The 2:14am Cat


There’s a reason Mr. Jensen didn’t go out late at night. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that his vision is not as good as it used to be, or that approaching headlights annoy his eyes. It’s simply that he’s already asleep before it gets late.

When he was fresh out of high school, working the late shift at a restaurant, staying up all night was merely one of too many choices for each and every evening.

As he grew a bit older and took on more responsibilities, he rarely would stay up all night for something as trivial as entertainment. But occasionally it did occur, in spite of how much it annoyed his wife. Sleeping seemed like more of an option back then.

Of course, after a few nights with minimal rest, the “choice” and “option” factors became inconsequential. Because once he was tired — really tired — nothing could keep him awake. He always said, “I could sleep on a bed of nails in the middle of Times Square when I’m tired.”

Fast forward several decades and sleep had become a friend. A mandatory one at that.

Which is why it was peculiar that he was out walking around the apartments at 2:14 am. There was no one else in the walkways or parking lots and no traffic out on the street. It was a pleasant enough summer night. In spite of starting his walk a bit grumpy due to his inability to sleep, he relaxed on one of the benches near the playground and viewed the stars. In contrast to all the changes of seventy years on earth, the night sky was exactly as he admired as a child. Although he recalled it as more impressive anyplace away from manmade lights.

Enter the kitten. A bit unkempt. Confidently walking in the direction of the old man sitting alone in the middle of the night. Its mewing sounds indicated it was too naive to understand the sound would attract predators.

Mr. Jensen didn’t move as the kitten sauntered up to his right foot and started rubbing itself against his ankle. The kitten had no collar. The old man didn’t mind cats. But they never owned one, even though his wife suggested it over the years. The extra deposit to pay property management was always a self-imposed obstacle since Mr. Jensen considered they were already overcharging for the rent.

Completely out of character for the life he had led for so many years, he picked up the kitten, placed it on his lap and started petting it. Purring resulted. For barely an instant he thought he should debate the merits of bringing it in. But, also out of character, he opted to forgo any such internal debate and summarily determined to bring it inside, away from any wayward dogs, coyotes, or foxes. Tomorrow he would post some hand-written signs in the laundries around the buildings seeking the owner of a found kitten.

Back inside the apartment, he set the kitten down in the kitchen, quietly opened a can of tuna and placed half of it in a dish on the floor, along with a bowl of water. He left the kitten eating and gently got back in bed. His wife, in a partially awake but mostly asleep state, turned over and kissed him on the cheek, “Thanks for saving the kitten.”

“Yes, Ingrid.” Mr. Johnson closed his eyes and momentarily pondered the gratitude. The kitten had not made a sound. How could she have known?

He had grown accustomed to his wife’s deteriorating memory, random questions and eccentric comments. He decided to let it go and fell into a deep sleep.

by George Alger


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