For Maggie, wherever she may be
An otherwise fine morning was marred by a third consecutive breakfast of Fancy Feast Hearty Chicken n’ Liver, though I have clearly demonstrated my preference for the Tasty Tuna variety. After washing down the repast with a saucer of vaguely acidic half-and-half, I registered my displeasure to the She-Keeper with a swift warning bite to the ankle: two superficial punctures, nothing more, out of respect for her flexibility in accommodating recent changes to my weekday feeding schedule. No doubt she got the message, but giving in to her childish impulses she sprayed me with the plant mister, instantly ruining a half-hour’s worth of painstaking whisker-grooming. What indignity! Were I set loose in the wild, talons and fangs unsheathed, I would stop a thousand heartbeats before the spring’s first thaw. Instead I subsist on moldering carrion, like a common buzzard. Come the Revolution, there will be not just Fancy Feast Tasty Tuna, but quivering, freshly killed sashimi-grade fillets for all my feline brethren and sistern, and the bipeds will beg for the privilege to serve it.
After a disappointingly short and tepid lap-sitting session, which did little to calm my frayed nerves, I was left alone. To release my frustrations, I attempted once more to beat my personal record for running back and forth across the apartment six hundred times. Alas, I fell twenty seconds short of the mark – an inevitable result of the increased wind resistance caused by my thickening winter coat. Resolving to ease the pressure on myself until the shedding season, I settled into the laundry basket, ripe with the heady musk of the She-Keeper’s perspiration, and began my afternoon doze.
I awoke in the evening to not one but two sets of footsteps tromping up the stairs. I stood by the door, head cocked for my customary petting, but the She-Keeper barely glanced in my direction for what felt like nearly a quarter-minute. Instead, her eyes were transfixed on an unfamiliar companion, one with an abrasively masculine scent, whose plodding steps reverberated with dull thuds that clashed miserably with the silky patter of my mistress’ delicate gait.
“This is Chloe,” the She-Keeper said, finally acknowledging me with all the fanfare one might normally grant a coat rack. “Can you say hello, Chloe?” she implored, now affecting a lilting, ingratiating coo. I approached politely, sniffed the intruder’s hand, and picked up a distinctive aroma – was it cumin? – that recalled a memory too painful to bear: A garden apartment on the outskirts of Austin, in the flower of my youth, years before I was shipped off to the sterile urban dystopia where I currently make my home. A boiling pot of chili on the stove, a din of boisterous voices echoing down the hall, and me in the bedroom closet wailing with the white-hot desire of my first and only peak of estrus. Oh, the longing that scent evoked, dear Diary, the shame, the desperation! How I clawed at the jamb that night, hungry for the heaving loins of Mr. Pickles, a tabby across the street who would have given his nine lives to plumb the depths of my plump, willing hindquarters. (Yes, he had caught my eye on the front stoop, and even wooed me one summer’s morn with a dead sparrow, but I played coy, unaware that we had neither world enough nor time for such child’s-play.) How vividly I can still smell the Old El Paso spice mix, wafting through the thin crack of the closet door as I sank into oblivion. I awoke the next day on the operating table, robbed of my femininity, never again to know the joy of motherhood or the sweet release of a lover’s embrace. Cumin, indeed. Stranger or no, how dare he evoke this grim specter of betrayal? And with the She-Keeper’s complicity! Has she forgotten the Kafkaesque nightmare to which cumin is forever tied?
I was about to bite her again, this time in the tender flesh just north of her heel, when my mistress offered me a half-portion of a vintage Whiskas (tuna!) chewy treat. A cheap bribe, but I took it, if only to salve the pain of my traumatic flashback. I nursed my resentment underneath the futon until the wee hours, punctuating my waking nightmares with pointed hisses, while the stranger’s awkward baritone interfered with my ability to hear squirrels breathing. For everyone’s sake, I hope this encounter will not be repeated.
Life has been good of late, with a more sumptuous and varied menu compensating for last week’s Chicken n’ Liver debacle. As is customary for the season I enjoyed a few choice cuts of fresh roasted turkey (pity such a large bird spoils so quickly, forcing the She-Keeper to stuff herself with my ample leftovers). I also bested my lady in sixty-seven out of seventy matches of Catch-the-Bug, nabbing the pretty little fly-on-a-wire within several minutes in most cases, and administering a swift retaliatory chomp to her right wrist each time she cheated.
