Nine Lives

soul mates

Her left eye doesn’t close all the way anymore, stuck in the instant before a wink, and her tongue slips out past the tiny front teeth that never fully developed and hangs from her petite mouth.  There is a patch of white fur missing from her back and as of most recently one ear remains parallel with the ground at all times.  Her sweet face is a mish-mash of teasing expressions that when put together are no laughing matter.  

I am describing my angel, JB Cat.  She has been with us since the beginning, rescued from a cat jail in Small Town, Indiana.  She came as a complete package with ear mites, worms and an extreme stranger danger anxiety that kept her curled up and hissing in a ball for the first three months. 

When she finally uncurled and moved out from underneath of the bed, we were still naïve enough to try and keep houseplants and a cat at the same time.  JB quickly assessed the situation, found the plants to be enemies, and set out to destroy them with various plots such as knocking them over and pulling them from the dirt.  Once free from the houseplant threat, JB settled in for a very long stay.

Over the past decade, she moved with us from apartment to apartment, always packed up in a carrier with the last load of most important belongings, and then finally to a house where she caught her first spricket (a beastly combination of a spider and a cricket). 

She terrorized every family member who ever stayed with us for the first few years, sneaking into their room and watching them sleep either from their pillow or chest.  On the day before our wedding, she went missing and almost caused a complete mental breakdown and then casually emerged from the recesses of the sofa when we came back to pick up our bags for the honeymoon.  Of the three times she escaped, she was always found mewing from under a pile of leaves, frozen by the overstimulation of nature and unfamiliarity of the world.  

Most days, she spends her time sleeping on top of furniture and waiting for food.  She rarely complains and purrs when pet.  JB Cat has personality, history, opinions and plans.  After being together for so long, she has a human family, and although, she isn’t liked by all, she is loved (perhaps only by me?).  Its hard to imagine life without her hiding from friends, stalking family in the night, or purring on my chest in the evening.  Yet, it seems that it’s an approaching reality, one that grows closer with each new ailment from which she never quite recovers.  While she is still living and wheezing on the couch behind me, her lifeforce grows dimmer and my sadness grows greater.

This world was never made for one as beautiful as you, JB Cat.  

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As Above, So Below

as above

The screen door slowly opened with a squeak.  The hinges were reddish-brown with rust and curls of white paint peeled away from the wooden door.  A pink noise poked out and sniffed at the air; the nose was followed by the black and white body of a small dog.  The animal slipped the rest of the way out of the house and the door slammed behind it with a bang.

Scents of all kinds bombarded the tiny but powerful nostrils of the dog.  It looked left and then right, orienting to its new surroundings.  A squirrel watched from the branch of an oak tree in the front yard, holding a nut in its claws and waited to see what the domesticated creature would do next.

The dog took off in a beeline towards the edge of the yard, running with muscular strides, quickly drawing away from the house.

“Beanie!” a boy yelled as he pushed through the screen door.  He wore jean shorts and striped tank top; dark hair fell over his forehead and hit the top of his ears, in a perfect bowl cut.

He yelled over his shoulder, “Beanie’s out, again!”

A girl followed the boy through the door, letting the door slam behind her.  Bangs obstructed her view and she pushed heavy locks away from her nearsighted eyes.  She wore a faded pair of jeans, rolled up at the bottoms with a thin t-shirt.

With bare feet, the pair raced after the dog, leaving mashed grass and flowers in their wake.

“Beanie! Beanie! Come back!” they yelled in unison.

Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back, it waited for the kids to catch up.  Its sides heaved in and out and its tongue fell from its mouth as it rested for a second and then it took off again like a shot.

Chase me, shiny eyes begged as it risked a quick glance back at its pursuers.

The siblings laughed and resumed the chase after the dog.

An engine revved over the hill and a car appeared trailing a cloud of dust from the gravel road as it sped towards them. Screaming, the girl grabbed the boy with both arms, pulling him back from the road as the car flew past them.

