At the Apex, Purring Madly

Yes, I was foolish. Reckless too. But I don’t think I would have done anything different, even now that I can see the bigger picture.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable if I hadn’t just lost my cat, Jingle Monster – and a year before that, my dog, Tulip. I felt so grieved. I didn’t try to adopt new pets. How could I, knowing how much it would hurt when they died? How could I see their trust in me, their hope that I could help them when they were feeling bad? That’s what killed me, seeing their hope give way to despair. No sir. Not again.

That’s what I told myself. Yet I didn’t get rid of the cat food. That was my first mistake.

I work from a home office. If you’ve ever seen those clickbait titles online that say things like “15 Ways to Cut Belly Fat RIGHT NOW!”, I write a lot of those. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually know how to cut belly fat, but I’m good at research, and even better at making suggestions to people that sound plausible. In my defense, I stay away from recommendations that might kill people.

I’m very good at what I do, but I need to come up for air from time to time, so late one morning, six weeks from the day Jingle died, I wandered into the kitchen for a coffee break. I fixed my cup and leaned against the counter to drink it, listening to a house that had grown too quiet.

Funny how a little guy who had weighed less than five pounds could make such a giant hole in my life now that he was gone. Jingle had a meow that was far too big for his body. He used it when he felt I had spent too much time in the office and not enough time paying attention to a Jingle Monster.

I couldn’t help listening for that meow, though I no longer expected to hear it. That’s the only reason I heard the other sound. It was coming from the laundry room. I went to the door and paused at the threshold.

Crunch, crunch, crunch came from under the utility shelf where I stored Jingle’s dry food, and I wondered just how big the mouse was. Could it be a rat? I had never seen a rat in Arizona, except for the tiny, wild variety.

I got down on my knees and prepared to peer under the shelf, bracing myself for years of dust-bunny build-up. Before I could do that, something looked out at me.

Ho boy, I thought. Two kitty-cat eyes were framed in grey, velvet fur, tilted in that irresistible Hello Kitty way that turns otherwise sensible people into suckers. As soon as it saw me, it began to purr. A kitten had smelled the kibble I should have cleaned out from under that utility shelf, weeks ago. I was lucky the food hadn’t attracted a rat, but then maybe it had, and then the rat had attracted …

Wait a minute, I thought. How come Kitty has legs growing out of her head?

I backed up. The purring continued, but Kitty’s eyes were oddly unmoving. On closer inspection, I could see that they were markings.

Biomimicry, I thought to myself. I had even written articles about it, but I still hadn’t thought it all the way through.

She moved into the light – backed into it, actually, because what appeared to be Kitty’s head turned out to be her abdomen. As she emerged, I counted four legs, then six, then eight. She pivoted and stared at me (for real, this time) with four small orbs surrounded by several tiny ones. She had big, furry mandibles.

Damned if she wasn’t also kind of cute. She even had little pads on her feet that made them look like tiny kitty paws.

“Awww,” I said, warily.

Kitty-cat spider seemed way too friendly. When I inspected her business end (where she ate), I could see her impressive fangs would likely inject a potent toxin. Once she incapacitated me with that bite, she could feast on my face at her leisure, purring madly the whole time.

Or was the purr for my benefit, to put me at ease? Maybe she wouldn’t bother with it, once I was helpless.

“You’re amazing,” I had to admit. I wondered if I should grab my phone and take a picture of her. Would I find something like her online? Was she a new species? Even if she wasn’t, she would make a good article. In fact, Kitty was so interesting, so oddly cute, she might even become an online sensation …

She flexed her jaws, reminding me that biomimicry was also a predatory attribute. I started back, and so did she. Kitty disappeared under the shelves. I caught my breath, and then peered underneath to see where she had gone, ready to escape if she moved in my direction. I didn’t know it then, but I could not possibly have moved away in time if Kitty had decided to bite me.

Kitty was gone.

You’ve already named her. I got to my feet, shaking my head. Is that sensible? Did you see her fangs? What are you going to do about her?

You would think I would kill or capture her, right? But no, I worried about the safety and health of kitty-cat spider. After all, she was only doing what nature had designed her to do. True, I didn’t want her to do that to me, but at least I could make sure she wasn’t harmed.

Yep. That’s me. Defender of kitty-cat spiders who might eat my face.

I kept an eye out for Kitty all day, and well into the evening. I didn’t search for her anymore, because I had a feeling I had provoked her hiding instinct. If I were a kitty spider, I would lay low and wait for the human to fall asleep. A predator her size is also prey, and I assumed that her spider wiring must have equipped her with millions of years of survival strategies.

Hunting strategies, too. The idea of going to bed without knowing where she was made me feel pretty twitchy. She wouldn’t even have to inject me – if I woke up with an eight-legged Kitty on my face, I would have a heart attack. However, a strategy occurred to me as the day wound down and night crept over my neighborhood.

I have a sleeping bag that’s designed to keep scorpions and other venomous bugs from getting to you when you’re camping. You can seal yourself into it from head to toe, and it has mesh for breathing. So I hauled it out of its closet.

I peeked into the hallway. Nothing moved on the floor, so I carried the bag to my bed. I didn’t bother to turn down the covers. I sealed myself inside, sure that I would be safe from Kitty’s ultra fangs.

Pretty sure. Almost certain.

It wasn’t the most comfortable way to sleep, but I felt grateful for it. Just before I was about to drop off, I head skittering noises. Something small climbed onto my sleeping bag and moved around, as if trying to figure out where I was. Finally it settled in one spot, just where Jingle would have curled up, and I heard another noise.

Purring.

“Oh, that’s fiendish,” I said, and then I fell asleep.

I was afraid to move all night, mostly because I worried I might squish Kitty. When morning came, I worried about something else, because she was gone. I emerged from the sleeping bag, half-expecting her to leap at my face, once it was no longer protected. She was nowhere in sight.

Outside, someone roared with anger, and I heard a crash, then the sound of something breaking. My neighbor Thor was at it again. He hated the cats that invaded his flower garden, and he had thrown many a pot at the four-footed rascals. To be fair, it was a gorgeous garden, and cats do have a tendency to poop where you don’t want them to. I had done my best to keep Jingle inside, partly to save Thor’s garden and partly to save Jingle. My cat had a fiendish side, and he enjoyed tormenting our next-door neighbor a little too much.

Just imagine what Thor would think of Kitty! The only thing he hated more than cats were bugs.

