Second Place: “Tiger’s Tale,” by Mark Stoltenberg

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2016 13:18

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Tiger’s Tale

By Mark Stoltenberg

“Don’t be late for school!”

We both knew she didn’t have to prod her 10-year-old son. I was the owner/operator of a new Sears three-speed bicycle, and our Third Street hill gave me a fast start wherever I was headed.

If there was a speed limit, I exceeded it as I leaned into the left turn, glancing up Vine Street for oncoming traffic – wait! What? Tiger?!

My cat lay dead in the street. I applied my brakes and returned to the silent black-and-gray-striped form. In the morning chill, frost had formed on his fluffy coat. I would be late for school but I couldn’t leave him there. Tears blurred my eyes as I took his hind legs and pulled him to the curb, then pedaled back up the hill to tell my mom.

The two of us wept. We’d bottle-fed him and his brother in the palms of our hands. Tiger and Amigo were the last two offspring presented to our family by Tiny Amigo, a calico cat who’d been part of our family through my entire boyhood. Her many offspring (sired by the feral “gully cats,” as they were collectively known) had spread kitten-delight to homes of school and church friends all over town. “Take two, you’ve got a floor show; take three, you’ve got a jubilee!”

Amigo, the orange cat, had learned to ring a bell with his paw when he wanted in – with attitude in times of hunger or rain. Tiger would jump up on the kitchen windowsill and tap the glass to get our attention. He would be sorely missed.

“Why,” I puzzled, “would he wander so far when all he needed was right here?”

“Cats can be independent,” she consoled. “You should get to school. I’ll call Grandma. We’ll bring him home. We’ll take care of him.”

More tears, I was later told, were shed as they performed their burial task. Grandma was never mistaken for a cat lover, but she loved her daughter and openly shared her sorrow.

It was a gloomy day at school. I worried that kids would see my puffy eyes and whisper to each other. The last bell rang and it was finally over.

I walked my bike up the Third Street hill expecting my mom would be feeling as forlorn as me, but I found her at the kitchen table. She was beaming.

“Look who’s here!” she sang.

Tiger’s dear sweet head was contentedly bobbing for cat chow at his dish.

“I don’t know whose cat we buried – sure looked like him,” she choked back tears of happy relief, “but he jumped up on the windowsill about 2 o’clock. I thought about calling you at school, but I wanted to see your face!”

We enjoyed telling Tiger’s story over the years. Mom always felt empathy for the family who never knew what happened to their kitty. I’m sure Grandma told a version I’d like to have heard.

For Tiger and Amigo, it was another day of unruffled routine—just a day in the life—but on that day Mom and I shared such heartfelt grief and so much blissful joy.

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2016 13:18
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