A CAT O' MINE TALE

by Jeffrey J. Sick and Chris Abbey

 

As far as I know, cats don't laugh.

I've never heard of one that did so much as giggle. I'm sure, if you pore through the tomes, that at one time, in some place, a zoologist or biologist or whatever has declared definitively, "Cats do not laugh."

I hope it's true. It would make me feel so much better, I think. Now, taken as a fact that the laughter circuits on your average alley dweller are cut short, it stands to reason that the feline currently taking refuge in my residence is not the origin of the strange chuckling sound emanating from my closet.

It stands to reason. There would be no problem if it were only coming from my closet. I would just think that I'd had too many Seven-Sevens, or maybe I'd seen too many horror movies on cable. Of course, I'd never use that closet again, but that's personal paranoia, not something I can blame on the closet itself.

Luckily for my homeless clothes, the sound moved around almost as much as a band on tour. Or a cat.

Don't get me wrong. My cat doesn't immediately spring to mind because I habitually keep her in the closet. That would be mean. I'm not mean, only scared. Everyone who has ever owned one, however--a cat, not a closet--knows that they wind up there every now and then. It seems to be some kind of homing circuit, where they're chasing the creatures that live in the other dimensions. Then again, that's also my personal paranoia.

My calico is no different from any other master of any household. She never bothered me at my work, as long as I jumped to her every whim and fed her regularly.

I am even allowed a short period of freedom each day while she goes out on the town. She doesn't leave by the little swinging door that I so painstakingly provided. That would be too easy. Rather, she waits patiently by the front door as if she has given me all the time in the world to do her bidding. The puncture of her tiny mews has nothing to do with the speed at which I let her out. Nope, nothing at all.

I'll bet she wouldn't leave without making me help, even if she could walk through walls.

I know when to let her in, though. The worn down wood on my front door is testimony to how she lets me know she's back. It also shows the neighborhood that yes, I too have a cat to feed and look after and try to live a normal life in spite of.

Dinner has taken on a whole new meaning for me since this pint-sized king of the beasts moved in. Used to be that I'd simply nuke something in the microwave, sit down with half a drink--the other half to be added later while I'm watching a tape--and eat whatever was left over from last week.

Do you think it's that easy now? (If you answered yes to this, you don't even get a home version of the game. But I'm sure I could provide you with some kittens instead.) Now, if I try to sit at the table and eat without serving Her Majesty first, she jumps up on my lap as if to say, "Bad boy. Did you forget who the boss is around here?"

Needless to say, my dinner gets cold and my drink gets warm while I run and fetch her canned food, place it reverently in a bowl, then place the bowl on the floor to see if she will deign to accept it.

Do I sound a little resentful of this wanton stomping of my freedom? Yes! I wouldn't accept this from another human being, not even a woman. You may ask yourself why doesn't he just eliminate the problem, put it in a good home? You may ask yourself why he bothers to put up with it?

Well, I've tried to get rid of her, and not the nice way, either. I don't think anyone could have considered as many ways of getting rid of my little burden of joy.

Unfortunately, thinking is all I can do. I'm basically a nice guy, see? Every time I would get ready to put one of my nasty little plans into action and win my life back, a voice inside of my head would say, "If you win, you lose."

My cat is always standing statue-still when this message comes to me. She's staring at me. At times like that, I tremble slightly and seek out the comfort of the broken-in chair in front of my TV.

This would be no time to lose myself in the tube, however,it would be time to think. I sit and rub my jaw and try to think about happier times, when my life was my own, and fur hadn't gotten pressed into my carpet.

"That's not a cat. It's a furball with eyes." That was my first reaction to seeing what my sister had dragged in.

She called it Coco. But I referred to it simply as Cat. Even then, the eyes were the most predominate feature of its face. That hasn't changed in the four years since.

The eyes seemed to stare into mine whenever we were in each other's presence, especially when we were alone. I was never fond of cats to begin with, and it didn't help matters much when I got hold of this runt of the litter. As a result of it's unfortunate birth, it would not let anyone get near it if there was a way to escape.

If you could manage to get close, she would attack you as soon as you got within reach. Even though she kept her distance,her eyes always seemed to be staring at me. I could feel it in the hackles of my neck. I was never alone.

Remember what I said about life being easier then? Okay, so I was wrong. Just as I was wrong to let a cat come into a lifestyle that had a nice easy pace and few surprises. It had been comforting to be able to find things where I'd left them the day before. And it was rather pleasant to be able to lie on the couch and not have a paw reach up and take a swat at me.

Actually, the cat didn't have an easy time of it, either. More than one swat of her claws has sent her flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I thought it was a shame that she always landed on her feet, but I didn't really wish her any harm. I just wanted her to leave me alone.

That smirk. She would give a look to melt paint and Linoleum and cause crops to wither in the next county. I began to look forward to her attacks, just so I would have an excuse to practice gravity on her. I don't like getting stared at by people, never mind a supposedly mindless, four-legged, overgrown piece of lint. I might be able to outguess a human, but I can't even begin to imagine the inner workings of a cat's mind. It gets pretty unnerving, I must say.

