Cat and Mouse
Published in the UNO Gateway student newspaper, 01-30-12, Literary column.
CAT AND MOUSE
It had started as a game, or rather a distraction. Maybe both. I really should have been studying, but then again the cat needs attention. How could I call myself a responsible owner if I didn’t at least play with the thing once in a while? If the times that we played happened to coincide with the times when I should have been working, then so much the better. At least it took my mind off of things.
Being a student, I naturally had no money for exquisite toys or tasteful cat nips, but I did have one advantage, and that was an unbounded imagination. I recalled that my grandmother, who knew a great deal about animals of all sorts from her experiences working at the zoo, had mentioned that cats love us because they think we are cats. They are unable to differentiate species. If this was true, and my cat couldn’t tell a person from a cat, then certainly she couldn’t tell a mouse from a drawing of a mouse. In no time, I had crumpled up a scrap of notebook paper, attached a string to one end, and glued two pieces of felt for ears and a button that made for a bulbous, oversized nose. We had a mouse.
It was a rather ragged looking mouse, a pauper when compared to the fine princely toys of the aristocratic feline breeds, but it was the best my meager budget could afford. It had been an old weathered notebook, so the mouse had a wrinkled, sickly hue, not so much white as it was grey, with splotches of urine-yellow dotted about. I had bunched the paper into little knobs at the bottom for paws, so it looked like a peg-leg old sailor mouse, aged and worn. In truth, it was something of a stretch of the imagination to even call it a mouse, but a mouse nonetheless it was.
What fun we had with that mouse! I’d pull it along by its string tail, and Annie cat would chase it round and round, never once questioning why the mouse was always running backwards. The mouse would stop and quiver, hoping against hope that the monstrous carnivore would just stalk past, on to bigger game. But invariably Annie would always pounce unexpected, and dash that mouse’s brains against the floor! She even tore an ear off and taunted the mouse with it, dangling it just out of reach. The mouse watched, helpless but unafraid, letting out not one squeak of fright or fury. He was stoic, brave- the Vincent van Gogh of the rodent Impressionist movement. He was revered in the house as an altruistic, honest mouse, who had lost his ear in noble service to a great cause. But Annie never let up. Not impressed by the mouse’s honorable sacrifice, she continued to prey.
We both knew it would happen. Cat-and-mouse can remains a game only so long as both players view it as such. After Annie devoured the altruistic mouse in his entirety, button nose and all, I shed a brief tear for his ennobled spirit, and quickly began work on the next playmate, a twerpy, uncouth canary. The canary would take me a few days, though, since I wanted it to at least minimally resemble the actual bird, and I had to wait until payday to get the feathers from the craft store. Until then the partly-hatched canary sat in a corner, naked and ashamed, longing for wings and tawdry ornamentation.
In the meantime, Annie had become distinctly uncomfortable. Since ingesting the mouse she had eaten nothing, and often gave long, low groans of a ghoulish tenor. I was afraid she was sick. She would sometimes hack and cough as if she had been the Marlboro Man’s feline companion. She grew irritable and discontent, and edgy. She eyed me with a curious intensity as I shaped my canary out of cloth and paper.
After a few days Annie seemed back to her usual self. She had had quite a fit during the previous night, so awful that I feared she would choke and I would be left alone, just me and the skeleton of my canary. But after one last awful “houghchauhf!” she laid peacefully at the foot of the bed, and awoke spry as a kitten in the morning, begging for her food.
I had yet to obtain the feathers for my canary. Annie, though no longer sick, seemed to have lost interest in me as a companion for the time being, so if she wasn’t going to rush me, I wasn’t going to be rushed. I could often hear her tumbling around in other rooms of the house, quite viciously at times, so she had obviously found other means of amusement.
Finally, during one her fits of excitement, Annie went too far. I heard the paddapaddapadda of her paws across the floor, then the frantic skittering of her claws on the hardwood trying to bring herself to an abrupt stop (she apparently had not studied Newtonian physics), and the final FWUMP! of inertia being halted in its tracks, followed by a thunderous crash and a torrential downpour of shattered glass. I rounded the corner furiously, ready to leverage punishment and retribution on the creature who dared bring this storm breaking the silence of my peaceful paradise.
I paused, however, as I glared down and noticed that there were actually two creatures to be held responsible. Annie sat, proudly cornering a quivering, wretched-looking mouse, frozen in terror. He had heard his death-knell and was too terrified to even make a feeble attempt at escape. Looking at it, I felt a mixture of pity and, surprisingly, of fear. It really was quite a wretched mouse; it looked as though had Annie not got it, it wouldn’t even have made it the rest of the day.
He had only one ear- the other had obviously been violently torn off some time ago. He was old and frail. I could see his bones underneath his stretched, wrinkled skin as he cowered there. His bulbous blotch of a nose was so large it threated to pull his head into the dirt whenever he peered out from behind it. His skin was thin and dry as cracked leather, and his fur looked as if that leather had been stretched far too thinly over an old work boot. It was beyond dirty. The original color was indeterminable, and what was left was a monotonous undetermined color. If he had been a crayon he would simply have been labeled “filth.” Patches of what looked like stale urine dotted this hideous coat, and I felt a growing sense of dread as I looked closer and saw that instead of paws, he had for gnarled stumps for feet, like a peg-leg old sailor mouse, aged and worn.
There was no doubt then. I knew this mouse. Without a second’s hesitation I tore from the room to where my half constructed canary sat. I had once been proud of this second creature of mine, feeling God-like as I had eagerly awaited the day I could feather him and present him to Annie. Who was I to think that I could imitate a deity, granting life where I so chose? The things I had considered monuments of my heavenly intellect were now demons of haunting idolatry, mocking me in my imperfect imitation. I tore the canary from its perch and set it ablaze, hoping the flames would burn hot enough to purge this monster of everything it stood for. Annie sat and watched, calm and patient as Chronos himself, merely observing the frenzy and the beauty of my creation’s destruction.