Monday, September 5, 2016

Chapter One -- From Shed to Bucket

On the day I met Finn I had lived most of my entire life -- about nine weeks give or take -- in the tool shed owned by a couple who had lots of  tools but rarely used them. That accounted for the fact mothercat was afford so much privacy.

It's where my siblings and I were been born, nursed and where we were starting to be tutored in the ways of being a cat. Me, three sisters, a brother and our mother.

Mother found the shed when her pregnancy was starting to pick up momentum. The father, as it was, had been a smooth-purring vagabond. Here today. Gone seconds after kickstarting a pregnancy. But I should walk this story back a few steps.

Mothercat was not exactly of noble lineage. She was a rather large cat, with black and white fur. She was born in a shelter in northern Virginia. where she was adopted by a young married couple who lived about an hour away in Baltimore.

As cat owners they were OK. There was fresh water and plenty of food. She got her shots on time. The litterbox was changed on a regular basis. She was allowed on the couch and spent many contented evenings snoozing while her owners watched TV and did crossword puzzles.

There wasn’t a lot of affection sent her way, but life was overall pretty good. But there was one thing that didn’t happen that was going to mean a lot to me.

About five years into this satisfactory setting the woman got pregnant and nine months later give birth to two girls. In the beginning mothercat had no problem with the additions to the house. Sure, they could make some smells and they often howled like banshees but there were plenty of places to avoid the mayhem. And since they did so well by the cat, these two new things should not have been a problem.

Indeed, at night she’d go to the bedroom, jump up on the dresser and watch them sleep. The seemed harmless and that was that. Until it wasn’t. The babies grew and within three years they were no longer harmless. They were loud and poorly supervised. They ran through the house. The yelled. They threw things. They tried to pull her tail while she was eating. One decided she could use the litterbox, too.

Mothercat easily found refuge from most of this and assumed at some point the parents would bring order to the home. They never did. They seemed bowled over by the reckless energy of their offspring. It was easier to contain the carnage than arrest it.

She learned to live life out of their reach, coming down only at night when everyone in the house was asleep. When she was no longer the focus of their energy she watched those spawns of Satan destroy their toys, houseplants, their dinner (which went everywhere but their mouths) -- pretty much anything they could reach with their never-disciplined fingers.

After considering her options for several days mothercat decided life away from this crapstorm had to be an improvement. So one day when the front door was left cracked open she was out and gone. It would not have surprised her to know that her absence was not noted for more than 24 hours.

She left in the fall and quickly learned that warmth had to be earned when living on the run.  Food was also a pretty big deal but warmth won by a nose on the priority list.

Nature helped a little as her coat got thicker. For several nights she found a pretty fair measure of comfort in nesting in pine straw until the night it rained and she learned that she was going to have to up her game. She didn’t know much about rain but she knew taking her chances day to day wasn’t a good option.

Food was not the problem. She was young and plenty quick enough for a daily diet of field mice and chipmunks. There were also a number of dog dishes that always seemed to have enough left for a filling snack. Water wasn't all that hard to find, either.

Now and again she thought of casting her lot with a new set of humans. She’d sit in the woods and observe other families. None of them appeared to be as awful as what she had left behind, but the twins didn’t look so bad at one time, either.

And she wasn't quite ready to trade what was becoming an increasingly good life. Yes, there were some lean days and long nights. But she was fueled by a very deep and abiding distrust of those who walked on two legs and she learned a valuable lesson -- when you are the smallest you are also the most vulnerable and trust needs to be earned over time.

It helped that she was intelligent as well as savvy. She enjoyed exploring her neighborhoods. She found great places to sleep where the sun bathed the earth and warmed her like a blanket. She found an old woman who had a habit of scraping her morning table scraps off her back porch -- never knowing the great lady hoped that black and white “gypsy cat” was eating them.

And speaking of gypsies she had that chance encounter with a male cat one night. Let us say they did as nature intended then he was on his way and she was glad to see him go.

However, as time went on she didn’t understand was why she was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Her body was making way for five new lives but she didn’t know that yet. Oh, she’d figure it out right on time but it’s not like there was a birthing class for cats.

As time went by she knew enough to figure out whatever was taking place inside her was going to require more than just pine straw for a home. She was going to have to find a real space that afforded privacy and protection so her days now were spent eating and looking for a new home.

It was hard work because she was no longer as nimble as she had been and she had a sense that she needed to be very careful. She also got tired more easily and it was hard to rouse herself from sleep. Her back ached and she was tired all the time. Had she been a loved family pet she wouldn’t have faced these obstacles, but she was wasn’t.

What saved her was the tool shed.

It was early winter when she saw some boards on the rear of a tool shed had warped enough for a preggers cat on the lam to squeeze into.

Inside it smelled funny because she was going to be sharing space with fertilizer, engine oil and other things that only came out during spring and summer. But it was dry and out of the wind.

She located in a stack of old sheets that were used as drop cloths. If someone had opened the door they never would have seen her behind the mower, which was behind the rakes and shovels, which were behind the large plastic wheelbarrow. And the shed was built on a slab so she didn’t have to sleep in the dirt.

