I’ll be around

Feb 27, 2013 at 6:00 am

My neighbors got a divorce. He started putting his stuff in storage last fall, and then he moved away. Then the neighbor on the other side of their house passed away, and a real estate company came and bought his house. The company sent a crew to fix the place up, and now it’s for sale; it’s beautiful. The divorcing couple next door had had some problems keeping their place in shape, too; they had been cited for housing code violations.

That’s how it starts. People can’t keep up with their property, and when they can’t afford a paint job or whatever, the city gives them a deadline to fix it, and when they can’t comply, they get fined, and when they can’t pay the fine, they lose their house. Worse, if they manage to fix the problem, the inspectors come back around and find something else they haven’t taken care of. Once they’re watching you, you’re screwed. I’ve seen it happen again and again.

I didn’t think my married neighbors were in that much trouble. They were good people, friendly and watchful, good to catch up with when we were coming and going, shared a beer and a barbeque on a number of occasions, so I never even noticed the paint or the gutters or whatever.

They had a little sign out in front. It said “Home of 4 spoiled cats.” The number had been scratched out and changed a few times. They would tell me about their cats sometimes. One of them would go outside. The rest were always inside. And they fed a couple local strays. I would see them on the porch now and then.

About the time I saw the “For Sale” sign go up at the house next to theirs, I saw Christine (not her real name) supervising some movers. I guess I hadn’t been paying very close attention; over the previous couple of weeks, she had managed to remove almost all of her stuff. The house was almost empty.

She told me that she and Mark (not his real name) had sold the house to the same people who had bought the one next door. It was a distressed sale; they never would have been able to sell it in its present condition, and they couldn’t afford to fix it up, and if they did fix it up, they probably wouldn’t make back their investment. They sold it for what they owed on the mortgage, walked away from the liability, got a fresh start, and they were gone.

I saw one of their strays, the white one, shortly thereafter. It was a cold night, and she was squatting on my porch as I was going out. I had some canned cat food in my car from a recent grocery run, so I left some near where she was sitting. As I drove off, I saw that she was eating.

On a sunny day not too long after that, I saw her sitting in the alley near my former neighbors’ garage. Standing at my kitchen sink, I thought that I would take some food down for her, but by the time I finished washing dishes, she had gone away. Then I saw my other neighbor’s dog trotting down the alley, probably scared her away.

A few weeks later, I ran into Christine in front of the house. She had come by to leave some food for the little white cat. Christine was still trying to catch her and asked me to keep an eye opened for her. I told her I’d let her know if I saw her.

I saw her just a few hours later. It was a couple blocks away from my house. I had to leave a noisy bar to take a phone call, and I saw her run across a porch on the other side of the street. I went to see if I could coax her to me, but I knew it was hopeless. She had never come to me before, and she was gone by the time I looked to make sure there were no cars coming.

I keep watching out my kitchen window. Maybe she’ll come back around. I thought I saw her out by the garage again the other day, but when I looked closer, I think it was just the way the tree branches were obscuring the view. I guess it was just a shadow.