This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.” — Boswell
I heard sounds. It was evening, and a single lamp lit the room. I sat at my desk, writing some trivial nonsense, when the saddest, most dolorous noise sounded from the sliding door, which leads to the plank. The long, plastic blinds were shut, but I observed a small bulge where they met the floor and an orange tail wagging. From the bulge came sounds. I had heard them before and sauntered over to the blinds, swiveled the rod to twist them, and saw the cause of the woeful mews: Rocky, a white and black cat.* He was on the plank, hissing at the Orange Tabby as if taunting him to fight. I chided the Tabby, for not hissing back and sat on my coffee table to watch. When I could take the mews no longer, I opened the door, shooed Rocky away, and returned to my desk.
I am the Orange Tabby’s Lord Protector. He’s taken to calling me such names, I think, because he was raised Roman Catholic. Little does he know my lack of sympathy for Cromwell. I’m convinced that he now follows Vegas ways, fully devoted to Pan. He fits in with the Vegans, his left ear tattooed. At least, unlike the women here, he has not died his hair blue or green or red or rainbow. On the topic of religion, I have concluded that something eternal must exist in animals. They seem to have some sort of personality about them. Or, in the case of the Tabby, odd quirks. As for instance, when you pull the his tail just right, he lets out something between a gurgle and a murmur. Or when he grabs a tennis ball with forepaws, curves into a crescent, and attacks it with hind-paws. Or, when he places his head under running water. Or, when you lightly step on his back with a shoe, he swivels and wars against it with all four paws.
My first memories of the Tabby are associated with cheap Canadian beer. The Tabby is on loan, and I watch him for a good friend. Many moons ago, he was brought home by her in a Labatt Blue beer box, his little orange head fearfully looking through holes. Moments, or days later, he fell asleep, riding my chest like a ship at sea. His purring motored me to sleep, and it commenced a common napping routine. The Orange Tabby is a Kansan. He once mimicked the noises of his neighbor squirrel, scurrying up the tree, outside the screen door. He studied the ways of robins rustling in the grass near the garden posts. He watched, wonderfully, the rainfall, desiring to place his head under the drops. Sometimes, he felt the grass beneath his paw like a cold, wet carpet. Other times, he slid across wood floor, smashing into boxes. He no longer slides. But he does run. On occasion, when I am roasting coffee or scrambling eggs, tucked back in my kitchen, I will hear nothing but the distinct scratch of paws and claws against carpet. If I catch a glimpse, I see nothing but an orange blur of fur whiz – a orange cloud-puff streaking the sky at daybreak.
The Orange Tabby does not drink cheap Canadian beer anymore. Living with me has matured him, and now he drinks cheap brandy. Pretentious, like most cats, he believes that I am the roommate. So, he sits in my rocker and glares at me with a face that says, “I am where I ought. You stay put.” Or, he scrunches his face against the rails. I humor him and continue reading my Sherlock, smoking or sipping tea, while the Tabby rocks with assumed authority and enjoys his brandy. Cats are too much like feminists. They believe that whining, scratching, or biting will make them more powerful. But the Orange Tabby never has more power than when powerless, when he lays on his back with his forepaws curled, wide-eyed, hoping I won’t scratch his belly. Then. Then is a cold heard melted like wax.
One night, just as I was to cover under covers and sleep, the Tabby and I threw. The yellow felt of tennis ball skirted across carpet, as the orange beast prowled like a tiger. The Tabby crouched, covered, waited to pounce as I wound to throw. Then, I faked. The Tabby stopped. He turned to look, to question. I faked another. The Tabby crept forward. I faked yet again. The Tabby anticipated the throw and ran. Then, he stopped. He stood stern and tall, ferocious even. He looked almost mighty, near majestic. He swiveled his neck and head back to me, over shoulder, and looked. I let go mid-fake. I threw with a backhanded sidearm, as a diving shortstop to second. Aiming for the far wall, I held nothing back. River-veins coursed beneath my flesh – breathing rivers muscling blood. Those muscles tightened, bulged, propelled arm, wrist. That wrist snapped sharply, the bones working on swivels, and I felt the felt roll of fingers and thumb and nails. I felt the misfire as the Tabby remained turned, his orange head whisked back to his caretaker. Eyes wide, whiskers spread, he may have seen the ball leave the hand. Or, he saw nothing but a bright yellow ball flying at his face.
If there is anything good about the final spring months in Vegas, I am unaware of what it is. They say Kansas is backward, but truly Vegas is. The spring in Vegas is dreadful, a harbinger of death and depression. In the spring, men walk slower, without spring. And cats proclaim the coming heat with vigor. The Orange Tabby has very thick fur. This fur, come April, when that first ninety-five degree day hits, must go somewhere. And so he sheds. He becomes a living, breathing, mewing cottonwood – every movement a new puff of fur clouds the air. Fur balls pocket the apartment like land mines. Then, he rubs up against his caretaker’s face while he’s trying to read or write. And I see as throw a blanket dimly.
This morning, the Orange Tabby again looked out the window and let out a sad mew. I approached, holding my coffee, and gazed with him. At first, I saw nothing. No cats were about to rouse his curiosity. No squirrels to mimic, no robins to study, no wonderful rain. I wondered to myself what could possibly be upsetting him. Then, I saw in the distance three birds playing on a tall post, a post wrangled with ugly electrical wires. Then, I knew. Cats probably can’t remember too much. But I imagined that the Orange Tabby saw only what I saw: a garden-post outside the old screen of the Ole Midshipman, so many leagues away. I perceived he mewed the mew of memory. That those birds who played upon a post out our window, were only the ghosts of the robins who once played upon a post in Kansas. Or, maybe, they were harbingers of a future post, a post away back in times yet revealed. Back home.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, October 29-November 1, 2016
Painting: “Study of a Cat”
By Abraham Cooper
Oil on panel, 1817
*See Gambler, No. 28 [The Neighbor]