She didn't know any of that. She knew she was safe and dry and no little children were ever going to tug on her tail or throw wooden blocks at her again. She was out of the wind and even on the coldest nights between her thick coat and the canvas cloths she had everything she needed.

Then one day it happened. She had gone for her morning breakfast behind the old lady’s porch and just as she finished she knew. Suddenly the mystery was solved. She calmly made her way back to the shed. Soon she was a mother of five.

I don’t know how long but after a time that she let us kittens start venturing out now and again, so us new ones could learn cat. It was a good life. She had never been a mother before but none us seemed to notice and it seemed every move she made was the right one.

Then came the day we returned to home and the front door of the shed came open. Some deep voice was asking where the “f-ing stringtrimmer” was.

Mother felt real fear and adrenaline for the first time. Fear in that her home had been intruded upon. Adrenaline in that she had to take some fast action to protect her kittens. She didn’t feel like staying put and hoping there would be some time before a move was made.

It was then she decided to get everyone out, reorganize and find a new home. She'd done it once, she'd do it again. But first we had to get out of the shed.

Us kittens heard none of this. The recent excursion outside had left us exhausted and we were tangled up in a ball of sleeping cats. It was luck of the draw that I was plucked off first by the scruff of my neck, taken out the warped opening and carried under a picket fence and a few yards over.

Mother spied a large bucket on its side and saw a way station while she went to get the other four. She dropped me inside and turned back to the shed. I probably roused briefly, then rolled over on my back and fell back into a good deep kitten sleep.

The sleep was so deep I never heard what happened back at the shed. The lady who lived with deep voice had seen mother slip out the back of the shed. When she emerged with the second kitten a bedsheet dropped over the two of them and they were put into a deep box.

Mother howled and paced. The other three were found and gently put with their Mother, all still asleep. That was how they ended up in the kind hands of a cat rescue group that give them all vaccines, oily fishy canned catfood, neutering procedures and good homes.

Mother ended up with an middle-aged couple who had just sent the last of four off to college. The house was too quiet so they went looking. They wanted a kitten but they saw mother lounging in her cage in the shelter and decided she looked like she’d fit right in.

Mother was named Roxy and moved into a house with plenty of protection, food and love. Any kids that came into this home were not allowed to torment the cat. Ever. No one knew if she ever thought of the shed or her only litter. And certainly no one knew if she remembered the little one she put in the bucket.
I was the middle child but that is not a big deal when you and your siblings are born within half an hour. I have a vague memory of being cleaned the first time by Mother but most of my memories revolved around waking from sleep and nudging my way toward an open nipple.

I had always known a full belly and warmth, thanks to Mother’s hunting skills and the fact she tucked herself close to her kittens when they all slept. And even when she was was not there we kittens looked like a large a furry tangle of twine. It would have been hard for the casual observer to tell what foot belonged to which cat. When one started to feel cold they’d just twist their body and the tangle would expand briefly, then contract again.

For whatever reason there was no runt in this litter. Indeed other than their random coloring there was precious little to separate one kitten from the next. There was no Shy One. Or Adventurous One. We were just kittens -- growing and exploring and wrestling.

Owing to the gene pool of their parents -- which had more breeds and cross breeds than could be accounted for -- the kittens looked different. One had a ruddy red coat. Two were calico. Another was striped. And then there was me.

Like mothercat I was primarily white with black splotches that made me look like the person applying the black had left for a lunch break and never returned.

The only real defining trait I had -- so I heard -- was the look in my eyes. They were blue, soon to turn green, but there was quality about them that conveyed a curiosity. When I looked at something  the first time it was as though my eyes were dissecting it and figuring out how it worked.

Once when the kittens were out of the shed we saw a butterfly. All five stared at it. One tried to chase it. Another jumped back when it fluttered its wings. I just sat and stared, oblivious to what my siblings were doing. I knew it wasn’t cat and I stared at it, as though the longer I looked the more obvious the answer as to what this thing was would be.

It would not be correct to say I understood what made a butterfly a butterfly but there was something about my eyes that conveyed I knew -- something. Whether I was wiser than other cats is unknown as I was not going to spent my life with other cats. But when people would encounter me they would almost always make a mental note of me appraising stare.

The plastic bucket my mother had left me in had been bathed in sunlight, which made a for a rather warm place to sleep. But kittens need more than sleep and soon my stomach started rumbling.

As always I woke up reluctantly, stretched and looked around. I didn’t see or smell Mothercat or the others. This was more confusing than alarming, though the fact I had never dealt with hunger on my own sowed a seed of anxiety in my growling stomach.

I walked to the edge of the bucket and lifted my nose, inhaling deeply. Nothing. Nothing familiar. I did smell something and started in that direction, keeping low to the ground. I wasn’t quite old enough to understand my old life had ended that day and my new life was beginning.

I would never get pregnant, so I would never know having my own kittens. As I would grow in the coming months and assimilate into a new life my family gradually and benignly faded from memory like fog that is dispersed by bright sunlight.

Eventually my life, as far as I was concerned, began in that plastic bucket.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the first chapter. The cat has a good voice! Jeff Joslin