We arrive at the small portion of median the cat had chosen to sit upon. The animal sticks out in the blank whiteness of the snow like a campfire in a dark room. Fully expecting the cat to make a run for it, I open my door. Brrrrr. There go the pitiful efforts of the car’s heater. Instead, it stumbles to its feet and races to the new source of warmth, fleeing the formidably low outside temperature of eighteen degrees below zero - otherwise known as a North Dakota winter.
To my surprise, it jumps right into our car and squirms under my seat, not knowing or caring who we were or what our intentions were - just driven by an instinctual need to find warmth before it freezes on the ice. The car continues down Highway 2, externally calm, internally ruffled. It’s always the orange ones. Why is it always the orange ones? Why has every single damn cat we have ever found on the side of the road been orange? I poke my head under my seat to see if I can find the cat. It blinks at me from the shadows, one eye bright, the other red and leaking. My hand ventures under the seat - Man, I hope it doesn’t have rabies or something - and the cat extends its nose at it. I gently pull it out from under the seat in response, set it on my lap, and look at it for a few seconds.
It’s a kitten.
It’s a damn kitten. There are no other words to describe it.
Can’t be more than a year old and already its owners left it out in the snow. I check for gender - the kitten is a female -
The kitten is perched on my lap and staring at me with its - no, her - yellow eyes. I hold her close to my body, trying to warm her up. The winter is frozen to her paws, and ice coats her stomach. I can feel nearly every detail of her skeletal form through her insufficient coat, from her ribs to her hips. Her fur promises a fiery tone beneath the layer of dust, and she rubs the left side of her face on my own coat, leaving a trail of mucus from her half-closed and possibly infected eye. Her thick tail - which may or may not have just saved her life - attempts to warm her paws with its stripes. The tips of her ears are charcoal, and her back claws are worn down to the quick.
It’s Christmas. Who does this on Christmas? Sure, it’s every cat lover’s dream to get a cat for Christmas. But not like this. Not under these circumstances.