Saved

"Where are you going?" Martha Fagan projected her voice over the television as her son passed through the sunny kitchen. She was pouring cornbread batter into a pan. She exaggerated the need to raise her voice—the ball game was barely a murmur. She also exaggerated the need for the question, for her son's destination was obvious. He wore his Sonic Drive-In shirt and carried skates under his arm.

"Work," he muttered, not looking at her. He lifted his truck keys off the hook.

"Matthew James," she demanded, setting down the bowl and facing him. She propped her hand on her pudgy hip.

"Yes." He rolled his eyes and slumped against the wall.

"What makes you think you can work on Sunday?" Silhouetted against the sunlight, he could have passed for his tall father; she had to remind herself he was only sixteen.

"Someone called in sick." He wearily turned to her. "And Dad said I could." They both looked across the open room at the couch. A bald head periscoped to face them.

"It's only four hours," said the head. Then it swiveled back to the ball game. "I'm sure the Lord will understand."

Martha stared at the scalp, her jaw clenched. After a moment, she turned back to Matt, waiting with his hand on the door.

"What time will you be finished?" She tried not to glare at him.

"Five o'clock."

"You better be pulling up in that driveway by five-fifteen." Now she did glare at him. "And don't let me see that Shankley boy hanging around up there."

"What is your deal with him?" Matt grumbled.

"He's a druggie," said Martha. She ran the faucet into the batter bowl.

"You don't know that," said Matt. "You always do this. You judge people and you don't even know them."

"Well, when I see you being a good judge of character, I'll trust you to choose your own friends."

Matt snorted and walked out, slamming the door shut with his bare foot. A baseball toppled off Stanley's shrine to Matt's little league career beside the door. Martha stared at the door, then turned to the face now peering above the couch. It swiveled back to the television. She picked up the baseball.

"How can you do that to me, Stan?" she asked.

"Do what to you?" Stanley Fagan asked innocently.

"We had a rule about Sundays."

"You had a rule about Sundays."

"You agreed!" Tears came to her eyes. "It's our only real family time."

He didn't answer.

"That's right. Run away."

He shook his head slightly and kept his eyes on the TV. Suddenly she hurled the ball at the couch, where it bounced off the back with a thud. Startled, he whipped around to face her.

"Martha!" He stood up. "Get a grip."

"How can I have a grip when you undermine my parenting?"

"I didn't undermine—" He stopped at the sight of her gaping mouth. "Look…" He pointed the remote and turned off the TV. "He enjoys work. He's got friends there, Martha. He just wants a social life."

"Are you kidding me?" Martha squawked. "He's missing a teen party at church right now."

"He doesn't relate to those kids," said Stanley.

"How would you know?"

Stanley picked up the ball. "He tells me," he said softly. Martha wrinkled her brow to fend off more tears.

"He doesn't relate because he doesn't know them," Martha said. "He won't go to any of the youth functions. Or the home-school groups. He'd enjoy them, but you won't encourage him to go."

"That's because I don't blame him. I don't relate to those people either."

"See what I'm up against? I try to keep his influences positive, while you're encouraging him to skip youth group so he can stay home with you and watch sports. Or raunchy sitcoms."

"Hell, he needs to see some real life." Stanley jerked his hand through the air. "You're trying to raise him in a bubble. Do you know how alienated he felt when you didn't let him read Harry Potter?"

"So you snuck it to him. What a cool dad you are. Gonna get him some Playboy magazines for his seventeenth birthday?"

"Martha." Stanley lowered his voice. "Come back to earth." He paused, and she looked down. "Babe," he continued, "you gotta let up. He's a good boy. If you'd just trust him you'd get along."

"I do trust him." She shoved the cornbread in the oven. "I don't trust his friends."

"They're fine."

"Oh really. Well, in your buddy talks, did he happen to tell you who this belongs to?" Martha reached above the refrigerator and held up a lighter.

"Where did you get that?" Stanley asked.

"His truck."

"You went through his truck?" Stanley balked. Martha lowered her hand slowly, staring into his eyes.

"So I'm the bad guy. Again." She pursed her lips. "And you'd rather defend him than confront him. Maybe if there were two parents in this house, we'd have a grip."