I heard another crash, but I suspected Thor was venting anger at this point. He always had that to spare. If he didn’t have a garden to occupy his time, he might have spent it building bombs instead.

I walked cautiously out of the bedroom, down the hall and to the kitchen. Kitty did not leap out at me. When I peeked into the laundry room, I saw her next to the shelves. I wondered if she was waiting for me. When I moved closer, she began to purr.

“Are you hoping for crunchies?” I said. “I’m out of them.”

I shouldn’t have been worried about feeding her, except that a hungry spider might decide to improvise breakfast from my carcass. What would it hurt if I found something she liked? But what would that be (other than me)?

I opened a can of tuna and dumped it into a bowl for her. Some spiders eat fish, right? Fishing spiders? Maybe they suck out fish blood or something, but I figured it was worth a try.

She seemed interested. She crawled partway into the bowl, but then she just sort of sat there. I started to wonder if maybe she preferred I didn’t watch her. Maybe she felt safer eating alone, so I left her there and went to work on my computer for a while.

I forgot about her for a couple of hours. When I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, I remembered, so I peeked into the pantry.

The bowl was empty. “Score!” I said. “Good kitty!”

Still, I had to wonder – what was she eating before I started feeding her? Birds? Mice? Shih-tzus and/or small children? She was as big as a kitten. For a spider, that’s pretty damn big.

I looked for her, but she wasn’t under the shelves.

On my way out of the laundry room, I noticed the trash was overflowing, so I hoisted the bag and took it outside to the container next to my garage. I was about to toss it in when I had a scary thought. Could Kitty have climbed into the bag?

It was a hyper-vigilant impulse, and I knew that, but I opened the bag and rummaged through it, just to be sure. No giant, kitty-mimicking spider presented herself, so I breathed a sigh of relief and put the trash bag where it belonged. Returning to the house, I opened the door gingerly, then searched the perimeter to make sure Kitty wasn’t near the door, ready to rush out. I was so focused on that, I forgot to lock the door when I closed it behind me again.

That turned out to be a fateful oversight.

Nothing moved in the house. I didn’t hear purring or skittering, so I walked back to my office, which also happens to be my bedroom. My desk and computer are parked at the foot of my bed, right next to an arcadia door that leads to my patio. On pleasant mornings, I like to sit out there with a cup of coffee. The weather was still nice, so I had the door open, but the screen door was shut to keep out the flies.

Kitty had climbed up the screen.

“There you are,” I said. “Nice view?”

She waved a leg at me. I decided it was a friendly gesture – or at least, not overtly hostile. When I sat in my chair and fired up my computer, Kitty didn’t budge from her spot.

I worked there all morning, checking on Kitty from time to time. Sometimes she climbed a little higher; sometimes she settled lower, but mostly she seemed content to be where she was. The morning was beginning to give way to afternoon when I heard Thor yelling outside. From his tone, it was more of a general rant than one directed at someone or something in particular.

Thor isn’t really his name. I probably should have learned what it was, but I avoided him at all costs. I called him Thor, not because he was handsome like the guy in the comics or the movies, but because he had a tendency to storm at people. I’ve never seen a man so easily triggered. Since he was my next-door neighbor, he most often yelled at me about the way I was neglecting the weeds and/or the invasive grass. The jungle was getting a little thick out there.

As I said before, Thor had a phobia about bugs. He never called the yard police on me, so I might give him credit for that, except that Thor never called them because he was also paranoid that the government was out to get him.

Personally, I thought it was pretty damn funny that the guy who felt Black Hat agents were watching his every move was also inclined to spy on his neighbors (perhaps expecting to see us in secret meetings with his enemies?), but I should have realized that the guy who hated the tall grass because of the bugs it attracted would be pushed over the edge if he could see the kitten-sized arachnid climbing on my screen door.

“Goddammit!” he yelled, loud enough to break glass.

I looked up and saw his purple face, way closer than it should have been if Thor were keeping to his own property. “What are you doing in my yard?” I called, but Thor hadn’t waited to hear that. He charged around the side of my house, through a gate I had apparently forgotten to lock, so it was a good thing my front door …

Wait. Did I lock that when I came back from taking out the trash?

I jumped out of my chair and ran to the front of the house. I could see that the bolt was in the unlocked position. Just as I reached for it, the door slammed open. Thor steamed in like a freight train. He brandished a shovel as if it were the hammer Mjolnir.

“I warned you what would happen if you didn’t cut that grass!” he thundered. “How many times did I warn you!?”

“Leave her alone!” I tried to hold onto his arm. “She’s not hurting anyone!”

He shoved me into my bookshelf and stalked past me and down the hall. I scrambled to my feet and ran after him. “This is my house,” I cried. “Get out or I’m calling the police!”

He stopped dead in the doorway of my office, but I was still going full speed, so I bounced off him and ended up on my butt. Looking past him, I realized Kitty wasn’t on the screen anymore. She was on the floor. She reared up and showed him her fangs.

Thor hoisted his shovel. Or at least I think that’s what he started to do, because he didn’t get far before Kitty Cat pounced on him.

She moved so fast, I could barely follow her progress across the floor, up his leg, all the way up to his neck. He stiffened and his eyes went wide. Kitty leaped away from him and onto the bed, where she burrowed behind my pillows.

Thor stood like a statue. I could see two livid marks on his neck where she had bitten him. His shovel fell over with a plonk, and then he settled to the floor. It was like watching a sack of potatoes redistribute itself. Is he melting inside? I wondered. Is she going to eat his face now?

However, Kitty did not reappear, and Thor was still breathing. “Are you okay?” I asked him.

I don’t think he heard me.

I called 911. “My neighbor is unresponsive on the floor,” I said. “I think something bit him.”

“Did you see it?” asked the operator. “Was it a snake?”

“No,” I said.

“Was it a scorpion? A spider?”

“I’m not sure.” That was sort of true.

It took ten minutes for the paramedics to show up. I felt awed by their efficiency. They asked me the same questions the operator did, and I gave the same answers. Fortunately, Kitty did not come out of hiding.

“Sir – ,” an EMT shined a light in his eyes, “do you know where you are? What’s your name?”

Thor blinked. “Pretty colors,” he said. “So nice … ”

The bite marks on his neck were obvious. “Whatever it was,” said the EMT, “It must have been big.”

“Goodness,” I said.

“You might want to sleep in another room tonight,” he suggested. “Maybe even a hotel, until you can get an exterminator in here.”

“Yeah,” I said.

They packed Thor up and hauled him away. I watched them load him into the ambulance.

