The Cunning Cat

I don’t know how it got into my head–I was a kid, I suppose, which is reason enough; it would also be foolish to ask, “Why did you unwrap an entire package of toilet paper and line the floor with them, only to stand proudly upon your new tile?,” another true story of my childhood, but not today’s story–but I decided to be a cat one day when I was seven, or whatever. (I’m hardly around kids, and am terrible at gauging age below eighteen.)

So I got it in my head to be a cat when I was a kid, is basically what that whole last paragraph said. Apparently I like to take meandering walks through thought when I write, always finding another tangent or especially photogenic moment to capture that sits just off the side of the path, and I cry, “Look! This is worth noticing!” as I make the group wait for me to scuttle over and consider something like a particularly vibrant flower, or a marmalade salamander that has slipped beneath a decaying leaf, or deer tracks leading farther into the woods.

So anyway, one day when I was younger I somehow got the idea to be a cat. My family (or rather, my mother, brother, and I) had four cats at the time, four hideously spoiled but wildly adored cats. Thus, a fierce love for the feline lived in my household. (My dad is the least enthusiastic cat lover among us, but he still has an unspoken but apparent fondness for the whiskered buggers.)

It was summer of course, the season most childhood tales take place during. Like I guessed earlier, I was about seven or so. I had a whole bundle of stuffed animals, a whole kitten caboodle, a slew, a myriad, a plethora, an entire school district’s worth of stuffed animals, many of which were cats, but also a considerable amount of which were parrots, monkeys, dogs, bears, unicorns, armadillos, pigs, wolves, giraffes, mice… (I suppose this abundance of faux animal companions goes a bit hand-in-hand with one of my previous articles on frequently getting what I wanted as a child.) I liked animals. And I often wanted to be one. For a period in my admittedly older childhood years (say, eleven), I was somewhat convinced I was actually a monkey in a human costume visiting Earth from another planet. I had a whole backstory devised.

But this particular day, I wanted to be a cat (as I often do presently, as well).

I couldn’t just play the part though, I had to look the part. And I don’t know if you’ve seen me lately, or over the past couple decades, but I wasn’t born with a tail or cat-ears, and my whiskers are underwhelming, so I needed to make some alterations to my outward appearance.

I decided to be a black cat, apparently. I dressed in black attire– black sweat pants and black hoodie, hood up, like a very confused thief (because I looked like a bandit, but it was the middle of the day). I also had a black headband with fuzzy black cat ears and a black tail that tied around my waist.

Well that was that! I looked just like a cat! No– I was a cat. Perfect. Now what? Naps for the rest of my life? Aimless grazing of cat food? Shenanigan-seeking? Was there anything I could throw up on? I had the sudden and inexplicable urge to nudge knick-knacks off dressers and dishes off tables.

That was all well and fun and all while it lasted but I was a cat, so I needed some sort of attention. Solitude is fantastic and wholesome, but I still need attention and affection when I find myself in a particular mood. As cats do.

So, I wandered out into the outside world where my mother and brother were, crawling on my hands and knees, black tail bopping against my behind. (I kind of imagine myself walking along with a similar swagger that the tiniest marching elephant in The Jungle Book had.) As I approached them, my mother got excited. “Oh look! It’s a stray kitty!” she cried, totally and irretrievably duped by my disguise. She was reading a book in a lawn chair beneath a tree, and called, “Here Kitty! Here Kitty-Kitty-Kitty!” My brother was less excited. He looked over at me but must have seen through the ruse and kept playing on the fort house. Just as well– I meandered over to the lady with the book for adoration, careful, of course, not to appear too eager lest she get the impression that I wanted or needed anything of her. It’s important not to let people know where they stand; that is to say, it’s critical that they never find out how important they are to you.

The kind lady gave me some pets on the head, and in an approving manner I flicked my tail (imagine me, throwing my butt to the side in order to achieve this sort of tail flick) and rubbed my head against her knee. After a few satisfying moments of attention, I had had enough and laid down in the grass a few yards away.

