"Forty seven years. I've lived here forty seven years," Blanch repeated. "Your father is turning over in his grave right now watching you do this to me!" She shifted her weight in the old rocking chair.
Gary wasn't about to have this same old conversation all over again. "Mom, we went over this already. The plans are already made. You move in two weeks!"
Blanch started coughing, and Gary gave her the box of tissues that was on the coffee table.
"It's just not right, damn it!" She was getting worked up.
Gary tried to be reassuring. "Assisted living isn't what it used to be. There are game nights, movie nights, and twenty four hour care, which is what you need. But we have to talk about all these cats."
Looking around the dimly lit living room, he saw no less than fifteen of them milling about. There were all kinds, too. There were furry ones, hairless ones, and kittens of all different colors. Gary was convinced he had to get through to her.
"Listen, Mom, we have two weeks to find these cats a new home. I think it would be better for families to adopt them, but they need to be gone. If not," he paused, "I'm gonna have to call animal control and have them removed."
Blanch was terrified at the thought of harm coming to any of her children. After her husband passed away twenty two years ago and Gary moved out, her cats were all she had left. Amazingly, they flocked to her front door almost continuously, as if realizing she needed the companionship.
"I took the liberty of putting an ad in the paper, and posting a sign for free cats on the tree out front. You can even pick out the families. I know these cats are important to you mom, but we have to do this now."
Blanch looked sadly at the cats, then back at Gary. "If it must be, than it must be." She lit another cigarette and stared out the dirty window at the bird feeder hanging on the tree. "I'm tired now son, I want to go to sleep."
Gary got up and kissed his mother on the forehead.
"I love you mom. I'll check on you in a couple of days and see how you're making out."
Blanch heard the door close and the car pull out of the driveway. She was grief-stricken. She rocked back and forth for a few more minutes, contemplating all that was about to take place. Then she noticed the time, five o'clock. Feeding time.
She slowly got up with the help of her walker and went to the kitchen. Feeding twenty seven cats was no easy feat. She took great care to cook the meals. They emerged from all corners of the house, knowing that supper was coming. Like little kids, they ran about the kitchen meowing and chasing each other. After about ten minutes, they were quietly enjoying the feast she had prepared. Every once in a while they would fight over a morsel and she would hear hissing and low growls.
Blanch wasn't finished yet. There was one more cat she had to feed. His food was specially made. She opened a drawer next to the stove and took out a dead mouse. She took great care to place it in the center of the plate, then drenched it in tuna fish juice. After adding a couple of cat treats for garnish, she looked at the dinner with pleasure, like a chef looking at his greatest creation. She poured milk into a bowl and headed to the basement door.
"Can't forget about you, Mr. Tibbs," she said as she unlocked and opened the door. She had never seen Mr. Tibbs, but knew he was there. It had been years since she had the strength to go down the old basement stairs, but she would hear him down there. He would meow often, sometimes almost howling. If she sat still long enough and closed her eyes, she could even hear the soothing sound of his purring. Every day she would open the basement and place the food and milk on the first step, and the next day it would be gone. She had tried to imagine what he looked like. She even left the basement door open, hoping he would come up and join her growing family. But Mr. Tibbs didn't like the other kids. They would sneak down there and never come back. So after a while, she decided to keep the door shut and locked. Some kids are just loners, she concluded.
Over the next two weeks, families visited Blanch and adopted her cats. She cried every time one of them left. Snowball, Skittles, Velvet, Pepper, Kitty, and many more left her house to start a new life in a new home. Although Blanch knew they would enjoy their new homes, she couldn't help but feel her life emptying out with every cat that left her care. She compared it to the day Gary left the nest all those years ago, times twenty seven. Every afternoon at five o'clock, she would prepare the day's meal, however, she couldn't handle the fact that there were less and less cats coming to dinner. She would watch them play in the kitchen and occasionally fight over the feast she had meticulously prepared, wondering which one would be next to go. Through it all, Mr. Tibbs remained the constant. She would feed him every afternoon like clockwork, and she decided that he would be with her till the end. He was her little secret, and no one would take him from her. She sat in the dark, dusty living room each evening, waiting for the day when she would have to move. It was like a murderer on death row waiting for his execution. She would flip through her photo albums, thinking about days gone by, reminiscing while she played classic records on the record player. The scratchy sound of the music soothed her soul and took her to a place gone long ago.