I checked behind my pillows. Kitty wasn’t there. I almost cried.

That night, I was extra careful when I got into my sleeping bag. Kitty may have been hiding in or near the bed, and it would be a shame to crush her after she had fought like a warrior, besting Thor and the shovel Mjolnir. I zipped myself up and lay there, listening. It didn’t take more than fifteen minutes before I heard the skittering. “Kitty,” I called. “Is that you?”

Presently I felt her weight on the sleeping bag. She settled in her usual spot, and purred. I thought for a long time, and then I unzipped the bag just enough to uncover my head. “I’m sorry, Kitty. That was a close call.”

She continued to purr.

“That was the coolest thing I ever saw,” I said. “You’re a ninja kitty spider.”

I felt her settle in. I swear, it wasn’t that different from the way Jingle Monster made himself comfortable.

“Good Kitty,” I said, and zipped myself back up.

A couple of weeks went by without incident, unless you count the fact that Kitty and I spent more and more time together. She found a spot on the desk to perch while I was working. It was the same spot Jingle had favored, and I wondered if she could smell him there – or whatever sense spiders have that approximates that sort of thing.

I had put the incident with Thor out of my mind, until the day my doorbell rang. I’m a hermit, so I’m never happy to hear that sound, but I was extra dismayed when I looked through the peephole and saw Thor standing on my front porch. I could imagine what he was going to say to me.

You need to destroy that bug! I’m going to sue you! I want my shovel back!!

He was the one who had invaded my home and assaulted me – that’s what I was going to have to remind him of. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but I shouldn’t put it off. Thor wasn’t the kind of guy to go away until he had his say.

At least I knew Kitty could defend herself if he got frisky again. I opened the door, leaving the security chain on.

The man I found on the other side could not have been more different from the neighbor I thought I knew. He looked sheepish. He wrung his hands. “Will you get her to bite me again?” he said. “Please?”

I blinked. “Um. What?”

“I feel so good, now. It’s like some kind of medicine. I swear, you could make a million dollars!”

At least he wasn’t carrying the shovel. However, I didn’t feel inclined to trust him. “I don’t want to scare her,” I said. “I don’t want you to – ”

I never got a chance to finish that sentence. Kitty Cat darted through the gap between the door and the jam and up Thor’s leg. She went for his neck again.

“Okay,” I said. “Never mind.”

She bit him and leaped away, landing on the cabinet next to the door, but this time she didn’t hide. She sat and watched him.

This time for sure, I thought. She’ll eat his face.

However, Kitty didn’t make a move toward Thor – and he didn’t faint, this time. He just looked really, really happy.

“Well,” I said. “I guess that’s – um – okay now. You seem like … um … ”

Thor turned and walked stiffly down the front walk, moving like a robot. I closed the door and locked it. For a long moment, Kitty and I regarded each other.

“Good kitty,” I said at last.

She purred.

When I went back to the office, Kitty climbed down from the cabinet and followed me. She moved confidently, like someone who knew she was home. I sat at my desk, and she climbed into her spot, settling down to nap.

It was official. We were family.

That night, I didn’t seal up the sleeping bag. I left my face exposed. “Good night, Kitty Cat,” I said.

I heard her purring.

She didn’t eat my face. I woke up the next morning, and she was in her usual spot on my desk. The sight of her perched there made me ridiculously happy.

Maybe I’m irresponsible. I haven’t reported Kitty to local entomologists, or animal control or – you know – the zoo or whatever. Maybe she really is some apex predator that could lay thousands of eggs that would grow into kitty cat spiders that will overrun the world and eat everybody. Or weave us all into webs, and bite us, and control our minds like in the Matrix.

But you know what? The world made Kitty Cat. If she’s here, it’s because the world is ready for her. Who am I to argue with that?

She’s sitting in my lap, even as I type that.

Yeah, she’s probably going to get me some day. Or maybe she won’t. I’ll let you know.

(Unless I can’t.)

Featured image: Shutterstock.

Ask the Vet: How to Get Your Cat to Swallow Pills

Q: How can I get my adopted cat, Sally, to take her pills?

A: Perhaps my technique will work for you. While my cat is eating yummy canned food, I tip her head up, open her mouth, and drop the pill on the back of her tongue. Then I praise her and let her resume eating. Offering food before giving the pill lubricates the throat,  which facilitates swallowing. The food reward afterward ensures the pill finds its way to the stomach. You can also hide the pill inside a tasty treat, such as a Pill Pocket, or try using a pet piller. If she still refuses, ask Sally’s veterinarian about alternative dosage forms — flavored liquids, long-acting injections, or transdermal gels that are absorbed through the skin.

Ask the Vet is written by veterinarian Lee Pickett, VMD. Send questions to [email protected] and read more at saturdayeveningpost.com/ask-the-vet.

This article is featured in the May/June 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

A Trace of Dampness

I watch them in every season, but they inspire me most in winter. On this steel-cold February morning, they descend on the garbage cans with a madcap shrieking, wing beats snapping time to their plucking and gobbling.

Standing outside McMillan’s Deli, waiting for my bones to chill, I enjoy their fervor. Their table manners are atrocious, but they are survivors. There is beauty in that.

A man steps up beside me.

“I hate seagulls,” he says.

“Herring gulls,” I say.

I recognize him. He is new in town. A retired commodities broker. We used to be a community of plumbers and fishermen. People who worked until they fell over dead. This man is not yet fifty. Brown fur wraps the wrists of his gloves.

He gestures at the shredded donut wraps and greasy paper plates as if commanding them to round themselves up.

“Look at this mess,” he says. “It’s disgusting. Stupid, useless birds. We need to find a way to get rid of them.”

Left alone without a credit card you wouldn’t last two days.

“They’re survivors,” I say.

He turns up the collar of his jacket.

“If that’s what it takes to survive, I’ll pass,” he says.

The birds jostle and peck at each other in the brittle gravel. I wonder if the floor of the Stock Market looks any different.

He takes his leave wordlessly. The door chimes as he steps inside the deli.

My bones are well chilled, but I wait outside just a touch longer. Along the roof line, the rusted rain gutters sag under a five-day garnish of ice. This winter has been unseasonably cold. The ice catches the light of the rising sun and sparkles like tinsel. I take a deep breath of sharp, salt-laden air.

The Caterpillar hats nod as I step through the door. Behind the counter, Jennifer graces me with her prize-winning smile. Lord, a young girl can light up more than a room.