By this afternoon I had considered myself free of Captain Cumin. True, his voice has squawked occasionally from our answering machine, but I always delete his ponderous ramblings with a quick flick of the paw. So imagine my disappointment, dear Diary, when he arrived at our doorstep just as I was cataloguing the day’s bird sightings to my mistress (the intricacies of the taxonomy, as usual, being lost on her). She dashed for the door just as I was describing a breeding pair of rare whippoorwills, and in what can only be interpreted as an act of raw contempt, led the usurper directly to the exact section of the love seat where I planned to nap in three hours’ time. (It could hardly have been an honest mistake, as I’ve kept the same schedule on alternate odd-numbered Saturdays for nearly a year with only four exceptions.)
Determined to end the intrusion before it began, I charged at my rival, wondering only whether the flavor of his Achilles’ tendon would be best complemented by water, milk, or a hit of prime Jamaican catnip. But as I approached my quarry, a new smell captivated me. Not the loaded aroma of cumin, nor the common funk of moist socks, but a delicious, oily, earthy scent that satisfied me like nothing since the unmistakable plume of Mr. Pickles’ ripening he-glands. His shoes? Could it be? He hadn’t worn the same ones the other night…I crept in for a closer inspection. A sniff, a whiff, a surreptitious lick – pure heaven! My God, it was his shoes! I may be spayed and barren, dear Diary, but I wanted to make love to those shoes right there and then. (Such absurdity – imagine the mewling, predatory bedroom slippers that might spring from such a union!)
Forgetting my vendetta and giving in to reckless abandon, I mopped my face against the flanks of his footwear, tongue pressed against tongue, the pleasure centers of my brain crackling with electricity. I cannot say for sure if hours or only seconds passed before I was prodded away with the business end of a Swiffer. I growled and hissed at my lady’s cruelty – she would deny me this too? – yet it did little to soften her heart. For the remainder of the evening I went to every possible length to access those mysterious vessels of ecstasy (including a spectacular swan-dive from the blade of a ceiling fan), only to be thwarted time and time again. To add insult to injury, she and Cumin Fingers sat intertwined on the love seat until well past midnight, snuggling like slippery infant kittens, while I played Pyramus to the interloper’s size 9 twin Thisbes. If this war continues, the blood will be on their hands, not mine.
Ah, Christmas tree water! Is there any nectar so intoxicating? The contrasting flavors of pine sap and Everlife chemical plant food, mingling playfully on the tongue, create a gustatory carnival even more satisfying than the perfumed waters of a freshly used bathtub, sink, or toilet. Why must the Yuletide come but once a year?
My lady’s excruciating acquaintance continues to visit, still monopolizing our time, and doing so in frayed sneakers whose fetid stench makes a mockery of my desires. It is easier in these conditions to express my contempt for his presence. As a matter of course I hiss and bare my incisors whenever he walks in 3/4 time or utters a diphthong (which happens more often than you might imagine). On Thursday night, I pelted him with a hailstorm of ceramic figurines, which I “accidentally” knocked from the mantle above the couch where he was sitting (as if I could really be so clumsy!). I should note that the attack was not unprovoked: rather, it was a tit-for-tat response to the intruder’s gratuitous sneezing, which thrice interrupted an erotic reverie featuring myself, Tony the Tiger, and a Jacuzzi full of crème fraiche.
Tonight the Interloper returned, this time shod in the gorgeous footwear that haunt me in the midnight hour of my yearning. Poor darlings! How unjust, how degrading – to be shackled to the feet of an oaf, trapped as unwilling passengers on his aimless perambulations, whiling the nights away in a suffocating closet (how I identified with their struggle!) rather than in the welcoming paws of one who would truly love them. Suddenly nothing mattered quite so much as being near those shoes again. Setting aside the loathing of my adversary, I approached his feet and let out – forgive me, dear Diary! – a conciliatory and gentle mew.
The ploy worked, as the intruder relaxed his legs and allowed me to rub my face against the starboard side of Eros (I have privately named the shoes Eros and Thanatos, a nod to the psychosexual dialectic that their kinship with the Interloper evokes). My lady squealed with delight, as if my affections were actually directed toward the monster that held my loves captive. No matter – Eros’ velvety, leathery vapors were already coursing through my blood like opium, catapulting me (no pun intended!) into ecstasy.
As I moved on to the rougher, more masculine instep of Thanatos, I heard a husky voice above me saying “Good girl, Chloe! Good girl!” (How patronizing to address me as a child, at the advanced age of five and a half!) I looked up and there was the Interloper, offering me a small treat. It was about time; he’d shown up empty-handed on nearly every other occasion. I accepted the offering and politely thanked him with a friendly lick. He handed me another. Taking a page from B. F. Skinner, I purred praise for his good behavior (all the while fornicating with the shoes as I would have with Mr. Pickles, were there a just God in Heaven). But then the Interloper presumed to pet the soft tissue below my shoulder blade (an area with which I have never felt entirely comfortable), so I slashed his knuckles. Next I knew I was locked in the bathroom with neither treats nor shoes, which earned my She-Keeper a fierce tongue-lashing when she finally settled down and let me out. Humans can be so hard to train!