The car intersected with the escaping dog.  They watched its body hit the front of the car and shoot off to the side of the road.  The girl’s heart pounded in her chest, she was still screaming.  The car sped on, never once hitting its brakes as the dog lay still on its side. Its life whiffed out in the same moment as the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Once gone, always gone.

 

Initiation

dogs_backside
Apology

“Were we invited to this party?”

There were no cars parked outside or people milling around the front door.  We were at the end of a cul-de-sac, standing where the GPS led us and there were no signs of life.  A trash can lay on its side at the end of a drive; all of the windows were closed up tight and the blinds were drawn in each of the identical houses.  It was not an encouraging scene.

No one responded when my party date/husband texted the friend-of-a-friend to whose house we waited outside like census takers double checking the address and comparing notes.  The only things missing were the signature clip boards and name badges.

Instead we carried a bag of chips, salsa and a bottle of wine and escalated our communication efforts by calling this friend-of-a-friend.

It’s the new age way of things, text and then call.  Calling is a last resort, when all else fails.  Like come on, just text us back, I thought impatiently as my inner teenager started to show.

Suddenly, an event more exciting than a New Message coming across one’s iphone screen. A real person emerged from the house and it was our friend.  We both rushed towards him like two lost souls towards the promise of salvation.

“How long have you guys been out here?  You should have just come on in.”

He was blissfully unaware that in some neighborhoods not far from this one, walking into a stranger’s house without permission was more than enough to enact the Castle Doctrine.

Now properly invited inside, we followed Friend through the doorway where a sea of strange faces awaited us.  They suspended pretzels and cheese stuffed bread balls in mid-air, conversations went on hold indefinitely, all activity ceased until our acceptability could be determined.

“Hi, I’m Puney,” I said with a slow and non-threatening wave.  It is sometimes best to not make any sudden movements around strangers.

“I’m Neb,” the tall handsome man next to me introduced himself, confident and unafraid of making sudden movements around strangers, breaking my stranger rule #1 within the first sixty seconds.  He darted around the counter and dropped off our offerings and grabbed a plate, ready to dig into the beanie weenies, cookies, and chips.

A shaggy with dog with a low swaying belly ran out from underneath of the cluster of legs.

It smelled my toes and wiggled its chubby back end where a tail might have been at one time, perhaps delighted by the smell of JibberJabber, my cat, that patiently waited for our return at home.

“That’s Cooper, he won’t bite,” a faceless female voice from the still watching and silent crowd explained.

I reached down to pet Cooper and instead of receiving the pets, it turned around and sat down right on top of my feet.  It looked up at me with an excited doggy smile as a hot whoosh of gas escaped from its rear end and whirled around my bare toes.

It got up and ran off, disappearing back into the cluster of legs.

My face must have shown my disbelief.  Was I just the victim of chemical warfare?

“I think that dog just farted on my feet.”

The faceless female voice emerged with a real face and body, laughing and unapologetic.

“Looks like you just got initiated.”

Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

A job well done

Guest
cat at w

“Do you need anything else?” I asked sweetly of our visitor.

I had just dropped off a towel, washcloth, and still boxed bar of soap. The sheets were clean and there was a working ceiling fan. Just shy of a little piece of chocolate on the pillow and the offer of a happy ending, the set-up was pretty luxurious for being free.

A cat sat on either side of me as I stood facing the man, their white whiskers twitched with mischief as they silently watched.

“No, thanks for everything. I should be fine for the night.”

A sly smile tugged at the side of my mouth knowing the terrors of the dark that he had yet to face. It was unlikely that he would “fine” by morning.  No matter, I bid him goodnight and shut the door.

It was not long after all of the lights were off and everyone was tucked into bed that the cats went to work. They started out as they do every night, with a song of their people, meowing back and forth between one another and sometimes all at once.  Occasionally, they harmonized but mostly tried to outdo each other with creative riffs and scats.