“Top of the morning, Mr. Udall, so nice to see you,” she says, as if she hadn’t seen me yesterday morning and the morning before.

I stand for a moment, enjoying the warmth. It’s why I wait outside. No real pleasure without pain. The heat creeps about me, like a lover’s perfectly planted kisses.

When I step to the display case, Jennifer leans close. She only wears one earring. A tiny silver dreamcatcher. I find this fetching. Piratical. For months now I have been working up the nerve to tell her this. But I worry what she’ll think. What happens to us when we get old? I’ll tell you. We become poster children for hesitation and doubt. You’d think with the end looming, we’d run naked in the street.

Instead I shuffle my feet.

On the other side of the counter, Jennifer leans close. Her eyes flick piratically to her left, where Mr. Scrooge sits alone in a booth.

“My last customer told me you were crazy.” She winks. “I told him we’re all here because we’re not all here.”

No one has winked at me in eight years. Even a wink can fill a heart.

“You are wise beyond your years,” I say.

It will have to do.

“Tell that to my chemistry professor. The usual?”

Jennifer waits a beat, as she always does, as if I might actually order something different.

I think about it. I really do.

Eggs benedict and two mimosas, please. One for me, one for you.

She is already turning. She truly is wise.

“One black coffee and one raspberry donut coming right up,” she says. “And a trash bag for you back in the kitchen.”

“I thank you. My feathered friends thank you.”

“You’re birds of a feather,” Jennifer says.

She stands at the coffee machine, her back to me, but I only half see her.

I think, Are we?

 

When Marlene was alive we visited an island off the coast of Los Angeles. The island was small, less than one square mile. In those times we walked effortlessly, hiking the island’s perimeter took less than an hour. The island was nothing but beating waves and shrieking sea birds. We went for the birds. Well, I went for the birds. Marlene went for me. She was a slave to all animals, but Marlene’s feelings for sea birds were mixed.

The island was sun-blistered and wind-blasted, and, on the rare occasion when the wind eased, it smelled like a giant guano belch. But as we walked the paths through tawny grasses, my wife smiled and laughed and squeezed my hand. Birds were everywhere. The guide book I carried informed me that the island was home to house finches, horned larks, peregrine falcons, orange-crowned sparrows and even barn owls (“The owls fly silently out from the mainland to dine upon the island’s succulent deer mice,” the author wrote). But all we could see was a vast army of sea birds. Brown pelicans, black oystercatchers, ashy storm petrels and cormorants; in the sun-bleached grass, on the bald escarpments of rock, on the ledges of dark, plunging cliffs, they smothered the island. But mostly there were Hunnish hordes of gulls. Western gulls, to be exact. Many of their nests rested alongside the trails. As we approached, they rose in screaming clouds. Before we got back on the boat, we rinsed our ball caps in the ocean.

On the return boat trip I started a conversation with a ranger. He was heading home after a week-long stint on the island. He was fortyish, and spoke so softly I could barely hear him over the thrum of the engines, but he was kind. He politely answered my questions. When I asked him about the myriad litterings of delicate bones I had seen, assembled in small circles like the aftermath of some horrific Lilliputian battle, he smiled. Chicken bones, he said. Extricating gnawed chicken bits from garbage cans on the mainland, the adult Western gulls gulped them down, flew across the water, and regurgitated them for their young. The gulls also spat up onions, spaghetti, casserole, carrots, chips, dog food and mince. The ranger told me this with an endearing trace of pride. When I said I knew few human beings willing to traverse thirty miles of ocean for a half-eaten chicken wing, he laughed. I told him that, of all the sea birds on the island, the Western gulls were my favorite.

He regarded me through several engine thrums.

“I’m not joking,” I said.

“They’re my favorite, too,” he said.

That night in our Los Angeles hotel room, Marlene stood silent in front of the floor-to-ceiling window. From where I sat on the edge of the bed, I could see her sober reflection in the glass.

The air conditioner purred. In the room above us, a television broadcast the sound of gunshots and screaming. On television, people who are shot have an inordinate amount of time to scream.

Marlene turned to face me. Sequin city lights framed her slender body.

“You don’t know everything,” she said.

“I don’t.”

“I hated every second on that island,” she said.

I almost said, I know.

“All those birds,” she said. “I felt like they could turn on us and there would be nothing we could do.”

She turned back to the window.

“Did you hear it?” she said to the glass.

“Hear what?”

“The sound the gulls made when they first lifted into the air. Right before all the godawful noise.”

“No.”

In the room above us, more people were shot.

“Their wings made the loveliest rustle,” said Marlene. “Like a bag of sand lightly shaken.”

She stood so I could not see her face.

“You can love something, and still be afraid of it,” my wife said. “Sometimes you’re afraid of it because you do love it.”

I understand her fear fully now.

 

Sometimes late at night in my lonely ranch house on the far edge of Long Island, I see Marlene standing in front of the sliding glass doors to the patio. She is not silhouetted by city lights. The woods behind her are dark. But there is light from somewhere. Possibly, my heart.

“Marlene,” I say softly, “thank you for always holding my hand.”

My wife looks out to the woods.

“That’s what love is,” she says to the glass.

 

Marlene was ambivalent about birds, but she loved cats with every fiber of her soul. The last of her housecats still resides in our home. Luther is named after Martin Luther King. He is midnight black. Perhaps this is politically incorrect, but it seemed straightforward when Marlene named him.

I have one last cat at home, but I have seven out on the windswept point at the northernmost tip of this island. Marlene and I have cared for a waxing and waning group of feral cats for thirteen years. Well, I have cared for them for thirteen years. Marlene cared for them for eight. It began as a temporary job, filling in for Mrs. Simmons when she went to visit her son in Orlando for Christmas. But people die. So we took up the torch, Marlene and I, caring for the cats dumped in the woods or left behind at summer cottages. On a resort island living is easy for feral cats in summer, with brimming dumpsters and soft-hearted tourists. In February, the tourists are gone and the dumpsters are often frozen shut. The wind howls off the Atlantic like a sodden freight train. The thickest fur isn’t always enough. A frozen cat is the queerest thing. For some reason they are often stretching out at the last. These renders them a little like a boomerang. I confess, I have side-armed a cat or two in the direction of the burlap bag I carry in winter for such exigencies.

The glen where the feral cats live is ten miles from my home. Every afternoon I drive my Ford pickup up the long, empty rises with their vistas of gray, green and blue sea. I look out the windshield, but often I don’t see the road at all.

