Every Cat’s Got a Bit of an Asshole in Him

A large orange cat sitting in the open window of a houseThe library in Winchester is open four days a week, and today is one of those days. We have come to escape the heat, and because we haven’t had the chance to visit the library yet, which is a crime in a civilized world. The building is small, no larger really than a fast food restaurant along the highway, but it’s got a charm that is unmistakable. It’s brick, for one thing, which makes it stand out in a town of mostly wooden buildings, and there’s an old cannon out front, pointed at the weed shop across the street (there is no end to weed shops in Maine, from what I’ve seen; they appear to have sprouted up like… well, like weeds, to be honest). A sign hanging over the main door reads “Strachan Library, Est. 1901,” which makes the building positively modern compared to most of the homes in the area. I like it already.

There’s space at the side of the building for parking, an entire three cars worth, two of which are empty (I assume the car that is there belongs to the librarian, although the town is so small, he or she could have just walked to work, I suppose). We pull in next to it, and see a ramp that leads up to a back entrance to the building, as well as the night drop slot.

“Big city living,” I say to Hunter. “They have two whole entrances.”

“No waiting,” she says. “Live the dream.”

We get out of the car, and I think about locking it, but decide not to. The very last thing I worry about around here is anyone breaking into the car. We don’t even lock the doors on our house when we’re gone. I know we live in a civilization that is in rapid decline, and it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to people being hung from lampposts, but I cannot stress just how safe everything feels around here. So ridiculously safe. If this truly were a Stephen King story, this feeling would turn around and bite us on the ass later, but fiction always has to be interesting, and life is generally so much more boring, so we’re not particularly worried.

The inside of the library is just as charming as the out. The floors and walls are dark, polished wood, as are all of the bookshelves themselves, all eight of them in the main room, and another four in the children’s section just past the checkout desk. There is one shelf completely dedicated to Maine authors, holding what looks to be every Stephen King book that he’s published, as well as dozens of other authors of lesser fame (although not all of them are unknown to the general reading public). I pull out a title at random, and am delighted to see that on the inside of the front cover is an old fashioned checkout slip, where the librarian would stamp in a due date by hand. None of this modern barcode nonsense at the Strachan Library. Here, they have both feet firmly planted in the past.

“We should get cards before we do anything else,” Hunter says. She’s already looked online before we left home to find the requirements for getting cards (the library may have its feet in the past, but it has a couple of fingers in the digital age as well), mostly just IDs and a piece of mail with our address on it.

“Sounds good,” I say. I put the book I’m holding back onto the shelf.

We go over to the checkout desk. “Help you folks?” the librarian asks. She is an older woman, mid-sixties probably, and elfin in her size. I wouldn’t be so rude as to call her adorable, but she’s definitely leaning that way.

“We would like to get some cards, please,” Hunter says. “We just moved to town, and you don’t really belong in a place until you’ve got yourself a library card.”

The librarian smiles. “Isn’t that the truth. First thing I did when I moved here, too.” She pulls a couple of applications from a stack in a cubby by the desk and hands one to each of us. “Just fill these out is all you need to do. There’s pens in that cup there.”

Hunter takes our electric bill out of her purse, our proof of address. “I’ve got my ID in my wallet.”

The librarian waves her hand dismissively. “We don’t really need any of that stuff here. Just fill out the forms, that’s all you need to do. We don’t bother with late fees anyway, so it’s not like we have to come find you if you don’t bring a book back on time. Just put your email on the form, that’s good enough.”

“Hope you have a donation jar,” I say, grabbing a pen from the cup. “I don’t usually bring things back late, but I always pay my fines when I do.”

She points to the front door. “Right over there,” she says. I turn my head and see a small shelf by the door, on top of which is a clear plastic lidless box. Inside I can see a handful of bills and some change. A handwritten sign taped to the side of the box reads: Library Donations, Tips, and Shake Downs.

“Well,” I say. I go to the box, taking my wallet out as I go. I pull a ten dollar bill out and add it to the donation pile. “Just being preemptive here. Just in case.”

“Appreciate it,” she says. “Every little bit.”

“Every little bit,” I repeat, nodding.

Hunter has finished her application, and she hands it to the librarian, who enters it into the computer system while I finish my paperwork. She is handing a card to Hunter while I sign my name to the bottom of my form.

“If you don’t have your card with you,” the librarian says, “that’s fine. I’ll just look you up on the computer. Couple of times in here, won’t even need that. I’ll remember your names by then.”