Once satisfied with the beautiful music that they created, they left to greet the newcomer. They knocked politely on the door with a soft paw and then more forcefully with both paws.  Perhaps they feared that he hadn’t heard their knocking as they started mewing demands to be allowed entry in addition to banging at the door.

I believe they stand on their hind legs to gain more leverage in their pummeling of doors.   This goes unconfirmed since I have only been on the receiving end of the knocks, on the side of the door to which they desperately wanted without really knowing why.

Like most of us, the cats are pushed and pulled by a current of life towards unknown destinies without any understanding other than this simple truth, there is no other way.

The next morning, our visitor appeared with dark circles under his eyes and his bags were already packed and waiting by the door.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Turns out I have things to take care of back home that just can’t wait.”

We waved goodbye from the door, while the cats supervised the departure from the window with pink noses pressed to the glass, most pleased with their night of work.

Jibber-Jabber Cat

Connected
wc

While I’m writing, my precious cat, Jibber-Jabber, insists on draping herself over my shoulder or stretching out across my lap.  It doesn’t matter if I’m actively using a pen, she simply rolls and knocks it out of my hand and covers the pad of paper with her furry, white body.  Once she’s in place, she reaches her paw out to encourage a quick tummy rub.  Not too much or too long, she lovingly bites my arm to let me know when she’s had enough.  She purrs to show her satisfaction at achieving ultimate control.    

Clearly, she’s the boss of couch time and Sunday mornings in our house which makes her quite happy.  It’s hard to get anything done with Jibber-Jabber always lounging about and waiting for her opportunity to snuggle.  She left for a minute, likely to get a drink of water.  She’s always thirsty these days.   

She’s already on her way back  so I better write fast.

Jibber-Jabber and I have come a long way from the time she took up residency in our home.  I remember walking into our shabby one room apartment after class when an emaciated, greasy white flash streaked past me. It ran at top cheetah speed across the room and dove under the couch.  

I screamed, “What is that?”

Huge yellow eyes stared out at me from the safety of the couch.

“That is our new cat, babe.  She’s a Siamese.  Isn’t she great?  The pet store lady said she is practically still a kitten, a little shy but very special,” my life-partner then/husband now responded.

Jibber-Jabber remained under the bed or burrowed into the couch for the next month, coming out only for food and water.  I questioned how great she was after discovering she had ear mites, worms, and fleas and a thing for biting feet as they walked past her hiding spots. 

After six months, she started to gain weight and confidence and we realized she was not a Siamese cat.  She grew into a massive housecat, average in every way aside from her insatiable appetite.  After nine years, we knew for certain she was not shy, just riddled with unbearable anxiety.   While the pet store lady might have been wrong about the cat’s age and temperament, but she was right about one thing.

My once-little, now old and yellow-toothed Jibber-Jabber is special, really special, so I let her stay on my shoulder or in my lap and write around her.

The Great Pet Expo

llama

Can I take just a few minutes of your time to tell you about The Great Pet Expo?

The parking lot was full when I arrived, which is usually a good sign with these types of events.  I was going to meet my brother-in-law, sis-in-law and their darling children.  Correction: one is a darling; the other is a tiny blond demon who escaped from the depths of hell about three years ago. I’m sure the Devil is still searching for her.

As I walked through the expo hall, I passed by booths of adoptable dogs and kenneled cats, tables of animal clothing and accessories, shelves of animal knick-knacks and bowls of handmade bones and cookies.  Instinctively, I knew where to find them and kept walking towards the back of the building.

Sure enough, I spotted them snacking on soft pretzels in the café area.  The little demon must have sensed my approach as she turned around and launched off like a rocket, running towards me.

“Auntie!” she shrieked, as she collided with my legs.

She took a step back, and held out her fist, tightly closed over a secret treasure that she had collected from the day.  Leaning closer, she whispered, “I have something to show you.”