The glen is pretty and peaceful. After a snowfall, the bare trees preside over the white silence like respectful monks. Sometimes bright sun sparkles the snow, and trilling blue jays hop between the branches. Other days, bruised clouds rule the sky, their shadows passing like dark sleighs over the snow. The cats pad over the ice-crusted snow like furry butterballs. But not always. In my zealousness, I fear I have overfed them. Now and again they plunge through the crust. When this happens there is a wild clawing flurry, and snow flies everywhere. Eventually the cat emerges with a small toupee of snow. I imagine they give me an affronted look. Perhaps they want me to build elevated walkways.

After thirteen years, I still don’t pet the cats. They are wild. They have absolutely no affection for me, though I believe they felt some small affection for Marlene, as almost every living thing did. The cats see me solely as legs ferrying buckets of food. They hear the chunk of the truck door, and they meet me at the opening to the woods. As I carry the two green painters’ buckets, each containing stacked paper plates of dry cat food, the cats follow their wheezing Pied Piper as he makes his way along the narrow path. But when I come to a stop and put the buckets down, behind me the cats ooze away into the woods like the outermost edges of a smoke ring. They don’t trust people. I do not blame them.

Their homes in the glen are simple structures. This is partly because I built them, but mostly because simple is all they require. Plywood roofs rest atop bale walls of hay. The bales, in turn, rest upon a plywood floor. The floors are lined with straw. Straw doesn’t freeze like rug fragments do. More important, straw dries quickly. Cats can stand a lot of cold, but they can’t stand wet and cold. Even on the nicest winter day, a trace of dampness attends the sea. Before Marlene and I learned the difference between straw and rug, we lost several cats. I never tossed one when Marlene was around.

Winter is hard on the birds too. Sometimes a bird will light down on a plate to help itself to dry cat food. Sometimes a cat will take the opportunity to indulge in a two-course meal. It took us only a short time to settle on a solution.

Every day of winter, except for two, I feed the cats the same thing. On Christmas and New Year’s Eve they get chicken liver and hamburger. The extravagance was Marlene’s idea. She also hung tinsel in the trees. One Christmas she decided to put out catnip mice. She stood very still as the cats awkwardly nudged the tiny sacks.

“They don’t know how to play,” she said, and I saw that her eyes were wet.

She kept putting out the catnip mice, along with the tinsel. On Christmas and New Year’s Eve we’d bring hot chocolate and fold out chairs and sit in the glen as evening turned to night, the tinsel catching the moonlight as cat shadows padded about. Women make the world beautiful.

I always feed the birds right after I feed the cats. Keeping them at the truck keeps them off the plates. When Marlene was alive we would make our way briskly back to the empty parking lot. Marlene would get back in the truck. There she’d sit, with the window rolled up, smiling at her husband enveloped in a clamoring cloud of birds. Five years later, I still look over at the truck.

 

I think about this, and the hundreds of other feckless things that make up a life, as I drive along the empty undulating road to the end of our island. On this afternoon, dark clouds, ragged at the edges, scud across the dishwater sky. At the top of the rises I can see the spread of marsh and the gray Atlantic. From inside the truck I can still smell the sea. I shift in the seat. My back hurts a little. I carry the hefty bag of leftover bagels and bread out the kitchen door and across the parking lot. But always, I must lift the bag into the bed of the pickup. I will accept a sore back over asking Jennifer for help.

At the height of their civilization, Marlene and I cared for nineteen cats. Damp, time, and the occasional road misadventure have seen to the whittling. I do not wish to saddle someone else with the burden. Sometimes I imagine myself peering up into bleak faces from my deathbed. Promise me you’ll feed the cats. But we had no children, and I have no more family. I have no idea who might peer down at me. Perhaps their faces will be bleak only because they fear being asked to care for uncaring cats. But I don’t worry too much about the cats. Like the birds, the cats are tough cusses. The toughest will find ways to survive. I suppose, at any time, I could have just stopped, but I am part of a generation cursed with the inability to quit. And we become creatures of habit. It’s why I brought the hefty bag. I look up into the rearview mirror and smile at my folly.

 

When I park the truck, I walk around to the back. Leaning over the hatch, I open the bag, carefully rolling back the edges. It is my mimosa.

I do not turn to look back at the truck.

When I reach the glen, I lay the plates out quickly and efficiently. You would expect nothing less from someone who has done this roughly two thousand times.

But this time, when I finish distributing the plates, I don’t leave. I find a spot far enough from the plates, and I sit in the snow. The cats eat warily. Their eyes never leave me.

I look at my watch, as if I have some appointment later this evening. A small part of me wishes I was standing in the parking lot in front of McMillan’s, where, after a time, I might step inside to warmth and the brilliant smile of a young woman who doesn’t really know me, but is kind to me nonetheless. I know this will sting a little, but I also know it will pass. Youth is resilient and has its own concerns. Maybe it won’t pass entirely, but that is okay too. Even on the brightest days, a trace of dampness attends life. But maybe that makes things sweeter. Like stepping into a warm, welcoming deli.

I realize now that, once night falls, a neighbor might notice that none of the lights are on, a small oversight on this preoccupied day. But my dark rancher likely won’t matter. Most of the homes in our neighborhood are no longer ranchers, just as the neighbors are no longer plumbers, fishermen and friends.

It could be a chuckle. It could be my teeth clack slightly.

I lay back in the snow. From this position I cannot see the cats, but I know they watch me as they move among the skeletal trees. They will not come close for a long time. They are survivors.

But sometimes there is no joy in survival.

I don’t have to wait long for my bones to chill.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott: Classic Cat Movies

See all Movies for the Rest of Us.

 

Ask the Vet’s Pets: Clawless Cats

Ask The Vet’s Pets is written by Daisy Dog and Christopher Cat, with a little help from Dr. Lee Pickett, VMD. Send questions to Daisy and Christopher at edit[email protected] and read more online at saturdayeveningpost.com/askthevetspets.

Dear Christopher Cat: I live in New York, where the state just outlawed declawing. My adult cats are declawed, but I recently adopted a kitten who isn’t. How can I prevent her from scratching my furniture?

Christopher Responds: Scratching is a normal feline behavior. One way to protect your furniture is to regularly trim your cat’s claws. The cats in our family were adopted as adults, and our mom used special treats and yummy food to accustom us to the procedure. Try FeliScratch and Feliway innovative visual and pheromone markers that help train cats where to scratch.

If your cat scratches elsewhere, cover the area with double-stick tape or aluminum foil.

