security lights and the bubbling of tanks in the fish department.
Cinnamon stares into the darkness, searching for movement in the aisles of pet food and toys. She doesn’t move for thirty minutes or more. It would feel so luscious to be able to escape her cage for a few moments, to stretch and roll along the floor, to prowl the quiet store. She curls into a ball under the wooden shelf in her cage and falls asleep contrary to her nature.
In her dreams, there is a person who visits the store for the express purpose of taking her home. Perhaps it’s a man, maybe a woman, but either way the voice is kind, soothing. This human is gentle with her, only saying her name in the long, drawn out way a human does when he or she is calling for someone. This individual doesn’t scold harshly when she is caught sleeping on the couch or lapping puddles off the shower floor. Cinnamon isn’t expected to curl up on a lap or play with kittenish toys. But this person is always within reach, reading the paper on the floor and laughing when Cinnamon decides to plop down on the pages, or sitting on the basement steps and inviting her to share the space. Most importantly, this person is patient. Patiently waiting for Cinnamon to relax enough to bestow even a fiber of trust. However long it takes, this person will wait, and he or she will recognize success when the sandpaper kiss of a tongue caresses the back of a hand just once.
Paws twitch and eyelids flicker. Cinnamon chatters in her sleep.
Across town a widowed woman said goodbye to her beloved cat today. Tomorrow, she will visit the pet store in search of another to help her work through her grief. Probably an older specimen for they are usually calmer, more settled. She is partial to orange tabbies.