Turning her fist over, she slowly opened her hand, one tiny finger at a time. The look on her face was of pure anticipatory job in sharing her secret.  She smiled in excitement, showing her tiny white teeth as she watched my face.

“Look,” she demanded.

My jaw dropped in shock, “Baby girl, where did you get that?”

Locks of long grey hair spread over her palm, mashed down where she had been clutching the entire mound.

“I took it from a llama,” she answered simply, and took off running and disappeared into a crowd of people and their pets.

The rest of the day was spent chasing the demon as she streaked about to pet dogs and unzip cat carriers to free the animals.  When I caught up with her one time out of many to bring her back to her exhausted parents, she blankly glanced at me and began to cry, “Where is my daddy?  Where is my mommy?”

As she wailed, I wanted to explain to the concerned patrons of the Pet Expo that it’s actually ok, she may be a demon from Hell, but I’m her aunt and I love her anyways.  However, I didn’t have time for such a luxury and had to chase her down again to explain that I was going to take her back to her mommy and daddy, also known as, damned brother-in-law and sister-in-law who left me to chase their wild animal child.

The very instant that the wild child saw her daddy she was instantly soothed and transitioned into the potty dance, hopping from one foot to the other and pulling her jumper up.  Her daddy recognized this intricate dance and knew its urgent meaning.  He acted fast and handed me the demon’s infant sister and said, “trade you” as he whisked the demon off to the restroom.

Once he disappeared into the restroom, the baby began to shriek, fully exercising her lungs.  Her daddy ran back out shortly after the shrieking began and laughed, “I didn’t think she would go banshee on you.”

Clearly, this had happened before since this behavior was aptly named ‘going banshee’.

It was right at about this time that you-know-who took off, yet again.

That was my Sunday, spent chasing a blond little girl still holding a fistful of llama fur, as she ran carefree, secure, and trusting of her adults to give her enough room to run and still keep her safe.  Yes, the pets were out and on full display at the Great Pet Expo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llama

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon

Feral cats and tomatoes

Image

A kitten ran out in front of a woman walking on the sidewalk, nearly tripping her.  The kitten had left the lonely cover of a sickly bush that had lost all of its greenery in the summer drought and was heading for safety underneath of an abandoned car.  The woman screamed startled at the grey blur that nearly brushed her leg and crossed her path.  She was wearing shorts and tennis shoes and shuddered at the thought of the wild creature biting into her fleshy calf.

Wondering if it had rabies, she crouched down to see where the kitten was hiding.  The seemingly abandoned car was afflicted by a spreading disease of rust over the doors and hood, and but one of the tires were totally flattened. A yellow pineapple air freshener dangled from the rear view mirror, the woman noticed with a smirk.  I doubt its freshening anything at this point, she thought to herself.  After she crouched down, she tilted her head to one side for a better view and two pairs of glowing cat eyes stared back at her.

“Kitties,” she said. “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” she tried calling them and stopped as they gazed back at her without changing position.  Although not hissing or baring teeth, she noted that they did not appear to be friendly kitties.  Shrugging her shoulders, she stood up to continue her walk and screamed again.

She was already jumpy and suspicious of every man whom she encountered.  It was a new neighborhood for her and from what she had been told, a rough area.  Her mother advised not to wear any jewelry, carry mace and avoid eye contact with everyone.  A friend contributed to her fears by relaying a story about a recent rape a few streets away that happened the week before she moved.  The ladies in the leasing office sealed the deal on the woman’s mistrust for all whom she encountered by suggesting that she only walk outside before noon and preferably with someone and “you should be fine,” they reassured her.

Suddenly, a man was standing a few feet from her on the sidewalk loosely holding a cigarette between two grubby fingers.  His face was unshaved and bore the telltale pockmark scars of teenage acne. Holes were in his black Van Halen t-shirt and his jeans were filthy.  His hair was a dry brown and stuck out in tufts from the sides of his head.  He wore an expression on his face that seemed to say either, I’m bat-shit crazy, or I’m pissed and now you’re gonna pay. The woman had a hard time reading his face but she was also panicking which may have impaired her judgment.

