When I was a kid, Grandpa sat on the porch every day. We didn't have a very big porch, so if anyone wanted to open the door, he had to get up and sort of squeeze out of the way, but he'd still sit out there. A glass of sun tea (he somehow never got sick), his pipe. And his pistol.
He'd been in the War. Even though my parents didn't like me to, I'd ask him about his time in Europe. Usually, he'd tell me a happy story: coming home, the looks on people's faces at the sight of GIs passing through their town, how he'd rescued a little girl who'd been trapped during shelling. But some days, when he'd added some rum to his glass, or was too tired, or lost in the wind in the trees, he'd tell me other stories. Stories of the war as it really was. Stories of the camps. And my favorite story.
The cat story.
The Parisians, Grandpa said, they really loved their cats. Doubt there was a people since Egypt who loved their cats that much. They didn't worship them or anything silly, but before the war, even far before it, the cats all had a special spot. They walked free on the streets, never run over or kicked. They brought rats to the stoop and were always thanked. They made their way into the Moulin Rouge. Always welcome on stage. Heard the girls had a dance with them.
Mom usually interrupted before he could say anything about that.
Anyway, he'd continue, glaring at my mother, when the Germans rolled in, they'd messed up that city pretty badly. It wasn't the beautiful place it once was. But the cats, they hadn't left, they were still walking around the city, well fed and cared for. Cats aren't bad animals and they aren't the pussies, he laughed, that people think they are. They take care of themselves. The Germans, they saw them as a nuisance and used to shoot at them. Shot them more when they saw how it made the Parisians feel.
Well, those cats didn't like that.
When we rolled into town, liberation and all that, the Parisians were glad to see us. Germans, not so much. And cats, ambivalent. Seemed so anyway. But in the fighting? For every German, two cats would trip it. For every German ambush, a cat's yowling fight in the alley in front of it. And for every dead German, a pack of well-fed cats...
Mom would yell at him before he could finish the sentence. I don't want you telling him these stories, Dad! There's nothing to them and really, the way you go on is disgusting! He'd shake his head at this, and wink at me. He wouldn't finish telling the story though.
After Grandpa died, Mom asked me to get his stuff out of the attic, as it hurt her back to try and get up there. Rooting through old chests, I found a photo album. The dates on the spine put it during the War and I flipped it open. Shot after shot of his friends, his squadmates, himself, sometimes smiling, often relaxing and once or twice crying and shouting. This didn't strike me as odd.
It was that in every photo, there was at least one cat, just sitting nearby.
One suspiciously well-fed cat.
I guess this is just a draft for now. It needs polishing. I just wanted to write something tonight.