Tuesday, December 15, 2015


The counterclockwise cat came into my life on his initiative.  If the decision had been up to me, I would have said absolutely not.  I already had too many cats.  I was sitting here at the keyboard composing something or other when the cat flap exploded and in rushed a very strange little striped kitten.  It was vehemently striped -- none of your blurred gray brush-on-damp-paper stripes.  The stripes were almost as distinct as a zebra’s and the rest of this kitten was also strange.  Long neck and legs, long tail, feet almost prehensile, big ears. and eyes like headlights.  His face was like that of a green Martian, eyes like glowing slanted headlights, and when he opened his mouth wider than most cats could, he emitted a scream like peacock bitten by a catamount.  Then again and again and again.  I thought he might not stop but when I yelled back at him, he merely ran up my leg and curled up on my bosom (counterclockwise), purring as loudly as he yowled.  He just fit.

There was no use resisting.

I had the idea that he was the lone kitten belonging to the Smudge, daughter of Patches, though those cats are very retiring ladylike types.  (A euphemism for feral.)  Smudge’s kitten had gotten sick and shriveled up until it was only a tiny matchstick fistful. I only picked that baby up once and thought that it couldn’t survive, so I put it back down.  Smudge was watching me anxiously.  There is no money in this household for euthanasia and the vet is 60 miles away roundtrip, besides hating to euthanize animals so much that he charges several hundred dollars.  Smudge and her kitten, “Dust Bunny,” both gray, went off to the back shed where they had been born.

As it turned out, this weirdo kitten was from somewhere else, possibly from a nest of kittens found in a pickup that a neighbor bought.  That was just a rumor.  But this kitten was clearly insatiable.  Eat, eat, eat!  Food, food, food!  That’s what he looked like: a child victim of a famine. Pretty soon his telescoping neck was topped by a more normal-looking head, but he still sounded the alarm:  more food, more food!  He pushed in under the chins of both peaceful Crackers and warlike but befuddled Squibs. (She’s getting old.)  They couldn’t eat until he did.  I barely managed to keep him from running up my leg and grabbing peas out of my bowl.  I explained that cats do NOT eat peas, but he didn’t believe it.

Alongside my computer is a window with a cat-warmer (light bulb) hanging over it.  Normally it is occupied by Squibs but now the new kitten pushed in.  At first I called him “Hop” because that’s how he traveled across the yard, almost like a rabbit.  But sometimes I called him Weirdo.  (He didn’t mind.)  And lately he’s been the Striped Menace.  I’m considering “Loki” as a formal name, but I really ought to take him and as many of the ferals as I can catch to the Humane Society, but it’s sixty miles roundtrip like everything else.  I’m not sure they accept out-of-county animals.

Miraculously, the Dust Bunny survived and turned out to be as ravenous as Whatsisname.  If I even show my face at the kitchen window, he/she comes galloping.  The last remaining kitten of Patches, one of the Goldfish (I have no idea where the other one went -- that’s the thing about ferals, they come and go.) only comes sometimes.  So the two gobblers threw in together and Hop (who doesn’t hop anymore) showed the Dust Bunny the wonders of the cat flap.  Smudge got in on the act.  She and her kitten have white feet and I began to imagine I saw little white feet around corners as well as definitely hearing strange noises.  

The other night I was wakened after midnight by a strange bumping noise I couldn’t identify.  When I went out to the front room, here came my wastepaper basket, which really IS a basket, upside down and bumbling along like a wicker turtle.  Somehow Smudge had turned it over on top of herself and couldn’t escape.  At that point I was laughing so hard that I wasn’t thinking straight, so I lifted the basket off.  Smudge, desperate, made a leap for the nearest window.  (She doesn’t understand glass.)  My blue bottle collection rained down off the sash ledge but by that time she’d left for another window and was busy trampling the potted geraniums.

Hop, ever faithful, ran alongside the Dust Bunny, following Smudge, which added to the mayhem.  I opened the front door, hoping that would end the cat roller derby revolving halfway up the walls of the room (counterclockwise), but not.  I cornered Smudge and grabbed her which was a mistake.  Now my hand was dripping blood on everything.  Finally Hop led the way out the cat flap, which he ought to have done in the beginning.  It took a while to go back to sleep.  Just as I drifted off, Hop showed up, heaved a big sigh and curled up on my bosom, counterclockwise.

I read a lot of neurology research and follow closely the theories about fear, language, tribalism and so on.  I know that cats have amazing autonomic nervous systems, which is why they see ghosts and are as emotional as a teenage girl, even tomcats.  The other species that is rigged that way is grizzly bears.  (Black bears are like dogs.)  At least that’s what I think I read.  They remind me of me.  

When I was very small one very hot summer (the one when we slept in the basement to keep cool -- and that was in cool Oregon) my mother set up the sprinkler in the backyard and sent me out in my underpants to play in the water.  I sat on the sprinkler, which of course soaked my pants.  Since I’d only recently been housebroken, I came in to report that I needed dry pants.  As soon as I had them, I went back out and sat on the sprinkler again -- the sensation was very interesting.  So I came back soaked again, demanding more pants.  At some point my mother lost patience and I got the earliest spanking I can remember.  Similarly, I finally resorted to smacking this troublesome cat.

In Valier in winter one is well-advised to keep on as many clothes as possible and not to get them wet, but Hop does the reverse.  He’s out there rampaging around in the snow with the Dust Bunny, then plunges through the cat flap and leaps for my bosom where he no longer fits and has to use claws to remain.  Since I’m wearing three layers of fleece, I don’t mind, but an envelope of cold clings to him and makes me sneeze.

Sometimes I take a nap in the afternoon and then Hop comes to sigh and fling himself over my knees.  When he did this the first time, the sensation was like a child throwing its sweater carelessly aside.  Now he’s as big and heavy as insulated Carhartt coveralls.  The indoor cats, once queens and now surgically demoted to duchesses, like to sleep under the covers in my flannel arm pits, but Hop will only stay under the covers a few minutes -- then he’s off on another adventure.  I’ve tried to take photos to send you, but most of them are just gray blurs.  Here’s one that turned out.  I had said, “Cat food,” though I could have said cheese.  He likes cheese.  My friend Sue says he looks like a proper cat now.  But his heart is that of a famished kitten.  Hooks me every time.

"The Dust Bunny"

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