She knew what moving to a nursing home meant. Most of her friends from years ago had moved in there and had since died there, their will to live sucked away by the mundane day to day existence. She had to feel needed. If not by her son, by the cats that kept her company. She had a purpose each day, a reason to exist. She laughed, loved, cared, and felt like the cats needed her company. That's a feeling she hadn't felt since her husband was alive. And now, it was all about to come to an end.
How dare he take my life away like this, she thought. After all I have done for him! Blanch was furious with Gary. She knew he just wanted the house. Not to live there, mind you, but she knew he would sell it and waste the money on fancy sports cars, women, booze, or drugs. She had tried her best to raise him right but had recently realized that he had squandered all she had taught him. His visits were sporadic at best, and until a month ago non-existent. She figured the money he had dried up and decided to trade in his own mother for the house. Unforgivable, she thought.
She would sit there so long sometimes that she would fall asleep in the rocking chair, sometimes with a lit cigarette in her hand. One time, she had dropped a cigarette onto the rug, burning a hole in it. She never told Gary and covered it up with a smaller rug. Last thing she wanted was to give him another reason to send her off to her death.
The only constant in her life was Mr. Tibbs. She could hear him purring through the basement door, and that made her feel good. In a way they were very much alike. He depended on her for the food every day, in effect she was his mother. He would be lonely and would die without her. That basement was his entire world. She wondered what Mr. Tibbs would do without her. The thought of abandoning him scared her. She decided that, when the last cat was adopted, she would unlock the basement door and leave it open. She hoped he would feel comfortable enough to finally come upstairs and join her in the living room. Certainly he loved her and she wanted to see him one time before she left for good. She wanted him into jump in her lap, and let her pet him. She wanted to thank him for all the years he had kept her company, and then let him go free to find his own home. He deserved that. Let him pick his own family, she thought.
It's funny. The older we get the faster time goes by. Blanch was moving in three days. The last cat, Snuggles, had left her house earlier that afternoon. She could finally put her plan into action. She felt a small measure of excitement at the thought of finally seeing Mr. Tibbs, and had planned for this for days. She slowly made her way to the kitchen and fixed him the usual feast of a mouse covered in tuna juice and a bowl of milk. She paused for a moment and thought about how the usual hustle and bustle of feeding time was gone. The house was deadly silent now, and all she could hear was Mr. Tibbs rustling around in the basement. Undoubtedly, he was excited about the prospect of meeting her too.
Blanch unlocked the basement door for the last time. She placed the food in the opening of the doorway instead of the first step down. She called to him.
She waited for him to run up the stairs into her arms.
"Mr. Tibbs?" she called to him again.
Still no answer. She walked to the kitchen, grabbed a flashlight that was in the top drawer and returned to the top of the stairs. She shined the light down but saw nothing. She could hear him, for sure, but he wouldn't show himself. Maybe the lights upstairs are scary for him, she thought. She shut off the lights in the hallway, living room and kitchen. She stood at a distance for what seemed like an hour, waiting for him to come up and eat. After a while she felt the strength in her legs leaving her. She slowly and carefully went to the living room and pushed her rocking chair into the kitchen across from the basement door. She sat down with her flashlight and cigarettes and waited. The sound of him purring seemed to get louder and louder. It was so soothing that it was making her sleepy. She finished her cigarette, put her head back and drifted off to sleep.
Blanch awoke with a startle. It was completely dark in the old house. For a moment she couldn't tell if she was sleeping or awake. She sat there trying to get her bearings and why she was blind. Then she remembered everything. Mr. Tibbs, the lights, the food. Oh yeah! The flashlight! She reached out for the table beside her and felt for it. She grabbed the flashlight, turned it on, and shined the light towards the open basement door. The food bowl was empty and the milk was spilled on the floor. Blanch was thrilled. This meant that Mr. Tibbs had indeed come up the stairs while she was sleeping.
"Mr. Tibbs?" she whispered, dancing the light around the kitchen. She leaned forward in her rocking chair and listened intently.