*  *  *

The asphalt baked in the summer sun as the dusty, black skeleton of a cat trotted briskly across the shopping center parking lot. She carried a bit of meat from the dumpster behind the nearby burger joint. She hurried past the adjacent grocery store, to a shady spot under a truck where her four kittens waited for her return. She had birthed more kittens, but she didn't know how many, or what happened to the others. The remaining four scampered to her. In the rectangle of shade, they crowded around the meat, sniffing and nipping at it. Pinning it with her paws, she tore off large pieces and gulped them down half-chewed. Within twenty seconds, the meat was gone and the kittens licked around their mother's mouth. She sat upright so they couldn't reach her face.

She licked her lips and looked across the parking lot. Another cat scavenged through the debris on the ground beside the dumpster. She licked her paw and wiped her face. Then again, and again. The kittens burrowed into her side, looking for a nipple. She laid down and allowed them to nurse. They suckled the few drops of milk they could get, then fought over other nipples. Eventually, they gave up and laid down with their mother.

*  *  *

Martha walked upstairs and returned with her purse and a book.

"Listen out for the oven timer," she said, grabbing her keys. She didn't even try to talk over the resumed ball game, but Stanley heard her anyway.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To protect my child," said Martha.

"Good Lord. From what now?" He looked over the couch at her.

"The druggie you trust him to be friends with." She got in her car and drove the two miles to the fast-food drive in where Matt worked as a carhop. She sat down outside at a far table under the awning.

"Mom, what are you doing here?" Matt asked, skating up to her.

"I'll have a large diet, please," she said, spreading her book on the table.

"Aw c'mon, Mom," Matt begged.

"And I'd like to speak to your manager," Martha added. Matt stood looking at her. "Don't worry," she continued. "I won't bother anybody." Matt sighed and rolled into the restaurant. Martha scanned the premises for the Shankley boy, but didn't see him. Moments later, the manager approached her table with a large drink. He didn't look much older than Matt.

"Hello Mrs. Fagan." He handed her the soda. "How are you?"

"Fine, thank you." She smiled up at him warmly. "I'm sorry to bother you—"

"No problem. What can I do for you?"

"It's just that…" Martha nervously unwrapped the straw and put it in her drink. "Our family has committed to not work on Sundays." She looked up at him. "It's a faith thing."

"You mean like Sabbath?"

"Yeah, Sabbath," she said, relieved.

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry I called. I didn't know that."

"Don't apologize," Martha said. "It's not your fault. He can finish out today."

"Thanks. I won't do it again," he said, turning to go back inside.

"I appreciate that," she called after him. For a while, she read her book in between watching cars come and go. She smiled with pride at how well her son dealt with the customers. He glanced at her occasionally, meeting her smiles with a frown. Eventually, he rolled up to her table.

"Mom, please leave."

"Why?" she asked. "What do you care?"

"It's embarrassing!" he hissed. He towered over her in the skates.

"I'm sorry, honey," she looked up at him apologetically. "I'm worried about you."

Anger clouded his face. Finally, he said, "If you don't leave, I will."

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Leave your job?"

"Whatever it takes to get away from you."

Martha looked up at her son. She saw a child. She saw a man. She saw a stranger. She saw someone who hated her. Her eyes welled up. He shook his head and scooted away. She closed her book, dabbed her eyes with a napkin, then walked in a daze to her car.

As she drove through the parking lot, Martha saw someone through her tears. Blinking hard, she saw it was Jeremy Shankley leaning against the vacant side wall of the neighboring grocery store. His eyes followed her car, then turned away as he saw her face. She pulled out of the shopping center and headed toward home. Then she drove around the block and returned to a plaza directly across the street from Shankley.

She parked behind the plaza and entered a consignment shop. From it's windows, she could see the angled side of the grocery store. She watched as Shankley paced back and forth near the back corner of the building. He spoke on his cell phone. He smoked a cigarette. Martha pretended to shop while she spied. The consignment store clerk graciously pretended not to notice Martha's odd behavior.

After a while, an old green sedan idled slowly toward the corner of the grocery store. Shankley spoke through the driver's window, then followed the car around the corner. Moments later, the car returned, dropped Shankley off beside the store, and drove away. Martha shook her head bitterly, drove home and called the police.

*  *  *

The cat family dozed in the warm shade. The mother cat opened her eyes every few minutes to see cars drive by. Her stomach burned from the spicy meat. After some time, a closer noise opened her eyes. She sat up and saw a man on skates rolling straight toward her. She crouched and backed further under the truck, out of sight. The skates dragged to a stop at the truck. The noise of keys and a door opening frightened her. She grabbed a kitten by the back of its neck and climbed onto a ledge above her head. Frightened by its mother's alarm, it crawled further into the labyrinth for a smaller hiding spot.

