Yesterday, I talked about how hard it is to re-build a habit (like walking) and how inventive your brain can be when it needs an excellent excuse not to pursue the good habit.
No excuses today, not even with rain predicted. Off I went this afternoon, for a walk. I crossed into Steele Park, happy to watch migrating songbirds stop for a drink.
A car pulls into a parking space, a man in camo hurries out, carrying a bright pink cat carrier. (This catches my attention.) He runs up to the view fence, puts the carrier down, opens the door and races back to the car, where the driver, seeing me start to trot toward his car, screeches out of the lot as soon as his cowardly, cat-abandoning friend joins him.
A terrified black and white cat bolts under a nearby car. A thin woman appears, asking if I’d seen what happened. We both had. Neither of us wants to leave the cat under the car in a busy parking lot. The thin woman and I could not be more different: She is about my height, but bone-thin, no more than 80 pounds. Most of that weight comes from the various rings, stones, and rods hanging from the piercings in her nose, ears, and eyebrows, partially covered by her black and neon green hair.
I lower myself to kneel, and Thin Woman says, “Let me look under the car, you stand on the other side.” Oh, my cartilage-free knees thank you. She lies flat on the ground and spies the cat in the wheel well. I wrap my hand around a cat flank and tail and the cat lets loose its bladder contents on my hands, vest and pants. Oh, well. Then the cat vanishes. Into the car engine.
Thin Woman says, “Now what?” I suggest waiting to see if Car Lady will show up so we can warn her. A nurse from the nearby Veterans Hospital shows up and asks us what we are doing around her friend’s car. We explain. It sounds lame, even to me. She drives away.
Car Lady shows up and I explain there is a cat in her engine. Her friend had called her and told her that the unlikely looking scruffs hanging out at her car are not dangerous. Car Lady pops the hood and sure enough, way down there, I can see white whiskers. Car Lady honks the horn, to no avail.
Just then a mud-bog-style truck pulls up. Out comes Truck Guy, easily 6-foot 5-inches and well over 300 pounds. He’s tattooed and has his head shaved except for a spot in the center of his scalp. “You ladies need some help?” We do.
For the next 90 minutes, Fat Lady (that’s me, none of us asked for names), Thin Woman, Car Lady and Truck Guy each come up with ideas and work according to our skills, as a team. To free a three-pound cat. Absolute strangers. Each of us looking like people you would avoid eye contact with. Well, Car Lady is in nurse scrubs and looks tired, but kind. We do not talk about politics, guns, or how busy we are. All work is focused on freeing the three-pound cat.
I work the phone, calling the non-emergency fire department number (no help), animal control (endless loop of menu pushing) and the Sunnyslope Animal Shelter. It will take an hour for someone to come, and by then, they will be closed. It will be overtime. I offer to pay the overtime and whatever fee they charge for taking in a cat.
Thin Woman, Car Lady, and Truck Guy are fishing in the engine and under the car. I suggest going to buy some cat food at the nearest gas station. I can do that, so I head out.
Thin Lady has to go home when I come back, so we thank her. It sounds like the end of a polite cocktail party–thanks and well-wishes–not four strangers in a park.
The sky is now heavy with rain clouds. Dang. No one wants the cat to be rained on. The open can of cat food works. The cat drops out of the engine and follows the tiny shreds I offer to lure her closer to the bushes, away from the cars. Car Lady won’t leave the cat. It’s starting to rain.
Truck Guy blocks the way to the main road, I crouch on the sidewalk to block an end-run parking lot escape, and Car Lady takes the can of cat food and sits in the bushes. Totally still. The cat comes to her and she slips her hand around it slowly. She has the cat! We load the cat into the bright pink box, put the can of food with her, and I admit I’m on foot and don’t have a car.
I phone the shelter and beg them to stay open, Truck Guy holds the box, and Car Lady sets her GPS. We do a group hug. We can hear the cat scarfing down the food in the carrier between us.
Four highly unlikely strangers who have worked for almost two hours as a team with no arguments, no power struggles and no side eye. For a three-pound cat that someone abandoned.
It starts to rain harder. We’ll never see each other again. And we each have a story to tell, one that defies stereotypes.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach. She is also a woman who will give up her walk to help save a three-pound cat, with three strangers, and walk home in the rain, happy as can be.