by Joelle Steele

It was a cold and windy spring night at the pier. Izzy huddled beneath the stairs to the harbor master's office trying to keep herself warm. Shiny and Daphne were nestled together a few feet away, and Izzy's sister Nighty was across the way dozing in the pile of cardboard boxes outside The Captain's restaurant. Freckles, the big orange tomcat, was nowhere to be seen, and Izzy hoped the big bully would not cross her path that night. Her chin was still sore from where he had bitten her a week earlier when they got into a fight after Freckles tried to take her sleeping place under the stairs. Izzy won in the end even though she was much smaller than Freckles. But, she was wounded in the process. When she tried to eat some of the fish that the old cook gave her earlier, it was almost impossible. Her teeth hurt her and one was so loose that she could hardly chew.

Izzy tried to go to sleep, curling herself into a tight ball to ward off the cold night air, but keeping her eye fixed on all the houses and apartment buildings lining the beach nearby. She hoped she would dream the dream again, the dream of being a housecat in one of those houses. It was her fondest wish to be a housecat, doted on and cared for by a loving human. But dreams seemed to be the only way she could experience that cozy lifestyle. She had been a housecat once but that was a long time ago when she was just a kitten. She and Nighty and their brother Rocky had all had homes back then. Now she wasn't even sure where Rocky was — he'd been gone for at least a week now, probably off chasing some pretty little tabby. Izzy gave herself one last vigorous scratching — she hated fleas — and then drifted off to sleep feeling cold and hungry, alone and unloved.

* * *

"Here puss-puss. Ah, there you go. Nice kitty." The fat old man in the white apron bent down and patted Izzy on the head as she struggled to eat the table scraps he put in the old pie tin for her. Nighty came running over and gobbled up her share. Shiny and Daphne waited closeby until Izzy and her sister were finished. There was still no sign of Freckles, but it was still early in the day so he could show up at any time.

Izzy tried to wash herself, but one of her fangs was so loose and sore that she abandoned the task, stretched in the sun, and then headed for shore, walking along the pilings behind the buildings that lined the pier. She always walked that route because it gave her the best view of the shoreline. Today she was going to the big grey apartment building where people were always willing to pet her and talk to her the way humans do. She figured that if she went there enough times, someone would be bound to fall in love with her and give her a home. Of course, she had been going there almost every day for a year and so far no one had taken her in. She sighed. Maybe they didn't like black cats; some humans didn't. Or maybe it was just that she looked so bedraggled. It was hard to keep clean and presentable when you were a stray forced to sleep in places where trash and sand blew all day long.

"Hello little one." A young woman came down the front steps and patted Izzy on the head as she passed by.

A few minutes later a tall man with his blond hair tied back in a ponytail exited the building and petted Izzy for a moment. He looked at her loose tooth and felt the rough skin on her neck where the fleas had been chewing. "Poor kitty," he said as he went on his way.

Izzy stretched out in the sun on the cement wall next to the steps. She would stay there for most of the day before returning to the pier for dinner. More people would come and go from the building and some would stop and notice her for an instant before going on their way. Humans are such strange beings, she thought. They pet you, they coo sweetly to you, but in the end they just walk away, oblivious to your sorry condition.

Her chin felt a little better but her teeth still hurt and she found it impossible to wash, so she dozed on and off between scratching her fleas. When the sun hung low on the horizon, she walked back to the pier and repeated the same routine she did every day of going to the back door to The Captain's restaurant to find the old cook waiting with a tin of leftovers.

Rocky was there bearing scars from his activities of the past few days: a notch and some scars on his ears, and a scratch on his left eyelid that prevented him from opening his eye all the way. He ate greedily, and Izzy and Nighty waited for him to finish. He was their brother, but that didn't prevent him from being very territorial, especially when it came to food. Izzy didn't want to risk getting scratched on top of her already painful injuries.

