~Break On Through~
It’s impossible for me to wake up early in the morning without the assistance of Jim Morrison. Instead, I was awoken by the smooth serenade of German engineering, long after the break of dawn. My whiskers flicked as my eyes opened and I saw the tail end of the white Volkswagen Eos convertible glide away, the top down, Jacob’s brown hair glinting with reflected sunlight. Once again I’d missed him. Honestly, I was too wiped out from the previous day to even think about the state of my hair, or my fur, or my whiskers or anything else for that matter. I’d been through quite a lot in my first day as a feline and facing facts required effort. Still trying to get my bearings and understand my status in this new posture was going to take more than a day. A life of leisure, you assume? Well so far, it hadn’t been all kibble and bits and I’d yet to see a lick of cream. Oh, how I longed for a cappuccino and a cinnamon pastry. Here I was, in my bed of cedar mulch and dew rimmed pansies and Lee at the JavaBeans Coffeeshop was far away. With no place to go––this, my destination––and nothing else to do––but wait for Jacob to come home––my options were thus: hunker down in the garden, forage for sustenance, and hope that dinner would be served indoors this evening. Meanwhile I took a reconnaissance tour of my local surroundings. The church yard, serene and grassy seemed a tranquil place. I mean, if you’re not safe in a churchyard, where are you safe? The rectory building reared up in stony silence along the property and garden of my dwelling. Slinking around the back of the porch I found––Hallelujah!––a pair of feeding bowls for four-legged creatures. One offered fresh water, with only a tiny bug marring its surface. I psapped gratefully, shrugging the bug aside with indifference. The other bowl had some dubious looking kibble in it, too big for my jaw and I sniffed at it with prejudice. I continued across the lawn, unwilted, unprocessed; wide and pristine. In the balmy sunshine I felt compelled to revel in the patch of greenery and have a rollicking roll in its soft furrows. I could see how hospitable and genial the grounds had been maintained. Where the lawn ended, a sidewalk bordered the street and I tentatively eased closer. My nostrils picked up––yes––no doubt about it: garlic, basil, and tomato sauce. A pizzeria wafted within sniffing distance. I wondered what would happen if I just strolled in, hopped up on the counter and ordered a plain slice with garlic? Mmmm….Lip-smacking delicious. How did I do it, you ask? Well, I sort of just scarpered off with someone else’s leftovers. This is my life as a stray cat. Satisfied, I definitely could feel my cedar mulch napping spot calling to me, but somehow I had to make certain that I wouldn’t oversleep this time. I had to be ready to appear frisky and lure my way into Jacob’s heart. As I sauntered into his garden, I immediately sensed a foreign presence. My short tail unfurled, bristling with electricity. Whiskers arrayed, I soon picked up the intruder’s location. Shoulders tensed, ready to pounce, my new instincts directed every muscle to perform with sinuous speed. When the the cloud of cedar mulch settled, I had clutched in my maw one mousey brown rodent; its legs wriggling in a defiant death rattle. A warm ripple of blood trickled onto my tongue satisfying my carnivorous cravings. However, I’d already had my fill of tomato sauce and didn’t need dessert. Wouldn’t it prove my worthiness if I showed Jacob how I could manage rodent control in the garden? Then he’d be certain to want to keep me around. I trundled up the three wooden steps and gently arranged my offering on the doormat, ever so proud of my prowess. Then I took a well deserved nap in the sunshine.
This time I heard the soft reverberation of the German motor upon arrival, now that I had it ingrained in my auditory library. Fur raised and puffy, ears perked up, eyes bright, my moment loomed with anticipation. He’s getting out of the car— He’s strolling down the slate path— Should I pounce? Should I casually slink alongside? Or leap onto the steps and strike my best pose, tall with spine rippling gracefully? No time to deliberate so I dashed over to the raised azalea planter, emitting an inquiring meow. He stopped short and gave me a long look. “Well, what do we have here? A visitor?” Visitor? Hey buddy, I’m your new housemate! Let’s make dinner! I’m hungry. “Nice afternoon for spending in the garden, isn’t little one?” Hey, I may be little, but I’ve got a lot of spunk. Let’s spin some records!