"Mr. Tibbs?" She spoke a little louder this time. Suddenly she heard a noise from behind her. It sounded like the pitter patter of little paws running across the floor. She swung her head around towards the sound. The flashlight must have just missed him. Blanch leaned forward and slowly stood up. At her ripe old age, it took a minute for her legs to work correctly. She grabbed her walker and turned around towards the kitchen table. She had a fleeting thought to turn on the kitchen light, but decided against it, not wanting to frighten him.
She spoke in the direction of the table. "It's ok, Mr. Tibbs. It's momma. Come on out, dear."
She could hear him purring, and it seemed to be coming from under the table. With her back the way that it was, she was unable to bend down, but she had another idea. She walked quietly over to the drawer that kept the mice she fed him. She pulled one out and tossed it towards the table.
"You hungry Mr. Tibbs? There ya go. I've got you a nice juicy mouse."
Her flashlight was trained intently on the mouse which sat just in her view. She waited, not saying a word. Then she saw a paw come out from under the table. "There you are Mr. Tibbs!" The paw was rather large covered with dark matted fur. It reached out, snatched the mouse, and pulled it under the table. She could hear Mr. Tibbs enjoying the mouse. She smiled softly. "See? Isn't that good?" Mr. Tibbs let out a low, long meow. She stepped a little closer to the table and Mr. Tibbs let out a loud growl.
"It's ok, boy," Blanch said, desperately wanting to pet him.
Suddenly he shot out from under the table and she felt a sharp pain in her foot as he scratched her. She was taken aback and lost her balance, dropping the flashlight and tumbling to the floor. She had hit her head on the table on the way down and there was a trickle of blood flowing from it. She cried in pain, unable to move. She was disorientated, the only light coming from the flashlight shining out of the kitchen and down the hallway. She tried to move towards it, but couldn't. The pain in her hip was excruciating. She looked up and tried to focus on what was in front of her. There, in the basement doorway, she saw what she thought was Mr. Tibbs. His eyes stared straight back at her. They were large eyes. Completely red with no pupils. She let out a weak scream at the terror in front of her. He was purring louder than ever. She couldn't see him completely but noticed he had a large silhouette. A part of her still had an interest in petting him, but a larger part was fearful. She looked into his eyes, and he stared right back at her. It was like he was staring into her soul. The hairs stood up on the back of her head as she slowly realized that Mr. Tibbs wasn't what she thought he was at all. He was pure evil. She closed her eyes a moment trying to clear her head. When she re-opened them, Mr. Tibbs was six feet closer, still sitting there purring at her. Those eyes pierced her head and made her freeze in terror.
She reached up and touched her head where the wound was. The blood was starting to make its way down her face. She blinked again, this time afraid to open her eyes. Upon opening them Mr. Tibbs was sitting within feet of her now. Same red eyes, same purring. She reached out her hand towards him. "Mr. Tibbs, it's your mommy. It's ok. Come here." She mustered all of her strength to reach out further towards him, almost touching his face. Mr. Tibbs stared at her, purring with his ears up, looking content. He leaned in and licked her finger. He was purring so loud, Blanch could hardly hear anything else. She smiled a little, ignoring the pain and the fear she was feeling. I knew he loved me, she thought.
Suddenly she realized he was licking the blood off of her fingers. She looked at his eyes, blood red and evil. Mr. Tibbs suddenly looked up at her and his ears went flat. He let out an ear piercing scream and lunged at Blanch with all his power, claws out. Throughout the house, the sounds of Blanch screaming and Mr. Tibbs hissing and crying were all that could be heard.
Blanch awoke feeling groggy. She opened her eyes and found herself in a hospital room all bandaged up. She had difficulty remembering what had happened. Did I faint? Did I have a heart attack?"
Just then Gary and a doctor came into the room. Gary sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand.
"Hey mom. There you are. You gave me quite a scare! How are you feeling?"
"Wha... What happened?" she asked.
"It seems you fell in the kitchen and banged your head. Pretty bad too. Do remember anything else?"
Blanch thought for a moment. Had she dreamed Mr. Tibbs? Maybe she had. "I don't remember much." She thought for a moment more. Instant flashbacks to the red glowing eyes of Mr. Tibbs convinced her she hadn't imagined it. Mr. Tibbs was more than just a misunderstood cat, he was the re-incarnation of something evil. She felt her neck and her arms. All were scratched up and bandaged.
