THE SHERIFF AND HIS CAT

(This is a true story based on what an old lady in a nursing home told me. Her father was the sheriff. She herself was famous for hoarding cats.)

The old sheriff sat in his office looking grumpy. His old gray striped cat, Doc Holliday, lay in a box behind the stove, probably close to death, which is why the sheriff was grumpy. His deputy had offered to take the cat out on the prairie and shoot it, put it out of its misery, and was unable to understand why the sheriff flew into a rage. The young man had only been trying to help. If it hurt so much, best to end it quick. Anyway, it was only a cat.

The kid didn’t know that the cat was given to the sheriff as a kitten by Angeline. No one in this little town even know Angeline. She was from the life before this one and that’s probably about all he should let himself remember about it. The motherly woman who served him his hash at the boarding house knew about Doc being sick — he’d asked for advice about nursing the cat. She’d said (looking around to make sure no one was listening) that it probably wouldn’t hurt to put a little whiskey of a good quality in Duke’s milk. He didn’t tell her that he’d been doing that for years.

“You better get another cat as soon as you can,” she suggested. “Otherwise, that old office will be overrun with mice.” Her look said to him, “Get a new cat… and maybe later you’d like a woman, eh?” He wouldn’t, but he didn’t tell her that either.

So now, having sent that stupid deputy off on some errand, he sat in his office and considered putting some milk in his whiskey, just to keep Doc company.

The door banged open and hung there swinging, but at first he couldn’t focus on who came through. Then he realized it was a little girl. Only the top of her face and a mop of curls showed above his desk. “Are you the sheriff?” the girl asked.

“Yup.”

“A strange man is wrestling with my mom in the bedroom and neither one of them has any clothes on. I’d get my dad but except he’s in the saloon and they won’t let me in there.” Her voice piped like a little bird.

He realized who she was, who the lovers were, and most of all, who the killer would be if dad left the saloon earlier than usual. He knew which house the “happy family” lived in. He reached for his gun, thought better of it, and reached for his hat. “You stay here, girlie,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because you see that cat in the box? Well, he’s dying and I don’t want to leave him alone.”

“Is he your friend?”

“Sometimes my only friend.”

 

“Okay. I’ll stay.” She went over to squat curiously beside the cat, looking with open eyes, unafraid of death. She’d seen it before.

When the old sheriff got to the little board house, he didn’t bother to knock. He strode into the house, dragged the woman out of bed and wrapped a sheet around her. Then he threw her over his shoulder and toted her out to the front room, which was both sitting room and kitchen, where he shifted her so she lay over his knees. “Roy,” he roared at the man scrambling around in the bedroom, “Get the hell out of this house, out of this town, out of this county, and if the day don’t end too soon, get clear on out of this territory. Or I swear I’ll do something terrible to you!” Roy went out the door, panicked but not too scared to check the street before he bolted out and down the street, part of his clothing on and part of it in his hands.

“Sheriff, you let me up!” squalled the little girl’s mother.

“Your little tiny daughter has more sense than you do! You ought to be horsewhipped, but this will have to do instead.” He pulled the sheet off her round bottom and rendered it plumb rosy with his big hard hand. Then she really DID make some sounds, quite aside from the regular smacking of calluses hitting tender flesh.

“Stop! Stop!” Now she was dissolving in tears. “I won’t ever do it again.”

“Do what?” demanded a big swaying shape in the doorway.

“Well, there’s the man of the house,” remarked the rather winded and slightly aroused sheriff, setting the woman of the house on her feet. “I’ve had a complaint about you folks not bein’ a proper family. You booze too much and she flirts too much, and it’s contributing to the moral rot of this town. Therefore, I promised that I’d put you both on probation for six months. If you don’t shape up, I’ll throw you outta town.”

 

“You can’t do that,” wavered the man, dubiously.
“Try me,” said the old sheriff as he got up and stalked out.

When he got to his office, the cat was dead and the little girl was rocking it in her arms, sitting with her back against the old board wall and singing a lullaby. He was grateful the cat didn’t die alone and that it had soft sweet arms around it at the time. More than many men had had when the door opened to the other side.

“He’s gone but it’s all right,” said the child and carefully put the limp fur into the old man’s worn arms. “Did you make them stop wrestling?”

“Don’t think they’ll do that for a while. If it starts up again, come back and tell me.”

“Okay,” she said, no questions asked, and went on her way.

The old sheriff had a little more whiskey, no milk, before he took the cat out of town to a quiet burial place.

At the end of six months, on an exceptionally bright day, he made it his business to drop by the little house of the girl whose mama he’d spanked. He’d heard that the papa had finally gotten a job and seemed to be keeping it — so far. When he walked up to the house, the little mother was sweeping off her porch steps. She was pregnant and seemed happy about it. Smiling at him, she called through the screen door, “Angie, your friend is here.”

“What’s that little girl’s name?” demanded the sheriff, shaken.

 

“Angie. You like it?” She put her arm up to shade her face so she could see him a little more clearly since his voice sounded a bit strange.

“Is it short for anything?”
“Naw, just Angie. I read it in a story.”

Angie came out on the porch, glowing with happiness to see him. “Come on in,” she said. “You’ve gotta see!” She wrapped her hand around his hard, gnarled old trigger finger and towed him into the house.

“Over here,” she directed and as his eyes gradually adjusted to the indoor shadows, he saw a box of kittens with their mother. Angie lifted out one — gray striped, white bib and socks — and held it up to him. He didn’t take it. He figured he didn’t want more cats. She put it, mewing, on his chest — which was actually belly — and it took a grip on his shirt with its tiny claws. He couldn’t help cupping his hand over it to keep it from falling. Feeling the warmth, it stopped mewing and purred.

“It’s too small for you to take home yet,” directed Angie, but I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready.” She never asked about whether HE was ready.

But when she brought to the kitten to his office, he had prepared both a bed and a cat box.

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