The Cat Came Back

My cell phone rang at two minutes of four in the morning. I swiped my thumb across the green ‘answer’ button, put the phone to my ear and grunted.
“Meow?” came the reply. It was my cat.
“Waffles?” I cleared my throat and sat up. I hadn’t heard from my cat in two months.
“Meow.” She sounded sad and exhausted and I could guess why. She’d gotten herself a job and apparently she was—predictably—in over her head.
“You’re not going to try to tough it out?” It was kind of cruel of me to string her along. We both knew she couldn’t handle this.
“Meow.” It was a long, drawn out meow. Almost like back in the days when she still lived with me and her food bowl wasn’t entirely full and she desperately needed me to cover the entire bottom of the dish with kibble.
“Okay, okay. I’ll be there by tomorrow.” I hung up. I hadn’t said ‘I told you so.’
The next morning I was annoyed with Waffles. I had told her that this ‘job’ scheme of hers was ill-conceived and would never work. She was a cat. What sort of cat gets a job? Apparently Waffles. The temp agency that placed her didn’t seem to care that she was a cat.
Anyways, I was annoyed. But I was also impressed. I was impressed that Waffles had not only been able to dial the phone—including the 1 + area code, since she’d moved far away from our Kansas City home to Kentucky for the job—but also that she had learned my phone number and remembered it. Perhaps it hadn’t been so far-fetched that she could do some sort of useful work. It was more than I’d expected her capable of.
I packed my bag for a three day stay and hit the road to go bail her out. Again. Two days off work. Several tanks of gas. Waffles had always been a screw up. When she was an older kitten, she ran out the door once before I could stop her. She knew she wasn’t allowed out, but she was defiant. When she finally came back two weeks later she was, predictably, pregnant.
Irresponsible. I had the vet fix her, remove the whole uterus—kittens and all—before she could deliver the litter. Jesus. The pet population was already out of control and the world didn’t need four to six more mini Waffleses out killing birds, or getting into trash cans, or living off of human charity. Someone had to be responsible. I guess it had to be me.
She got weird after that. She kept licking Shep the dog, or trying to pick him up by the scruff of the neck. That was ridiculous because Shep is a border collie and at least three times as big as Waffles. When I caught her teaching him to use the litter box, I had to put my foot down.
“Oh.” I said. “Did you want Kittens? Well. You can’t support kittens.” She looked defiant. “Get over it and leave the dog alone.”
“Meow.” She had said back.
“If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to go find a job.” I had thought that was the end of it. She acted pretty much like a cat for a whole year after that. Then one day two months ago the taxi came.
“I’m here for Ms. Waffles,” the driver had said.
“What on earth?” I had asked
“Meow.” I looked down. Waffles was sitting on a piece of letterhead. She purred and trilled at the man and leapt into his arms.
I picked up the letterhead. It was a job offer from Dixie paper products. Waffles had been officially hired as a clerk at a distribution center in Kentucky. My cat had been deemed competent enough to fill orders for those little salt and pepper packets that fast food chains hand out.
“What the hell?” I asked.
“I’m just here to pick up Ms. Waffles and her belongings,” said the driver.
“Meow.” Said Waffles.
I said a few more things: “You’ll come crawling back. This will never work. You’re nothing but a born freeloader. You’re insane if you think you can do any job—even a stupid job like this one.” These were all true things, but as I said them, the driver looked at me like I was an asshole.
That was two months ago. Now, after a really long day of travel, I am pulling into the parking lot of my cat’s workplace. The building was a small, nondescript brown rectangle with a plastic banner that said “Dixie” draped above the entrance. Not a permanent location, it seemed.
I wondered vaguely as I approached the receptionist how Waffles even got to work each day. Where she lived. How she cashed her paychecks, or had she opened a bank account and set up direct deposit?
“I am here for Waffles,” I said.
The receptionist stared blankly for a fraction of a second as if I’d ordered breakfast. Then she said, “Oh! Ms. Waffles’ office is the third door on the right.” She pointed down a hallway.
“Ms. Waffles.” I scoffed and the receptionist blushed and looked away as if I’d said something rude.
I opened the door without knocking and found Waffles sitting miserably on her desk amidst a pile of incomplete paperwork. The phone was still off the hook from last night’s phone call and it was making the ‘ah-ah-ah-ah’ sound that corded phones make when left off the hook too long. Hilariously, there was that poster on the wall with the dangling kitten that said, “Hang in there.”
“Meow.” She looked up at me, helpless, frazzled, overwhelmed and relieved that I was there to fix it all. I felt bad for her. She looked really stressed out.
“I told you so.” I hadn’t mean to say it, but I didn’t want her to pull something like this again. Waffles’ head dropped.
I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out her paperwork and returning her dozens of unanswered phone calls. The last thing I did was type up a letter of resignation. I presented Waffles with an ink pad. She flattened her ears and swished her tail at the letter.
“You’re just a cat,” I said gently. “You’re not responsible. You need someone to take care of you, and I think you know that.” Her tail went still and she pressed her paw to the ink pad and then to the bottom of the letter.
I carried Waffles out and deposited her in the front seat of my car. “We’re going home where you belong,” I said.
Waffles curled up with her tail underneath her and stared with sad, half-closed eyes at a spot on the car seat. She stayed like that for hours on the long road back to Kansas City.
Even if you are right, and you know that you are right and are doing the right thing, there are times that cats can—without speaking or ticking an ear in your direction—make you come to know that you are an asshole.

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