I is Another is a short story form:
I woke up, stretched, and yawned. It was another chilly, wet day. I hunched my shoulders against the damp and stood. Sleeping on the ground was beginning to tell on me; each day and night on the street made me feel older than Methuselah, and twice as wise. I hoped I found something to eat before my stomach contracted and never went back to normal. I was warm enough for now, but didn’t like getting wet. It was hard to get dry and warm again on days like this.
Maybe today I’d stumble on a house with an open window or door left ajar and slip inside while the owners were at work, make myself comfortable. Raid the fridge, sleep on a bed or sofa for a few hours. This was risky business; I’d have to keep an ear open, so to speak, for the residents arriving home, or dogs wandering about.
Last time, I was almost caught when a dog appeared at the door of the living room and set up a ruckus loud enough to wake the dead. I effected an exit, jumping out a window just in front of his snapping teeth. Life on the street requires developing a sixth sense for dangers. Sometimes, there was a person still at home, keeping real quiet.
My hearing was good; when I’d gotten into in a house, I’d wait for five minutes, crouched by a window, or behind a door, listening, listening. When a house is empty, breathing is audible; the scritch-scratch of canine claws loud on linoleum and hardwood. That last time, Dog Breath got the drop on me because of the carpeting.
I sat down in the shelter of the awning of a little bookshop, scrunching myself in the corner. The eaves were dripping, but kept me dry while I planned the day’s itinerary. The proprietor of the shop would be arriving shortly, and sometimes he’d share his breakfast. I tried to look as pathetic as possible; not a difficult feat on a day like this, and considering I lived outside, inclement weather notwithstanding.
I’d had a home once, but circumstances conspired against me having one all my life. My family had dwindled over the years, and soon it was just me and my mother, living in a house on the outskirts of town. She got older, became sick. I tried to take care of her, keep her cheerful and happy, but she died, and I was left on my own. I was older too, and found myself on the street within a matter of months.
Most people overlooked me when they passed me on the street. I made them uncomfortable. It would have been easy to help me; pass me a muffin or sandwich from their lunch. I didn’t blame them; it’s hard to help everybody, and there are many in need. Besides, I wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. I was scraggly, skinny, and dirty. A bath hadn’t been on my list of priorities for a long while. Maybe I could clean up today when I found that ‘open’ house.
The owner of the shop walked up, smiled at me, and took off his hat, shaking it until raindrops flew like pinwheels. He was one of my favorite patrons; round, solidly plump, unfailingly cheerful; his twinkling brown eyes the color of good chocolate, his cheeks like ripe apples. He was filled to the brim, a brim marked by a bushy white mustache, with an abundance of bonhomie and love for all living things.
I was in luck, breakfast-wise. He said hello, rooted around in the oil stained bag he carried, and passed me one of those wonderful biscuits at which so many foolish people turn up their nose.
Not me, I wasn’t particular one whit; the flaky biscuit had melted cheese on top of slices of ham and sausage. I gobbled it up, feeling better immediately. That petit dejeuner, as a French acquaintance once said, would keep me warm for several hours. In my next life, I hoped to do something for this man. He was a lifesaver.
He unlocked his shop door, told me to stay as long as I liked, and went inside. I stood and walked on down the street. His customers didn’t want to see me on his doorstep. My friend, Mindy, was up ahead, and I caught up with her.
She was struttin’ along, looking pretty fine for this time of the morning. I wondered if she had a ‘regular’ who took care of her. She and I went way back, and had been through some tough times together. She was lithe and petite, green eyes peering from a piquant little face, regarding the world with an irresistible insouciance.
I wanted to get together with her, but time and again, she shunned me, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Said I wasn’t ‘relationship material’ whatever the hell that meant. Just ‘cause I saw other ladies now and then. Mindy claimed my moods changed all the time; sometimes I’d pay attention to her, and then bam!, turn around, walk off, and ignore her. I probably had something else on my mind, but try telling her that. I often had things on my mind, depending on the day and time.
