These are both male near-adults who have not figured out sex.
Shorty is the top, MoMo is the bottom.
X: My cousins and more conventional friends used to urge me to write about nice things, like kittens.
Y: Not so nice. You know that this house has accumulated a colony of feral cats, some of which have tamed down and some of which have not. This year there have been three spring pregnancies. One is the old Granny mamacat, who first showed up with a set of half-grown kittens a few years ago. The second is her smallest kitten, Smudge, who will come in the garage to eat, but no farther. The third is Smudge’s kitten, the Blue Bunny, whose first batch of kittens is now nearly grown. There were two of them, which she removed to the crawl space under the house. One is pretty but faulty — he has only one testicle. The other one, a female tuxedo cat with a soul patch, is skinny and has not become pregnant.
X: One hesitates to call them queens, though that’s the proper term for a female cat. How is it working out?
X. So much of being human (or any other animal) is potential based on interacting but quite different levels. This means that there is always variation in the end result, the final individual, though it’s hard to know when “final” comes, short of death. It’s the complexity that produces the variation in individuals, and the variations become mutations, and that’s what creates the process we call evolution. Cats are meant to be culled by misadventure, so there are a lot of them, but they are in a protective environment here. Maybe TOO protected, so that they deteriorate, regress.
Y: I remember that the oldest cat, the one you called “Patches” in happier times, has also had a tumor in her side. You said she’s very old and has lived up and down the street for almost twenty years.
X. Last night she gave birth. There were only two kittens and they were premature. I heard the mewing and left the cat alone so she wouldn’t move them somewhere else. Finally, her grown male kitten, Shorty, brought something to the computer window and settled down comfortably to eat it. It was one of the kittens, dead. It barely looked like a kitten, fur-less and wrinkled. When I took it away, it was cold, more like a robin that fell out of the nest than a kitten.
Y: The other one?
X: Barely alive. The Granny Mamacat normally is ferocious in defending herself and her babies, but this time she moved out of the way with a minimum of hissing. I put the kittens in a body bag — a quart-seized ziplock. She curled tightly back in the cat bed, a real manufactured one rather than an improvised one, and slept a long time. Later in the day she was in the backyard in the warm sun, working on cleaning herself. She didn’t come back until sundown, returned to the same place, and seemed ill.
Y: You can’t touch this cat, am I right? But she started coming into the house when it was twenty below?
X: That’s right. She’s very wary. I’ve never been closer than three feet, though I’ve fed her and her kittens for years. Two of the kittens are still untouchable, though MoMo is hooked on waffles — I give her little bits of mine at breakfast. These are “walking” frozen waffles from the toaster, nothing on them. In the last few days he’s been impatient for breakfast and came to make me get up, roosting on my shoulder and yowling in my ear. It took him quite a while to realize that my head was the same entity that operated a can-opener, though he’d been sleeping on my ribcage for a week. If I reach out, he runs. Is this becoming tame or becoming a drag?
Y: The last batch produced by the Granny Mamacat was healthy, right. They would be Momo, Shorty, Duckie. Who was the fourth?
X: Disappeared. Duckie wasn’t quite right and joined Blue Bunny’s two kittens once they came up out of the crawl space where Bunny had hidden them. Duckie has beautiful markings but her head is small. She’s the one who earlier had dead kittens, raced all over the house leaving bloody messes.
Y: You don’t get these cats any veterinary care, do you? But you did have the last two house cats, real pets, spayed and inoculated, right?
X: Right. I’d been hired to teach, had a bit of money, got the kittens from an Air Force family in Great Falls, where there were three little girls who had packed the kittens around like dolls. The calico mother was old, had had only two kittens, the family was breaking up in divorce, and the level of emotion was very high. I knew about the kittens because of a classified ad and because I wanted the colors, one calico and one yellow. I wouldn’t do it that way now, but where’s the need anyway?
Y: What happened to those two cats?
X: They had long and comfortable lives, but the teaching job only lasted a few months. The supposed calico was actually tortoiseshell and had evidently been thrown or kicked, but possibly not. Her hips were prone to buckle, which might have been due to genetics and she was a daredevil, very much like the tuxedo cat that grew up partly in the crawl space. I let them get too fat, which was a mistake. It costs fifty dollars for a vet to euthanize a cat. There are no humane societies here.
Y: They say cat personality is somehow linked to coat color.
X: That’s true, I guess, but the other quirk of the calico was going exploring at the back of the yard, then evidently panicking and calling urgently for the other cat as she hurried back to the house. It’s not the tuxedo kitten of Bunny’s but rather the other one, the gray marbled male, who does that now.
These two kittens of Bunny’s were sired by Finnegan, who I am convinced is partly Bengal, meaning long-tailed skinny cats, almost like Siamese. They’re very active, not cuddly, want to go as high as they can. Gray.
Y: So we’re talking about five nearly grown cats, plus one untouchable adult and one, the Blue Bunny, who is tamed. In the past between 2001 and 2016 were the two Air Force cats, Squibs and Crackers, who grew old and crippled, so they were euthanized, I suspect with many tears. This is a cat colony.
X: It’s more than the cats with names and personalities. I have a building in the back that was the temporary workshop when Swift Dam was rebuilt in the Sixties. It had been used as a gunshop, a ceramic workshop, and a garage. I had big plans that never materialized and now that building is deteriorating enough that it needs to be pulled down, but there is another set of cats who live there. Almost ghost cats except for Smudge, who came in the original batch of near-grown kittens with Granny Mamacat. The closest I've come to her is that when I put kibble in the garage, she somehow knows and peers at me through the cat hole in the screen.
Plus Caspar, a huge white long-haired cat with gray ears and tail who lives across the street and has what you might call an expansive personality, visits daily. There was a batch of three next door. One was Finnegan, who roams the town but comes back here when he’s between inseminator gigs, and his sister, Tiger, who comes over now and then.
Y: You need to get rid of most of these cats.
X: They’re trap-wary. You’d have to shoot them or poison them, which some people in this town do, even with a certain amount of pleasure. At animal control we used ketamine in food to drop them long enough to catch them. But now ketamine is a street drug and a new treatment for human depression — closely guarded.
Catch, neuter and return doesn’t solve the problem because people drop off kittens in this town. On the surrounding ranches and farms the cats are controlled by coyotes and hawks. Loose dogs would do the same, but this town is as outraged by loose dogs as they are by chickens. We’ve got grizzlies coming into town, they say, but I asked and the griz expert says they won’t kill cats. They ignore cats.
This is an on-going story but it’s not a pretty one. Besides the cat problem is the state of my deteriorating buildings and furniture, which is mostly second-hand, and my own advancing age. I’m old enough now to lose focus and forget things. Etc.
But my writing life is so intense — not just the blog but other things that no one sees and that are not intended for publication — that I don’t sort, scrub, restore, as I ought to and as everyone else in this town is busy doing. Summer will give me a bit of a breather, assuming it ever comes. These are the cold monsoon months.
Y: We’re close friends. Can I see what you’re writing so secretly?
Y: Is it about sex?
Y: You’re a deranged old woman.
X: I admit it.