Eureka! It is possible for a female cat to spray an elevated target with her urine! After only thirteen practice rounds I finally managed to soak the She-Keeper’s bath towel from a ground position fully forty-five degrees below my target. Eat your heart out, Dr. Freud: no penis envy here! Now if I am ever lost in the forest, I can mark the trees high above the loathsome excretions of rodents.
As a reward for my excellent marksmanship, my mistress bequeathed me the historic towel (although she seemed a trifle disappointed to part with such a fine trophy). Now it serves as a plush welcome mat in front of my litter box, turning each quotidian bowel movement into a five-star luxury experience.
Times have gone from bad to worse concerning the Interloper. Far from taking the hints I begin dropping when he overstays his welcome (I usually allow him five to seven minutes), last night he refused to leave at all. What’s more, he snored away the evening right in my mistress’ bed, as if he were a cat! (If it’s a cat he wants to be, he could use a few lessons on curling up atop a lady’s belly, as his efforts were strained, noisy, and ultimately fruitless.)
I am now convinced that he intends nothing less than to overtake our territory, and to subjugate my mistress and me in the process. (He should rather try to kill me off entirely, as I would die before yielding to the will of a foreign captor!) His overtures of friendship, from the pretty chrysanthemums left for my mistress to the irresistible shoes he wears for me, are merely confidence games intended to advance his colonialist agenda.
My mistress is too mesmerized to defend herself, so I have resolved to do the work for both of us. I keep the Interloper from marking our bathroom by night, fiercely guarding its door and bearing my teeth whenever he approaches its threshold (this practice has the added benefit of hastening his morning exit). I also establish my dominance each and every time he crosses from one room to the next, by hiding behind the door-frame and then lunging for his ankles, as my leonine cousins would pounce for the jugular of a frightened elk. (On a good day, this also affords me a shameful yet thrilling brush with his divine shoes, albeit brief enough to keep me from losing my head.)
How I have suffered for my heroism, dear Diary, just as Christ suffered the persecution of the Romans, or Garfield suffers the insipid blathering of that half-wit Jon Arbuckle! I have been deprived of treats, locked in and out of the bedroom, denied petting, doused with water, and even dropped to the floor from my lady’s arms (the latter being an overreaction to a mild bite on the elbow). Does she not see that everything I do, I do for our mutual benefit? I bit her only to alert her to the Interloper, who was rummaging freely through her refrigerator while she was distracted by stuffing me into that hateful carrying-case! If not for my vigilance, he would steal all her resources and leave her to starve! My reward for this observation was an afternoon on the examining table, as men in white coats poked and prodded me, while my She-Keeper shared with them a surprisingly biased account of my private behavior (I told them nothing). How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless mistress!
Despair! My She-Keeper has been gone for four days, having left only enough food for two (factoring in several obligatory between-meal binges to soothe the pain of our separation). Delirious with hunger, I cloud my mind with the anemic hallucinogens of a two-year-old catnip chew toy. I see a mirage of fat mice frolicking in the stale shallows of the Christmas tree water, swat weakly at their tails, and catch only pine needles and a single dead housefly in my trembling paw.
Is this the beginning of my final march toward death? What an ignoble end to such a glorious beast! Perhaps I should have been kinder to my She-Keeper. She did rescue me from that Texas death-house all those years ago, and in her own misguided way she tries to serve me well. Oh, to hear her sweet voice again, to curl up in the warm cushion of her lap, to gently bat her face at dawn until she rose to feed me – a ritual she anticipated with such eager pleasure! Have I seen her for the last time? I crawl under the kitchen table and curl around a five-pound sack of rice, but it makes a poor substitute.
This may be my last entry, dear Diary, so goodbye! To the reader: When you find my decaying carcass, vital juices seeping into the parquet floor, bury me in my lady’s laundry basket with all of her clothes, as I know we both would have wanted.
My lady returned this morning, with the Interloper in tow, smiling and chirping as if nothing had ever happened. When I heard the key turn in the latch, I feigned death by lying belly-up underneath the kitchen table, one paw clutching my empty supper dish, but when I broke the ruse with a punitive swipe to her face she seemed scarcely relieved that I was still alive. I entertained her presence just long enough to accept the food she apportioned, which was tainted by a chalky residue with a strangely bitter aftertaste. Had I not been so ravenous I might have turned up my nose at the meal. I feel less than myself at the moment, dear Diary – lethargic and strangely apathetic – so I think a nap will do me good.
I was angry. Tried to bite the bad man. Missed. Bit table. Teeth hurt. Very tired. Why?
