The full moon shone lazily through the drifting night clouds, casting barely any light on the boarded warehouses slumping along the empty streets. Through the dank alleys, an ebony shadow slipped unperturbed, defining the true meaning of discreet.
For the skinny, jet-black cat, this was high hunting time. Any vermin she saw or heard she would instantly pounce on, swallowing the little creature in one satisfied gulp. Her amazing cat senses were on in full power, alert to the max. Even the faintest rustling would point her directly to her dinner.
Suddenly, she stopped, waiting. An anxious mouse darted out of the rank-smelling garbage can, skittering into the deserted street. The cat silently followed, slinking along the ground, haunches poised and ready. She anticipated the pounce, right when that mouse stopped for just one second . . .
SKREEECH! A roaring blow sent the regal cat flying through the air, and plummeting with a hard thump onto the cold, unwelcoming sidewalk. A searing pain instantly spread through her leg, and up her thigh, causing the stranded cat to cry out. Panicking, she tried to stand, but her useless leg slipped right from under her, settling in an unnatural position away from her body. Once again, she tried to flee; once again, she failed.
A slamming car door echoed throughout the otherwise silent neighborhood. Heavy boots tromped over to where the woeful cat lay. The tip of one of the boots kicked the cat over on her side, none too gently. The ebony cat continued to lie there, scared and hurting.
A voice sluggishly slurred with alcohol called back to a shadow in the car, "Jist anotha cat."
"Whatever. Let's drive."
The boots receded, and the car door slammed once again. Squealing tires raced at an intense speed around the corner . . . gone.
The cat was deserted; alone and forgotten.
* * *
Marda Adam wanted a cat. But as she stared through the glass panels of the animal shelter, none of them clicked. The kittens were adorable, batting their tiny paws against the walls of the encasement, staring up at you with their round, charming eyes. The adult felines were beautiful, grooming their furs, lying regally draped over their beds.
But none of them were right.
"Ma'am, may I help you?"
Marda stuffed the car keys that she had been fiddling with back into her worn purse. She nervously tucked a lock of brown hair behind her ear. "Um, yes. Actually, I'm looking for a cat."
The volunteer gestured around her to all the cats in the room.
Marda gave a strained smile. "No, well, you see . . . they just aren't . . . right."
The volunteer brushed a stray cat hair off her blouse, which was decorated with smiling cartoonish felines. In a bubbly, experienced voice, she said, "Yes, of course. I can help you if you can tell me what kind of cat you want. Like, what kind you could cope with. For instance, would you prefer a hyper one or a calm one?"
"Well, it's for my son . . ."
"Ah, is he very active, or does he like to sit on the couch and read?"
Marda glanced anxiously down, then up. The lady looked on patiently. "He, uh, likes to . . . read."
The lady bowed her head. "Then I guess that would conclude that a calmer cat would probably be your best bet."
"This way?" The volunteer turned, expecting Marda to follow.
Down the smooth-tiled hallway there lay a door marked Special Needs. The volunteer pushed on the door, holding it open.
Marda didn't know what to expect. Special Needs? This ought to be interesting, she thought sarcastically. She had had enough special needs in the recent months to last a lifetime. She braced herself for what was to come.
As the door swooshed shut behind her, Marda's eyes darted around the room. Pairs of wide, unblinking cat eyes stared down at the newcomers from rows of permanently stacked pens. The worn cat beds vividly adorned with solid, bright colors made a meager attempt to lighten up the room.
The volunteer brushed past Marda, beckoning her over to a cage. "This here is Bella. She's a sweetie, aren't you honey?" she cooed, pushing her fingers through the bars to stroke the gleaming white fur of the cat.
Marda stooped down to look closer. "I don't see what's wrong with her," she remarked bluntly.
"Oh." It was then that Marda noticed the glassy, almost colorless eyes.
The volunteer straightened up, pointing to the cage on top of Bella, that held a large, tawny tabby. "And this big guy is Julius. He has heart complications."
And so it went. Two rows of cats with special needs went by, until Marda noticed a small kitty, nestled snugly into its worn bed.
"What about this little guy?" Marda asked, stooping down for the umpteenth time. At the sound of her voice, the cat's regal head was lifted quickly from its resting position. Two saffron, panther-like eyes stared solemnly back at Marda, contrasting with the feline's rich, black fur.
"That little guy is actually a girl," the volunteer took her place beside Marda, "named Ebony. Or Ebb, as we like to call her. We think she had an owner sometime in her life because she's so calm."
"We had to have her left hind leg amputated, and we recently learned she tests positive for FIV. She's had a hard time being adopted. I've seen people love a cat, and decide to take it home, only to change their minds when they hear the kitty has FIV."
