Lydia could still smell the formaldehyde from the dead rat she’d been dissecting in her biology class. She couldn’t get the odor out, even when she’d tried extreme methods like scrubbing her hands with fresh cut lemons. It seemed like every time she turned the steering wheel over the twenty minute drive the pungent scent wafted back into her nostrils. She parked her Chevy Cavalier and hopped out, breathing in fresh Texas sunshine. Maybe the horses would cover up the rat smell.
As Lydia walked towards the small 12 stall barn where she kept her horse, she heard a choked cry. Glancing to her right, she saw a tiny tortoiseshell cat perched on the trampoline. She was bony, ribs and spine exposed underneath thinning marbled fur. She only had three legs, so she teetered awkwardly to the right in an attempt to balance herself, and she didn’t have a tail. Mangled, she was, although her injuries had long since healed. Lydia shuddered slightly over the poor condition of the cat, who might have been the ugliest animal she’d ever seen if you didn’t count the Texas-sized possums that had a tendency to lurk about campus after dark.
Lydia decided to ignore the cries of the little cat. Instead, she entered the barn to tend to the horses. She managed the day to day life of the barn in exchange for free board. For a horse-crazy college student, it was a pretty sweet deal. Particularly since the horses spent most of their days out to pasture. She only had one stall to muck, a pregnant Arabian mare named Alex who was due to foal any day now. Lydia didn’t know jack about foaling, but the owners had assured her that they would handle that part. All the while, as Lydia mucked and measured grain and filled water troughs, she felt cool green eyes on her back. The tiny cat watched her every move.
Eventually Thea, the owner, stepped into the barn.
“How’s she looking?” Thea asked, nodding her head towards Alex.
“Fat,” Lydia answered, “But healthy I think.”
“Can you set up a vet appointment for sometime this week? I’d like to get her looked at, see if he can tell when she’s likely to drop.”
“Sure, I’ll call him when I get done here,” Lydia responded, tossing a shovel of manure into the wheelbarrow.
“Did you meet Rose?”
“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Thea quoted.
Lydia blinked. “Shakespeare?”
“Yes,” Thea said, smiling gently.
“Are you talking about that creature on the trampoline?”
“Ah, you have met!”
“Thea, she looks awful. Like death warmed over.”
“Come here, Lydia, come meet her.” Thea began walking towards the trampoline, and Lydia followed, reluctantly.
“I found her at the city dump, curled up in an old tire. I had no choice. I couldn’t leave her there. I don’t know what happened to her, but look. Look at her courage,” Thea said, as she began stroking the emaciated cat. “Go ahead. You won’t hurt her. She just wanted to be loved.”
Tentatively, Lydia reached out her hand. She felt as though the weak little cat’s bones would crumple under her fingers. She stroked the sparse fur, and listened as the loud motor of a purr began. Rose started drooling in happiness, green eyes wide in adoration. Her paws kneaded against the trampoline, and she lay down in full trust, taking the weight off her supporting legs.
“Thea, she’s beautiful!” Lydia gasped in surprise.
“Now, Lydia. Now, you have truly met Rose.”
This week's prompt for The Red Dress Club: This week's assignment is to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it.