“Damn cat! Gerrout!” A resounding, meaty thunk resonated sickeningly as a heavy, booted foot connected with a small, furry body. A feline screech and a mad scrabble of paws and claws followed as the abused animal scrambled for cover. I listened unwillingly.
“Get OUT, I told you!” shouted the irate male voice, clearly audible and only slightly muffled by the thin layer of concrete floor between his upstairs apartment and my downstairs one. Another cat screech and a slamming door announced that upstairs kitty had been evicted yet again. Opening my hallway door a discreet sliver, I saw upstairs kitty, sleek black and white fur rumpled, ears flattened, tail a-fluff, making a bee-line for the front door of the apartment building. I shook my head sadly – poor thing.
This was not the way things had been before. Upstairs kitty used to have a kind human. He used to be a genial man, speaking politely to me, and I to him, whenever we met in the hallway of the apartment building after work as he was on his way upstairs to his apartment, one floor up and directly above my own. We did not speak more than that, since he was still a young man, and I am a grey-haired, fat, used up, wrinkled, old woman. Before, I never used to hear upstairs kitty screech, but it was becoming much more frequent since upstairs man lost his job a few months ago.
At first, after he lost his job, upstairs man dressed neatly in a suit, and went job hunting every day. During this time, upstairs kitty was quiet, except for the welcome meowing whenever his human came home, just like always. Gradually, though, as the days turned into weeks, and then into months, upstairs man went out job hunting less and less frequently, and upstairs kitty began to let me know that upstairs man was taking out his woes on the little cat. It really escalated when upstairs man’s unemployment benefit money ran out. He just seemed to give up when that happened, and he often came home carrying whiskey bottle-shaped brown bags. He stopped speaking to me in the hallway, and sort of roughly shouldered anyone in his way aside, me included. Kitty’s screeches began to come not just once or twice a day after that, but sometimes, more times that I could count. Poor thing.
Yesterday, when all this happened, was the first time I saw the upstairs man actually kick upstairs kitty. I had hobbled down to the corner drugstore to refill a prescription, because their usual delivery boy was sick, and they could not bring it to me – I had to go and get it. On the way there, I saw my neighbor weaving his way back to the apartment building. He was obviously intoxicated: head down, watching his feet carefully, but wobbling a crooked path nonetheless. As I watched, upstairs kitty appeared from a side alley, and recognized his human. He joyfully approached his person, meowing welcomes even I could hear across the street. As I watched, thinking how sweet it was that upstairs kitty was so glad to see his master, when I had no one at home who was glad to see me, the drunk man drew back his foot and launched at upstairs kitty a wicked kick. Kitty dodged, but was not quite quick enough. I watched as kitty thudded up against the wall of the store, and dazed, paused.
“Run!” I thought, “run! He’ll kick you again!” But my neighbor, unbalanced by the mighty effort of kicking the cat, turned and lurched into the street. Right in front of the city bus. I realized my hand was upraised, as if I was going to stop him from where I was, way across the street. The frantic cry of “watch out! Watch out! Watch out!” that formed inside my head, for some reason, never left my lips.
When the bus screeched to a halt, I watched as frantic people rushed to help my neighbor. No one noticed the cat, who had disappeared. As the ambulance appeared in due time to take away the broken man, I hobbled on down to the corner store for my prescription. As I waited for my prescription to be bottled for me, I added to my purchase two cans and a box of cat food.