Crazy Cat Lady

 Another cat. The little beasts are everywhere.

Elsabeth put down her binoculars and checked the clock. She was due at the The Four Bettes bookstore in two hours. There were nine cats currently living at the shop and five more in her home. She could temporarily house five more, but that was the limit.

Another look through the binoculars confirmed a few frustratingly common facts: the cat did not have a collar and it was hunting birds. A quick sweep of the area revealed a few common, and at least one endangered, species warily eyeing the potential predator.

Sighing, Bette placed her binoculars on the table and scratched the ears of the feline happily curled in her lap. After decades of work as a biologist and a conservationist, she couldn’t stand to watch discarded pets feeding on already struggling wildlife.

Pets were a wonderful addition to any household – if the humans properly cared for them. Most humans didn’t take their responsibilities seriously, and a precious few were aware of just how devastating their actions were to local habitats. To make matters worse, many people simply did not care about the consequences of their actions. Bette’s last attempt to explain basic environmental preservation to a potential cat-owner had, once again, illustrated this fact. It was infuriating.

Gently pushing Buttons off her lap, Bette walked past a recently completed oil painting. The paint was still drying on the artistic representation of her conversation with the environmentally dispassionate would-be cat owner. The art was a physical manifestation of her frustrated anger. There were several dozen similar emotion-induced pieces of art stored in the basement and attic. She was extremely proud of them because, (and only because) they were inexplicably effective at drawing out and permanently containing negative feelings. She called them her calming paintings, but everyone in town just called them ugly. She was OK with that.

Grabbing a pair of animal handling gloves and a pet carrier, she set out to catch the latest visitor to her vegetable garden and the thin strip of suburban woods behind it. By the time she’d gotten close, the cat had made several unintentionally humorous and endearingly clumsy displays of poor hunting skills.She resolved to name this one Robin. The next would be Christopher or maybe Eeyore.

Between the 14 cats currently in temporary care, there was a Winnie, a Pooh and a Bear. All of them had displayed behaviors similar to the collection of characters described in the old Winnie the Pooh stories. The bookstore was filled with lost or abandoned cats named after the Christopher Robin crew.

Cats named after classic fairy tales had stronger personalities than the Pooh Bear crew, but they made excellent pets, just the same. Felines with names inspired by Alice in Wonderland were an entirely different matter and all of them were living in Elsabeth’s house, waiting for an owner with the skills to properly manage them.

While ‘Alice cats’ held the wild end of the spectrum, the opposite extreme was reserved for ‘book cats,’ named after household objects. These fancy felines wanted nothing more than to live a quiet, domesticated, indoor life. This category was dubbed ‘book cats’ in honor of an overweight black and white male named Books who was granted permanent residence at the bookstore, where he proudly demonstrated the weight of meaning behind his name.

Elsabeth was convinced no one knew her found-cats were named after characters in children’s stories and household objects. It was a rare point of self-delusion for an exceptionally practical and fact-driven woman. In fact, this blind spot was so unusual that people unconsciously went out of their way to protect her from the truth. It was as though she was the only one ignorant of an embarrassing facial blemish – no one wanted to be the person who hurt her feelings by pointing it out.

While the entire town immediately noticed the naming conventions, it was the children who started requesting pets named for particular fairy tales – with full intention of changing the name after taking the cat home. The adults, naturally, started asking why and for an entire week the puzzle was the hottest topic in town. It was so much fun trying to figure out what personalities traits went with each story or character that the silence around Elsabeth increased. No one wanted to ruin the game by asking for a cheat sheet.

By the end of the week, the cats had proudly worn their names and demonstrated what they had done to earn the titles, the town had developed a new secret-language for cat personalities and Elsabeth’s status as the crazy cat lady was firmly, fondly and irrevocably established.

As for Elsabeth, her favorite cat was Buttons but Teapot came in a close second. She suspected the rest of the cats knew who the favorites were and she was OK with that.

So were the cats.

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