Alternatively, you can cover the claws with plastic nail caps, which last four to six weeks. If you have trouble applying them, your veterinary team can do it for you.

Declawing is rejected by many veterinarians and cat lovers as cruel, because it requires amputation of each toe’s third bone, from which the claw grows. It’s like amputating each human finger at the first joint.

Research shows that declawing leads to chronic pain in one percent of cats. Since one in four of the nation’s 96 million household cats undergoes declaw surgery, that’s 240,000 cats with surgically induced chronic pain.

Declawing is illegal in most of the developed world, including the countries of Europe, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.

In the U.S., it’s not just New York that plans to ban declawing. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Assembly passed a similar bill, which still must go through the state Senate.

Some California cities, including Los Angeles, already outlaw cat declawing. Opponents claimed it would lead to increased abandonments and euthanasia, but that hasn’t happened.

See more at AsktheVetsPets.com.

This article is featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening PostSubscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

The Upcoming Cats Movie Looks Absolutely Terrible and I Can’t Wait to See It

In the decades to come, our children’s children will doubtlessly ask us, “What were you doing when the strangest movie trailer of all time was released?”

If you haven’t yet experienced the simultaneously whimsical and nightmarish preview for the long-awaited film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit stage musical, Cats, do that now. For non-musical theater types and the uninitiated, the upcoming movie appears to present a confusing collage of A-list celebrities, horrifying CGI, and dancing anthropomorphic pets. For those of us well-accustomed to the stage show, it appears the exact same way.

Like a threatening suggestion, the trailer promises, “THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, YOU WILL BELIEVE,” and it beckons the question: Which holiday? Halloween? April Fools’? I want to believe in this bonkers musical adaptation, but there are too many unanswered questions.

Namely, is this actually the best use of our capabilities with computer-generated imagery? And, can the weirdness of an abstract — albeit insanely successful — theatrical production ever again translate seamlessly into a cinema box office hit?

In a behind-the-scenes preview released by Universal Pictures on Wednesday, director Tom Hooper said, “We’ve used digital fur technology to create the most perfect covering of fur,” and many people, including myself, wondered what exactly that would entail. To find out in this (literally) stunning trailer is to question if we all share the same definition of the word “perfect.” Sure, the realism is there, to an extent, but so is an undeniable cognitive dissonance. The much-memed line from Jurassic Park is applicable: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

A more palatable example of the pitfalls of CGI came with the release of Disney’s “live action” remake of The Lion King. Many reviewers, including NPR’s Justin Chang, lamented the lost emotion from the film’s characters bound up in its display of 21st-century technological prowess. While the hand-drawn animations of the 1994 version gave way to wild and adorable imagery, this new one is, perhaps, “so realistic-looking that, paradoxically, you can’t believe a moment of it.” When Cats opened on Broadway in 1982 (the same year as the release of the sexy, animal horror film Cat People — coincidence?), the players didn’t look exactly like cats. They wore tights and leg warmers and big, new wave hairdos. They understood that the power of suggestion in creating a world was more convincing than photorealism.

That isn’t to say that Cats hasn’t always been an oddity. In its 18-year Broadway run, it mystified many with its shockingly successful combination of plotless poetry, an eclectic musical score, and some sort of alien spaceship ending.

I saw a touring production of Cats in junior high, and afterwards my friend and I waited outside the theater to meet some of the performers. While we waited, we met a middle-aged couple wearing fabric cat ears and tails who “followed” the show. In fact, it had been their hundredth-odd time experiencing the musical. These people are weird, I thought. But that’s exactly who the show is made for. I wasn’t sporting any furry accessories that night, but I was weird too because I willingly attended a deranged, ambiguously sexual, kitty sing-a-long.

Can the new Cats movie exude the same energy? Attract the same cult following? The incredible star power (along with the power of morbid curiosity) assures that it will make money at the box office. Sure, the trailer showcases a load of aesthetic incongruities that forces us to reconcile our relationship with reality, but maybe it’s the musical we deserve. Maybe we’re entering a new cinematic age.

One thing is for sure: we all now have a present that we can’t open until Christmas. An oddly-shaped one with psychedelic wrapping paper.

 

Featured image: Cats (2019), Universal Pictures

 

It’s All about the Cat

It’s clear that the cat is a narcissist. Detective Shaw watches the cat stare at its own reflection in the window, licking itself with long, self-indulgent strokes of the tongue. On the floor beneath the window ledge where the cat preens, a woman lays dead in a pool of her own blood. Tiny red paw prints cover the floor. One could almost fool themselves into thinking the cat had been distraught over the woman’s death. The missing flesh from the tip of her nose and the way the cat cavalierly ignores all the humans in the room, suggests otherwise.

“Bet you wish he could talk, don’t you?” a uniformed officer says, nudging the detective with his elbow.

“He?”

“It’s kind of hard not to notice.”

Detective Shaw turns toward the uniform, nose wrinkled in distaste.

Mistaking Shaw’s reaction, he says, “You must be a dog person.”

“Bird, actually.”

“Oh! You’re the one with the parrot. I’ve heard about him. The Professor.”

“Gilligan.”

“I’m Sam.”

“The parrot. His name is Gilligan.”

“Oh, right. I suppose that makes more sense.”

Detective Shaw nods as the crime scene technician gathers her samples and flashes him a thumb up. He squats next to the corpse, his eyes inspecting the body from head to toe.

“So, if it was you lying here, Gilligan would tell us what happened and who did it, right?”

Shaw squints over his shoulder like an annoying gnat is buzzing in his ear.

“Hey, Petie? This guy’s the detective that has the parrot.”

“No kidding? I’ve heard about him. Skipper, right?”

“No, Gilligan.”

“Not that, I know the bird’s name, dummy. I meant him. Detective Skipper, right?”

Shaw sighs. Standing, he claps his hands together and says, “I’d like to thank everyone for your help, but now it’s time to clear the scene.”

“What about Percival?”

“Who?” Shaw spins to face the cop called Petie.

“Percival? The cat.”

“Oh. If you want to wait around until we’re done here, you can take him with you until we notify next of kin if you want.”

“Really? Thanks, Detective Skipper.”

Shaw closes his eyes, counting until he hears the door shut. When he opens them, he finds the crime scene tech, Shirley, regarding him with sympathy as she tries not to laugh.

“Have you processed the cat yet?”

“Nope. Want to pin him down for me?”

Shaw glances at the cat. Percival yawns, his cat mouth opening impossibly wide, the gaping maw lined with tiny, razored fangs.