Another young man approached the truck in soft, quiet shoes. Then she heard voices, and understood nothing but the need to keep her young away from them.

"Bout time!" said Jeremy Shankley.

"Sorry man," said Matt. "It was busy."

The mother cat silently dropped back down to the ground for the next kitten. She froze briefly as a skate crashed to the ground beside the truck.

"Unlock this," said Jeremy. Matt leaned over and pulled up the lock, and Jeremy climbed into the truck.

The mother cat clutched another kitten and pulled it up into a crevice, then dropped back down for a third. A second skate crashed to the ground, and she rushed to finish hiding her young.

"Damn, look at all that cash," said Jeremy.

"Kissing up is big money," said Matt. "You oughta try it sometime."

"That'll be the day," Jeremy snorted. He pulled a baggie out of his pants.

"Man, that's gross," Matt winced.

Jeremy chortled. "How much you want?" he smiled.

"Just one."

"One what? A joint?" Jeremy said. "You can have this whole bag for fifty."

"You wish. Here…" Matt counted out crumpled bills and change onto the console. "…three, four, four twenty-five, four fifty, four sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, five dollars."

"I don't know why I bother with you." Jeremy held out a pinch of leaves. "You got rolling papers?"

"No. I said I wanted a joint," said Matt. "Already made up."

"Well that service costs extra." Jeremy set the pinch beside the money and pulled out a pack of rolling papers. "Two more bucks."

"Man no way!" Matt barked. "You're ripping me off."

"Or…" Jeremy deftly rolled a joint. "You can earn it. I need a favor."

"What?"

Jeremy held up his full baggie of pot. "Lemme stash this in here tonight." He looked around the truck for hiding spots.

"Yeah right," Matt laughed.

"Seriously man," Jeremy said, feeling under his seat. "Just one night. I'll unload all of this at school tomorrow."

"Hell no," said Matt. He looked nervously around the parking lot.

"What if I give you this one for free?" Jeremy held up the joint.

"Why?" Matt squinted suspiciously at Jeremy.

"My mom found my hiding spot. I have to figure out a new one."

"Whoa," Matt whistled. "What did she do?"

"I'm grounded," Jeremy laughed. "But I can't let her find all this." He squeezed the air out of the bag and sealed it shut. "She might flush it or something stupid." He leaned through the front seats and pried into the ragged crack of the back seat. "See, it fits right in here. I'll get it in the morning."

"I'll do it for two joints," said Matt.

"Faggot, now you're ripping me off." Jeremy sat a moment, then grimly shoved the bag deep in the crevice and got out of the truck. "You'll get the second one after I get that back safe and sound. Leave your truck unlocked," he said, slamming the door. "I'll get it in the morning on the way to the bus stop."

"Ah-ite." Smiling at his own shrewd business sense, Matt carefully pushed the joint to the bottom of his money pouch.

Once all four kittens were out of sight, the mother cat crouched on a lower ledge of the truck to watch the place where the skates fell. Soon, a hand reached down and picked up one skate at a time, tossing them into the truck bed. The clatter drowned out her beating heart. Then the whole truck shook as the door slammed shut.

In the truck, Matt pulled his French-fried work shirt off and wiggled his aching toes inside sweaty socks. He leafed through the wad of tips he had earned as a carhop that day. He sighed out loud. It wasn't easy, navigating skates for hours, balancing a drink-laden tray on extended arm, exchanging money with one free hand, forcing smiles in hopes of getting smiles in return. Forcing a smile had proved nearly impossible with his mother there.

He grabbed his keys off the floor and started the old family truck he'd inherited on his sixteenth birthday. It was no eye candy, but it was strong and safe. And loud. This time, he noticed an extra thump and screech as the motor rumbled to life. The stereo immediately blared the CD he had played on the way to work. He turned it off to listen for more odd noises, but nothing else happened. He turned the music back on, rolled down the windows, and sped the five-minute drive home.

As he pulled up to his house, he saw his father washing his car in the driveway. He parked in the street, pulled off his socks, and walked barefoot toward his father.

"How was work?" Stanley asked.

"Great," said Matt. "I made twenty-six dollars in tips today. Not even counting the change." He patted his jingling pocket.

"I still can't believe people would tip at a fast-food place." Stanley snorted.

"Don't tell them that," Matt smiled.

