Alice walked out of her condo and into the garden and stoppedin the center of the small lawn. It was mid-morning and the sun had just started to appear in the back yard, highlighting the white carnations that graced the west end of the yard. She smiled and looked around, surveying her handiwork. Petunias, roses, carnations, azaleas and other flowers grew around the borders of the tidy back yard, with a bird bath in the center, surrounded by its own small flower bed. A bench under a trellis was on the left, a shelter place when she wanted to read in the afternoon.
Right now there was work to do. She was nearing eighty, but was still capable of taking care of the small yard, even mowing the lawn when it was needed. Against the wall of her townhouse was a small garden shed, which she opened and pulled gloves, a hat and a weeding trowel and small shovel from. She wore old gray sweat pants, an old, paint stained shirt and short, rubber boots. Her eyes behind her thick glasses were still bright and clear, though her step had slowed and her back bent. At one time she had been considered tall but age had shrunk her frame considerably.
Today her project was the weeding of the small bed of petunias that surrounded the bird bath in the center of the yard. Picking up the knee pad from where it lay on the step she walked out and slowly prepared for work, putting the knee pad down and then her tools before getting down on all fours. She hummed as she worked, talking in a low, sing-song voice the small plants that produced the bright, multicolored blossoms. She worked her way around the perimeter of the bed until she was half way around without pausing.
Taking a break she sat back on her heals, looking around.
In the corner of the yard a large white cat jumped down from the fence between the yards and froze, looking at her.
"Shoo!" she called out, waving her arm at the cat. She did not mind cats, had had her share of them over the years, but this one seemed to think her garden was his private bathroom. She did not know how she knew it was male, but the arrogance with which it treated her an the world around it made her certain it was one.
"Go poop in your own yard, you big lug!" she yelled.
The cat did not move, only stared at her. Struggling, she rose to her feet as fast as she could and
advanced on the cat.
"Get out of here!" she yelled.
The cat finally seemed to make a decision and with a few quick bounds was over the fence and gone.
Alice was breathless as she stood there, hand on her chest.
"Stupid cat," she said.
A man's face appeared at the top of the fence at that moment.
"Why are you chasing my cat?" he asked.
"He was in my yard. He thinks it is his bathroom. It kills my plants!"
"Well, he means no harm."
"Let him kill you plants, then."
The man snorted.
"As if one little cat can do that much harm."
"I am sure that there are smaller lions in Africa," she said. "Just keep him at home, would you? Now, I have to get back to my weeding before it gets too hot out to work. Goodbye!"
With that she turned back to her work, not paying attention to whether the man's face disappeared or not.
John picked up Leo and stroked his soft, white fur. The cat purred and rubbed his head against his master's chin.
"Did that mean lady scare you?" he asked, scratching the cat behind his ears.
The cat meowed his in his small voice and looked up at him with his large golden eyes.
"Well, you will just have to leave her plants alone, mister, or she will chase you again."
He carried the cat into the house and began his weekend chores of washing clothes, paying bills and the rest, leaving the glass door open for air as he did. He would close it when the sun got too hot and turn on the air conditioner, but for now he liked the light breeze that blew in.
Alice worked on the flower bed until she was done, though she was tired and a little sweaty. She knew it was good for her. Many of the friends she had at the Senior Center were able to do little more than get out of a chair and make it to the bathroom without assistance. She was proud of her independence and strength. Rising, she put her tools and gloves away, only then noticing the dark clouds that were crowding the sun. It looked and smelt like rain.
Good thing I got all that done, she thought to herself as she brushed some dirt from her sleeve. She carefully put her tools and gloves away. Taking another look at her garden she smiled and walked into the condo, leaving her back door open for air.
The storm came suddenly, the lightning flashing and the thunder rattling the windows as it passed by. John and Alice both looked up, reacting to the sudden sound. John remembered he had not got the paper in and opened the door just as the lightning hit the tall tree in the back of the house with a loud crack.
Leo, not one to take such things lightly, ran out of the house as John turned and looked, not seeing the white streak as he departed. Alice, who was just finishing a light lunch, was shaken and upset, walked out back to see the tree in her neighbor's yard smoking and split. The smell of ozone and burnt wood filled the air as the rain came down hard, hissing as it hit the hot spot on the tree, sending up steam. It had been a close one, she thought. Lucky no one was hurt. Shaking her head she turned and walked back into the condo, closing the sliding door now. She busied herself with folding some wash and tidying up the kitchen to keep her mind off the storm until it had passed.