But he just kept on walking towards the door. Approaching the steps his motion paused as he inspected my gift. “Umm, a snack you’re saving for later?” He went to the other door, the one that lead into what appeared to be a garden shed, grabbed a trowel, and proceeded to remove, what I now understand he took to be an offending object. Here I’d thought I was doing something to encourage his enthusiasm and perhaps result in a shared meal. “Let’s just move your midnight snack over here under the juniper bush, ok Tiger?” I’d hoped for more welcoming and less rejection. Apparently I’d made a major faux paw. Looks like dinner was going to be Chinese again… Another sunny morning, the dew sparkled with freshness, invigorating the blooms in the garden. Another day of hours to kill before trying again to engage my way indoors. I took another walk around the neighborhood. Now that I had a source for water and pizza, all my basic requirements were fulfilled. I was feeling a little more comfortable in my fur coat especially when the day began to take a brisk turn and the clouds moved in. When Jacob arrived home I shivered with equal parts delight and chill. A rough night warned from the shadows if I didn’t find a way to coerce my way into–– Here he comes.
You’re here again? What’s up dude?” Hey! I’m not a dude! Take a look under my tail! “No place to call home? Or you just like my garden?” Home? This is my home! C’mon, let me in! But he retreated through the door and left me in abject sorrow, low and wet. Yes wet. At first the sprinkles just sprinkled. Damp and uncomfortable but not enough to chase me from the soft smell of my cedar bedding. I tried to hide under an azalea to shield myself from the wet pellets. I prepared for what would undoubtably be a depressing night. The warm lights lit up the house above, giving a vague sense of reassurance––at least someone was reposing in contentment. When the Brazilian tunes filtered down through the open balcony doors it soothed my otherwise disheartened condition. Dusk still lingered when Jacob appeared at the rail of the balcony. He gazed over the garden, peering into my huddled resting place, with a puzzled look on his face. He turned to go inside, stopped, and stared out once again towards my position, his bewilderment sustained. When the rain began to pour steadily, I transferred my bed to the protection under the balcony, where I settled into a corner next to the steps, forced to sleep on a bed of stones. Rain had drenched the garden heavily when I awoke next morning to find Jacob standing over me, looking down from the steps. “So, I see you hunkered down for the night. You really don’t have anyplace to stay do you buddy?” No…Let me in and we can come to some kind of arrangement. What do ya say?
Well, he didn’t say anything. He went back in, but did not invite me to join him. Minutes passed and I sat aiming an inquiring countenance at the door, which remained firmly shut. Then I heard the thump, thump of shoes treading steps. When the door opened a platter filled with dishes of delectable leftovers greeted me. A bowl of water, a saucer of milk, some warmed chicken korma, steaming with spicy scents and basmati rice, shaded with saffron and laced with cumin. “I hope that suits you as breakfast. That’s all I’ve got ready-made.” Wow, this is delicious! I slinked around his ankles with thankful mewls. It rained all day. I made the cuisine last, nibbling at the mounds of food until I had them whittled down to nothing but a few grains of rice. I did make use of the rain, as the day warmed up a bit and I dashed out to take a shower so that I’d be extra clean when Jacob came back; just in case he felt guilty enough to let me inside. When the white VW came rolling into its parking space, lights hollowing out the slip for a landing, I was left out in the cold, even as my fur curled into puffs of fuzzy kitten-y cotton softness. Bust I wasn’t left hungry… “Thought maybe you’d like some fish, eh, buddy?” What’s all this ‘buddy’ business? Have you still not ascertained my sex? What kind of fish exactly? Mmmm…that smells good…. “So I thought whitefish would be good for you; some tilapia, a bit of halibut, and some cod in the seafood chowder. You don’t want any french fries, do you?” Potatoes are harmful to my waistline. “Ok, that’s your portion. Now I’m going to go eat my half. You’ll be all right?” I’d be better if you’d let me join you at the big people’s table.
But hey, how could I complain? This guy brought me superb upmarket food. I could really get used to this kind of treatment. I slept so well. I don’t remember what music issued from above when I dozed off, full of creamy chowder. I couldn’t begin to finish all the fish he’d left on my plate and awoke during the night––to use the facilities under the magnolia tree––shattered to see that my plate had been removed and the fish with it. In the morning Jacob appeared with a fresh, steaming plate of fish. My hero! He cared enough not to leave my food sit out over night and get all cold and mucky. “I figured you’d still be here. I don’t suppose you’re going to want to leave now that I’ve fed you so well, eh? Still, you must have plans…” Oh yes…I have plans! The rain subsided and the damp earth absorbed slowly. Late in the afternoon the sun shone with as much vigor as it could muster from within the overcast backdrop. When the clouds finally conceded defeat, the day took a turn towards radiance, with warm smells emanating from the earth, the air, the flowers. I was sprawled on the slate pathway, working on my tan, when Jacob arrived home early. Soon I knew why. The pitter patter of quick moving feet could be heard from the front path, which led from the main street to the garden. I spied a pair of sleek pink sneakers which matched the pink backpacked and pony-tailed girl who now stopped dead in her tracks to inspect me. She cautiously crept towards the door and opened it slowly. She ducked her head inside and called up the stairs. “Uncle Jake! Come look! Out here in the garden!” I got up from my lounging position and sat tall and slender, licking my fur smooth and sleek; just for affect, as I’d already bathed. “Hey Violet, I see you’ve met my friend, Sam.” Sam? How did he know my name?? “Uncle Jake, is this your cat? For real?” Yes! For real. “Well, he seems to have decided to stop here in the garden for a while.” “How long?” “I don’t know, Violet. Maybe he’s lost. He’s so small, so I started feeding him.” Please stop referring to me as him! “Can we bring him inside, Uncle Jake?” Yes, can we? “I’m not sure that’d be a good idea. He probably has fleas.” Whaaaaat? I do not have fleas! That was just an itch that needed scratching. “Well, let’s take him to get a flea shot.” Shot? Oh no, we don’t need to do that! “Let’s not be too hasty to go to the vet. He might be someone else’s kitty.” Yeah, let’s not be too hasty…but wait! I’m your kitty.
