I didn’t meet Bill until the third or fourth day that I lived at the house. For some reason he wasn’t really around those first few days. Maybe his absence was on purpose, maybe not. I tried not to take offense to it—you know, new face. Another body. A female. The only female, at that. I could respect that adjusting to a change would prove a little bit more difficult at his age, an age where he probably had a set routine that nobody cared to disrupt. One that nobody dared to disrupt.
I had not heard much about Bill when I arrived, after I arrived, nor during those first few days I took up residence at 30 Richards Street. Why hadn’t I? I had heard about all of the others. If someone was gone around suppertime, I knew where he was because the other guys filled me in. However, Bill seemed to be somewhat elusive. His whereabouts were never concrete, for anyone in the house.
When I finally met him, it was in passing.
“Hey, Bill,” I ventured.
The answer I got was barely audible, not understandable, and he actually turned his head in the opposite direction and walked away mid-response. It seemed like Bill was one of those that you just had to warm up to, or rather, you let him warm up to you. Becoming acquainted was clearly going to be on his terms, and not mine. I felt rising warmth in my cheeks as I stood there, a little embarrassed, a little discouraged. I was living with Bill, after all.
The second time our paths crossed was a little bit different.
The sun was low in the soft red sky after dinner, when I came out onto the front porch to read the poorly written, easily read, Costco best-seller that I had acquired a few weeks earlier. There wasn’t enough light passing through the surprisingly leafy trees and towering abandoned houses—crackhouses, I later learned—to read without a light. I passed the obnoxiously creaky and paint-chipped stairs on the way to the front door, and unlocked the deadbolt. That damn thing was always locked.
On the front porch—that was painted a ruddy brownish red—rested three Adirondack chairs, lined up about two feet apart, a coffee can resting on the arm of the middle chair, its bottom layered with dusty cigarette butts. Bill was out on the front porch as well.
He was seated in the far chair, so I took the one closest to the door. I did not want to seem to eager, too fearless.
Bill was interesting to look at. I guess interesting is the forgiving term. His face was scary. His right eye had been cut open at some point in his long life, exposing an expanse of eyeball that is usually covered by eyelid. It had happened long enough ago where new skin had grown back where it was once undoubtedly raw, but it was an odd sight. The years-old injury extended upwards, and none of the hair above his eye had grown back.
A few days earlier I had heard some of the guys saying that when Bill closed his eyes, you could still see the solid white of half his right eyeball. Maybe if I was lucky, he would fall asleep in that chair.
We sat on the porch in silence. I read, he gazed—at the house across the street, I assumed. There were usually four or five cats on its front porch, and it was rumored that there were many more in and around the old, splintered, wood-sided house. The woman who owned it had a recently deceased husband and a recently acquired life insurance. That explained all of the repairmen and construction workers that had been fixing the place up recently. And the never-before-seen son and daughter. At least that’s what the guys said.
After about 15 minutes of silence, I decided to try Bill again. Maybe it was better if it wasn’t in passing this time. It was probably best that I wasn’t moving much or brushing by. He was old. Probably easily threatened.
“Hey Bill,” I ventured.
My heart jumped to my throat as Bill got up and got off the chair, meandering towards me. That chair was no more than eight feet away.
When he was no more than two feet away from me, I got an answer.
I bent over and stroked Bill’s black, matted hair, making sure to steer clear from the right side of his weathered face. I heard the guys say that Bill was 16, and had been around the house longer than any one of them. Maybe he was recovering, too. Bill rubbed his head against my leg, and curled up at my feet for the rest of my time out on the porch.
After that night, Bill and I did not become best friends. Yet he was comfortable with me, and me with him. In a way, Bill was a caricature of the house. He was scary to look at, and a little stiff and slow to move. Bill had scars that were extremely visible. He wore his life on his coat, and was looking for a second chance—just like everyone else.
Bill the cat wasn’t perfect. He chose to stand out in the rain when he had the choice to come inside, just as we all do sometimes. Now and again he was surly, bitter, and convinced the world was against him. But I learned from Bill that there are almost always second chances. I learned that what lies within supersedes the scars that can be seen and even those that can’t, and I learned that redemption can be found wherever we decide to look for it.