In my town, as in most of Abruzzo, there’s a large population of street cats. Even those who have nominal “homes” often must live outside, so it can be difficult to distinguish those who have a caretaker of any kind from those who just wander.
So far, three little ones have found their way into my house. The first two arrivals were a pair of black beauties. They strolled in one day when the sliding screen door was open, and I started to leave it open so they could come and go in and out of the sala as they pleased. For a couple of years, they came to visit almost every day when I was there. Each morning, I’d wake and go downstairs to find them at the back door. And I was ready for them. I’d open up, slide the screen, and, for my own amusement, announce the morning’s menu. “Buon giorno, Signora and Signore. Today, we have a lovely pate of salmon with a side of crunchy tuna croquettes, and a nice bowl of fresh, cool water.” They’d eat and then settle onto their favorite chairs, at times rousing themselves to cavort with balls of lint that danced on the tile floor like tiny tumbleweeds. (Let’s say my vacuum didn’t work…)
As it turned out they belonged, if you will, to my neighbors, but were not allowed indoors. We had no idea what names our neighbors had given them, or if they’d done so at all, but the black male we called Miccio, his sister Miccia.
The long-haired black beauty we called Miccia was the first to disappear. It was conjectured she’d been “kidnapped” for her beauty. I hope that’s true.
After Miccia vanished, Miccio showed up with his new sister, another long-haired beauty but with calico coloring, we dubbed The Principessa. Sometimes, after a morning relaxing, they’d get bored and go outside to sun themselves or play in the yard. One of their pastimes was toying with little chameleon-like lizards that can disconnect themselves from half their bodies when they’re under attack and then keep going. (That discovery scared the daylights out of me one afternoon.)
On winter days, though, the cats took the comfort of the indoors while they could get it. Come bedtime, when it was time to lock up, we needed to usher them out or have them stay inside till morning. It was a tough call because they didn’t belong to us and there was a chance their titular owners would be looking for them, though I doubted it. On very cold nights, when they’d settled into a deep sleep and really complained about going, we sometimes let them have their sleepover.
Miccio started to show up only sporadically; he grew more and more wild and looked increasingly bedraggled and thin. Eventually he, too, disappeared; he may have fallen prey to a larger animal in the wildish area down around the ravine. Nobody seemed to know for certain.
The Principessa continued to pay her calls for another two years, arriving promptly when she saw or heard evidence of activity in the house. She proved the most insistent of the feline guests. She showed up every morning without fail and cried at the door.
I always dreaded those nights when I knew I’d be leaving in the very early hours to begin the trip back to New York. I hated the thought of her clambering up the ladder-like steps from the backyard and arriving at the door to find no reception.
As it turned out, the night before I left last summer was the last time I would see The Principessa. She was poisoned, it seems. The story I got was that she came back to her “family” to say goodbye and then went off to some hidden spot to die. I imagine that’s a sanitized version of the truth. My guess is she dragged herself back looking for help and found none.