Thursday 21 October 2021

Big Bessie and Harriet


by Debra White



“Hey stop that,” Big Bessie the cat said as she ran from the stone throwing teen. The plump pussy cat scooted through the alley littered with stinky garbage, bald tires, and broken bottles. A piece of broken glass nicked her paw but Big Bessie didn’t have time to lick the blood. The bad boy was on her trail.

Big Bessie climbed over a fence and hurried across the empty courtyard. “I wish he’d leave me alone. I didn’t do anything but pick through their garbage can for food. I’m hungry. And cold too.”

The fluffy white cat hid behind a dumpster for what felt like hours, glad she didn’t meet up with any dogs. Canines were usually friendly, but one brute tried to chew off her ears. Life on the streets was so unpredictable.

Darkness finally fell on the city so Big Bessie squeezed herself out of her hiding place. Stretching first, she then sniffed for food scraps lying around. Nothing, not even a measly piece of bread. Since the bad boy might still be around, Big Bessie figured she’d better move on.

Big Bessie scampered down the pitch-black streets, careful to avoid cars. Chilly weather kept most neighbors inside. Years as a stray taught the cat important skills about traffic. She’d seen a lot of friends run down by speeding cars or trucks turning the curves too tightly. A drunk staggered down the block so Big Bessie hid under a beat-up car to avoid trouble. Shocked, she bumped into another cat.

“What’re you doing here?” Big Bessie asked.

“I could ask you the same thing,” the skinny gray cat said. “I’m the great Harriet and you’re crowding my space so get out.”

“How come it’s your space? I’m trying to avoid trouble, just like you. Looks like it might rain too.”

“I found the car first. Find your own space,” Harriet said.

“Be that way. I’d rather face the lousy weather than hang around with a cranky cat like you.”

Big Bessie made it a few steps away when Harriet said, “Wait, don’t go.”

“Why should I stay? I get enough abuse on the streets. Who needs abuse from a moody cat like you?”

“I’m hurt, that’s why. The great Harriet once ruled an alley so asking for help from a strange cat isn’t easy.”

Bessie flopped down next to Harriet. “What’s wrong?”

“A car hit me and my leg hurts. My gang deserted me.”

“I’m sorry, Harriet,” Big Bessie said. “What can I do?”

“Hang out by the big buildings and wait for someone who looks friendly. Then try and lure them to the car.” Harriet hissed. “When I get better, I’ll teach those cats a lesson for leaving me.”

“I’ve been looking for my own friendly face for a long time,” Big Bessie said. “Stray cats don’t win many friends but I’ll try. Hey, don’t be vengeful. It’s not becoming of us cats.”

“Find me a mouse or something,” Harriet said. “I’m so hungry.”

            “Around this dumpy place finding a mouse will be easy.”

            After buckets of rain stopped drenching the city, Big Bessie wandered the neighborhood hoping to help Harriet. Neighbors emptied out of a tattered apartment building fanning out in different directions but no one noticed Big Bessie as she pawed for attention. By sundown, she moped back to the banged-up car.

            “Here,” she said as she dropped a dead mouse next to Harriet’s face. “That’s the only help I could find today.”

            “Where’s my savior?”

            “Harriet, I said I tried. No one noticed.”

            “I’ve been under this car for a long time. Get me out of here,” Harriet said.

            “Don’t blame me. I didn’t cause your problems,” Big Bessie said.

            “Cool your cat litter. I’m upset from being here so long.”

            “Do you mind if I snuggle next to you?” Big Bessie asked. “I’m cold.”

            “I’m not that kind of cat,” Harriet said. “I suppose if you want to just this once, it’ll be OK. Don’t tell any of the other street cats. I have a reputation to uphold.”


            The next morning Big Bessie hustled through the neighborhood. She parked herself in front of another multi-story apartment building, waiting for someone to notice her antics. No one did. Later, she wandered through another empty lot filled with junk looking for something to eat. Harriet will be so upset with me, she thought, when I come back alone. What would Big Bessie do now? She could go on her own but that would be like stabbing Harriet in the heart. She opted to keep trying. There had to be someone out there who wanted to help a pair of homeless cats.

