I called him The Blond, a gold cat in our neighborhood who developed an odd relationship with my Benjamin BadKitten. At first I saw him only after dark, on our front porch. He watched me from tilted green eyes, sweet faced and waiting, his body tensed and ready to run. He was skin-and-bones thin, with a ragged notch on his ear and an overall scruffiness. On many late nights that winter, a yellow blur streaked through the cat door and down our hallway, on his way to Benjamin’s food bowl. Ben would trot after him and sit without protest while he devoured BBK’s leftovers. Animals know, I think, when a fellow creature is in crisis.
In mid-August last year, the cat started lingering in our driveway. He was so gaunt that I could see his ribs. The next day I set down a plate of canned food near our kitchen steps, then watched him gulp it down and run off. I fed him regularly after that and sometimes sat on the step, far enough away so he’d feel safe, just to keep him company. One day he looked up from his plate, edged close to me and licked my hand: a thank you from a nearly feral cat.
By late September I could smell autumn in the air and knew freezing nights were coming. I pictured the cat out there alone, shivering and scrounging for food. My heart hurt. So I talked with my husband, Lee, and we agreed to keep the cat door unlatched for entry into our laundry room. I would set out fresh water and food in there every day, and we wouldn’t let our new tenant go farther into the house than the kitchen. Lee named him Marlon, after Brando in “The Wild One.” I laid a fleece cat bed in a corner of the laundry room and moved a tiered perch into the kitchen near a window.
Meanwhile, Benjamin’s endearing self-centeredness turned to jealousy and rebellion. He channeled his nonexistent inner tough guy, hissing and flapping a paw at the orange invader. Marlon just yawned. Benjamin rejected his own food and tried to shoulder his rival away from the cat bowl in the laundry room. Marlon calmly flicked him off and finished his breakfast. Ben claimed the top spot on the cat perch, which he’d completely ignored until Marlon moved in. My beloved lap cat was turning into an insecure bully. I wondered if I’d made a big mistake in rescuing one cat at the expense of my own BadKitten’s happiness.
Gradually, though, the two of them have developed a brotherly relationship – with BBK cast as the pesky little bro. Benjamin follows the big guy outside after breakfast and watches as Marlon leaves our yard, headed for who knows where. If the cool cat isn’t home before dark, Benjamin sits at the front window, waiting.
This arrangement couldn’t work without mutual tolerance and sheathed claws. Marlon is a huge cat and, I suspect, somewhat of a brawler – but not at our house. Here, he defers to his little buddy and purrs as he rolls over to be petted. My BadKitten has known love, security and comfort every day of his 14 years. If I can also keep one castoff cat safe at night and make sure he never goes hungry, then love wins again.
Sydney Craft Rozen thinks Marlon could benefit from a weight management program. He has porked up, big time, in the past five months. Email her at email@example.com