Thursday, December 17, 2009

Adventures of Molly the Wine Dog #6: how there came to be cats

The cat sat stone still where the gravel drive meets the road, waiting for the big white Lincoln to correct the obvious error. The car window had opened and he’d been dropped on the roadside, to stroll in the country he supposed. But now, he’d been made to wait nearly three hours in the dirt and his supper was late. He was clearly going to have to spurn her late night affections this time. She could pat-pat her cottage cheese thighs and make her Marlboro bounce up and down from where it dangled on her lower lip while spitting ‘kitty, kitty’ from the side of her mouth all night long but he would sooner drink from the toilet bowl than curl up with her after how she’d kept him waiting. He could wait all day for a mouse to pop out of a hole, but humans, he didn’t suffer lightly.

So deep in his rage, he didn’t see his brothers and sister scatter to avoid the Ford Bronco turning into the drive. He stared it down as it crunched to a stop at his feet and brought up a draft of road dust that would have made him sputter and cough had he not been too cool, and managed to choke it back. Soon enough, a man stepped out of the truck, releasing two smaller humans with a total of four sticky hands and two snotty noses all of which were now spackling his coat. “Hey, that’s Russian Seal Point, if you don’t mind” he felt like saying, but thought that if he endured this indignity there might be a meal in it for him. He was nothing if not an opportunist.

His brothers and sister came out of the brush and began a pathetic leg dance begging routine they’d perfected while hanging out with street cats in the neighborhood. It always worked, but somehow he just couldn’t stoop to it. Aloof was more his style and it worked often enough to keep his belly from grumbling, thank you very much.

Ash is his slave name, given by his prior owner, though cats know who they are and don’t label themselves with names, generally speaking. He has a brother, Coal, and another brother Stripes, and a sister Stripes. Two Stripes. They all piled into the Bronco and lurched up the gravel drive, giving brother Stripes the chance to ride shotgun on the dash, which was his favorite position other than sunny side up, which he was less apt to do now that he’d been neutered.

These humans were not accustomed to entertaining those of our station, which was clear by the way they kept us out of the house with a boot to the face and the unmistakable stench of dog in the air. They did eat well though, and fed us chunks of chicken and rice with broth. This might have worked out well except for the fact that as darkness fell, they turned out the lights and left us outside in the dark, which had never happened to us before. We huddled, back to back, in a cardboard box lid, like a family under the interstate, ears perked to every gush of wind or snapping twig. Flickers of light ganged in twos and became eyes in the darkness, ready to pounce and shred our flesh, now warm with chicken and smelling of sweet broth. For the first time ever, we were afraid. And, now Stripes had to pee.

He crept as silently as he could from the box, from which we all agreed to stand sentry, but wouldn’t dream of disturbing his privacy by going with him into the predator-laced night. Stripes stalked the perimeter of the house and settled into a long, slightly flatulent release and reapproached the group just as Coal was drifting off to sleep. Just out of sight in the darkness, Stripes changed course and crept around so as to approach the box from the opposite side and thus inflict a scare on his siblings as punishment for sending him on his mission of nature alone.

Once in position, Stripes set his gaze on the lazing Coal and in one mighty leap, sprung on him, seizing his nape between his teeth as in one of countless mock duels in their brief year together. Coal, feeling the hot breath and flash of teeth from the darkness, leapt straight up more than two feet and bolted across the porch, leaving steaming feces in his wake. All this commotion woke the humans who peered out the glass door at us. Flicking on the lights we counted four and one extra set of eyes attached to a wet dribbly nose raking ick across the glass and barking. “Dog!” I cried and we all scattered for cover under the porch. There we spent the night.

In the morning, one by one we crept from our cover, smelling for dog and not catching a trace of scent. Slinking into the garage where we were fed the day before, we find the bowl empty. Coal is the first to notice the sound of the front door of the house opening and the padding of paws across the ground, coming closer. We leap and climb high into the mountainous wreckage of human junk in the garage, looking for higher purchase to protect us from the oncoming barker. She rounds the corner and peers nearly eye to eye with Boy Stripes, barking loudly with all hackles up. He cringes, hisses, puffing up to double size before scraping his way to higher ground. The dog does circles, smelling, barking, sizing us all up – until we realize that he is one and we are four. I briefly think about the joke where the man running from the bear realizes he doesn’t have to outrun the bear, just the other guy he’s with. If I break for the woods now, I just have to outrun all three other cats. But, the thought is fleeting as they are my siblings and we’re in this together.

I creep down first, keeping my fur up to look as large as possible and launching a steady stream of profanities in my hissing fury. I advance toward the dog, who is in full girl-bark, paws out in front, back arched, head low to my level. “Who are you? What do you want? Get out!” she says. “Screw you! We’re the Gang of Four and we’re staying!” I hiss back. She growls and so do I, as loud as I can, holding my ground and inching closer to her. Slowly, like stone moving over years, our noses touch. She smells bad. All dogs do. But, hers is mixed with adrenaline, so I know she’s a little scared I might smack her with my claws. We do a slow clockwise dance, until she shoves her nose to my butt. “Hey, cut that out! We’re not friends.”

“How are we ever gonna be friends if I can’t smell your butt? It’s what we dogs do, you know.”

“Well, it’s pretty gross, so don’t do it again.”

Over the course of the next few weeks we got to know Molly and she got to know us in her own way, which is still pretty gross, but better than all that barking and whatnot. The humans give us a small ration of cat food each day, which leaves us somewhat, but not fully satisfied. Coal was the first to spot a furry brown field mouse, nosing out of the tall grass and casually making for the house. Crouching and coiled, Coal was ready. Moments became hours as the cat calculated the precise time to attack. An ebony flash and Coal trotted back to the house with a small tail sticking out of his mouth, whipsawing his face, smack, smack, smack. The other three of us close in, circling, then forming the Coliseum of Cats to observe the kill. Coal spit out the mouse, letting it take a few steps, then smashing it into the dirt wit his paw. Again and again, release and step, release and step, until sensing thievery inherent in the hungry crowd, he pressed his paw against the hind quarters of the mouse, bent down, and removed its head. In 3 bone-crunching bites, all that was left was a victorious lick of the lips and a knowing look toward Stripes as if to say, “Forget the White Lincoln, boys, this is livin’.”

This ritual of hunting, showing, and eating quickly became a day’s work for the Gang of Four. And, that’s how it is that the humans decided the cats could stay as long as they pleased. Who knows, perhaps a mouse will make its way into the house someday. That might be their ticket back to the comfortable life they’d known before and allow them grace into old age. But for now, they are content to bring down bird on the wing, vermin in the field, and dream of mighty prey to come in the sweet dawn light of freedom and the authentic life of a cat on a farm.

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