I walked up beside her, and bumped her on the rear. She glanced around at me, and grinned. We didn’t speak, just walked on together in companionable silence. I could tell she’d already had breakfast; she was relaxed and casual. Pretty soon, she walked off into a maze of abandoned buildings, and disappeared.
I kept walking, wanting to find that warm, dry house to spend the day; preferably with a big, soft sofa under a bay window, in case the sun came out later. There was nothing like napping in the sun. It did my bones good, aching and stiff as they were from sleeping on the damp ground.
I sauntered three blocks over to a street lined with trees, bare now in winter, brooding over little houses sporting wide porches filled with potted plants and rocking chairs. The backyards had wooden fences, with gaps big enough to squeeze through. I picked one I’d been in before; a yellow bungalow, its sloping roof giving it a coy look of welcome.
Shrubbery under the windows and a tree in the front yard were both excellent for concealing my presence, and convenient in gaining access to the paradise within.
I crept closer, keeping a wary eye on the house. The windows had diamond panes, breaking the interior into multiple scenes of domestic nirvana. There was no dog in residence, and only one person lived there, a youngish woman, with soft, swinging brown hair. Her face was sweet and kind, and I was sure if she ever caught me, she wouldn’t be upset.
She’d be leaving for work soon. I’d tiptoed nearer, hoping she’d forgotten to close a window, when her garage door rumbled open. A few moments later her car pulled out and she sped off. My luck held again, because I saw a side window open, just a bit. With a little effort I could get in.
I jumped to reach the windowsill, wiggled under it, pushed up until it opened more, and slid inside. I dropped to the floor, landing in a crouch. I waited a moment, just in case the house wasn’t empty. The bed was rumpled, clothes strewn about, but messes didn’t bother me. In my former life, I’d been clean and neat, but didn’t judge others by my standards. The room looked cozy, and the house was warm. That’s all I cared about.
I found the kitchen, and looked for food. There was bread, and a plate with some scrambled eggs on the counter, and I ate my fill. I spent my days and nights hungry more often than not, and there was always room for ‘more’.
Maybe I could take some bread with me when I left. I didn’t like to leave traces of my presence in a house, but after eight or nine hours, I figure people don’t remember what their house looked like when they left, especially if they left in a hurry.
I cleaned up after my impromptu lunch, and wandered into the tiny living room. There was the sofa I’d been lusting for, under the bay window, reclining there in a sleepy attitude of seductive repose, like an artist’s model in a Renaissance painting; robe slipping off dusky shoulders, languidly wiggling plump cushions at me, the invitation clear; come sink into its depths.
I sat down, pushed an afghan into a bundle, wiggled until I found the right spot, and stretched out with a sigh. I hummed deep in my throat, a reassuring melody I remembered from childhood. This was the life, alright. In less time than it takes to wink, I was asleep.
The sun crept out of hiding while I slept, and through my dreams the warmth invaded and comforted me. I dozed on, not noticing the sun climbing to its zenith, and sinking again to the west. I woke with a start when the front door opened, and the young woman walked in, laden with grocery bags, smelling like spring.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. “How did you get in?’
I made no reply, but sat up, feeling, and no doubt, looking, cornered and frightened. Her expression softened, and she said more gently, “Are you hungry, poor thing?”
She walked to the kitchen, depositing the bags on the counter. She reached in one and pulled out a carton. “Would you like some milk?”
She poured some, gesturing for me to come to the kitchen, and I obliged. Cold milk sounded wonderful.
“I’ve seen you around here before, haven’t I? You’re in trouble and you should stay here with me. We’ll keep each other company, and send loneliness right back where it came from. I’ll get you cleaned up, fattened, and healthy. What do you say?”
She stroked my head gently, waiting for my answer.
I sat down, regarding her placidly, but with affection, and wiped my mouth clean of milk. She waited for my answer.
“Meow,” I said.
By Gigi Wolf. Not for reproduction.