“But Uncle Jake, we can take him to the clinic at the pets-mart. You can take care of fleas, vaccinations, everything! And we can get food, and a litter box and a special bed for him. It would be so cool for you to have a cat. Then you wouldn’t be so alone all the time. And I could see him when I visit you. I could help to clean his box too. Oh please Uncle Jake?” Yeah…please Uncle Jake? Violet knelt down and made whispery sounds. Maybe she wanted to share a secret. I padded over to her, full of trust. Her disposition––sweet and amiable––not the sullen and ambivalent attitude of a melancholy tween. She stroked the top of my head with her tiny, delicate fingers and frisked my ears which twitched with a tickle. As she massaged my back in long caresses I began to feel a rasping in my throat. Oh, no! Not another fur ball. I’d had one earlier as a result of fierce grooming and let me tell you, that’s one experience I hesitate to repeat. The inflection in my throat didn’t seem to have any physical object attached to it. It started as a gurgle and regulated into a thrumming motor sound; sort of like the Volkswagen–– Oh! Purring! This is what purring feels like. OMG! My whiskers danced in ecstasy. It’s the epitome of bliss! “Listen, Uncle Jake, he’s purring! He likes it here.” “Ok, we’ll see. Let’s go inside and make dinner and we can talk it.”
“I’ll show you on the computer all about the pets-mart clinic.” Can we hold off on the clinic part? “We’ll see if he’s still here in the morning. Now tell me about what you did in school today.” “Only if you promise to let me feed him some dinner.” Yeah….dinner sounds good! Dinner tasted scrumptious. I think having Violet around improved my situation––if anyone could convince Jacob of my worthiness. He clearly couldn’t refuse his niece. There’d be no backpedalling now. I curled up in the dry cedar, confident that my next bed would be under cover and inside. Dawn rose clouded and chilled. Breakfast couldn’t come soon enough. Thankfully Violet, anxious to participate in my menu, cracked eggs and was liberal with melty cheeses, using a blend of pecorino, monterey jack and gruyère that had me licking my whiskers with pleasure. She had thoughtfully added some capers for that little extra piquant flavor. Just as I was licking up the sauce, activity arrived in the parking lot. Voices shrilled into view, carrying something that looked like an accessory I had collecting dust in the hall closet. Just like Q’s carry basket…poor Q, I hoped he was getting fed; he’d been so spoiled, I couldn’t think of him roughing it the way I had those first days. Well, at least his bowl had been overflowing with kibble. My mind quickly forgot Q, as it could only hold a thought for a split second, before moving on to the next stimulating scent on the breeze. It made it easier to let go of the past and concentrate on this being-a-cat business. Violet took the cat carrier with glee and explained how she intended to convince Uncle Jake to adopt me. “Make sure the kitty relieves itself before you put it into the carrier; you don’t want any messes,” the parent warned before scampering back into the automobile. I couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing pale pink bedroom slippers and a pilling cardigan. Hmm…pink footwear seemed to run in the family. Attracted by the commotion, Uncle Jake chose to make an appearance. My tail quivered and I found myself batting my eyelashes hoping to display my most captivating features. I had to use every charm at my disposal in order to woo him over. “Look, Uncle Jake, kitty ate up all the breakfast I made. See how clean and fluffy his fur is? I really don’t think he has fleas, but now we have the carrier so we can take him with us to the pet-smart clinic like I showed you last night.” Yeah! And really, I don’t have fleas. I haven’t had an itch in hours. Violet was petting me again and I complied readily to show my good nature and bonhomie. How I wished Jacob would comply. “All right, let’s clean up the kitchen and then we’ll go out when the place opens.” “Yay! You hear that little kitty? We’re going shopping!” Every girl’s wish is to be taken shopping on a Saturday morning. Yay, indeed.