Freckles was still nowhere to be seen and Izzy feared he had probably been hit by a car. That was how most wharf cats usually met their untimely ends. Izzy always stayed away from the roads, but tomcats like Rocky and Freckles were more reckless when they wandered about. If Freckles had been run over, the word would eventually come down through the grapevine from whatever cat found him. The next day Daphne told her that Freckles had indeed been run over. Izzy felt sad. She didn't like the orange tomcat, but she didn't want anything bad to happen to him either.

Izzy arrived at the apartment building after a very slow walk. Her mouth was so sore and her fang was so loose that it stuck out. As a result, her coat was looking worse than ever for want of a good, thorough bath. She laid down in the sun and fell asleep.

"I noticed that her tooth was loose yesterday and it looks worse today," said the blond man with the ponytail.

"I could probably pull it if you wrap her in a towel and hold her down," said a woman with the curly brown hair.

Izzy heard their voices and came fully awake as the man lifted her into his arms and carried her into the building to a small laundry room. Everything happened very quickly. She was bound in a big towel, unable to move so much as a paw, and was held down on a table by the tall blond man. The woman held a small pair of pliers in her hand and grasped the loose fang, giving it a quick jerk that removed it from Izzy's mouth.

"She looks a little stunned."

"Let's wait a minute before we let her go."

Izzy was still bound in the towel and made no effort to escape. She licked at the space where her tooth had been and tried to recover herself as the two humans petted her. When she felt better, she began to wriggle around in the towel and the man let her go. She stood for a moment on the table, feeling a little shaky. The humans continued to pet her and talk to her.

"She'll be okay," said the woman. The man picked Izzy up and carried her to the front of the building and put her down on the concrete wall.

"Who does she belong to?" asked the woman.

"Don't know. She's a stray as far as I know. Probably got left behind when someone moved away."

"I don't understand how someone could leave a precious little cat behind like she was a piece of old furniture. Surely they must have loved her. Why would they abandon her like that?"

The man shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows. People can be so irresponsible and so uncaring."

Izzy licked at her coat. She could take a bath now and she began to groom herself. The man said goodbye to the woman and walked down the street. The woman petted her for a few moments and then went back into the building.

The next morning when Izzy arrived at the apartment building the man and woman did not appear at first. Later in the day, just before Izzy was about to return to the pier for dinner, the woman came down the street carrying several bags of groceries. Izzy jumped up on the wall and arched her back. I hope she remembers me, she thought as she watched the woman approaching.

"Hello little girl," said the woman. "I hope you're feeling better," she cooed, walking straight into the building and out of sight without stopping to pet the little black cat.

Izzy jumped down from the wall and started back to the pier. I should have known it was too good to be true, thought Izzy. She was just doing a good deed. She doesn't want me.

Izzy's mouth still hurt as she finished her dinner. Her remaining lower fang was still aching, though not as severely as the one that the woman had pulled. All of the tiny teeth between the fangs were gone. Something was wrong and she feared if something wasn't done soon, she would not have any teeth left to chew her food. She was only three years old and did not want to have to eat only soft foods the way old Daphne did.

Shiny sat nibbling at the dish while Izzy gave herself a quick bath and looked around to see where her sister was. Nighty was curled up on top of a stack of newspapers, her silky black coat shining in what remained of the afternoon sun. Rocky was sitting nearby washing his face and trying to get the attention of the old cook who had come outside to look at the sunset and usually used that time to pet the cats.
Izzy went to sleep that night in her usual place, gazing at the shoreline, wishing more than ever that she could be a housecat.

* * *

Nighty followed Izzy to the apartment house the next day and together they sunned themselves on the patio in front of the building. The curly-haired woman came out around noon and stopped to pet Izzy and her sister.

"Your cats?" asked a voice from the yard next door.

"No," replied the curly-haired woman. "Do you know anyone who might know who they belong to?"

"Haven't a clue. I see the little one here almost every day. I thought she belonged to someone who lived in your building."

