A couple of Wednesdays ago, around 10pm, I was walking home from the 99 cent store in my Bushwick neighborhood with my good friend Chris Habib when I stopped to say hello to a cute black and white spotted kitten sitting near a parked SUV. There are many strays in the area, and I tend to make it a point to say hi to all of them. The majority of the street cats that I encounter here are grown, feral, and far from interested in having contact with humans, but this cat was obviously very young and seemed eager for our attention. Chris squatted down on the pavement, inadvertently skewering a smattering of petrified dog shit in his bike shoes, and started petting the kitten.
“Chris, you’re sitting in dog shit.”
“Nah, it’s petrified, it’s ok. The kitten was probably playing with them. They’re nature’s toys, Lipstate!”
The kitten was very responsive to being pet and purred graciously. Chris eventually picked the little thing up and cradled her in his arms while scratching her head.
“I think she’s probably been on the street for a while. She’s pretty dirty, and there’s a spot on her side that she won’t let me get near. Seems like she might have a significant injury there.”
“Well, I guess we can bring her to my place and give her a bath and see how she does,” I replied.
We walked the block to my apartment, brought the kitten into my bathroom and placed her in the sink. My cat Saffy immediately caught wind of the guest, and started snooping around under the bathroom door. I filled the sink with lukewarm water. Chris held the kitten by the scruff of her neck as we cupped water with our hands and poured them over her lean, dirty body.
“Lipstate, look, the kitten has pink fur on her legs and cheeks.”
“That’s weird, do you think it’s dye? Maybe it will come off.”
It didn’t. The kitten had patches of real pink fur. White, black, and pink. How strange.
Dozens of fleas began emerging from her coat and scrambling towards her head. Catching and drowning the fleas became our primary objective. Those little fuckers are hard as hell to capture with your fingers. They burrow towards the skin and then there’s also the fact that they can jump! For every one that I successfully picked off of her, it seemed that three more emerged. I caught no less than five during their attempt to crawl into the kitten’s little green eyes. Disgusting.
With the door shut and the water running, my tiny bathroom quickly turned humid and swampy. We must have been in there for about an hour. Beads of sweat pooled on my forehead, soaking my bangs, and making it’s way into my eyes. I wiped my face with my forearm, leaving behind a trail of stray hairs and the smell of wet cat fur. Our fingers turned pruney.
After the bath, we gave the kitten a flea treatment and let her run around the living room and dry herself off. I confined Saffy to my bedroom to try and avoid any conflict.
Exhausted, Chris and I sat on the sofa. The kitten jumped up on my lap and waited for me to pet her. While petting her side, I ran my fingers over the spot where Chris had mentioned earlier that he noticed an injury. I gently pushed back her fur around the large, swollen region, and was horrified to discover a hole, the size of pea, in the kitten’s side.
“Chris! There’s a hole in the kitten!”
“I told you there was an injury.”
My head was flooded with crazy ideas about what the hole was and where it came from. The fact that there was no blood or puss, just this perfect little opening in the skin, evoked nightmarish, Cronenberg-esque scenarios. I imagined the dozens of fleas emerging from the hole. Could it have teeth? Did someone use her for archery practice? Or, perhaps it was a missed-place third eye?
“Chris, we’ve got to take her to the vet in the morning.”
“Yeah, we will. We’ll get her checked out and taken care of. “
Sensing my growing anxiety, he added, “Don’t stress out. We’ll fix her up and find a good home for her.”
“Who’s going to want a kitten with a hole in it’s side,” I thought to myself.
Chris agreed to stay the night on the sofa and keep an eye on the kitten. I retreated to my bedroom and found a very disgruntled Saffy waiting for me. She’d hissed at me before, unprovoked, but she really upped her display of displeasure with this situation. I feel it roughly translated to- “I hate this kitten! Why did you bring it here? You belong to me! Not it! Send it away.”
I crawled into bed and Saffy followed, filling in the space in my curled-up body with her own. Outside my room, Chris lay on the sofa with a knitted throw pulled-taught over his lanky body from his feet to his chin, forming a perfect hammock for the kitten to curl up into and fall asleep.