Here I laid, watching the summer activity (bikers biking past, walkers walking past, bees bee-ing past, squirrels squirreling past) until around 5:00, that dutiful time of day when my father arrived home from work.

Typically, when my father came home from work, I would run to greet him in the mudroom of the house or the driveway and try to restrict his breathing as much as possible with an unmerciful bear hug; he would do the same, and usually I would surrender first, as I was merely a third his weight and probably one-fiftieth as strong (now I am more than half his weight yet still one-fiftieth as strong).

Today though, a cat-hug, as opposed to a bear hug, would have to do. Before I even had the chance to approach the bearded gentleman getting out of his car in our driveway, the woman shouted, “Hey honey! Look who wandered into the yard! A stray cat!” The man sauntered over to us, red and white Coleman lunch box in his one hand, and asked, “Oh yeah? A stray cat?” He squatted (not without a grunt) and set his lunchbox down next to him, cooing to me. With a great deal of deliberateness, I nonchalantly crawled over to the man, restraining all the excitement I had to see him with great effort. “What a friendly cat,” he commented, patting me on the back. I purred (or did my best imitation of purring, which was likely a pathetic display of me sputtering and spitting) and bumped against his sides as I circled him.

After a few moments, he cut it off. “Well there, Cat, I’ve got to go make dinner now. You can join us when it’s ready!” He gave me a final pat on the head and stood, walking off with his lunch box to the house. The lady followed him in (following people is a huge No; it makes them think you want to be around them– this woman clearly liked the man too much).

I hung back, laying back down and watching the little boy make a fool of himself in whatever games he was playing. He tried to tempt me to join, but I couldn’t be budged until those heavenly words resonated outside: “Dinner’s ready!” The mongrel went dashing inside, and detestably I was forced by my charade to crawl as fast as I could, but these additional legs hindered my speed and I arrived late for supper (something I have always been warned against calling people).

Well, since I, the beloved daughter, was MIA because their newly adopted black cat was actually me, I needed a replacement beloved daughter– because clearly they would be heartbroken if their beloved daughter didn’t appear for dinner; surely they would grow worried. So, their beloved daughter joined them, the part played by Raggedy Ann. Now, the role of their beloved daughter had some big shoes to fill, but Raggedy Ann was convincing enough of a lookalike that I propped her up on the kitchen table bench and the fools greeted her (me!), “Hello, Beloved Daughter, nice of you to join us!” Meanwhile, I (the cat!) sat on the floor beside the table, stomach growling as I realized the reality of cat-hood. Boy those mashed potatoes smelled good… And a chicken breast? And the way the forks clinked against the plate, I could tell there were green beans involved.

I sat there on the floor while my family ate, pleasantly speaking to Raggedy Beloved Daughter, telling the sham, the imposter, the traitor! how much they loved and adored her, eating the food of my heart, sharing laughter without me, while I could only stare at the crumbs and dirt of the kitchen floor and soak in the smelly smells of the feast. Finally, as the torture became too much for my little seven-year-old brain to bear, after the pain grew and grew until I could stand it no longer (think “the rising and eventual climactic mental breakdown of the narrator in Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart'”), I leaped up, dismantling the believability of my flawless performance, and cried, “It is me! It’s your Beloved Daughter! It has been me this whole time. And she– she is a phony!”–here I knocked Raggedy Ann to the wayside–“There has been no cat! Only your starving child! Oh, give me that plate!” And with that, I ate my damn dinner finally, only slightly lukewarm, but thankfully untouched by the perpetually dieting Raggedy Ann.

Here’s the kicker: I actually thought my family was actually fooled by my acting. In my mind, I thought, “Heehee, the morons! They think they have picked up a cat, but it is only me!” I distinctly remember believing I had pooled the wool upon their eyes– me, in my black sweats and dawdling around on my hands and knees. Ah, to be seven again. Or six, or five, or whatever age one would have to reasonably be to have such an experience as this.

I guess the lousy moral of this whole episode is to be true to yourself–otherwise, you might miss out on a prime dining opportunity. And when food is concerned, you must never jest, because food is serious. So don’t try to be who you’re not, because it can backfire, and you can starve. Take it from a cat.

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