It was a cat who answered the doorbell. Long, orange, with white whiskers imitating a mustache over its mouth, it slunk around Sylvia’s legs.
“Is that the girl, Mikey?”
Sylvia leaned forward, glancing around. The house, small and squat from the exterior, was a chaos of cat condos, ragged toys, and scratching posts on the inside. “It’s me! Can I come in?”
An old woman in a lavender pantsuit appeared around the corner. “Aah-Sylvia, yes? Yes!” She pumped Sylvia’s hand up and down. For a woman approaching eighty, she had a terrifyingly strong grip. Reaching back, she adjusted her glasses, and Sylvia caught sight of a pair of watery blue eyes.
“So...is this the cat, then?” Sylvia knelt down and reached her hand out towards the orange cat. He pawed forward and wrapped himself around her legs.
“Michael!” The old woman swatted the cat. “Don’t do that!”
“Oh, it’s fine.” She began to pet the cat. “He’s cute.” He purred.
The old woman glared. “Disgusting. Come with me,” she threw over her shoulder, and Sylvia leapt up and followed her into the kitchen, which was in a similar state of disarray. Food-both human and cat-covered the counters, some scattered over the floor. A second cat, this one fat, its fur a nondescript color somewhere between brown and grey, rested on the stovetop.
“Is that safe?”
Rummaging in a drawer, the old woman snorted. “He always does that. Nothing I can do if you’re so determined to light yourself on fire.” This last seemed to be directed at the cat himself. She turned around, a piece of paper in her hand. The corner appeared to have been chewed on. “Now, this is a list. You might need it to keep all of them straight.”
“All...of them?” Sylvia glanced around. Another cat, this one jet black, staggered into the room. “Is that one alright?”
“Nope.” The old woman thrust the list at Sylvia. “I’ve also put down how much food each one should recieve. Most take a cup of food at meals, except for Richard.” She pointed at the cat on the oven. “He’s been on a diet for as long as I’ve known him.” She strode on towards the hall.
Sylvia, having read the list, followed. “There’s nine cats?”
The old woman stopped for a moment in front of a table piled with photographs, shaking her head. “I never meant for there to be so many.” She ran her hand down the photo placed at the foremost. Within a gilt black frame, a man with thick, dark hair laughed in the direction of the invisible photographer.
“I can handle them.” In her mind, Sylvia was doing calculations as to how much money she would have earned at the end of the week. “No problem.”
“You seem capable enough. Now, keep Harvey-that’s the black one-away from my liquor cabinet. And here-” she motioned to the dark striped cat stretched out in front of the nearby window, “is Link. He might try to escape, so keep a close watch on him.” The cat turned towards them, twitching his tail. Sylvia caught her breath.
“His eyes…” One bright blue, one amber, Link squinted at her from his resting place. Sylvia noticed how tense he appeared to be, even in his relaxed position.
The old woman’s mouth twitched upwards. “Handsome, isn’t he?”