They chatted while Stanley rinsed his car. After he finished, he pulled it up into the garage, then came back out and began to coil the hose. Matt got in his truck and cranked it up to move it into the driveway. This time, a scream pierced the air louder than the rumble of the old truck. Stanley turned to see a black cat make a wobbly beeline from the truck to the foot of a tree in the neighbor's yard. Matt saw it, too. A shock burned through his heart as he jerked the key back to the off position.

"Son of a—!" Stanley exclaimed, walking toward the truck and looking at the crumple of fur across the yard. Even from that distance, the cat's eyes pierced his. Matt got out of the truck in a panic and rushed toward the cat. His father stopped him.

"Leave it alone, Matt. Don't make it run again."

"Where did it come from?" Matt asked.

"I guess it's their cat." Stanley nodded toward the house next door, where the cat had run. He didn't remember seeing a cat there, but those neighbors were rather reclusive; it was possible the cat lived indoors. Together, they approached the house and knocked on the door.

"We don't have cats," said the neighbor man. "We're allergic to cats. The whole family is allergic to cats."

"Oh" Stanley said. "Well, do you know if anyone around here has a black cat?"

"No. But we can't have cats."

"Okay, thanks anyway." Stanley wrinkled his brow and backed away. The neighbor closed his door.

"Alrightythen," Matt joked soberly.

"Yeah, really," Stanley agreed, as they walked back to the truck. They looked at the jagged lump of fur by the tree. Two yellow-green eyes followed them like lasers, but they couldn't make out the rest of its face. "We'll keep asking around, but I think we need to leave it alone for a while."

"Okay." Matt got back into the truck and cranked it again. This time, another thump stopped him from cranking it all the way. He pulled the key back out of the ignition. They looked under the truck, and saw bright red blood dripping onto the street. Matt choked. His father gulped.

"Dad," Matt almost whispered, his voice warbling. "I heard that noise when I started the truck at Sonic."

"Pop the hood," Stanley ordered. Matt obeyed, but the hood latch never did work well. It clicked, but the hood didn't move.

"It doesn't work," Matt explained.

"How have you been getting in there?" Stanley asked.

"It used to work, but now I can't get it to open."

"Run get me a screwdriver," said Stanley, feeling for the release lever under the hood. Matt walked shakily to the garage, and returned with a large screwdriver. Then he retreated to the rear of the vehicle, where he leaned against the truck facing away from the scene. He stared down the street with his throat in a knot. Just then, Martha called from the house that dinner was ready. Stanley shook his head at her, and she walked out to him.

"A cat just got caught up in Matt's motor."

"Oh my gosh," gasped Martha. "Where is it?"

"It ran over there." Stanley pointed the screwdriver toward the tree. "I don't know whose cat it is. They said it's not theirs."

"I'll go see if it's okay." Martha walked toward the tree. The iridescent eyes glowed at her as she approached, then it turned and ran into a cluster of sago bushes. Its hind quarters fell to the left with every step.

Meanwhile, Stanley managed to get the truck's hood open. He looked for a moment, then slowly lowered it.

"It's a kitten," he sighed. Matt watched in horror as his father walked to the garage and returned with a trash bag. Then he heard the hood slam back into place, and watched Stanley carry the nearly empty bag to the back yard. Matt held onto the tailgate and stared at the ground. Stanley and Martha returned at the same time. Matt remained silent, waiting for his dad to break the news about the kitten.

Just then, a neighbor came from across the street—a tall, thin man they'd seen but never met. His golf shirt was tucked in on his left side, and hung out of his pants on his right side.

"Hi, I'm Phil." He extended his hand.

"Hi. Stan." Stanley shook hands with him. "This is my wife, Martha."

Martha shook his hand, and watched out of the corner of her eye as a police car drove past. The neighbor looked at the somber boy.

"I'm Matt." Matt shook hands with him.

"Where do you go to school, Matt? Over at Fleming High?"

"No, I'm home-schooled," Matt explained.

"My kids go to Ridgeview," said Phil.

"Yeah," Matt nodded. "I know."

"Oh," Phil smiled brightly. "You go to Ridgeview?"

"Um…" Matt got confused and rubbed his eyes.

Martha interjected. "Matt, maybe they'd want to do something with you. They seem like nice kids."

Nobody responded.

Phil turned his attention back to Stanley. "Hi, I'm Phil," he said, extending his hand.

"Stan." Stanley shook Phil's hand again, smiling. He and Matt tried not to laugh.

