Working Cats

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Blueberry was tired of chasing the catnip mouse. She wanted to stalk a live animal. One with four legs that zigged and zagged on its own and didn’t have to be pulled around on a string. Something that would show off her ability to sniff, pounce, and bite.

But Mr Bouchard was insistent. “Come on,” he said, “it’s what cats do.”
But this wasn’t a real mouse—just a wad of cloth with black dots for eyes, no whiskers, and a strip of cloth for a tail. Plus, the catnip had lost its zip. Smelled like stuffing from an old mattress.

It was a warm June afternoon, and Blueberry, a long-haired Maine Coon cat, along with Periwinkle, a black and white short hair, were on the patio at Oak Grove Senior Living. Their job, as Periwinkle had explained, was to take care of the residents.

“It’s an easy life without many responsibilities,” he had said. All they had to do was purr, rub legs, and sit on laps. And, chase shoelaces, swing on curtains and romp on the old couch in the rec room.

Before coming to Oak Grove Senior Living, Blueberry had spent her entire life in an upstairs apartment. She had never been outside. When she realized her new home had a pet door that led to a fenced-in yard, her ears snapped forward. This meant she could go outside and chase little creatures. Blueberry had never tasted a fur-and-blood mouse. But she imagined it would be juicy, warm, and crunchy. Much better than dried kibbles.

Blueberry gave the catnip mouse one last whack and strode over to a stack of firewood from last winter. She clawed her way to the top. After a few minutes of sniffing, she spotted a huge grey spider. It was almost as large as her front paw. It waved two of its eight legs at her. Blueberry lunged, grabbed the spider and swallowed it.

As soon as it settled in her stomach, Blueberry began to feel queasy. The fur on the back of her neck stood up. She jumped off the woodpile and scooted to the far and of the patio. Her stomach gurgled and sloshed.

“Yeeeeoooooorrrrrlllllll,” she moaned, “Yeeeeoooooorrrrrlllllll.”

She lurched to her paws, let out another long yowl.

“Glerk-glerk-glerk―squaaak―bletch-bletch—blat-blat—paaatooowhaaaaa.”

The spider, soggy, half smashed and missing three legs, flew out of her mouth and landed upside down on the patio. Blueberry gulped a few times and staggered over to the grass. “Whew,” she said.

“Poor kitty-cat,” said Mr Bouchard. “Bet you won’t do that again.

After sitting quietly with her eyes closed, Blueberry slipped through the pet door and into the rec room. She ran over to the water bowl and lap-lap-lapped for a long time. After licking her chin and cheek furs dry, she squeezed under the couch and fell asleep.

After sunset, Blueberry ran over to the feeding area. She ate a huge pile of roast beef and chicken-flavoured kibbles. After washing her face, she remembered what Periwinkle had said about caring for the residents. She pad-padded down the hall to Mrs Rodriguez’s room. The old woman lay in bed working a crossword puzzle. She had on a blue baseball cap. Three yellow pencils were stuck in her hair. Blueberry landed on the bed with a soft flump.

“Feeling better?” the old woman asked. “I heard all about your little upset.” She set the crossword puzzle down. “More than I wanted to know.”

Blueberry began to purr and knead the bedspread. Mrs Rodriguez ran her hand through the grey cat’s fur. “So thick and soft,” she said.

Blueberry curled up at the end of the bed and began to snooze. Mrs Rodriguez continued to work on the crossword puzzle. Every so often she nudged Blueberry with her toe, and said, “I can hear you purring.” Finally, she turned off the light and went to sleep.

Before sunrise, Mrs Rodriguez began to stir. Blueberry was still asleep. Moonlight seeped through the window, turning the room a silvery-white. Off in the distance, a barred owl began to call. “Hoot-hoot, hoot-hoooo,” and again, “Hoot-hoot, hoot-hoooo.”

Blueberry lifted her head. “Prrrrt?” she said, “Prrrrt?”

“It’s coffee time.” Mrs Rodriguez slid her feet into a pair of slippers. “And, snack time for you.”

She dropped a handful of liver-flavoured treats on a paper towel. Blueberry jumped off the bed, ran over and started to eat. They were soft and chewy and dissolved into a thick, creamy sauce in her mouth. Delicious, Blueberry thought, but still, a fresh mouse would be better. She imagined bones and small organs popping and snapping in her mouth. Mouse juices would be warm and rich, bursting with all sorts of exciting flavours.

Mrs Rodriguez sat by the window and drank her coffee while the sun climbed over the oak trees. Blueberry began to wash her face.

“What are your plans today?” she asked.

Blueberry yawned and jumped on the bed.

After breakfast, most of the residents moved out to the patio. Blueberry and Periwinkle sat in a sunny spot near the picnic table. Mr Bouchard attached a cloth mouse to a piece of yarn and pulled it back and forth. He made little cheepity-cheepity-cheep-cheep noises and clicked his tongue. Blueberry didn’t pay any attention. She stood up and stretched. Today, she thought, I will catch a live mouse. She leaped to the top of the woodpile.

As soon as she landed, Blueberry felt a sharp pain in her right front paw. “Yeeooolll!” she shrieked, “Yeeooolll!”