When they came to get me, I couldn’t hop into the carrier fast enough. In the backseat of the Eos, surrounded by a state-of-the-art sound system and buttery leather I had Violet sitting right beside me to comfort and steady my ride. Inside the clinic, my whiskers sparked with trepidation. The smells––antiseptic and offputting––made me ill at ease. The young fellow who came into the stark white room had dark wavy hair and schoolboy round spectacles. He began to examine me tenderly, but with nimble precision. “So, who do we have here? What’s this little marmalade’s name?” “We’re calling him Sam.” Violet affirmed. “You have a healthy young kitten here. So, Sam, do you intend to be a housecat or roam out of doors?” “A little of both, I expect,” Jake answered, “I don’t really know yet. You might call him more of an unexpected house guest. He just turned up in my garden earlier this week and hasn’t left. Do you think he belongs to somebody?” “Well, she’s definitely eating well and there’s no sign of parasites that you would expect to find in a stray.” “Uncle Jake! She’s a girl!” “I’ve been feeding him––I mean, her––since Wednesday.” Finally! He comprehends that I’m a female feline. “Well, that explains her current condition. What have you been feeding her?” “She had scrambled eggs with three cheeses for breakfast,” Violet boasted.
“Umm, yeah, well I’ve been giving her leftovers. Fish chowder, Chicken Korma, Miso soup…” he trailed off, awkwardly. “I see…” The Vet was ready to chide Jacob, but I had really enjoyed the cuisine. “Not really a pet owner, are you?” “It’s been a while.” “Well, no harm done; she seems to have stomached––what was it, Chicken Korma?–– with no complications. But what a growing kitten needs is less dairy and more meat proteins. They’ll advise you on food options in the store, but I would recommend something with pure chicken or turkey meat, which is higher in protein than beef. Stay away from the fish products and be careful to read the ingredients––what your kitten does not need are corn fillers which most kibble is comprised of because it cheaper.” “So my chicken Korma wasn’t such a bad move?” “Technically no, but…” “What about dry food vs wet?” “Ah…good question. Most people offer their pets both. It’s always best to feed your cats wet food; they need the extra hydration since they typically aren’t big water drinkers, like a dog, for instance.” I was finding this all very interesting until a sharp prick interrupted the conversation. “Yeep!”
“Hey, sorry, Sam. That hurt a little bit, didn’t it? It’s ok…all better now? Would you just look at those baby blues….aren’t you a bee-u-ti-ful kit-tie? Yes, you are.” Flattery will get me every time, but in future keep that needle away from me, Buster!” “Ok, that should do it. Here’s your tags and you can pay at the front desk.” “Yay! Now we can go shopping for fun stuff!” Yeah, let’s get to the fun stuff; anything to take my mind off my sore ass. “Let’s look at the toys!” “First thing kitty needs is a litter box and a bed, so she doesn’t scratch the leather furniture.” There was an entire aisle of kitty beds, kitty chairs, kitty sectionals and kitty condos. Violet immediately grabbed at something disturbingly pink. It was a plush velour cushioned bed in two shades of pink emblazoned with a Hello Kitty cartoon. No! No! I refuse to sleep on anything pink. Hello Kitty? I’m an interior designer for Christ’s sake! Thankfully Jacob veered across the aisle where a more neutral and natural composition of sherpa and fake fur appeared–– much more to my taste. “This goes with the furniture in the bedroom, Violet and see, it’s natural sherpa; much better for kitty than that polyester.”
Next we hit the litter box aisle, where Jacob let Violet choose the most revolting polka dotted arch-roofed WC. It was white with black polka dots and said: Kitty A-Go-Go on one side. I’m quite certain that Jim Morrison would be rolling over in his well tended Parisian grave. At least it wasn’t pink or emblazoned with Hello Kitty. I suppose I could make do with it as long as it was kept out of sight. At least I’d have ample privacy when practicing my zen gardening techniques. “Good choice, Violet; we won’t have kitty litter all over the house with that ramp on the front. Let’s look at the feeding dishes.” Oh, please, no bowls with fish on them. Nothing pink! But thankfully Jacob chose my dishes and he thoughtfully selected a pair of stoneware bowls with black rims which sat in a raised wrought iron, arched holder. This kept the bowls elevated for easier eating and swallowing. He really understood the concepts of design and function. Soon the cart was loaded with the appropriate protein laden packaged foods and some kibble for back up. A large bag of environmentally approved litter was procured for those zen gardening efforts I practiced regularly. “I think we’ve got enough for one trip, don’t you, Violet?” “But Uncle Jake, we haven’t bought any toys for her!” “Well, let’s see what sort of things she likes to play with at home before we buy all sorts of junk that will end up lost under the sofa. But, look over here….” Jacob paused by a bamboo pedestal topped with a hollowed out sphere which had been dissected leaving a concave pod space, lined with a cushion for lounging. It was 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Dwell magazine. I loved it instantly. I had to have it. I crashed against the cage door of the carrier with mewls of delight! “I think she likes it, Uncle Jake.” “Yeah? Well, more importantly, I like it! That’ll look great on the balcony, eh?” “Awesome! You’re the best!” Yeah, you are the best. I can’t wait to nap in that! Let’s go try it out right now!
