Songbirds were singing. They darted here and there amongst the shrubbery, most likely looking for bugs, perhaps a few berries. Sparrows pecked at seed that had fallen onto the ground below the feeder where several goldfinches ate their fill of thistle seed.
Out of the corner of one eye, she saw movement and from the shadows emerged a ginger coloured cat. "Hello there Thomas," the old lady cooed. "Come on over and say hi to me, today."
The old lady stopped the chair from rocking. Bending down she reached out a hand, rubbing her thumb and middle finger together. The cat approached gingerly before suddenly leaping up onto her lap.
Together they sat. The old lady whispered to Thomas, telling him what a handsome boy he was and asking what sights he had seen that day. In return the cat purred and purred with an occasional meow here and there, as if in answer to her questions.
Eventually, the old lady lifted Thomas up and off her knee. Placing him gently on the wooden porch floor, she rose from the chair. She walked slowly, her back stiff from age. "You stay right there, Thomas," she called back. "I'll get you your dinner. Won't be but a minute. Stay right where you are."
The porch door swung open and the old lady returned with two bowls in her hand. One was filled with soft cat food and the other, fresh water. Setting them down on the floor she laughed as the ginger cat approached the bowls, burying his face in the food.
Thomas wasn't a hungry cat. Nor was he a stray. He lived in a house just down the street but took the time, every day, to visit the old lady.
Most days, Thomas was the only company she had. Her son and daughter took turns visiting, every other weekend. Sometimes they'd bring along her grandchildren but most of the time, they came alone. As her grandchildren grew older, they found less and less time to spend with her.
Thomas finished his dinner and looked up at the old lady. He meowed softly, once, as if thanking her for the meal and then turned away. He jumped down from the porch, walked across the front lawn and into the shrubbery. He wasn't heading home for his home was in the opposite direction. The old lady smiled for she knew exactly where Thomas was heading. Old Mrs. Doyle, next door, would be the next visit on his list.
And thus was the way of the world in the old lady's neighbourhood for much of the summer. Thomas made his rounds every day, visiting those, who by all accounts, needed visiting. He enjoyed the meals given to him and in return kept the mice and rats at bay. Thomas was adored by everyone who knew him.
Everyone but Greg Cullings, that is. He and his wife didn't have time for cats. They continually complained about cats digging in their garden. They complained bitterly, a lot and to anyone and everyone who would listen. The neighbourhood was home to skunks, raccoons and who knows what else but in the Cullings' minds, cats were to blame for everything.
The old lady worried about Thomas. She knew how much the Cullings hated seeing him making his rounds every afternoon. Thomas seemed to sense it, too, for never once did he venture into their yard. Not even the mice living there could tempt him.
Then came one day in late August when the old lady sat on her porch, rocking back and forth, waiting for Thomas' visit. The afternoon passed without his appearance. The next afternoon came and went but still there was no sign of the little ginger cat. There was no sign of Thomas all week.
Bright and early the next Monday morning, the old lady donned a light sweater and her good walking shoes before heading out the door, locking it behind her. She called for Thomas, just in case, but there was no response.
The old lady walked down her front path and onto the sidewalk, heading toward the house where she knew Thomas lived. Arriving there, she rapped on their front door and waited. A teenage boy answered, nodding to music only he could hear. At least he had the decency to pull an earpiece out of one ear before asking the old lady what she wanted.
"I was wondering about Thomas," the old lady stated. "He... He visits me in the afternoons," and she blushed, realising that to this young man's ears, what she was saying must sound absurd.
The boy pulled a second earpiece out of his other ear and turned off the music. "The cat's gone." His voice cracked, ever-so-slightly.
"Yeah," and he narrowed his eyes, nodding his head in the direction of the Cullings' house. They called the county last week and had him picked up. Me and Mom, we looked everywhere. We were out every night calling and we phoned the radio station and paper, too. We even put up some signs. I guess you couldn't have seen them. Anyway, we didn't know," and he stopped as his voice cracked more. His eyes were filling with tears. He wiped them away before continuing. "Anyway, we uh... We didn't know that the County wrote this new bylaw. A cat bylaw. They didn't advertise it or anything. But the Cullings knew. Hell, I bet they were behind it! They called the county and complained about Thomas being in their yard even though me and Mom know damn well he wasn't. He always avoided that house like the plague. But the animal control guy, he believed the Cullings and came and caught Thomas. Over at the Doyle's house, he said. After three days at the pound, 'cause no one came to get him, they killed our cat. They said that's what they were allowed to do by law. What kind of law allows the government to go around killing people's pets? And we would have gone to get him if we had known he was there. We didn't even know about the bylaw itself!"
The old lady had stopped listening. Turning away, she grasped at the handrail, leading up the front steps, and steadied herself. Her eyes clouded over with tears and for a moment, she felt light-headed. She stood there, motionless, praying she wouldn't collapse. A heavy weight formed in the pit of her stomach.
Thomas was gone. That little ginger cat who had visited her every afternoon, all summer long, would never visit her again. That little cat who had never done anybody any wrong. He had brought joy and pleasure to the lives around him while even keeping down the mouse population in the neighbourhood.
She suspected that the Cullings would say it was all Thomas' owners' fault. That their cat shouldn't have been at large. The old lady felt differently. No one else on the street had objected to Thomas' travels at all. No one but them. And anyway, Thomas hadn't even been in their yard! What had the boy said? The dog catcher had to go to the Doyle's yard to catch him.
And what kind of heartless county officials would write a bylaw that allowed a cat to be killed simply because he hadn't been claimed after three days. That was only seventy-two hours! Clearly that hadn't been enough time for Thomas. His people had been looking for him. They had been doing their best...
"Lady! LADY! Lady, are you all right? I called 911. They're sending an ambulance. Are you going to be okay?" The teenage boy was kneeling by the old lady's side. She lay there, crumpled at the bottom of the steps. "Don't move," he told her. "They said you should stay still and not move."
Off in the distance the old lady heard a siren approaching. It drew closer and closer, coming to her aid. She closed her eyes. All she could think of was Thomas' little ginger face and how she desperately wished that someone had come to save him, too.