"Oh, that's right. You already said that." Phil smiled. "Well, I hear dinner calling. Nice to meet you all."

"You too," said mother, father and son simultaneously. As Phil walked back to his own house, they looked at each other wide-eyed.

"Do you think God sent that guy for comic relief?" Matt asked in wonder. "I feel like I just got saved from a horror movie."

"Maybe." Stanley shook his head slowly, watching the second odd neighbor of the day walk away. "This has been one weird day."

Martha returned to the business at hand. "I tried to get the cat, but he ran up into their bushes. Well, not exactly ran – more like, falling with progress."

"He's a she," said Stanley. He put his arm around Martha and told her about the kitten as they all walked into the house. While Matt and Stanley ate bar-b-que on cornbread, Martha called every phone number she could find to get help for the cat. Since it was a Sunday afternoon, nothing was open. Even the animal control service was unavailable. She finally got transferred to the police department, who said a patrol car could pick up the animal if it was contained in a box. She gave up and sat down at the dinner table.

"I should go shoot it," said Stanley.

"No!" Martha gasped.

"It's in serious pain," he reminded her. "It's cut up bad." Neither of them was willing to spend the money for a vet to repair a stray cat.

"I don't think it's dying." She remembered the radiant eyes. "And anyway, that's not our decision to make."

"But Mom, it's suffering," said Matt.

Martha stood her ground. "Where I grew up, animals got hit by cars, disappeared for a couple weeks, then came home healed. Deformed, maybe, but just fine. We just need to give it food and water, and keep it safe. God will take care of the rest." Stanley and Matt shrugged doubtfully, and they all ate in silence. Each of them was secretly grateful for the diversion from the earlier dispute.

Soon, the doorbell rang, and they saw a police car through the front window.

"They must be here for the cat," Martha said, walking to the door. She opened the door and gestured the policeman into the foyer. "Hi Officer. I'm sorry, it's not contained. I never confirmed we'd be able to catch it."

"Excuse me?" asked the policeman.

"You're here for the cat, right?" Martha asked.

"No ma'am. Is that your green truck?"

"It's my son's." Martha glanced in the kitchen. Stanley rose to join the discussion. Matt stayed seated.

"Folks, we got an anonymous tip on Jeremy Shankley for trafficking marijuana. He's in the car." The officer leaned through the open doorway to see his squad car.

"I knew it!" cried Martha.

The policeman looked back at her thoughtfully. "I believe I saw him perform an exchange at the shopping center," he said, "with the green truck that's in your driveway." Martha and Stanley stared at the officer, then at Matt in the kitchen. He looked back at them in blank silence. Martha turned back to the officer and smiled.

"I think you've got the wrong vehicle," she said to him.

"I don't think so. May I search the truck?" The parents again looked from the officer, to Matt, then back to the officer.

A short while later, Matt watched from the back seat of the departing police car as his mother burst into tears in the front yard. Stanley quickly rearranged the vehicles to get his car out, then drove himself and his wife to the police station.

*  *  *

Later that night, the mother cat lay perfectly still in the bushes. Her breath whistled through the blood-caked opening where her nose once was. Gnats writhed in the cut edge of her ear. Her hind quarters had stiffened. She stared out of the bushes and listened for her kittens. All was quiet, except for occasional shouting from the house next door.

In the Fagan house, Martha paced and fumed for almost an hour, interrogating Matt. Stanley sat in his recliner, staring at the blank television. Neither he nor Matt had anything to say. Finally Martha sent Matt to his room. He went upstairs and crouched in the hall, listening to his mother's rampage below.

"Your buddy-buddy, hands-off approach to parenting worked beautifully, Stan. Now do you want to step up to the plate and join the program?"

Stanley did not respond. Martha continued, flailing her arms.

"He's a good kid, you said. Trust him, you said. His friends are good kids, too, huh?"

Stanley looked up at her. "He is a good kid." Martha quieted down and met his stare.       Stanley said, "You heard the officer. Why do you think they let him come home tonight?"

Martha scoffed. "That's comforting to you? My my, Stan. You sure have low expectations."

Stanley stood up. "That's enough," he said.

"Enough? Enough!?" Martha squealed. "I have to parent enough for the both of us, and that will never be enough. Maybe if you weren't in the picture to constantly negate—"

Stanley stormed right up to Martha's face, his whole body flexed in anger. Martha quieted and shrank away from him. Then Stanley grabbed his keys and left the house. Martha collapsed on the couch and cried uncontrollably. Matt tiptoed to his bedroom and quietly shut the door.