The curly-haired woman gave Izzy a final pat on the head and left. Nighty rolled around on the concrete, enjoying the warmth of the sun and deciding that this was a pretty nice place to spend the day. Izzy scratched and then fell asleep on the wall by the steps. She awoke to feel someone stroking her fur. She opened her eyes to see the curly-haired woman again.

"You are such a sweet little kitty," she whispered to Izzy. "I wish I knew for sure that you didn't belong to anyone so that I could take you in."

Izzy's eyes widened. She didn't know what the woman was saying but it felt like something good was about to happen. She let out a little cry and arched her back to signal the woman that she wanted her to continue petting her. The woman got the message and stroked Izzy's back and scratched her neck.

"You poor little thing! You have a terrible flea allergy. You must be so uncomfortable." The woman looked alarmed as she continued to cuddle Izzy.

Izzy tried unsuccessfully to jump into the woman's lap as she crouched beside Izzy. Nighty became curious and walked over to investigate, and the woman petted and smiled at her too as Izzy finally managed to climb onto her lap.

"Looks like you've got your hands full," came a voice from a small woman with long dark hair.

"Yes," replied the curly-haired woman. "Do you know who owns these cats?"

"They're strays. That little one has been coming here for at least a year or more. I think she used to live up the street in the blue house next to the Pages."

The curly-haired woman put Izzy down and stood up. "I guess I'll go over and see if they know anything about her." She patted Izzy on the head and walked up the street and out of sight.

The two black cats dozed in the afternoon sun and Izzy dreamed the dream.

"Well, little girl, it appears you do not have a home. So, I am going to take you to live with me." The curly-haired woman scooped the dozing Izzy up in her arms. She glanced back at Nighty. "I have plans for you too," she said.

The curly-haired woman was named Nancy and she already had two very big housecats named Timmy and Muffin. Nancy gave Izzy a flea bath and placed her in a sunny window to dry off. Izzy licked at her damp fur, keeping a weary eye on the other cats who were studying her curiously from a few feet away. The next day, Nancy took Izzy to a veterinarian where they removed her bad teeth, treated the wound under her chin, and gave her something to stop the itching. Izzy spent the rest of the day sleeping off the trauma of the doctor's office. Her mouth was a little tender but not nearly as painful as before the trip to the vet. Within a few days, she was no longer itching from fleas and all the swellings from their bites were going away.

Izzy now spent her days living the dream. Nancy always left plenty of food out and Izzy had to stifle the urge to eat the entire bowlful every morning. The apartment was on the third floor with a view of the ocean from every window. Izzy spent her days lounging on the bed in the afternoon sun or laying on the floor where the sun shone. Nancy petted and cuddled her several times a day and held her in her lap, sometimes for hours at a time. She wasn't friends with Timmy and Muffin, but that would come in time.

She wondered about Nighty and Rocky, still living on the street and hoped they were okay.

One morning, Izzy looked out the bedroom window and saw both Rocky and Nighty sunning themselves on the front patio. A few days later she saw a petite redheaded woman and a tall man with a beard feeding the two black cats and petting them both while they ate. Izzy hoped this meant that someday Nighty and Rocky would find homes too.

The petite redheaded woman came to Nancy's door one morning and inquired about Izzy.

"How's that little cat doing?" she asked.

"Pretty good. I noticed you and Tom were feeding the other one."

"Other two, you mean. The other little female brought her male friend and Tom has grown very attached to him. We're going to take him in."

Izzy didn't understand what they were saying, but she knew it felt like something good. That same day around noon, Nancy came in carrying something black in her arms. Izzy looked up to see Nighty being carried into the bathroom and placed in the tub for a flea bath.

"Look Izzy, it's your little friend. I thought maybe she could use a home too."

That afternoon, Izzy and Nighty curled up on the bed in the warm rays of the afternoon sun. Izzy's dream had at last come true.