“I’ll pass.”

“Oh, come on. You two are going to have to become friends. You might as well get it over with now.”

“What do you mean?”

They stand staring at the cat. Reaching a hand up to his shoulder, Shirley gives it a squeeze. She looks up at him from the corner of her eyes, and says, “It’s not just the nose. Look at the left hand.”

Shaw follows her suggestion, his gaze zeroing in on the left hand, tucked tight against the body. His pulse quickens as he registers the bone protruding from the bloody stump of the ring finger.

“There’s no telling what he may have eaten. That cat is evidence. He’s going home with you tonight.”

“The hell. Why can’t you take him?”

“Can’t. Husband’s allergic.”

“Well, then your husband can stay with me.”

Shirley laughs, gives him a grin, then says, “Bet you wish you had a partner right about now, huh?” Shouldering her collection kit, she gathers her evidence bags.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve got to get these samples to the lab to process.”

“But what about the cat?”

“I lied. I processed him while the M.E. was clearing the body.”

“But, wait. You can’t leave.”

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll break the bad news to poor Petie. Now, you gentlemen have a good night together, all right?”

He can hear her laughing long after the door shuts behind her.

 

“I’m sorry.”

Another seed pelts the back of his head.

“I said, I’m sorry.”

A corn kernel grazes his ear as it zooms by.

“Gilligan.”

Feathers rustle as he turns to face the parrot.

“I’ve locked him in the bathroom, what more do you want from me?”

The bird rolls its pale eyes at him.

“You want to join him?”

Gilligan’s head cocks to the side. He shuffles on his perch, turning his back on Shaw.

“Like I don’t have enough on my plate.”

Detective Shaw returns to his notes, trying to recover his train of thought. The victim was a single white female, early 40s, worked as a CPA for one of the larger local accounting firms. According to her neighbors she was quiet, kept to herself. No one could remember her ever having any visitors over. She lived in the coveted top floor apartment in a building with narrow halls and narrower walls, so their assessment on that front was probably accurate.

Her coworkers, who had reported her missing, considered her a hard worker, thorough, dependable, but couldn’t remember her ever mentioning any family, friends, or significant other.

The apartment had been beyond neat; every item had its place; every place was a neatly labeled container of some sort. Nothing appeared to have been taken. She didn’t own a car. She had no debts or vices that he could detect. As far as he could tell, the victim and her life had been completely unremarkable save for the fact that she had bought the apartment building before moving in, and that she was murdered.

A scratching against the bathroom door is immediately followed by an angry shriek from Gilligan. Shaw walks to the bathroom and cracks the door open. Percival sits staring up at him, fluffy tail curled neatly around his paws. If Shaw didn’t know better, he’d say the cat was smirking. Opening the door a little wider, he sees the shredded roll of toilet paper, a puddle of yellow using the grout between the tile as a flood channel, and a pile of brown on his bath mat.

He shuts the door with a sigh. How could he have forgotten the litter box? Grabbing a wad of paper towels from the kitchen, he wonders how such a small creature could hold so much mess, then freezes as he’s struck by another thought. He hadn’t brought any food or the cat’s water dish, either.

Sinking down onto one of the kitchen chairs, he goes over the apartment in his mind, mentally revisiting each room. For the life of him, he can’t recall seeing any of the accoutrements that one would expect to accompany cat ownership. Even his own place bore traces of Gilligan in every room, and the parrot spent most of his time in a cage, albeit with an open door.

Rummaging through his cupboards, Detective Shaw finds an out-of-date can of tuna, which he dumps onto a paper plate. Filling a bowl with water, he presents both to the cat, hoping to not incur any additional wrath. Bagging the evidence, he shoves the bathmat in a trash bag and gives the floor a quick cleaning before returning to his desk.

 

Shaw arrives at the station early the next morning, and he’s already made two stops. The first was the apartment building of his crime scene, where he had hung a poster displaying the very best of his limited arts and crafts skills. The second was a pet store, where he spent a ridiculous amount of money purchasing cat food and a litter box, and though he’d never admit it, a cat bed and a few toys.

After leaving several baggies of “evidence” on Shirley’s desk, he heads over to the Medical Examiner’s Office to check on his victim. Entering the autopsy suite, he finds Doc Hastings working over the deceased on the examination table.

“Morning, Doc.”

“Detective Shaw! Heard you have yourself a new roommate.”

“Don’t people have anything better to talk about?”

“Good news travels fast.”

“I think your definition of good differs from mine.”

Hastings smirks.

“Do you have anything that would help with, oh, I don’t know, the case?”

“You’re no fun today.”

“I’m no fun every day.”

“True.” Returning his attention to the body, Hastings says, “The findings on your victim are pretty cut and dried. She suffered from a single stab wound to the chest. The left ventricle was severed. It’s likely she was immediately incapacitated. Would have been unconscious as she bled out.”

“What can you tell me about the weapon.”

“I took a cast of the wound for you, but I feel fairly confident that you’re looking for a pair of scissors.”

“Really? You ever work a case where scissors were used in a pre-meditated act?”

“I’ve actually never worked one where scissors were used in a murder. I had one where a lady was running and tripped and stabbed herself once.”

“That actually happens?”

“Apparently.”

“Hmm. Any defensive wounds?”

“Not even a scratch. Poor gal never saw it coming.”

“That’s consistent with the theory I’m working.”

“Care to share?”

“Not really.”

“Ouch. At least tell me about the decedent. Who was she? The cranky spinster? A crazy cat lady?”

“I don’t think either would really apply.”

“But she had a cat.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Placing the victim’s liver on the scale, Hastings spoke the weight into his Dictaphone, giving Shaw a dirty look over the top of his glasses. “Why are you being so difficult today? Are you missing the cat?”

“What?”

“Nothing. So, we’re thinking it wasn’t premeditated. Do you concur?”

“I do.”

“Which means it was either a crime of opportunity or passion.”

“There are other options.”

“Such as?”

“An accident.”

“Is that what you think this was?”

“No, not entirely.”

“Are you trying to crush my last nerve?”

“I am not.”

“Then say something useful. Or interesting. Either will do.” He dictates the weight and appearance of the kidneys, then peers at Shaw over his glasses once more. “You may begin.”

Crossing his arms, Shaw leans against the empty dissection table behind him, the metal cold through the thin fabric of his slacks. “We agree that the crime was not planned.”

“Correct.”

“And the victim doesn’t have any defensive wounds, which would support that she didn’t see the attack coming.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“The cat belongs to the killer.”

