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Ginger and the Bully of Lowergate Court

Feline Fact
by Sharon Lee

For nine years Steve and I (with Archie, Arwen, Brandee and Buzz-z) lived in an impossible little townhouse on Lowergate Court in Owings Mills, Maryland. Lowergate was one of five courts that comprised the stunningly misnamed Bright Meadows, the entire campus of which was roughly three-quarters of a mile around.

The best thing about Bright Meadows (besides that the rent was cheap and the roof kept the rain off. Mostly.) was that there were many dozens of cats in the neighborhood. Steve and I would go for walks up and down and around the various courts and say hi to Jazz and Mom, Sasquatch, Pirate, Taffy, Sandy, The Gentleman, Blue and Ginger.

Ginger was the mayor.

I didn't say he was the mayor -- anyone could see that he was, just by looking at him. An orange striped cat of middle years with a habitual demeanor of grave attentiveness, he made his rounds every day, up, down and around the courts, across to World's End and down the back woods. He would stop by our place mid-morning and trade orange cat stories with Archie through the bottom screen in the kitchen door. At least once I saw him at World's End with Brandee, hunting moles. He cuffed Buzz-z once when they first met and that took care of that -- deference to the mayor was Buzz-z's rule, ever after.

Ginger was a non-partisan mayor. He was a cat, true enough, but he held every resident of the courts to be citizens, equally subject to his authority -- and his protection. Steve saw him run off a stray dog that had frightened one of the toddlers in the playground. I saw him streaking to the rescue, the day Pirate was treed by a couple of boys with too much time on their hands.

The Gentleman, who was Brandee's special friend, was a Cat of the World -- a wire-tough black-and-white with gnawed-up ears and a limp off the back right leg -- and even he accorded Ginger the respect of his rank, whenever he found himself on Hizzoner's turf.

Not so, the Siamese.

I do not at this distance remember the Siamese's name. Perhaps I never knew it. Steve claims some vague recollection of having heard him called "Khan." I'm not so sure. What I am sure of is that he arrived outside my kitchen door one April morning, just before Ginger's daily visit, swearing and cussing and hissing at Archie, who was standing up on his hind legs and giving back as good as he got.

I threw a glass of water on him through the screen and told him to get a life, which, as it happens, was a mistake.

From that moment on, the Siamese targeted our house. He would show up at all hours, bitching and screaming. He would crouch under the bush by the door and leap on Brandee, or Steve or me as we left.

But we weren't the only ones.

He made Taffy's life a misery. He jumped The Gentleman so many times that The Gentlemen went to visit friends in the country. He clawed Jazz so badly the vet was afraid he wouldn't be able to save the eye. S'quatch would scream when he saw the Siamese coming his way and scramble up the drain pipe to sit wailing in the rain gutter until his lady fetched him down. Brandee would flatten herself to the ground and her ears to her head and dare him to try it, which was also Sandy's approach -- damages there were minor, but the name-calling sessions were deafening.

Ginger tried to reason with him, to no avail. I tried to reason with his owner and was told to mind my own business and "if that cat come missing," she'd know who to blame.

This went on from April until August.

And one hot August afternoon, with the heat beating out of the sky colliding with the heat rising off the tarmac at the level of your ears -- up at the top of Lowergate Court, right next to the dumpster -- an amazing thing occurred.

The Siamese was sitting in the parking lot, swearing at Pirate, who was scrunched down under a starveling cedar tree, pretending to be invisible. They had been doing this for some time.

Suddenly, in other parts of the court, there was -- movement.

From up-court came Mom and Sasquatch; from down-court, Brandee and Sandy. Taffy and Jazz drifted down the hill across and Blue pussyfooted in from somewhere and sat next to the cedar tree, tail wrapped around his toes.

The Siamese cut off in mid-curse and looked around him. The rest of the cats kept moving, slowly and purposefully, even Snowball-called-Avalanche, who never left her patio, until they had made a circle, with the Siamese in the center.

The Siamese yawned. He got up and headed for the gap between Jazz and Taffy. The cats moved closer together as he approached. Somebody growled. The Siamese backed up.

After a minute, he chose another direction, this one toward the cedar tree. He started to growl as he got closer and puffed himself up. But Pirate screamed back and made himself even bigger and Blue said something that was perhaps not quite polite.

The Siamese slunk back to the center of the circle and sat, carefully, down.

Which was when Ginger left his place in the ring and walked forward.

Immediately, the Siamese was on his feet, fur every-which-way, swearing like a ship full of sailors.

The circle of cats drew a little closer together. Ginger kept moving forward.

The Siamese flattened his belly to the tarmac and his ears to his head and swore he was the master of every cat there and a black belt in seventeen secret martial arts, besides.

Ginger kept coming.

The Siamese yelled for his mommy.

Ginger reached out and smacked him upside the head, none-too-gently. The Siamese babbled and wailed.

Ginger smacked him again, a little harder, but not nearly as hard as the Siamese had hit Jazz.

The Siamese stopped screaming. V-e-r-y slowly, he sat up. Even more slowly, he got his ears back into position. He licked his lips. Ginger sat down, utterly at ease, and began to bathe. All around, the cat circle waited.

They held that tableau for half-an-hour, I guess, then, one-by-one, the cats in the circle drifted away, back to their usual rounds. Ginger, spotlessly clean, left last, saving only the Siamese, who waited another four or five minutes, blue eyes darting this way and that. When he was certain he was unobserved, he got up and headed for home.

I never heard another ill word out of him, from that day until we moved.

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