“Impressive,” I say. I give her my application.

“Not that hard to do here,” she says. “We don’t exactly have thousands of people coming through the doors every day.”

“Still,” I say. “I have trouble remembering my own name sometimes. I’m always impressed with people who can remember anybody else’s.”

“Part of a librarian’s job, remembering names,” she says. “Mine’s Rose, by the way. Rose Keyes. I’m here most days we’re open, though if I’m not, Trevor will be the one you see. You’ll know him when you see him, because he’ll be the one who isn’t me.”

“My husband’s not the one who remembers names in the family,” Hunter says, “but I’ll remember both of you.”

I am startled suddenly when a cat, a solid and muscular orange tabby the size and shape of a watermelon, jumps up from the floor behind the desk, and starts immediately demanding Rose’s attention.

“Kitty, kitty,” Hunter says.

“That’s Orlando,” Rose says. “Don’t know what his actual name is, bu that’s what we call him. He’s the unofficial library cat. I don’t know where he lives, but it’s not in here. No tags on him, but he never does anything more than beg for attention and fall asleep in the window, so we leave him be. He probably shouldn’t be in here in case any of the patrons are allergic, but nobody has complained yet.”

“He seems very sweet,” Hunter says, scratching him under his chin. Orlando purrs agreeably and leans into her fingers.

“I figure it can’t hurt having him here,” Rose says. “Everybody gets mice inside in the winter, but having Orlando around seems to help. This was an old town office before it got turned into a library, so there’s an upstairs that we don’t let patrons go into. Just storage mostly. I leave a window cracked up there for him to come in and out through. He seems happy enough with the arrangement.”

“We’ve got two cats at home,” I say. “I doubt either one of them would know what to do with a mouse if it walked right up and punched them on the nose.”

“Cats are like people,” Rose says. “Some will do anything for you, and others will just hiss at you and poop in your shoe.”

“I think we’ve all dated a few people like that before,” I say.

“I married one once,” Rose says. “Had to have him put down. Metaphorically, of course.”

“Of course,” Hunter says.

“It’s only illegal if you don’t get caught,” I say.

Rose laughs. “What you say in the library stays in the library.” She hands me my card—old fashioned, not laminated, my name written in ink by Rose’s own hand—and I slip it into my wallet.

“I’m going to go look at the new releases,” Hunter says.

“Right behind you,” Rose says. “Also ask if you’re looking for something specific. Sometimes they get shelved in the wrong place, but I usually know what’s checked in and what’s checked out.”

“Woman after my own heart,” I say. “I worked in a couple of bookstores while I was doing the eight year plan in college. If you didn’t know where every book in the store was without having to go look, you weren’t doing your job.”

Orlando takes this moment to be a cat’s cat, and reaches one orange paw out, swiping the cup full of pens onto the floor behind the desk. Satisfied with this random act of catly chaos, he hops off onto the floor between me and Hunter, then dashes off into the children’s room, and up a staircase that I can see there, to the office area above.

“They don’t always poop in your shoe,” Rose says, “but every cat’s got a bit of an asshole in him.”

“Preach,” I say.

We peruse the shelves for a while, and each of us leaves with a couple of books. Rose stamps the return dates into the cards behind every cover, and we head back outside for the car. “Lovely lady,” Hunter says, as we walk down the ramp.

“Reminds me of my mom,” I say. “In size, mostly.”

Hunter grabs my arm and stops me. She points up, and I look. In a window of the library’s second floor, Orlando sits, looking down at us.

“Man, that cat’s a big fucker, isn’t he?” I say.

“Size of a dog. A big orange Rottweiler.”

The cat raises one paw to his mouth, and slowly starts to lick it.

“I think he’s giving us the finger,” I say.

“He’s got a lot of attitude.”

“Glad I didn’t leave the windows rolled down. He would have shit in the car.”

Orlando, seeming to hear and take offense, pauses for a moment in his grooming, paw still up to his mouth.

“I’m getting in the car,” Hunter says.

“Afraid he’s going to eat us?”

“Yes,” she says. “Absolutely afraid of a cat wanting to eat us.”

“I can feel your sarcasm from here,” I say.

“Get in the car. Don’t make me poop in your shoe.”

I look up again, and Orlando makes eye contact with me, then goes back to licking his paw. “Be seeing you, Rottweiler.”

Orlando says no reply out loud, but his attitude speaks volumes.

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