“Wait. What?” Hastings stops, arms frozen in the act of running the bowel.

“There were no signs that the cat belonged in the apartment. No water dish, no food, no cat box. Nothing.”

“Now, that is interesting.”

Shaw nods. “I think the cat belongs to one of the other tenants in the building. I think the cat followed his owner upstairs when they went to talk to the victim and got left behind when the killer panicked after committing the crime.”

“So, what are the other tenants in the building like?”

“They’re all women.”

“Ah, so it’s the killer who’s the crazy cat lady, not the victim. What are you thinking for motive?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“Then, for your sake, Detective, I hope your theory pans out.”

Detective Shaw’s phone sounds the Jaws theme from his coat pocket. He glances at the screen, then heads towards the door. “With any luck, this’ll be my proof.”

Shaw waits for the doors to swing shut behind him before answering.

“Hello.”

“Um, yes, I think you found my cat.”

The voice on the other end of the line is that of an older female. He quickly matches it to one of the faces he saw while interviewing the neighbors the day before.

“I just may have. Can you describe the cat for me?”

An irritated sigh is followed by a beat of silence. “Really.”

“Well …”

“If you insist. He’s a Siamese, blue eyes, tan and chocolate fur, has a collar with the name Percival on it.”

“Yep, that’s the cat I found.”

“When can you return him?”

“When would be convenient for you?”

Another sigh, like he’s being difficult. “I’d like him returned as soon as possible.”

“Well, I’m at work, but if I left now, I could pick the cat up and be there within an hour if that would work for you?”

“I suppose it’ll have to, won’t it?”

“And what’s the address?”

“What kind of question is that? You put the flyer up, don’t you remember?”

“I put flyers up in several buildings in the area, ma’am,” Shaw lied. “I found the cat out by my trash cans. I wasn’t sure which building the cat may have come from.”

“My Percival never would have gone outside on his own. There’s no reward, you know.”

“I’m not interested in a reward, ma’am, I just want to return the cat to his rightful owner.”

“Hmf. Well, it took you long enough. He’s been gone almost three days already.”

“The address, ma’am.”

“82 Elm, #3. I’ll expect you within the hour.”

Pocketing the phone, Shaw pokes his head back into the autopsy suite and asks, “Hey, Doc. You got a time of death for me, yet?”

“Myofilament decomposition would place death between 60 to 75 hours.”

“Perfect, Doc, thanks. Gotta run.”

“Yeah, yeah. You detectives are all the same. You only want me for my …” Finding himself alone, Doc Hastings sighs, returning his attention to the task at hand.

 

The door opens, revealing a sturdy-looking woman in her 60s, a scowl below her glasses, frown lines in heavily creased folds above them.

“Where’s my cat?”

Shaw flashes his badge. “I’m Detective Shaw, ma’am. We spoke yesterday about your neighbor.” He gestures with his eyes to the apartment above them.

“I told you everything I have to say. I’m busy.”

“Waiting for Percival?”

Her face scrunches, eyes narrowed, lips puckered. “What do you know about that?”

“You called me earlier. I made the flyer.” Hearing a snicker from further down the hallway, Shaw clears his throat loudly. “I’m the one who found your cat.”

“Percival would never leave the building. He never goes anywhere without me. I’ve had him since he was a kitten. He follows me around like a puppy dog.”

“That’s just what I suspected.”

“It is?”

“Yes. Which is why I have this warrant here granting me permission to search your apartment.”

She snatches the paper from his outstretched hand, glaring at him as she skims the text.

“This is ridiculous. You’re not coming in. You’re not welcomed.”

Footsteps approach as Shaw says, “That piece of paper says I don’t need a welcome. Now, if you’ll step aside, ma’am.”

“I most certainly will not!”

Two uniformed officers step up, one at each of Shaw’s elbows.

“You don’t understand,” she says. Her body deflates as Shaw squeezes past her into the apartment.

“I understand enough,” Shaw says. “I understand that your cat, the one that follows you around like a dog, was found in the victim’s apartment upstairs. I understand that you’ve already put a call in to the property management company, requesting to move to the victim’s apartment. And,” Shaw says, pointing to a sheet of paper on the kitchen counter, “I understand that you have a piece of the victim’s mail in your possession. Ask Shirley to bag this, will you, boys.”

“You don’t understand,” she repeats. “Look at that bill,” she gestures to the piece of stolen mail on the counter. “Look at what she pays. Sixty dollars in the middle of winter in Massachusetts. Sixty dollars! Do you know what I pay? Closer to 300! I can’t keep paying that on my pension. What was I supposed to do? Keep letting her steal all my heat for free after she stole my apartment?”

Shaw lifts an eyebrow.

“My ability to get by on my retirement was based on living in that apartment with that heating bill. I started out on the ground floor of this place almost 20 years ago and have been working my way up since. When the last tenant was moved to a care home, somehow that witch swooped in and stole the apartment from me. Then, when I went up there to ask her to split the electric bill, since I was paying for her heat, she refused. Threatened to have me evicted for stealing her mail.”

“Got it!” Shirley came out of the bathroom, a pair of scissors held up triumphantly in one of her gloved hands. In the other, she held a cotton swab with a pink tip.

“I didn’t mean to … I didn’t mean what happened. Honest. I was just so mad. When she refused to tell me how she finagled her way into the apartment that was rightfully mine …”

“I’ve got the answer to that one,” Shaw says. “She actually had every right to the apartment.”

He watches her face turn several shades of purple.

“You see, she bought the building.” Without waiting for a response, Shaw gives the uniformed officers a nod and leaves, the click of the handcuffs following him out the door.

 

Detective Shaw struggles to unlock the door, maintaining a precarious grip on the bags he’s juggling. “Gilligan, I’m home.” Shaw sets the bags on the table, untwisting the noose one of the plastic handles has dug into his wrist. “Gilligan?”

Entering the living room, the first thing he sees is the open bathroom door. The second is the empty birdcage.

“Gilligan!”

A halfhearted squawk carries from the couch. Shaw stares at the scene, sinking slowly into the armchair behind him. The cat opens his blue eyes just a slit and smirks at him, then stretches his back legs farther across the couch. Behind him, the parrot continues to groom the fur behind the cat’s ear with his beak. Pausing, he cocks his head at Shaw, whistles, and says, “Pretty kitty.”

“Don’t be an enabler,” Shaw says. Covering his face with his hand, he can’t help peeking through his fingers. He grins.