The yowling's unearthly: Lynx, I think, panther in distress. Or a bald eagle that's caught some other wild thing in its claws.
We pause in our tennis game.
The cries rush disembodied across the green empty park. Carved out among farms and wooded ravines, the baseball and soccer fields are well-mowed. The court is neglected: torn nets, weeds rise through cracks, pine needles don't get swept off, balls bounce askew. But this court is always free.
Distracted by ululations, we miss a few shots.
Then a small cat - short-haired, rib-thin, all blotches of black on white like a miniature Holstein calf - runs wailing across the court.
Why to me?
They do. "I'll bet you take in stray cats," said a man who once interviewed me for a job. Still, I got the position.
But not this ugly a cat!
Yet as she rubs up, I note the black-on-white spots are almost symmetrical. Dazzling.
Pleading, she rolls on her back. She's been nursing; kittens may be hidden in the ravine, or a barn. Such caterwauling of woes! Don't I understand? she seems to ask. She is starving!
My partner drives off up the road.
She waits on my lap, quiet but tense, calculating. How long until he returns at last from the country store...?
One small tin, too fancy for such a cat, and he worries that he has no can opener. But the tab does pull off. Her whole body shudders. She plunges in, licks the tin clean, next the milk.
Then with what I, anthropomorphically, would like to call gratitude, she sashays around me with quieter meows. From the way she won't leave, though, interfering with our tennis, it's more: "You will take me home?"
We will not.
"And -" I admonish her, "you forget your maternal duties."
Yet perhaps when whatever kittens she has are grown....
I have to keep carrying her outside the fence so we - already distracted - can finish our haphazard game. Watching, washing, she waits. Returns. Returns. She will not leave.
Of course we'd consider taking her home. But we move soon.
Winter will also come soon.
We leave her lapping the tin, tomorrow might bring her more. Unless we drive to the better courts 10 miles away; these are terrible.
But we know: Tomorrow we will not play anywhere else.
THE next day, though, the courts are deserted. With mingled relief and disappointment we keep glancing barnward. Perhaps she has found some other sucker.
Then at last she trots up, her wails more modulated. We hurry to the car for the milk and - this time cheaper - dry food. And the next day.
So although our court cat is, frankly, a bit of a pest, and another couple who comes to play says unflattering words about strays, still, at least while the weather stays fair and we stay here, she can count on us.
After that, there's the mousy farm down the road that could certainly use a new cat.