* * *

Martha woke the next morning to the sound of Stan leaving for work. He had not spoken to her all night. Matt's bedroom door was closed. She made some coffee and sat at the kitchen window. When the cup was empty, she got dressed and headed into the garage. Armed with puffy eyes, rubber gloves and a box, she set out to find the cat. Just as she stepped outside, she saw Mrs. Shankley's car coming up the street. She tried to duck back into the garage, but Mrs. Shankley waved and pulled up in front of the house.

"Martha," called Mrs. Shankley through her open window. "How are you? Are you okay? Is Matt okay?"

Martha sighed and stepped out car idling at the curb.

"We're okay," she lied. She just wanted the woman to leave.

"Well I am a God-forsaken mess!" cried Mrs. Shankley. "I liked to died last night with my poor boy in that jail. What're they thinking? He's just a kid! I'm going to set ‘em straight right now."

Martha tried to put on a sympathetic face. Mrs. Shankley continued.

"Hey listen, Martha. Do you think you and I can have a talk? I am at my wit's end with Jeremy. He just won't listen to anything I tell him. Your Matt's a good boy. Well, not this time. But usually he's a good boy—even the police said so. And I like Jeremy to be around good kids like that. How do you get Matt to listen to you?"

Martha wanted to scream at the woman. But the question stumped her. She just stared. Mrs. Shankley started again.

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I know you're upset. And I can see you're busy." She pounded her hand on the steering wheel. "I just don't understand him. I must've told him a hundred times don't be messing with that stuff. ‘Okay, Mom,' he says. Next thing you know, the cops is at the door. How come he don't learn? Do you know after you left last night Jeremy cried? Oh, please don't tell Matt that. Jeremy would just die. But I was beside myself. I told the officer I was staying in there with him, and they said I couldn't. They made me leave! Said they'd fine me if I didn't go on home. Lord knows I'll be pulling some rabbits outta hat to get Jeremy outta there. I can't afford no fine of my own. And his daddy acts like the boy's on his own now. ‘He's big enough to take care of hisself,' he says." She shook her head angrily and looked at Martha. "I'm sorry to bother you with all this. But I've been telling Jeremy to stay away from those bad boys. I try to get him to hang out with Matt more, so he'll stay out of trouble. Well, that was before. But he just won't listen. Please tell me how you get Matt to listen to you."

Martha looked down at the box. "He doesn't listen to me."

"Well, what does he say when ya'll talk?"

Martha looked up. "Nothing."

"I mean, I'm sure he don't talk about girls and whatnot. Jeremy's definitely an odd one to be spilling his guts about that stuff. But I mean, when he's gotta fess up to something, what does he say?"

"He doesn't talk to me at all," Martha said, tears welling in her already-puffy eyes.

Mrs. Shankley looked alarmed. She hurried out of her car and put her arms around Martha. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry. I'm sure he talks to you about some stuff."

Martha froze in the woman's hug, but a sob rocked her body. She held the rubber gloves to her face and shook her head. Mrs. Shankley held her tight, finally at a loss for words.

"Listen here, girl," she said to Martha. "My boy has just had the worst night of his life, and he needs me. My guess is that Matt just had the worst scare of his life." She peeked under Martha's glove mask. "He needs you." She hugged Martha again, then got in her car and drove away.

* * *

The cat had laid in the bush all night without moving. When daylight came and the morning birds had quieted down, a woman walked up and peered into the bushes. Their eyes met for a moment—one set puffy, the other set yellow. Then orange gloves burrowed through the dense jungle of sago palms.

Every time Martha tried to grasp the cat, it retreated to another crevice under a palisade of dead palm branches. She saw it would rather die than trust her. But she couldn't abandon the creature to its own fate. After forty-five minutes of burrowing and pulling out the sharp obstacles, she finally got the cat out.

Martha cringed at the sight of the cat's mangled nose and ear. She held it loosely, trying not to add any more injuries to it; but when it nearly squirmed out of her hands, she held it tightly. She placed it in a cardboard box, and it promptly jumped out, wobbled briskly around the corner, and climbed into the neighbor's car motor.

"You haven't learned your lesson?" she asked as she pried it out. Finally, Martha got the cat transported to a storage room within her garage.

"I'm sorry about your baby," she said, opening the box on the floor. "You were just trying to protect it. I understand, believe me. But it's too dangerous for you out there." Then she closed the storage room door.

2008