Brian peeked in the rear-view mirror and smiled. Just as he had planned, his daughter had fallen asleep in the backseat. Her head swayed left and right as the car wound through the turns of the foothills. He reached over and tangled his fingers into his wife’s hand. They continued on their way in silence, hand in hand, as the road wound down and slowly steadied out into a small farming valley, the afternoon sun made the spanning wheat fields look like seas of gold.
Off to the right, Bob saw an old ranch with a dirt drive that joined the road. On that road stood a large cardboard sign that read “Barn Cats” in bold black letters and nothing else. Brian slowed the car and pulled into the drive. He glanced at his wife. “What do you say? Should we surprise her with a new kitty for when she wakes up?”
Catherine rolled her eyes with feigning disapproval but squeezed his hand to let him know how adorable she thought the idea was. They continued on toward the old home tucked away below two large oak trees. “Wait here,” Brian said when they arrived. “I’ll keep the car running so she stays asleep.”
He quietly got out and waved a hand to the older man sitting on his porch. “Afternoon,” he said. “I saw your sign by the road. About the cats. Are they free?”
The man stood and hooked his thumbs onto his overalls. “I suppose,” he said with a shrug. “Free as they’ll ever be.”
Brian glanced around. “Are they kittens or full-grown?”
The man worked his jaw as though he were chewing, but there was nothing in his mouth. “They’re all kinds I suppose. Hell, I don’t know. We got so dang many of them I can’t keep track. I’m sure there’s plenty of kittens in there if you can find where the momma’s been hiding ’em.”
“What?” Brian asked.
The man came down the wooden steps of his porch and pointed a weathered hand toward the large barn off to the side. “Well she’s a big barn, and my wife feeds them damned cats pretty regular. We ain’t had mice in years now, so I don’t know why she bothers. But she’s got a kind soul ya know, that woman. If you’re fat and fuzzy and don’t cause too much commotion, my wife’ll keep ya fed til the day you die.”
Brian looked toward the barn. It was painted a rusted red and the large doors on both sides were open so that he could see through. Bales of hay lined the sides of the building, and little silhouettes of cats darting back and forth could be see. More lingered out front. Others slept in the warm sun. Brian scratched his head. “So do I just go and grab one I like?”
The old man laughed. “You better put yer runnin’ shoes on, fella. They ain’t the kinda cats you catch. No sir. They’re barn cats, and they mostly just do as they please. That’s why we’re aiming to get rid of a few of them.”
“Are they tame?” asked Brian.
The man swayed his head back and forth with consideration. “Well, ish. Tame-ish. I suppose if you kept one of ’em around long enough there’s a good chance it’d warm up to ya.” He gave Brian a hard look. “Well? You gonna fetch yourself one or ain’t ya?”
Brian looked back to his wife in the car. She held up her hands in question and mouthed the word What? Brian shrugged back. “Do you have any domesticated cats you’re giving away? Ones that you keep in the house?”
The old man laughed. “Keep in the house!? Well hell’s bells, who would do such a thing? These here are barn cats, mister, and they’re free if you can catch one. And if you ain’t up to it, I don’t know what else I can help you with.”
Brian turned and got back in the car. “Well?” Catherine asked. “What happened? Did they already give away the cats?”
“Something like that,” he said. From where the car was parked on the slope of the hill, Brian could barely see the roof of the barn. The building was out of sight to his wife. He wondered how many wild cats were roving inside and pictured himself darting around like a fool trying to catch one. “Maybe we’ll just start her out with a goldfish.”