            On her way back, a mouse crossed her path and Big Bessie pounced on it. She presented her find to Harriet.

            “No one paid attention to me today either.”

            “So, I see. What exactly are you doing? Maybe you should spruce up your act?”

            “It’s not easy. People look at me like I have rabies or something.”

            “Try harder, my leg is really sore. I’d have found help for you by now. That’s why they call me the Great Harriet. Look at you, a big ball of blubber.”

            “That hurts, say you’re sorry.”

            “Why? It’s true.”

            “The heck with you. I’m out of here.” Big Bessie hissed, spun around and trotted away.


            Big Bessie sniffed her way down an alley, saw an empty cardboard box and jumped in. She curled up and tried to stay warm. Sleep came quickly, but the distant sound of dog yapping woke her. Hunger rocked her belly so she thought of looking for something to eat. As she nosed through discarded food wrappers, images of Harriet and her bad leg haunted her. The cat had an ego the size of a lion but she was in trouble. Big Bessie decided to try one more time, even if Harriet called her names.

            The cat changed strategies. Maybe tenants coming out of the big apartment towers were in too much of a hurry to notice a cat pleading for help. So Big Bessie found a smaller building and waited. A man wearing a blue suit tried to shoo her away. Someone else said the neighborhood was overflowing with street cats.

After the morning rush, Big Bessie sat down on the front steps, feeling dejected. What else could she do for Harriet? Was Harriet even still under the car? Footsteps caught Big Bessie’s attention. She turned to see a young woman with pretty brown eyes and a smile that made her feel like a playful kitten again.

            “Aren’t you a nice cat?” the woman said. “I haven’t seen you before. I wonder who you belong to?”

            Big Bessie wanted to soak up the affection but now wasn’t the time. She made a quick move towards the corner.

            “Don’t be afraid. My name is Mary and I won’t hurt you.” Mary stood in front of her tidy little building.

            Darn, Big Bessie said to herself. She doesn’t understand as she rambled back to Mary’s extended arms.

            “That’s better,” Mary said, stroking Big Bessie’s unkempt fur.

            Big Bessie meowed so loud she coughed then she headed towards the corner.

            “For a cat, you’re strange. I get the impression I should follow you. You look too old for kittens. But what the heck.”

            Big Bessie sniffed her way down the block, trying to capture the scent back to Harriet. She wasn’t quite sure where the abandoned car was but this was now or never time. She had to find Harriet. Her nose couldn’t fail.

            Mary trailed Big Bessie through the neighborhood. At the traffic light, she tried to pick up the cat but the big ball of fluffy white fur squirmed until Mary put her down. “You’re determined to lead me somewhere, aren’t you?”

            About fifteen minutes slipped by when Big Bessie found the old car. She poked her head underneath and found Harriet snuggled inside one of the back tires. “What took you so long?” Harriet said.

            “How’d you know I’d be back?”

            “Feline intuition.”

            Mary bent down and saw the battered cat. “So, this was your plan? Your friend is hurt.”

            Mary stretched to pick up Harriet. Tenderly, she held the injured cat. Then Mary reached into her back pocket and pulled out her cell phone. Within minutes her husband drove up in his big brown Buick. Mary placed both cats in the back seat.

            “Let’s get them to a vet,” Mary said. “One of them is injured.”

            “What’ll we do with them?” her husband asked.

            “What else can we do? Bring them home with us and let them blend in with our other cats.”

Abut the author 

A car accident ended Debra’s career due to a traumatic brain injury. She re-invented herself through volunteer work and writing. Debra wrote for Animal Wellness, Arizona Republic, Social Work, Airports of the World, Psychology Today, and others. She reviewed books, contributed book chapters and wrote a book for TFH Publications.








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