They call me Bad Kitty.

Like they have ANY CLUE about what life is really like on the mean streets of Sisters. Talking about these hoity-toity humans at The Nugget, see? Take this Mother Teresa. So sweet. So kind. She's nice to everyone and everybody loves her, right?

Except she calls me "evil." Gave me my name. Says I hog the food and I should "spread the wealth around a little." Doggone socialist. Get this straight: Yes, I am one of the one percent. I worked my tail off to get what's mine and I'll be dog-slobbered if I'll share it with a buncha losers like what we got here in Sisters. They can choke on a mouse tail for all I care.

Then there's this alleged "naturalist" Mr. Andy-sun or Jim-Ay -old dude in lumberjack shirt with eyebrows you could use for fishing line. Looooves the birdies, yes he does. Wants to "protect them from the predations of feral cats." Butt out, dude! Ever hear of Darwin, Mr. Naturalist? Huh? I hope a flock of wild turkeys poops all over that jalopy you call a car.

Some gunslinger in boots and a hat keeps telling Mother Teresa he can "solve this problem with the judicious placement of a single, inexpensive .22-caliber bullet." He actually talks like that if you can believe it. Well, better not miss with that first shot, Hat-Boy. I can jump three feet easy, and I keep these claws sharp.

And the landlady -don't even get me started. She's always going on about collecting food for our "less-fortunate Furry Friends." All compassionate-like. Then she rounds up feral cats and has their balls cut off! How compassionate is that? I ask you.

So, yeah, call me Bad Kitty. I embrace my reputation. Did, anyway. Till that bird came around.

•••

You know that Christmas song that goes "gone away is the bluebird"? This guy didn't get the memo.

First time I saw him, was during that nice little warm spell when you could forget it was almost winter for a few hours. I was sunning on the porch, listening to a little Kitty Purry on my iPawed, when this bluebird starts flitting around.

My first thought was, man, those blue feathers would look good decorating my whiskers. But there was something about this bluebird that kinda intrigued me -I mean, beyond the sounds-good-on-the-menu sense.

We started talking. He started asking me all kinds of questions about my life.

"Take off, Opawh," I said to him. I hate

prying, ya know.

But he didn't get in a huff and flutter off. He just sat there all deep blue and beautiful and... OK, I started opening up, see? Talking about things I do not talk about. Abandonment issues. How isolated I felt growing up black in a gray-and-calico neighborhood; born with six toes on each paw, getting laughed at for it. How I decided I wasn't just going to fit in with the other cats, I was going to show the little hairballs who was boss. I wouldn't just fit in, no sir, I would dominate... I would be... well... Bad Kitty.

"How's that working for ya?" the bluebird says.

"Fine, thanks, Dr. Phil-ine. Ain't you supposed to be flying south or something?"

But, try though I might, I just couldn't blow him off. The old defenses just weren't working. He made me want something, I don't know... more. Deeper.

He started talking about true leadership being about respect, not fear. Said I had capabilities I hadn't ever tapped, that I could fill the hole inside of me if only I'd look beyond my pain. I was freaking out. I wanted to just eat him and be done with it, but... I just couldn't. He was right. There WAS a hole inside of me that the biggest pile of kibble in the world couldn't fill.

I was confused, in pain.

Then came the Big Freeze.

•••

I've ridden out some deep freezes before, but this one was the worst. Lasted for days and cut down past your bones to your very soul. The landlady put out a heater, but the power went out. The water froze in the heated bowl. I gathered all the cats on the porch and told them we'd have to share our body warmth to survive.

I could tell they didn't trust me, that they were afraid. That used to make me feel good. Not anymore.

They did as I said, but it wasn't enough. I knew the weaker ones would die if we didn't get shelter, water, food.

Tap, tap, tap.

I looked at the window overhead and there was the bluebird. Inside. Tapping frantically on the window with his beak. He'd found a knothole or something. Good for you, bird, I thought. You're safe. Enjoy watching us freeze.

But that's not what he was thinking.

"This window isn't locked," he said. "I'm not strong enough to push it, but if you can pry it open, you can all get inside."

There was a tiny space between the window and the frame. Not enough to fit a paw through. But there was room for one toe. One stunted, malformed toe on the side of my paw. I stuck it in the crack and I pulled. The pain was agonizing as the claw caught in the wood and pulled back. But I didn't stop.

Behind me, a dozen cat eyes were gleaming in the dark. Desperate.

I strained harder. The window gave just a bit, the ice crackling in the brittle air. I stuck my paw in and wedged it out some more. It was open, just enough to let a body through.

The cats surged toward the opening that promised warmth and shelter.

"Karen first!" I cried. She was the most afraid.

They all got in and turned to look back. I knew I couldn't follow them; there was no way I could pull the window shut without an opposable thumb, and leaving it open would let that killer cold in. I had to push it from the outside.

The other cats cried out, "No, Bad Kitty! You'll die."

But I knew what I had to do. I pushed the window shut. I swear I could see the bluebird smile.

s s s

I hunkered down in the igloo. It was a bad night. Worst night of my life. But also the best. Something kept me warm, warm enough to survive, though I did lose a toe.

The next day the weather broke and you could hear the water run down from the roof as the world thawed out. Mother Teresa let the cats back out of the building, one by one. They each raised a paw to me as they walked past. I can't explain the feeling that I had.

I looked for the bluebird, but he was nowhere to be found.

"Have any of you guys seen the bluebird?" I asked the cats.

"What bluebird?" they said.

"The one that found the open window for us."

They looked at each other and looked back at me. I could tell they were nervous to say anything, but one finally spoke up.

"Uh... B.K., uh... there wasn't any bluebird."

I sat in the sun for a while and let that soak in. I know what I know and I guess that'll have to do.

I felt a paw on my shoulder and Karen said, "C'mon B.K., let's go get some breakfast."