Oh God, she thought to herself, it’s happening.  He’s going to rob me and rape me, right here in the parking lot.  Oh God, oh god, help me think.

“You messin’ with my old lady’s cats?” he demanded to know of her and took a deep drag from his cigarette while looking her up and down.

Blood pounded in the woman’s head and her heart beat wildly against the inner wall of her thin chest. Be brave, she silently rallied with herself.  Taking a deep breath, she shot off running away from the awful smoking man and his bad intentions.  Leaving both behind in a cloud of smoke, the woman kept running around the building and ducked underneath of the wooden walkway next to a pond and on the back of her apartment building.  The walkway was connected to the apartment building and was built up high enough to create lean-to type shelter underneath of it.  She crawled all the way to the edge of the makeshift shelter and waited for pursuit.  Surprised that no one came after several minutes, she exhaled after realizing that she had been holding her breath and began to relax.

Glancing around at her new surroundings, she noticed a solitary flip flop, crushed beer cans, a tube top, and five white buckets with wire cages on top of each one.  They were pushed out to the very edge of the walkway’s protective overhead cover, and were sitting halfway in the sun and shade.  Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.  It was another kitten scampering away followed by another one, both alarmed by the woman’s presence in their ‘hood.  She shuddered and wondered if they were possibly related to the two underneath of the abandoned car. The buckets drew her attention away from the feral creatures and the woman crept forward.  They were old paint buckets filled with dirt, delicate green tendrils snaked out towards the light.

Extending her gaze, the woman scanned the edge of the pond and had a rather good view of yet another cat hunting in the weeds.  This one was fully grown and well fed with a thick orange coat, just about to close in on its helpless prey.

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With still no pursuit from the madman of the parking lot, the woman felt secure enough to creep the rest of the way out of her hiding spot when she heard, “Kitties, kitties!  Come for dinner, kitties!”  The voice belonged to a female but it was raspy and that of a life time smoker, like from age 12 to present, which was perhaps 50 or so.  She was a small woman, with thin, dirty blond hair that was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  In her hands, she carefully carried bowls of food and water, walking slowly enough to not spill a drop.  A silky black cat was wrapping itself around her legs and purring in hopes of a few bites to eat.

“My God, another damned cat,” the woman exclaimed without thinking and saw a skinny tabby cat with a sagging belly trotting up at the cat lady’s call.

“Are all these cats yours?” the woman asked the cat lady who was still holding the bowls and leading a parade of cats.  Inwardly, the woman recoiled at the thought of the combination of the cats’ diseases, fleas, and intestinal worms. And that’s not to mention the dandruff and fur.

“Yeah, they’re mine, and so are those tomatoes down there,” she replied and nodded her head in the directions of the paint buckets.  “They’re all I’ve got, next to my no-good-for-nothing husband.  There are 10 cats all together, sometimes 11 or 12, and five buckets of tomatoes.  The apartment manager is after me because of them. He wants me to stop feeding them, calls its feral cat community,” she explained.

“He wants you to stop feeding the cats or the tomatoes?” the woman asked, snickering to herself.

“The cats,” she spat out, “of course, the cats.” She set the bowls down and took a few steps back to give her cats room to move in for dinner.

“They’re my life and if the manager here evicts me, then I’ll just pack up my cats and tomatoes and go where we’ll be appreciated,” she declared.  Instantly something became clear to the woman, this was more than just a cat lady.  This was a cat lady who also loved tomatoes and was willing to give up her apartment for the well-being of a horde of wild cats that she had collected and from which she would never benefit.  With much to consider, the woman waved and walked back to her apartment away from the cats and tomatoes.  She resolved to get a rabies vaccine in the very near future.

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