"FIV . . . what exactly is that?"
"Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Kitty AIDS. There is a good-sized possibility she could live a long, healthy life though. Why, my friend has a kitty who's practically twenty, and has FIV!"
"I see," Marda's words were barely audible.
"Excuse me?" The volunteer leaned closer, hand cupped to her ear.
Marda glanced up. "Can I take her out?"
The volunteer beamed. "Of course. Just go into that room. I'll bring her in. Oh, and just disinfect your hands with that soap there . . ." her voice faded as she went around to retrieve the cat.
Marda stood and walked into the little meeting room for the potential adopters. She sat and placed her purse beside her on the bench. She drummed her long fingers on the bench, waiting. Seconds later, the volunteer walked in, cradling a black bundle. The cat was surprisingly calm, her golden eyes half-closed in sleepiness.
"Here you go." The volunteer gently transferred the black feline over to the other woman's lap.
Marda stroked the glossy coat, then inspected the left back leg. Sure enough, it was missing. She felt shivers run down her spine. "What happened that made you have to amputate her leg?"
"Ebby was a victim of a hit and run."
Marda's eyes were round and questioning.
"Most likely some anonymous person hit her with his car, and drove off. The guy probably didn't want the responsibility of taking a hurt cat to the hospital." She snorted angrily. "We got her from a man who found her and was nice enough to go out of his way and take her to the hospital. She had two broken ribs and a very badly broken leg. The ribs healed . . . but the leg was so useless that we had to have it amputated. No one came to the shelter to claim her, so we took her in." The volunteer quickly patted Ebony's head.
Marda continued stroking the cat.
After a few seconds of silence, Marda spoke. "Can I adopt her?"
* * *
A beat-up Volvo station wagon rolled into the parking lot of the Bradbury Hospital for Children. Marda struggled out of the car, hefting a medium-sized pet-carrying crate. She strode up to the hospital entrance, pushing on the glass door.
The receptionist eyed Marda warily. "A pet, you say?" she questioned, peering in at the black feline nestled in the kennel.
"Yes, yes," said Marda nervously, "my son's."
The receptionist's face suddenly loosened with sympathy. "Oh, yes. Eathan." She paused. "Well . . . just keep the pet out of the cafeteria . . . we have to be sterile, you know."
Relieved, Marda sprinted to catch the elevator to level B, the cancer ward. She stepped off the elevator, greeting the cold doctors she passed with a quick nod. She knew them well by now.
The hallway was long, Marda had been up and down it many times, but this time she was especially eager, so she walked faster. At room B15, she stopped. The door was festooned with flowers and balloons, trying in vain to lighten up the atmosphere. Marda knocked and stepped in.
Eathan glanced up from Of Mice and Men, which he was reading intently. Seeing his mom carrying an unknown box, he raised his eyebrow questioningly.
"Hey, Eathy. I paid a visit to the animal shelter yesterday . . ." Marda set down the crate on the itchy brown covers of the hospital bed. "You know how you've always been asking for a kitty? You know? For as long as I can remember?" Marda's statements became questions with her excitement. "I finally took you up on it! Look, look inside . . ." She turned the crate around and opened the small door. The regal black head of Ebony peered cautiously out. "I know you've been researching all about cats for a long time, so I thought you were ready to have one . . ."
Eathan sat up. He knew a cat was not what his mother would love to have around. She was wary of animals. He had pleaded with her to let him have a cat, to no avail. This was surely unexpected.
Marda anxiously scanned her son's face for a slight twinge of reaction. He had been so expressionless . . . ever since . . .
The cat stretched languidly, and climbed out of the crate. She hopped around the bed, sniffing like a dog. Eathan became aware of her gait, of her amputated leg. "What happened?"
Marda was quick to respond. "Her name's Ebony. . . She had to have her leg amputated because a car hit her . . . She also has a sort of cat AIDS . . . I forget what it's called . . . Oh, wait, FIV. . ." Marda babbled.
Eathan scrunched up his face. "Her name's Ebony? No offense, but that's a really depressing name . . . it needs to be lighter. Sable was the first thing I thought when I saw her . . . I like that name, Sable. It means pitch-black, but it sounds lighter and happier . . ." It didn't seem as if he had acknowledged what his mother said about Sable's disease. If he had, perhaps he didn't care.
Sable crept over to Eathan, a low purr emitting from her. She brushed up against Eathan's face, her tail thwacking his nose.
And for the first time in weeks, Eathan smiled a large, genuine smile, something no amount of flowers, Nurse's ice cream, or false comforts had been able to win.