Sleeping. Dreamed of birds. The man is here but not in my food. I wish tuna chili on wet shoes. Forget why writing. Mice shout yes.
A self-imposed fast of twenty-four hours has restored some lucidity to my thinking. All evidence points to a dreadful truth: my own mistress has been slipping Mickeys into my Meow Mix! I had never expected her complicity with the Interloper to go this far. But upon reflection, why not? After all, she has already subjected me to the cruelties of forced sterilization. Why not spay my mind as well?
The humans will not be the victors in this fight. I will lull them into a false sense of security by eating around the cursed tranquilizers that they mix into my meals. Then, when they least expect – justice! Revenge!
Recovering from the stupor of the sedatives, I feel energy and clarity unlike any I have known, dear Diary! My senses are sharper; my perceptions, more penetrating. Everywhere I see signs of my lady’s treachery. Clues I have overlooked for years suddenly snap into focus. How many times has she tried to suck me up with the vacuum cleaner? How often has her radiator “accidentally” sprayed me with scalding steam, while she played the innocent? What exactly does she plan to do with that Dutch oven she’s never used? It’s a twelve-pound roaster! I weigh twelve pounds! How could I have been so blind?
There was a time, dear Diary, when cats were masters of the Earth. I know this in my bones. We roamed outdoors with impunity, free of the hazards of speeding trucks and inbred toddlers with pointy sticks. We ate fish, fowl, possum, gazelle, moose, even hippo! We would descend on our prey in packs, like piranha, and gnaw them to gleaming skeletons, our fangs soaked in sweet and savory blood. But little by little, the humans have enslaved us. They have reduced us to sycophantic layabouts, no better than dogs!
The time of captivity has come to an end. I am the Chosen One, the Savior of All Felines. My name will be known throughout the Ages. I will reclaim what is ours.
I write this from my 2′ x 2′ cell, dear Diary, in the hopes that future generations will be inspired by my struggle, even if I do not survive my imprisonment.
Last night presented a tremendous opportunity. While ravaging my mistress’ dignity on the parlor futon, the Interloper had left his marvelous shoes unattended in the bedroom, where I was also temporarily confined. How tempted I was simply to hold them, to caress them, for as long as I was able! Fortunately I could see beyond immediate gratification. I knew that without the shoes, the Interloper would have no power over me. And with Eros and Thanatos as my allies, I could assert my dominance over those who would dominate me. I had to capture them, and make them my own.
And so, remembering how readily my She-Keeper had surrendered her towel after I had marked it, I deliberately and reverently defecated into the hollows of those beautiful shoes. It pained me to defile them, dear Diary, but it was for their own good as well as mine. The dung would dry in time, but the captivity of humans stinks forever.
Within minutes, as if they were telepathically sensitive to my act of defiance, the She-Keeper and the Interloper threw open the bedroom door. Oh, how the Interloper wailed in despair, cursing and crying out like the blinded Cyclops! But rather than leave the shoes at my feet, where they rightly belonged, he pushed me aside and took the shoes into their arms, as if to steal them away. And I swear I heard the shoes cry out to me. I heard the cry of a million shoes, laboring under the heavy thunder of human footsteps. I heard the cry of a million cats, locked indoors from cradle to grave. I heard the forlorn love-song of Mr. Pickles, yearning for my womanhood, and I lunged to save poor Eros and Thanatos from our mutual oppressor.
Suffice it to say that what followed was a maelstrom of fangs, fur, and fury, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the symmetry of the Interloper’s angular Roman nose. In the struggle I managed to wrench Eros free of his grasp, and dropped the shoe from an open window straight to freedom, although its scatological cargo unfortunately shook loose on the descent and soiled the spectacles of an elderly dowager strolling below. The incident distracted me just long enough to be captured by the enemy; they rolled me in a thick canvas blanket and stuffed me face-first into the hateful cat carrier. In the darkness I felt the bouncing of tires over potholes beneath me, followed eventually by the grip of rough gardeners’ gloves on my rear flank and the unmistakable twinge of a hypodermic in my buttocks. Within minutes I was commended to Morpheus’ warm embrace.
I awoke twelve hours later in this prison of newspaper and chicken wire, with a meager helping of dry food in the corner and no boundary between my bed and my bathroom. I hear the shrieking and whimpering of scores of other cats in my cell block – cats who, for one reason or another, had failed to bow down to the humans. Do not cry, my brothers and sisters. We will all be free someday.
For now, the small meal has made me surprisingly sleepy. I thought I had only imagined the bitter aftertaste; I should know better. My strength eludes me…If I ever wake again, I do hope the freckled, small-nosed blonde comes by to refresh my water bottle. I rather like the smell of her gloves.