The White Cat - a short story
The next four nights went more quickly, now that he was willing to eat with me sitting in the yard. Each night he was waiting in the yard for the food to appear.
Some nights he would be finished eating and on his way in twenty minutes. On the third night, he lay down after finishing the food and groomed himself before leaving. I knew I was getting somewhere when, on the next night, he stayed until I stood up to go inside.
I talked to him as he ate and continued to speak in a soft voice after he was finished. Sometimes, I just ignored him and read. I think he was growing to like the limited companionship I offered. This was where things stood ten days after my first efforts to befriend Whitey - the name I had started to use for him.
Whitey seemed appropriate. He certainly wasn't a Fluffy. He was a hardnosed, blue-collar type of cat. One who was perfectly capable of looking after himself. I just thought he needed a friend. The time had come to take the next step.
For several nights, I had been carrying a plastic bag with a few soft treats in my pocket. I'd hesitated to use them, because I didn't want to rush things and risk ruining the progress that had already been made. The second night he stayed after eating, I decided to take the chance.
He watched my every move as I placed my book on the ground beside the chair and then pulled the bag of treats from my pocket. I moved slowly so he wouldn't feel threatened.
The first treat landed about five feet in front of him. He jerked, but didn't run off. All the while, I continued to talk to him in a soft monotonous voice. He quickly caught the scent of the treat and slowly got to his feet. A few tentative steps carried him to the spot where it had landed and he gulped it down after one quick sniff.
Even though he was still fifteen feet away, I wanted to cheer. This was the closest he had been since the day I first saw him. I tossed another treat his way with a smooth, soft motion. This one landed only a couple of feet from his face. He didn't even jerk.
Whitey stayed where he was and looked at me as if he were trying to discern my motives. Finally, he took the few small steps he needed to reach the treat and gulped that one down as well. I decided that I'd better not press my luck and put the bag of treats back in my pocket.
After watching me for a few moments to see if there would be any more good things to eat, the cat sat down and began to wash his face with his paws. This lasted for a couple of minutes then he stood, stretched, and yawned. His pink tongue curled almost in a circle between what looked like needle-sharp teeth. One last glance at me and then he wandered away to begin his nightly rounds.
That night I felt very pleased with the progress I was making - even if it was taking far longer than I had expected. On that first day, he wouldn't come within thirty feet of me. Now he would sit calmly grooming himself only twelve feet away. I was pleased, but knew those last few feet would be difficult to bridge.
The next day saw the arrival of some long overdue rain. I set his food out at the regular time, but didn't see him anywhere around. I assumed he was sheltering from the heavy rain somewhere.
Unfortunately, I didn't get home until after dark the next night. Now we had gone two days in a row without seeing each other. I hoped that no harm had been done to the progress that had been made. I consoled myself with the thought that the first night I had failed to appear had triggered a breakthrough. Hopefully, the same thing would happen again.
On the third day since I'd last seen the cat, he was waiting outside the door when I came out carrying the food bowl and a paperback book. He was less than ten feet from the door. I said, "Hello, Whitey". He surprised me with a soft, "rrrowwwl" in return.
After sitting his bowl of food on the ground, I took two steps back instead of walking to my chair. He stared at me as if trying to decide what this new development meant. Finally, the lure of the food was too much to resist and he circled towards his supper. He kept the dish between himself and where I stood watching.
Whitey stopped a couple of feet short of the bowl and gave me another look. I realized that I was invading his space so I took another step back and crouched down. He watched me and then moved to the bowl.
He ate as he always did - crouching protectively over the bowl while he gulped down the food. The food quickly disappeared. When it was gone, he sat back on his haunches and stared at me with that unfathomable look that all cats seem to be born with.
All the while he was eating I had been talking to him in a soft voice. Now I sat on the ground, just like him, and continued to talk. He cocked his head occasionally as if trying to catch what I was saying. He didn't act in the least threatened.
His tail began to twitch when I pulled the bag of treats from my pocket. Perhaps, he remembered it from the other night or it may have been the smell. Whatever the case, I certainly had his attention.
I tossed a treat towards him. I aimed it off to the side so he wouldn't think I was throwing things at him. He quickly pounced on the deliciously smelly treat and gulped it down, then turned to watch for more.
The next treat landed on his other side, closer than the first one had been. Again, he didn't hesitate.
When I tossed the third treat just out of arms reach he hesitated. The wary animal eyed me carefully and then moved cautiously forward until he was within reach of the bit of food. He stretched a paw forward to rake it towards himself, instead of walking up to it and picking it up with his mouth.
I realized I was pushing him a little too hard, so I tossed the next one several feet behind him. As he went towards the treat, I got slowly to my feet and tucked the bag in my pocket. He meowed as if he sensed that he wouldn't get another that night. It was the softest sound I had heard from him since I had known him.
He meowed again as I moved to the door. It had that plaintive quality a cat can make when he really wants something. It tore at my heart, but I steeled myself and went through the door. I knew that leaving him wanting more would accomplish much more than feeding him treats until he was stuffed.