John went out back and surveyed the damage, getting his camera to take a picture of it. He wondered if his insurance company would pay for the tree.
As the thunder receded Alice decided to get the paper and the mail. Putting on her sweatshirt and a hat she opened the door and walked down the short walk to the road, gathering the electric bill, a solicitation for funds for African orphans and the daily paper. Opening the door she was looking at the front page as Leo, confused and scared by the lightning and thunder, ran into her house.
John returned to the house, closing the sliding door and calling for Leo. Where was that cat?
He started looking, under the couch, the bed, the chair. No Leo.
Alice walked into the living room, putting the bill in the basket she used for such things and sat down at the table to sip on her cold coffee while she read the paper.
Half an hour later John was frantic looking for Leo. Where had he gone? He walked into the yard, looking around, calling for Leo. The cat almost always responded to his calls, but this time there was no Leo.
Alice got up and lay on the couch, putting the comforter over her, ready for her afternoon nap. She had just started to doze when a weight landed on her legs and she screamed, kicking at the thing that had landed on her. The large, white cat literally flew from the couch, landing in the middle of the room, eyes wide, tail fluffed up, ears back.
"You! How in the world did you get in here?" she asked the cat. Of course, it did not respond, instead moved carefully as far as it could from her, keeping its eyes on her, obviously scared and confused. Where had its master gone? What was this woman doing her?
Sighing, she got up and walked to the sliding door, opening it for the cat to run out of. The cat stared at her, not moving, unwilling to trust the woman.
"Oh, for Pete's sake," she said, hands on her hips. "I suppose I will have to talk to that man next door to get you out of here."
She found her sweatshirt and hat, then went to the front door, opening it. Now the cat moved, running out the door in a white streak and running across the road in front of the townhouses and into the bushes, narrowly avoiding a car. She jumped and almost fell over as the cat ran between her legs. Shaken, she stood there and looked after it, actually feeling a little sorry for it. The lightning strike had scared her, so why not the cat. Shrugging, she almost closed the door when it occurred to her to tell the man where his cat was.
She rang the bell and waited.
The door jerked open and there stood the man, towering over her.
"Oh, you. I'm busy," he said, starting to close the door.
"But your cat,,," she started.
"I'll keep him out of your yard," he said, "now I have to go."
"But, he..." she started, breathless.
John almost closed the door, then turned back to her.
"Ran across the road. He somehow got in my house and when I was coming to get you he ran out."
"Across the road?" he asked, his eyes going across the busy road.
He immediately reached to one side and grabbed a jacket an put it on as it was still raining.
Leaving the door open he started across the road.
"Be careful, a car will hit you and it won't do you or your cat any good at all!" she shouted.
"Oh, yeah, I guess so,"he said, stopping at the curb.
She walked down to where he stood at her best pace and looked left and right with him.
"You coming too?" he asked. looking at her.
"Yes, I feel some responsibility for letting him out. He was scared, by the lightning I would think."
"He hates thunder and lightning. I should have closed the door."
The traffic thinned and they crossed the four lanes, John taking her arm as they crossed. He started calling and she looked. It should not be that hard to find a white cat in all this green, she thought. There as a narrow green belt between the road and the parking lot and he went right while she went left. She had not gone far when she found the cat, huddled under a bush, staring at her.
"Ah, there you are, you rascal," she said in a quiet voice. "Here he is!" she called to John.
He walked quickly to her, almost running.
"Leo! You crazy cat," he said, walking slowly up to the cat and bending to stroke it, then pick it up.
Alice watched as the large, balding man took the cat tenderly into his arms and stroked its fur and head. The cat responded instantly, recognizing its owner, rubbing its head under the man's chin. There were tears in the man's eyes. Suddenly she realized how important this animal was to her neighbor and was very glad she had done what she had.
"Come on, Leo, let's go home," he said, smiling. "And, I can't thank you enough," he said to her.
"Only too happy to help."
"Lets get home."
The unlikely trio made their way across the road, John holding Leo carefully so he could not jump out of his arms, entering John's house and closing the door on the rain.
"Would you like some coffee?" he asked her, putting Leo down in the living room. The cat looked
around, walking in the intruder and rubbed against her legs.
"He never does that," he said. "He does not like strangers."
"Well, I guess I'm not a stranger any more."
"I guess not," he said, smiling at the old woman. Alice smiled back, thinking that Leo may not be all that bad for her plants after all if she make him his own little bed to use for his business. The cat purred and jumped on his master's lap, curling into a ball.