The Rescue
Aaron Sinkovich
Break
We arrived at the house a little after ten o'clock in the morning. The lady stood waiting on her porch. They were calling for a scorcher, and stepping out of the truck onto the asphalt, I already felt the sweat pooling under my uniform.
As she approached me, I could see the tears in her eyes. "It's this tree," she said, and motioned to a tall maple tree in the front yard. I peered into the branches.
"The neighbor's dog, he chased her. On Tuesday." As I searched the tree for the cat, she continued the story. "I kept hoping Miss Flowers—that's her name—would come down, but she didn't. It's been three days now. And this weather." The lady's tears started faster. "It's supposed to be ninety-five today. She hasn't had any water."
"Don't worry," I said. "We'll have her out in a few minutes."
"Don't worry, Miss Flowers!" the lady yelled into the branches above. "The nice fireman will get you out!"
"Excuse me, Ma'am," I said, "where exactly is the cat?"
"She's right there. Don't you see her?"
I didn't, however.
"Right there," she said, pointing up, "in the crook of that big branch."
I followed the tip of her finger to the tree, and sure enough, finally spotted Miss Flowers. She sat motionless, high up in the tree, looking more like an owl than a cat.
With the ladder hoisted into the air, I started up the rungs to pluck Miss Flowers from her perch. The job was all mine since my partner didn't like heights. It should have been cake, but as I stretched out my hands to grab her, she scurried up the branch. We moved the ladder, and reaching a second time, Miss Flowers darted away again. Meanwhile, the sun rose higher and burned still hotter.
About an hour later a camera crew arrived from a local television station, for certainly, there wasn't anything better to report than a cat rescue. They asked the lady a bunch of questions, and I continued the circus act in the trees, trying desperately to coax Miss Flowers into my arms. I held a bowl of cat food as encouragement. Her name, I had learned, had been given to her as a kitten because she liked to hide in the perennial bed next to the porch. With the camera trained on my every movement in the tree, I'd have liked to have hidden myself right about then. The sweat poured off of me, even in the shade of the tree. And every time I reached out, the damn cat just skittered away, not too far, but enough so that I had to reposition the ladder.
"Almost," someone yelled up to me, "but no cigar!"
The camera crew—hot and bored—entertained themselves by providing commentary. "Closer, closer... He's moving in on the wild cat sitting quietly in the tall tree tops... He's about to make his move... And there she goes, evading still another attempt at capture." And then more laughter. They were a royal pain in the ass.
"You know," I shouted down at them, "that isn't helping at all."
"But it sure is fun," someone called back.
If I had a gun, I'm not sure whom I would have shot first—Miss Flowers or that stinking camera crew. I could have seen the headline: Fireman goes berserk rescuing cat. That would have been a story, but as far as catching this cat, the prospects were looking slim. The camera crew must have agreed, too, because they headed back to their van and packed it in, but not without a few more ribbings.
By this time, I was hot, thirsty, and frustrated. Whenever I looked up, sweat ran into my eyes, burning them hard. Again and again, I batted away a bee that buzzed around my head. The camera crew distracted the lady for a while, but now that they were gone, she renewed her interest in me.
"Can't you do something more?" she whined. "It's so hot. She needs water."
I could have used a drink myself, and I wasn't thinking about water, either. One more try, I kept telling myself, one more try.
"Miss Flowers is gonna die up there!"
Then the lady was gone back into the house, but not for long. As Miss Flowers dashed away for what seemed like the hundredth time, the lady shouted up to me. In her hands she held a shiny bowl.
"Miss Flowers needs water! You have to put this up there! She needs water!"
"I'll give her some water," I shouted back, and in minutes, I was on the ground, hauling a hose from the truck. My partner, the groundling, manned the fire hydrant. I pointed the hose into the tree and let her rip. The water shot into the air, into the branches, and into Miss Flowers. The cat fell, legs kicking and clawing at the air, straight down from high above. Hallelujah! She'd been rescued. With a screech, she smacked the ground, righted herself, and darted for the door of the house, a wet ball of hair.
"There, lady," I said. "I watered your Flowers."
Aaron Sinkovich teaches American literature at a small high school in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. in English from The Ohio State University and a B.S.E. from Mansfield University, where he spent two years as editor of the university's literary magazine. His current project is a collection of stories about rural Pennsylvania.