A couple hundred dollars later––I would have spent more on shoes––the shopping excursion and vet visit completed, we went home. Yes, Home. This time Jacob carried me. While Violet ran around arranging the litter box and serving bowls, Jacob had a little talk with me about his dwelling. He told me how much thought and care he’d put into its design and furnishing and he begged me to behave and not soil his carpets or climb the draperies. After the tutorial on proper conduct he opened the carrier door and let me out. First I just sat and stared in awe, not knowing where to go or how to behave. But then he picked me up and gave me a full tour of the place, telling me all kinds of wonderful details about the wood grain and the berber carpets, as well as the recessed lighting and then, finally, at last, we entered his bedroom… I’d not been privy to this quarter of the house. It was up a set of narrow stairs into a loft area overlooking the living area below. Open and airy, this aerie was a private space above and beyond my wildest dreams. In soothing shades of stone, bone and sand stylish textures rivaled, from softs to suedes, supple to springy, silken and sleek. The smoothness of the raw marble floor tiles was surpassed only by the thickness of the yak hide which lay in front of the bed. My sherpa bedding couldn’t begin to compete with this yak for warmth and plushness. Back downstairs, too steep for me just yet, so I had to be carried––what bliss to be manhandled by such strong and sensitive hands––I was fed lunch which I gobbled up gratefully, although I had enjoyed that Chicken Korma very much. I was introduced to the WC facilities, all ready for gardening. I dug around and etched out a suitable design to challenge that of the offending polka dots. Then we set up the pod lounge on the balcony which looked completely au fait amongst the bamboo and rattan outdoor furniture. Violet enticed me to play with some leather boot laces she’d found in the back of the closet and I lazily chased her bouncing, dancing laces by leaping in the air and doing a triple lutz twist with a ten point landing, before bouncing and prancing after her teasing yo-yo gestures. Jacob opened a bottle of white wine and casually threw the cork on the floor, persuading me to chase and bat at it like a soccer ball all around the patio. This amused them greatly and I was pleased to present them with flamboyant entertainment. I took a chance and leapt up onto Jacob’s lap and balancing ever so shakily on his knee I managed to get a sip of the wine from his glass. He reacted with shock, but I could tell by his grin that he was secretly pleased that I had such good taste. He allowed me a couple psapps before he said, “that’s enough for you…I don’t think the vet would approve.” After a few more leaps at the boot lace I found myself dizzy and exhausted. It was time I tested out my bamboo pod with a well-deserved nap.
When I awoke it had gone dusky. I could see the lights in the garden below as they shone through the glass partition of the balcony. It was an entirely different world up here. I stretched and tumbled down to the floor. Inside, warm smells emanated from the kitchen. My kibble bowl full; water too––no chicken Korma or white wine for my dinner. “Hey, Sleepy Sam, there you are,” his kind voice gentle as a dream, “Violet’s gone home, but she’ll be back next week. It’s just you and me now…” My whiskers frolicked, my ears cavorted and my heart skipped a beat…our first night alone; our first date. While we ate dinner we listened to Seu Jorge’s velvety voice and guitar strum plucky versions of Life On Mars and Lady Stardust. He let me sit in his lap while we watched the Champions League quarter-finals match. He let me taste some German lager calling me a lush, and I purred as he stroked my fur. We both appreciated the German keeper’s prowess and when I yawned he let me curl up beside him on the sofa. I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying first date. I could see we were going to get along beautifully. I just had to figure out which was his sweater drawer. I fell asleep dreaming of cashmere, alpaca and merino woolens.
Victoria-Elizabeth is a self-taught scribbler who was brought up along the central coast of California and the northern shores of Lake Michigan, but finds herself living, inexplicably, within the southern suburbs of New Jersey, where she translates French symbolist poetry and writes fanciful speculative fiction. She would like to dedicate this story to her marmalade tabby, Miso.