“I think I need to go to the vet,” said Hamburger.
The ponderous grey tabby cat sat on the kitchen counter next to his longtime human companion, Chloe, watching her attentively as she washed the dishes.
Chloe nodded slightly, but didn’t respond.
“I said, I think I might need to go to the vet,” Hamburger repeated. “This scratch on my head is really starting to hurt. Can you take me to the vet to get something for it, please?”
Chloe turned off the tap water and looked at the cat while drying her hands on her apron. The scratch above his right eye had definitely gotten infected. Could be a hematoma underneath it. Probably would need to be lanced and treated with some antibiotics if that was the case. She hoped it wasn’t.
She sighed. “Serves you right, you know,” Chloe said. “If you didn’t pick fights with Flyball all the time, she wouldn’t have popped you that way.”
“I didn’t pick anything,” Hamburger protested. “Fly popped me for no reason. If I’d have been bothering her, I would have been ready when she scratched me. But she just smacked me while I was sitting in the sun, minding my own business. And now it hurts, and I want to go to the vet.”
“I don’t have any money for the vet right now, Hamburger. Let’s put some antibiotic cream on it and then maybe a warm washcloth and see if we can’t make the swelling go down.”
Hamburger hopped off the counter and headed for the bathroom. “Just make sure you wring the water out of the washcloth before you use it,” he said as he left. “You know I hate it when you get me all wet.”
It was bedtime, and Chloe hadn’t seen Skitsy all day.
“Has anyone in here seen Skitsy?” she called. “Hamburger? Jeep? Flyball? Sammy? Anybody?”
“No. Haven’t seen her.”
“Sammy? Have you seen Skitsy?”
“She was under the trailer before dinner, I think,” Sammy murmured from beneath the comforter. “But I haven’t seen her since then.”
“Hamburger, will you please go check under the trailer and see if Skitsy’s there?” Chloe said, nudging the portly tabby with her foot.
“Why do I have to go,” Hamburger groused. “I’m hurt. Make Flyball go.”
“No, you go. Skitsy’s afraid of Flyball. She only listens to you. Go find her. Quick. Otherwise it’ll be your fault if she gets eaten by a snake tonight.”
Hamburger waddled to the edge of the bed and jumped down with thump. “I don’t care if she gets eaten by a snake,” he said. “There’d be more food for the rest of us if she did.”
“You don’t need any more food, you fat old man,” Chloe scolded.
“Hey, don’t blame me for being fat,” Hamburger said as he squeezed through the cat door. “I wasn’t the one who went and had myself neutered.”
“When are the ladies coming?” asked Skitsy, nervously washing her tail. “I don’t like the ladies.”
“Oh, they should be here any time now, I guess,” answered Chloe. “But they won’t hurt you. I don’t know why you’re scared of them.”
“They don’t like the way we live. They don’t like our trailer. They want us to move. That’s why we’re scared of them. This is our home.”
“That’s right. It is our home. And it doesn’t matter what . . .”
Chloe was interrupted by a loud banging and clattering as Hamburger, Jeep, Sammy and Flyball all tried to get through the cat door at the same time.
“Car!” yelled Jeep.
“The ladies are here!” seconded Sammy.
“Ow! Ow! Why’d you do that, Flyball, I’m just trying to get inside! Ow!”
One by one, the cats funneled in through the door, then skittered across the linoleum floor and headed for the bedroom, where they would hide in the closet until the hated ladies had gone. Skitsy’s paranoia was contagious. Even Chloe felt it sometimes.
She took a deep breath, ran her fingers through her hair, checked her clothes for food stains and smoothed out her shirt as best she could. Then Chloe looked at the red light above the door that would flash and let her know when Norene, her social worker, had pressed the button outside. The button made no sound, which didn’t matter, because Chloe couldn’t hear it if it did.
The red light flashed and Chloe peeked through the curtain before opening the door. Norene stood on the porch scowling, with the county’s sign language interpreter standing behind her, her hands at her side, silent. Chloe let them in.
Norene flopped on the couch, fanning herself, while the interpreter sat on Chloe’s ottoman. The social worker jumped straight into her usual litany as the interpreter furiously gestured to keep up.
“You can’t stay here,” the interpreter signed, translating the highlights of Norene’s standard monologue. “It isn’t safe for a woman to be here alone, especially a woman with your special needs . . . it’s not sanitary . . . you need other human contact . . . too many cats in this trailer . . . what about the doctor. . . too much starchy food . . . poor personal grooming . . . no food stamps for cat food . . . something has to change, Chloe, something has to change . . .”
Chloe stopped paying attention to the interpreter after ten minutes or so, and just nodded at Norene until the social worker stopped, shook a finger Chloe’s way, and left in a huff, still fanning herself, sucking the interpreter out in the slipstream of her distaste.
It took about an hour before the cats felt comfortable enough to emerge from the closet and come sit with (or in Hamburger’s case, on) Chloe.
“Why do the ladies keep coming and telling you that you have to leave,” asked Flyball. “It just makes me want to scratch the stew out of them both! Haven’t you told them a thousand times that you’re happy here?”
“Yes,” said Chloe, scratching Hamburger’s head, which seemed to be healing nicely. “But some people just don’t know how to listen.”