You may scoff at the idea that a cat is capable of wishing me ill, but this is not your cat we're talking about, is it? It's not your cat that seems to have a tiny notebook in which it records all of your reactions every time it causes you the least discomfort. While it watches. While it studies.

Have you ever seen someone reduced to the point of gibbering silliness? No? Come on over some time when I can not read, or watch TV, or sleep, and all because I'm trapped in a loop of visions: Luminous eyes alight in every corner of the room,waiting for me to turn around so they can disappear. They wait,I know. They study.

I came home one day, expecting a hairy reception committee to try tripping me by force of habit. I nearly fell over avoiding something that wasn't there.

I felt threatened already. It was very unlike her to miss our afternoon ritual. Every day, I came through the door,pretending to be nonchalant after balancing the books with the uneven scale of my mind. She would zip past while I was in mid-stride, nearly causing me a broken neck, or some other amusing bit of injury.

I shrugged it off. Maybe she was hiding, some cat game.

When she didn't show up on a second miserable afternoon, I hesitated in the aforementioned mid-stride, watching for that blur of motion that would announce her arrival. That time, I nearly tripped over my own feet trying to complete the step I'd started. I don't like to admit that I was worried, so I won't. You make your own conclusions.

I put down the radio I'd brought home from work, and immediately started a complete, floor by floor, nook and cranny by cranny and nook search of the house. I wanted to confirm whether or not I would be able to cash in an imaginary insurance policy I'd taken out in my mind to protect against the accidental death of someone named Cat.

I knew it was too early for elation. Perhaps she had used her door for once. Maybe she was in the kitchen, waiting for the maitre d' to honor her dinner reservations. Might be in the cellar, replacing a fuse. Maybe in the closet, ruining some more of my shirts. Please, not in the closet.

I must have spent two hours or better searching for something I never really wanted in the first place. It's possible that I'd forgotten one or two hideouts that she'd been known to visit. Maybe she had one or two others I never knew about; one can't forget what one doesn't know. Who can guess from what places she has watched me? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts and minds of scheming, bleeding, dreaming calicoes? Was that a shadow I saw? Maybe she was watching me even then, with that little smirk I love so much.

I tried the old "here kitty, kitty, kitty, time for dinner" routine, shaking the box, hoping to draw her out to the open. Could it be that she wasn't hungry? Armageddon would come before that. No, if she was refusing food, that meant she wasn't in the house.

With a grimace of satisfaction, my decision was made. I had to nail shut her door and be prepared for an onslaught of door torture when she demanded to be let in. You see, it was at this point that I decided it was time to end the tyranny, pause the tape, stop the presses and try to regain the life I once had. I would miss her for a while, but I could get over that.

I was already looking forward to the nights on the couch with an unscathed neck. My mouth was watering at the notion of hot chicken wings and a cold drink. My TV would no longer sit around gathering dust while I was busy sitting around getting dusty myself. I loved the idea.

Would you believe that after a week of bliss, things started going downhill? The first few days went surprisingly well. There was no scratching at the door, so I finally had to assume that the little darling had found someone else's happy home to trash. Meantime, I got to do all the little things around the house that I'd been bullied into putting off.

Unfortunately, you can only get so much cat hair out of the furniture with an upright vacuum, and a guitar that had been long out of practice and out of tune wasn't helped by a good polishing. The man at the hardware store was forced to order a new front door from Cleveland, and it was a boring month on cable.

Life as usual wasn't as great as I remembered, I had way too much time on my hands. An attempt to learn guitar again resulted in clanking and thunking. Besides, the strings I liked were commonly known as catgut; too soon to think about that. I watched the same sitcoms over and over, all night on the rerun channels. There was only so much Samantha Stevens one can take before you have to drop into a chair and listen to the house settle.

Times like this I would start wondering what happened to that creature. She put me in this state, and it was up to her to get me out of it. Not that I missed her or worried any. But it's just that I don't remember ever having so much free time with so little to do. At least not since she came.

Okay, so I missed her a bit. Happy? I'm not.

It was probably all in my mind, but even with the house empty, I still heard tiny, far-away noises, as if a squirrel was in the attic or a mouse in the basement. Once in a while I would hear a soft giggle coming from under the bed. Or in the closet.

I would attribute these fantasies to too many seven-sevens, and blame the bartender for having a heavy hand. Since I was the bartender, I forgave myself and poured out more of the same. I figured that the noise would go away with my consciousness.

My mind would travel a bit before fading off. I would even fondly remember--when I was really under the bar--that damn cat. With her notebook. With her smirk.

Did I hear another giggle? Must be those squirrels. Yeah, that's it, must be.

So, I've been sitting here with my music videos. It's about seven in the morning, and I've been awake since two, letting my mind wander to anywhere, wherever that is.

I sigh, but too late. My idle vegetable stare is disrupted by a rather annoying scratching sound behind me.

Only my guitar and closet are back there. I'm always facing the door in case someone should want to break in and steal my mind.

I figure my guitar isn't asking to be played, so it must be the closet.

I push the eject button on my chair and go over to it,prepared to practice some God-awful torture on the mice inside. I open the door slowly.

If cats can laugh, this one is having a gut-buster, grinning ear to ear as she marches happily back into my life.

 

„ END „

1990 Jeffrey J. Sick and Chris Abbey

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