My biggest fear is when my cat, Spanky, and I die we will be sent back. In accordance to the law of karma, he will return as a human. Me, an orange tabby.
I like to think my Spankster will allow me to sit in his lap and peacefully groom myself while purring. But I know his memory is not so short. He will, surly, recall an experiment, which turned into a game played with what I now see as startling regularity.
The rules were simple. Whenever I caught Spanky grooming, I spit on my fingers and pet the area he just groomed, causing him to re-groom said area, which, of course, caused me to re-wet my fingers and pet him once again. It was fun to see how far he was willing to go. Would he lick his fur clean off? Or, like a good sport, recalibrate his hygiene to suit my entertainment?
All the vacations I took. People asked, “What do you do with your cat when you go out of town?”
“Cats can take care of themselves,” I’d assure them. “All you have to do is leave plenty of food and water out.”
I spent a month in Europe. I knew Spanky was a fat ass. But never did I think he’d go through that much food. Apparently, all the kibble made him thirsty. A person can go weeks without food but only a few short days on no water. I wonder if it’s the same for cats. Luckily, for Spanky, I’m in the bad habit of leaving the toilet seat up.
“Who’s daddy’s thirsty boy?”
Then there was the remote control car, inspiring RC/feline hide-and-seek. Perhaps a more apt title for this game would be High Speed Chase. The RC in hot pursuit. Spanky forever on the run. At least you were getting exercise, right, Spankster?
I’d leave the car out for weeks, idle in the center of the room. At first, he’d spend entire days under the couch. Only coming out to eat, drink and visit his litter box. But, gradually, he’d come to accept the car as part of his environment. An object as inanimate and harmless as a throw pillow. That’s when I’d set treats on the hood. The Tasty Chicken Flavored with the signature soft center. Spanky’s favorite, irresistible little snack.
Spanky, dear old pal, I ask you to please remember how I showed heart, allowing you to get a few treats in your belly before I fired up that engine.
The only thing that scared Spanky more than the remote control car was the broom. I see now my attempts to use it as a kitty grooming device were not, as I told Spanky at the time, an earnest attempt to purge him of his broom-phobia. Like the scene in Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne climbs into a bat-infested cave to face his fear. Rather, these “grooming” sessions were another in a long list of “games” we used to play.
I ask you, Spanky, not to harp on these games. Please don’t waste your time focusing on how I used to fold your ears inside out. Insisted on petting you against the grain, till your fur stuck straight up. Made you wear a pink polka dot dress ripped from my niece’s Cabbage Patch doll. Shoved you in a cardboard box and put it on top of the freezer, just to see the look of surprise on your tiny face when you popped your head out and discovered you were no longer laying on the soft couch but way up in the corner of the kitchen, your ears brushing against the dusty ceiling.
If you could only bring yourself to think of these experiences as enrichment, you’ll thank me for providing you with such a rich life. Of course, when I’m a 15 pound tabby and you a full grown man, I will be at your mercy. So, what do you say, friend? As a human, will you take the opportunity to break this chain of abuse? If you do, I promise to be a good boy.
Michael Cuglietta’s work has appeared in NOON, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. He is the author of the fiction chapbooks Vertigo (Gertrude Press, 2014) and Clams in White Wine (Paper Nautilus, 2018). He can be found at http://www.michaelcuglietta.com