The male slipped out from under the naked shrubbery and wound his way around the southern end of the garage where the snow wasn’t quite as deep. He paused. The street was asleep but inbred caution demanded that he be sure no threat existed.
Inspection completed, he padded softly across the freshly shoveled driveway. Wide-open spaces made him nervous. A security light flickered on, startling him. He paused for a split second, then skittered away, belly brushing the snow, until he reached the pine trees beside the walkway. The lower branches were weighted down with snow, providing a shelter near the base of the trees. A sudden gust of wind stirred the wind chimes on the porch of the house, breaking the silence.
The tom’s breathing settled as the light switched off. However, he kept his eyes on the route he had just traveled. He uttered a short cry that, despite its softness, seemed loud in the quietness that had once more descended. Though he was keeping watch, he almost missed the smaller, lightly coloured female who sped across the driveway coming to a perfect landing at his side.
“You didn’t even trigger the light,” he said.
“You gotta stay closer to the garage.” She trembled slightly and her companion snuggled closer.
“Not really,” she lied.
This was their first winter on the outside and it had taken her some time to move from abject terror to just plain fear as she faced this new aspect of life on the streets.
“Do you think that…?” She continued.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” interjected her companion. “We’ve been disappointed before.”
The previous summer, after being left behind, the two cats had stuck close to their home for a while, believing that their humans would soon return to the now empty house. The tom resurrected kitten-hood memories of life in a barn and the old hunting skills soon returned. The she-cat, domesticated and declawed, became his shadow, instinctively understanding that without him she would not survive long.
The arrival of a new family with two enormous and aggressive dogs killed their hopes as surely as water kills fire. The fall was bitter with sad reminiscences of better times. By the time snow fell the only thing on their minds was the next meal and a safe place to sleep.
The house they now watched from under the pine trees was miles from the home they once knew. From the outside this place didn’t seem that much different from its neighbors. But there was something…
The porch light came on suddenly and both cats stiffened, ready to run. The front door opened, then the outer door.
“Not yet,” the tom cautioned.
“What if she’s going to let out a dog?” came a throaty whisper. Without the means to defend herself, the she-cat’s terror began to build.
“No dog,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“Dogs make a mess in the snow. There’s no mess in this yard.”
The figure in the doorway stepped onto the porch—a woman in slippers and heavy wool socks, wearing a baggy sweater wrapped around a bulky dressing gown. She looked around the dark yard, then skyward for a few moments as the moon broke through the clouds. The porch gleamed in its pale light. The woman returned to her business. She had been carrying a bowl, which she now carefully put down on the edge of the porch where it met the top step. She then turned, went back into the house, closed the outer door, but left the inner door open just a crack.
“What’s that all about?” said the tom.
“It’s for us—the bowl. She’s waiting for us,” she replied. The tom could feel the tension melting away in his companion.
“You’ve been wrong before. I told you not to hope.”
“There’s always an exception. Watch the moon and hear the wind. You’ll know,” she said.
For once he followed her lead.
The figures of silver cats dancing on silver leashes twinkled and tinkled as moon and wind played tag among the chimes. The moonlight cast a blue shadow, turning the freshly fallen snow into a sea of sparkling diamonds, pristine except for the paw prints of two abandoned felines heading for the bowl on the porch and the sliver of light coming from a partly open door.