Bio Note: I live in a redwood forest a few miles inland from the Pacific. On the other side of the mountain is Silicon Valley and immense wealth. On this side are the ranches where farmworkers hack artichokes and pluck peppers. As a home repair contractor, I live between both worlds.
A feral calico cat
used to sleep in my truck like a ghost leaving the driver’s seat warm but gone when I’d arrive. Heard me, sharp ears. Sometimes on the console she’d leave a bat with wings intact, a baby rabbit, neck broken. Rent paid. I set out kibble, she wouldn’t touch. Never bore kittens though I’d hear nights of yowling, fights. Later, her ears failed. I’d open the door, she’d startle awake. Leap. Clawed my shoulder once in her haste. Near the end she’d eat the kibble but still got skinny, ribs outlined. One day I found the food untouched. She’d vanished. Like most animals, she knew how to die. I tell you this because a while ago in the garage I found two children, boy and girl curled together in a filthy sleeping bag half under the truck. On the girl, arms like wire. On the boy, a scar like purple rope between ear and nose. Eyes that hold fear and keep secrets. I try to say Estas a salvo aqui — you are safe here. They refuse to follow into mi casa. Quickly in the house I grab fleece jackets, a box of Cheerios, a jug of milk plus bowls and spoons. I come back out. Boy and girl are gone. There’s an underground railroad of farmworkers up the coast of California but my garage would be off the main track. An hour later I’m loading corrugated drainpipe when a frantic woman shows up. She’s short, ragged, missing one eye. Her language not Spanish, not English but with fingers on her face she indicates the scar— those were her kids. With a mother’s super sense she’s tracking like a bloodhound. All I can do is point to where they slept and offer her some Cheerios which she declines. She takes the jackets. And then she’s gone. I return home after dark. Running late that morning I’d left the milk and Cheerios on a tool box. Now nowhere in sight. Might’ve been an animal except the bowls and spoons are upside down on a smoothed-out shop rag, washed and dried. Never see the kids or the one-eyed mom again. Probably migrated north with the harvest. This much I know: Later, maybe a year, one morning on the console of my truck I find a jelly jar of wildflowers, a paper bag of pears.
Originally published in Live Encounters
©2020 Joe Cottonwood
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