She hopped off the woodpile and raced for the pet door, leaving a trail of bloody pawprints. Once in the rec room, she crawled under the couch. This is a terrible situation, she thought, even worse than vomiting up that spider. Mrs Larsen, a volunteer at Oak Grove Senior Living, heard the yowling. She saw the red splotches on the linoleum. She peered under the couch.

“Oh my,” she said.

From the patio, Mr Bouchard yelled, “Snakebit, that cat was snakebit!”

Blueberry crawled farther under the couch. Bitten by a snake? She didn’t even know what a snake looked like.

“Gracious,” said Mrs Larsen. She pulled Blueberry out by her left hindleg and pushed her into a pet carrier. Blueberry pressed her nose against the metal wires.

“It’s off to the vet for you,” she said and took the carrier out to her car.

Once the car started moving, Blueberry began to cry. “Yeooolllll!” she said, “Yeooolllll, Yeooolllll!”

The veterinarian slid one hand under Blueberry’s stomach and pulled her out of the carrier.

“There, there,” he said when she started to yowl. His hands smelled like strange cats, wet dog fur, coffee, and tomato soup. His fingers were thick and looked like legs on the dining room table. He put on special glasses and studied her paw. He pressed on each pad, one by one. After that, he lifted her tail and stuck in a thermometer. Yikes, Blueberry thought. She crouched low. The furs on her neck stood up.

She started to purr.

“That’s a good sign,” said Mrs Larsen.

The veterinarian shrugged. “Sometimes cats do that when they’re nervous.” He pressed the diaphragm of a stethoscope against her chest.

“I don’t think she was bitten by a snake.” He put away the stethoscope and scratched Blueberry between the ears. “But, she better stay here for observation.”

“All night?”

“Does she have other plans?”

Mrs Larsen touched Blueberry’s nose. “She is a working cat. Blueberry helps take care of our residents.”

That’s right, Blueberry thought, I should get back to Oak Grove Senior Living. She purred louder and rubbed against Mrs Larsen’s fingers.

“Hmmmm,” said the veterinarian as he picked up Blueberry. “Those folks will have to do without her tonight.”

He carried Blueberry into a room lined with metal cages. Each had solid walls and a tiny mesh front door so the cats could barely see each other. As he opened a cage door, Blueberry caught a glimpse of her neighbour, a huge orange tabby cat. There weren’t any kibbles in her cage, only a ceramic dish filled with water and a tiny litter box. The air was filled with yowls and cat smells. This is a terrible place, Blueberry thought. Even chasing a cloth mouse would be better than this.

From the next cage, came sounds of chin-scratching. It was Orange Tabby.

“Hey,” Orange Tabby said. He clawed at the front of his cage.

“Hey,” said Blueberry.

“What are you in for?” he asked.

Blueberry sniffed the litter box. “They don’t know for sure. I might have been snake bit.”

There was a long period of silence, then Orange Tabby spoke. “An elongated, limbless, carnivorous reptile with scales—AKA a serpent?”

Blueberry wasn’t too sure how to respond. “Well…I don’t know exactly…”

Orange Tabby pressed his nose against the wire mesh of his front door. By pressing her head against the door and looking sideways, Blueberry could see his whiskers and a few strands of orange cheek fur.

“Small animals rarely survive an encounter with a poisonous snake,” Orange Tabby said. “The signs of a bite are extreme restlessness, panting, drooling, weakness, followed by diarrhoea, collapse, seizures, shock, followed by sudden death. Have you exhibited any of those symptoms?”

“No,” said Blueberry.

“Stick out your paw. Let me see it.”

Blueberry pushed her paw against the mesh.

Orange Tabby laughed. “That’s no snake bite. You got stuck by a nail.”

“A what?”

“A carpenter’s nail. A small, elongated, metal object with a sharp point and a flat head. They’re used to fasten to pieces of wood together.”

Blueberry sat back on her haunches. She didn’t know what to say.

Orange Tabby asked, “Where are you from?”

“Oak Grove Senior Living. Periwinkle and I live there.”

Orange Tabby snapped at a fly buzzing around in his cage. “Do they serve soft food from little cans?”

“No, we eat dry kibbles, although specially formulated to keep us from getting hairball attacks.”

Blueberry settled down at the front of the cage, tucked both front paws under her chest. She liked talking to Orange Tabby and wished she could get a better look at him.

He asked, “Do you get to go outside?”

Blueberry explained about the pet door. And, about the old people she and Periwinkle took care of.

“Sounds pretty posh.” Orange Tabby yawned. “Catch many mice?”

Blueberry stood up and stretched. She didn’t want to admit to Orange Tabby that she had never caught a live mouse.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked. He sounded healthy enough.

“Got into a big fight last night. They thought one of my wounds might abscess.”

Mrs Larsen picked up Blueberry early the next morning. As they bounced along the road back to Oak Grove Senior Living, Blueberry thought about her troubles during the last few days. She’d eaten a spider that made her sick. She got stabbed by a nail on the woodpile. And, she had stayed overnight in the animal hospital. But she did make a new friend. Orange Tabby was a very nice kitty and she wished he was riding in the car with her. Then she thought about Mr Bouchard. Maybe she’d play with his fake mouse after all. And, sit on his lap.

Later, she’d search for mice on the woodpile. Blueberry licked her lips and began to purr.

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- Total nr. of readings: 696 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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