Brita worked a few hours every Sunday and Monday evening. Mostly she helped clean the place: sweeping, mopping, organizing the recycling, taking the trash out to the dumpster, that kind of thing. Mikhel had spoken to her caseworker and assured him that Brita’s job did not involve anything that might be considered morally questionable, so we made sure her tasks were entirely separate from either alcohol or the Theatre.
Brita was a good worker and always looking for something else to do, so I eventually assigned her the task of cleaning Boss’ dishes, cushions, and litter box. Brita had a thing for Boss and was soon doing a better job than I had at cleaning Her things (though I had not heard any complaints from Boss about my job performance). Boss would make a point to watch Brita work and was usually in earshot as Brita kept us updated on her classes, her friends, and Fog, the stray cat that lived near her foster parents.
Brita had named Fog after a poem she’d had to read in school. “You know, the one about the fog ‘coming in on little cat feet,”’ she explained. “And she’s a grey cat, see?”
I hope the high school reading list is more diverse than it used to be, but it appears Carl Sandburg is still on it.
“So ‘Fog.’ Great name!” I told her. “Extra points because it sounds like ‘dog.’” That made her laugh.
Fog had started out as a skittish stray but Brita kept on leaving food out and watching from a distance. Last I heard, Fog was letting Brita pet her.
And then one day Brita showed up at Floggin’ Brews carrying a large box. I first noticed it as she struggled with the front door before coming in. Boss climbed down from Her perch over the door to greet Brita by rubbing against her leg.
I walked over, too. “Welcome! It’s good to see you, but you’re not scheduled to work today unless I’ve really got my days messed up.”
“Yeah, I know.” Brita put the box down carefully. “I just didn’t know where else to go.” She looked like she’d been crying.
“What’s up and how can I help?”
I heard something scramble in the box and Boss walked over to give it a sniff. “You brought Fog here?”
“Yes. I know she can’t stay – she’s not housebroken or anything – but I have to find somewhere where she’s safe.” She started to tear up.
“Let me get you something and you can tell me about it.”
It was late afternoon and the bar wasn’t busy. Mikhel poked his head out from the office, sized up the situation, and offered to staff the bar while I talked to Brita. I mixed up some hot chocolate (and borrowed some of Boss’ cream to make it extra rich) and sat with Brita in one of the booths. Boss sat on the bench beside Brita, and the box containing Fog was carefully placed under the table.
I handed Brita a napkin in case she needed it. “So tell me what happened.”
It turned out some neighborhood boys had decided to make a game of capturing the neighborhood stray. Brita had caught them chasing Fog into the corner of a nearby garage, and had heard one talking about throwing her in the river and another saying they had some gasoline. Brita screamed at them and threatened to call the cops. She grabbed Fog and hauled her into her foster parents’ home, but one of them was very allergic to cats so Fog couldn’t stay. Brita managed to get Fog in a box and hopped a bus for Floggin’ Brews. She wasn’t sure what to do next.
Brita took a sip of the hot chocolate. She had calmed down a bit now, but it was clear that she was still very upset. “I hate those boys. I want to call the cops on them but I don’t know who they are. And I don’t want. . . . “ Her voice trailed off. “They called me a fag. And a cunt. And stuff.”
Toxic masculinity. And Brita’s trans, god knows what they might say to her. Or do.
“Damn. Little lords of the flies,” I said. She looked at me blankly. “You haven’t had to read that book, have you?” Brita shook her head. Ok, so that one’s not on the reading list anymore. Just as well. “They’re little creeps and they’ll probably grow into big creeps.”
“Ok, but what do I do about Fog? I can’t keep her and I don’t want them to get her.” She teared up again. “And some of the shelters might kill her.”
Boss had been watching Brita while she talked, but now She hopped up on the table, sat down, and gave me a look like my mom used to give me. “What?” I asked Her.
“You live nearby, right?” Mikhel appeared at the table with a fresh cup of hot chocolate for Brita.
“You’re thinking I should take her? But I don’t want a cat. And the landlord. . . . ” But I knew the landlord would be fine with a cat, she had several of her own. And I might want a cat, someday, but not now.
Brita saw an opening. “Oh, and you haven’t even looked at her!” She picked up the box, placed it on the table, and opened the lid.
A gray cat with green eyes looked up at me. She didn’t look wild, she just looked alone. Brita had put a big fluffy towel in the bottom of the box and Fog had curled up on it. Boss put Her paws on the box and peered in as well. Fog stood up and greeted Boss with a touch to Her nose, and then I swear Fog gave a curtsy. I laughed despite myself.
A cat with good manners? Well then.
“You don’t need to keep her forever,” rushed Brita. “Just for awhile. Until we can find a good home for her. Oh,” she realized. “I mean, I am sure your home is good. I just mean somewhere forever.”
“I know what you meant.” I looked at Fog, who was still looking at Boss with wide eyes. Boss had turned to look at me again.
Gotta keep the Boss happy.
I reached out and gave Fog a couple strokes.
“Boss would consider it a personal favor,” said Mikhel.
“Purr-sonal? You don’t usually make puns,” I said, trying to delay the inevitable. “I don’t have a litterbox or all that stuff.”
Mikhel relaxed. He knew Boss had won. “We have an extra in the back. Litter box, some litter, cat bed, food and water dishes.”
“It’s good to be prepared.”
“Indeed.” I sighed. “Okay. She can come home with me. After my shift.” Boss rubbed up against my elbow and looked pleased.
Brita gave me a big smile. “Oh, thank you! I’ll watch her until you’re done.” She reached into the box and picked up Fog. Fog snuggled in under Brita’s chin and started purring. Boss curled up on the table to stand guard, and I went back to work.
And that is how I got a cat.