She stood on tip-toe, reaching for the last wormy peach in the tree, trying to keep the sun out of her eyes. Her free hand pushed against the trunk for balance. Just as the last wormy peach was in her grasp, something brushed against her leg. Startled, she let the peach go. It snapped back out of her reach. She dropped her arm and cursed. “What the he…?”
On the edge of the tree’s canopy Gino, the half feral cat, sat licking his paw. She watched as he swirled his tongue between each outstretched toe. “Hm,” she said.
She forgot about the last wormy peach and considered Gino. A scraggly, thin male, he spent most of his life away from home. Every three days or so he would show up at the house, usually with a limp. If not a limp, then a bleeding paw, torn ear, or swollen knob of abscess on his back. He’d come in with the others in the morning and spend the day lying in a spot of sun on the chenille bedspread. He never used the litter box and never got any of the dry cat food. Usually he was chased off at dinnertime. If one of the others left a chipmunk or sparrow for her on the doorstep, he’d wolf it down. That was all he ever ate as far as she knew. Poor little meek thing.
After his paw had been cleaned satisfactorily, he headed off to the edge of the orchard. She followed him with her eyes. “Where does he go?” she asked herself. When he disappeared into the tall grass, she dropped her bag and followed him on foot.
She watched his progress as he disturbed the grass on his way to the woods. Once there, he stopped at the little creek and took a drink before bounding over and then up into a bramble thicket. Not wanting to brave the thorns to follow him, she scrambled around the tangle and surveyed the area behind. No sign of the cat emerging on the other side. Figuring she lost him, she turned to go back to her work. When she came back around the thicket, she spied him lying in a hollow of bramble canes. They formed a fortress, an impregnable lean-to. It was so dense she could not see into it or beyond it. The cat was sleeping in the entrance to its hideaway like a tiger on the lip of a cave maw.
She opted to not disturb him. “Let him have his safe house, his sanctuary from the foxes and coyotes and other cats in the neighborhood. Poor little guy, never gets enough to eat, he’s pushed around all the time. He’s lucky to be alive. Leave him be.”
Several days later, Gino turned up at the door. While he slept on the chenille, she grabbed a flashlight and made her way to his copse. Once there, she switched on the light and peered into the thicket for several minutes before saying, “That little bugger. He’s been holding out on us.”
Where she’d been expecting to a find a little mysterious cat family with baby kitties, or perhaps a rag of bedspread lining a sleeping den, she found instead the trophies of a great and courageous hunter. Affixed to the walls of Gino’s hideaway were the remains of his conquests. The heads of voles, chipmunks, field mice, goldfinches, bluebirds, and a couple of garter snakes had all been stuffed and mounted in a tasteful display of male pride. Far from being a poor survivor, Gino the Great was a master hunter. A magnificent safarist.