"I stopped by this morning to see how you were making out, and found you on the floor. You were thrashing about scratching yourself yelling 'Get away, get away!' The paramedics had to sedate you." He looked at her curiously, "You don't remember any of this?"
"No, no I don't. The last thing I remember was hitting the floor. I slipped on the tiles I think."
"Well, I talked to the doctor, and he thinks it's best if you go directly to the assisted living center after you're released here. I agree, mom. Your health is most important to me." Just then the doctor interrupted. He motioned to Gary, "If we can talk outside for a moment." They stepped outside and left her alone. Blanch was lying of course. She remembered everything about last night, and everything about Mr. Tibbs. She wondered where he was. She assumed he probably slinked back to the basement after the vicious attack. Certainly they would label her as crazy if she told them about the evil cat lurking about her house. This was best kept to herself. Gary is strong enough to deal with Mr. Tibbs should they meet, she thought.
Gary came back in and walked to her bedside. "I'm going to go now, mom. I'll stop by the house tonight and get some of your things. They are going to transport you to the center in a few minutes. Get settled in and I'll talk to you later." He kissed her on the forehead and headed for the door.
"Gary," she said. "Be careful, son." Gary nodded, not understanding her concern.
That night, Blanch was wheeled into her new apartment. It was so bright and modern. None of the comforts of home. Part of her was sad that the last years of her life would be spent in this place, and part of her was relieved that she didn't have to see that devil cat ever again. She could smell the fresh paint on the walls, a far cry from the cat and dust smell she was used to. The nurses helped her from the wheelchair to the bed.
"Now Blanch, everything you need is right here," she said pointing to the nightstand. Sure enough, there was the TV remote, her pills, a bottle of water, and a chain that hung above the bed.
"My name is Amanda. Just pull that chain if you need anything, ok? Your walker is right here if you need to go to the bathroom or the kitchen. I'll be in later to check on you." The nurse smiled warmly. "Oh yeah, I forgot! Your son called to make sure you made it ok. He said he'll bring your things later tonight."
"Thank you dear," Blanch replied. "By the way, where can I smoke around here?"
The nurse turned and gave her a judgmental look. "Now Blanch, we're going to help you quit, but for now call me and I'll take you outside, ok?"
Blanch turned off the lamp beside the bed and drifted off to sleep...
Hours later, she was suddenly awakened by the sound of a door closing. She opened her eyes and she was in pitch black. What was going on? Was all of this just a dream? Was she back in her house? She slowly remembered where she was. In the darkness she could make out some of her pictures neatly set up on the dresser across from her bed. Next to them her record player. She smiled to think that Gary had been thoughtful enough to bring some of her favorite things. The sound of the phone ringing startled her. It rang a few times, but by the time she found the phone it had gone to the answering machine. She listened to the message.
Hey Mom, it's Gary. I hope you're settling in ok. I stopped by the house and brought you some things you might like. Hopefully that place will start to feel like home after a while. Don't worry, they are real nice people. You were sleeping when I got there and didn't want to wake you. He paused for a moment. Blanch was smiling. Maybe she was wrong about him. Maybe he did care and love her. Gary continued.
Oh! You'll never believe this! I talked to the administrator and she said you could have one pet. I know you miss your cats so I took the liberty of bringing you the last one left in the house. He should be running around there somewhere! The name on his tag is Mr. Tibbs. Kind of a weird name, but a really cute cat. I can see why you kept him. Anyway, enjoy. Love you, Mom.
Blanch's eyes got big as silver dollars. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't scream. She laid motionless in the bed, frozen by fear. She could hear his purring now, moving closer and closer, louder and louder. She closed her eyes again, hoping it was all a dream. She dared not open them, for she was afraid of what she would see. She heard him meow, a happy meow she thought.
She slowly opened her eyes. There he was sitting at the end of her bed, staring at her with those large, blood red eyes. His ears were flat, his tail was wagging, and he let out a menacing hiss. She reached up and grabbed the chain with all her might as Mr. Tibbs lunged in for the kill.
Amanda was tending to patients at the end of the hall and wouldn't see the blinking red "help" light that was on the control panel until it was too late.