There was never an out-and-out catfight between Calico and Orphan, but on the night Calico established her dominance, it was close. After a wrestling match had grown heated, they backed off and hissed and glared at each other. Calico ran up three stairs, turned, glared some more, then leaped like a stunt man on Orphan and nipped him with her teeth. He sank submissively, emitting a low, deep owwrrl. After that, Calico began picking on him.
At least Orphan dominated dinnertime. Half-Blind had mastered stealing the bowl, sliding it toward himself and guarding the bucket like Moses Malone, sometimes by standing in it. But he was merely hungry; Orphan was desperate and always got the most. He shoved between Half-Blind and Calico, such a tight fit that he had to crimp his ears. Once, I fed them bits of chicken out of my hand. After that, Half-Blind would sit up and beg for food. Calico would softly cry for it and Orphan would open his mouth and wail.
The woods had turned red and gold, and Indian summer kept the sky blue and the days warm. A couple of nights were almost balmy, and I slept with the windows open and listened to the katydids' last lovely chatterings. Then one morning the wind swept in. You can hear it coming in Cooper Hollow, which is deep and sheltered; first there's the whoosh, then you see the treetops sway, then you feel it. The temperature dropped about 30� in the two hours after daybreak, and chilly gusts blew the leaves thickly off the trees, creating a yellow blur against the window. Calico ran for cover under the deck, Orphan ran helter-skelter chasing the leaves and Half-Blind climbed to the table on the deck and bathed his face in the wind.
There was a full moon on the night of the first frost; clouds floated eerily past it. The next morning there was one silver spider's strand dangling from the cathedral ceiling, twisting and glistening in the warm air currents. The cats went crazy that day, running around on the deck and leaping like frogs, attacking whomever they landed on. I wondered if their odd behavior had anything to do with the static electricity brought by the cold weather.
At Thanksgiving I put them in my pickup truck and drove them to my parents' place. Now they have the run of an 81-year-old house—three floors, 14 rooms, basement—and there's new terrain outside called anthills. They come and go through a missing pane in the coal-cellar window and they love the snow. Grandma Moses reports that Half-Blind gallops around like the baby goats she once saw in the Pittsburgh Zoo. Calico wakes her up by walking on her face every morning. Orphan has grown big and bad.
Sometimes the whole troop takes walks together: Mom, Dad, the cats and Winnie. The cats know the route and lead the way. Winnie is the dog I unloaded on Mom 10 years ago, another time I moved.