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  • Cats vs. Cancer
  • Valerie Hegarty (bio)

I throw the bandage in the trashcan with the clumped kitty litter. I ask the kitty, both of us lying on the bed on top of the covers, “Did you do your best today? Did you show up and do what you needed to do today?” The kitty rolls lazily onto her back and stretches out her arms and legs like she’s in rigor mortis. She was recently neutered and I rub her shaved belly and mending incision line. She is purring. She is black with long white feet and white front paws, a white chin and half a white nose. “Kitten mittens!” I say rubbing her belly. “Cat jammies! You did a great job today, kitty!” I adjust the icepack under my bra. When I lifted my bra up in front of the mirror earlier there was blood on the outer surgical bandage. I remember the nurses said if I see some blood that’s normal.

The first time I saw the kitten was a month earlier after I rented an art studio on the basement floor of a warehouse building in the far reaches of Brooklyn. I worked on a painting for a few hours and then took a break to look out the window. The basement studio window was eye-level with ground-level alley. Looking back at me on the other side of the glass was a little black kitten. I looked away dismayed. When I looked back hoping she’d be gone there were two little black kittens looking at me. I looked away again uneasily and when I looked back there were three little kittens—two black ones and a black one with a white nose and white paws. Again I looked away, this time on the verge of panic, and when I looked back there were four little kittens looking back at me through the window—two black ones and two black ones with white noses and paws. I turned away, went on my computer, and Googled “What to do when you can’t save the world.” I read several posts, turned out the light, and left for the day.

The next day there were no kittens in the morning but by afternoon one of the little black ones appeared at the window and over the course of an hour she multiplied into four. They batted at broken glass and chased the plastic lids of coffee cups to and fro in front of the window. They scratched in abandoned planters and bit each other’s necks. They would stop occasionally to stare in the window.

I went and bought a bag of cat food at the deli and found some bowls. At dusk they lined up on the broken sidewalk and watched me with eight green eyes as I filled the chipped bowls with cat food. Their white whiskers twitched in unison and they moved their heads like they were watching a tennis game as I swept up the broken glass in their garbage-can-alley home. [End Page 168]

A large gray cat seemed to watch over the kittens. Sometimes when I walked from the subway to the art studio the large gray cat would emerge from an alley several blocks away and walk ahead of me on the sidewalk. We would both turn right, then turn left, then I would open the gate while the large gray alley cat scooted underneath, both of us ending up at the bowls to feed and watch the kittens.

At night I went on the Internet and read about the difference between stray and feral cats, the cat overpopulation epidemic in New York City, and the mayor’s new campaign to handle the epidemic with TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return). A concerned citizen is advised to contact a rescue organization, then take a class to learn how to trap the animal and bring it to the aspca for neutering. Then the neutered cat is to be returned to its original location to live out its life on the streets. I realized the large gray alley cat’s clipped ear was not a dogfight injury but a universal sign that...


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pp. 168-180
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