|in my own words|
|--by Mike Murray|
A shrieking belch from a truck's exhaling air brakes jolts Seymour awake. He quickly gathers himself and scampers from beneath his metal shelter, just clearing the crushing wheels of the arriving behemoth.
For Seymour, it's just another day in paradise.
Having made it safely to a nearby field, he shakes off the remnants of his briefly blissful state (the respite of short naps being all that he can reasonably allow himself) and sizes up the situation. It's cold. He's hungry.
The noisy monster is beep-beeping its way back to the oversized dumpster that Seymour calls home. Once per week or so, the truck comes and takes his shelter away. The rolling giant invariably shows up just before dawn, scaring him out of his wits, robbing him of precious rest.
Seymour ruefully eyes the can on the ground that still holds a few nuggets of food, nourishment that he had been saving for breakfast -- sustenance that was now being gathered up by a man who emerged from the vehicle. The man throws the prized container and its contents into the dumpster and then drives away.
Nothing to do about it now. The drain that supplied Seymour with glorious heat was now out in the open. Exposed. It would be of no use to him until the big machine returned and covered it with his dumpster-habitat.
Seymour padded back along the familiar brick structure that adjoined his shelter, the shelter he had carefully selected for the winter. It provided protection from enemies; it offered dryness on wet days and nights; it supplied warmth from a heating grate; and it afforded some opportunity for gathering food (the dumpster usually being filled to some degree with sustaining, if less than appetizing, substances).
And at times like these, when the dumpster was gone, the location had one additional benefit: It was the site of a grocery store. Seymour had no real hope of actually getting inside the climate-controlled, food-stocked edifice. But small rodents did -- and their meanderings outside the place provided him with hunting opportunities.
His soft cousins, the ones lucky enough to be living in comfort with humans, hunted too. But they hunted for sport; his predations were deadly serious. For, on days such as these, getting anything at all into his belly was wholly dependent on his prowess over prey.
Hence, Seymour had sharply honed his skills. He was darned good at stalking and snagging mice, voles, chipmunks, and the like. He was stealthy. He was swift. He was sure. On this day, more than one such creature would surrender its life to Seymour's desperate effort to extend his own.
Night closed in; he had survived another day. While not satiated -- Seymour's belly wasn't quite full -- he had managed to consume enough to get by. All that was left was to find a place safe enough to permit slumber.
Seymour settled onto a nearby property, in a space between a wood pile and a shed. It was sufficiently secure from prying eyes, but it was not particularly warm. The scraps of dried leaves and brush he pushed into the opening cut down on the cold night breeze, but they did little to shield him from the below-freezing (and still dropping) temperature.
Curling himself into a tight ball, in an attempt to keep out loneliness as much as the winter chill, Seymour drifted off to sleep. He dreamed blissfully of his youth. He returned to the just-past summer and fall, spent playfully and joyfully with his mother and siblings -- and the humans who he had also considered family.
Morning brought rude awakening. The sound of rustling at the wood pile sent him fleeing for his life. A human -- a member of a species he once trusted -- was fumbling around for select pieces for his fire. Having been cursed at, chased by, and otherwise harassed lately by such creatures, he knew better than to stick around.
Once clear of the potential danger, Seymour yawned and stretched. His limbs were especially stiff. Although unaware of degrees Fahrenheit, he knew it was colder than usual. A fresh blanket of snow covered the ground, and it crunched ominously beneath his paws.
And, though there was no way he could know it for sure, Seymour correctly sensed that he was near the limit of his physical tolerance for the elements. Another night as cold as the last -- one spent with only the warmth of his own body, encased in nothing more than a modest bit of fur -- could do him in.
Anxious, Seymour headed back toward his normal refuge. He was elated to see that the dumpster once again resided in its normal place. He raced underneath it, to the spot from which life-preserving heat rose from the ground. He settled peacefully over it and napped.
A short while later, seeing familiar paw prints in the snow, a woman walking her dog reached into her coat pocket and retrieved a can of cat food. She opened it, pushed it under the dumpster, and called, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty." Then she and the dog withdrew, leaving the critter to eat its meal in peace.
The woman knows nothing of the details of Seymour's life. She doesn't know how he came to spend so much of his time near a grocery store, beneath a dumpster. She doesn't know if this shy, adolescent creature has a home in the neighborhood (seeing as how so many folks allow their cats to roam freely) or not.
The woman intuits -- rightly -- that the cat is sweet, though she can't know that for sure. But she can see that the feline is shy and retiring. It recoils from her approach, even when she is without her dog. She is ignorant of the fact that it is the cat's past abandonment, coupled with its subsequent harassment by humans who routinely shoo it away, that accounts for its wariness.
All the woman is certain of is that it's winter, that the cat seems to be outside and alone much of the time, and that it gobbles up every bit of food she leaves it. And so tomorrow she'll return, and she'll put a fresh helping of kibble into the empty can for her new friend.
For Seymour's part, he knows no more about the woman than she does about him. He knows no more about her than he does about his other benefactors. Because, unbeknownst to the woman, he does have other such kind souls helping him. They are like-minded people, people who know little of the particulars of Seymour's situation, but who also worry about him.
Before the woman discovered Seymour's improbable prints in the snow near the dumpster, others were making their own offerings of food. They preceded her in helping to keep him alive. Seymour would thank them all if he could. He appreciates their assistance, even if he finds it impossible to express his gratitude in any traditional way.
Together they form a small community. It's not typical. It's not much, perhaps. But it's precious to Seymour. And it just might see him through his first winter.
Copyright © 2006 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.