January 16, 2014

Scout the Cat sits on my desk, behind the computer, and watches birds through the south facing window. Every few minutes she swivels her head and stares at me. I know she’s content because she isn’t yowling. She has learned that I don’t care for yowling, so she yowls to lead me to the water bowl, or the food bowl, or the litter box.

Another, lower yowl occurs at sunrise when she jumps on the bed and attempts to burrow under the comforter. This wakes me up, but hey, it isn’t about me. She “allows” me to pet her, scratch her with my—her—fossil shark’s tooth, gently poke her belly (she spends a third of her awake life on her back, obscenely displaying her undercarriage) and hold her in my lap as I try to work, or until my thighs go numb.

The payback is entertainment. Sunday night I was standing in my office, talking to Sheila S. on the phone, and I saw, under a coffee table laden with Indian artifacts, a hairy cat leg thrusting outward, pumping up and down like an oil well: a cat bath was underway but all I saw was a plump, striped leg, uninhibited, a furious fulcrum. And I laughed—and the cat emerged and stared.

There are rules. 1. I CANNOT go to the bathroom alone. Whatever you may be imagining is correct. 2. Every time I OPEN A CAN of anything I must lower the can for the cat’s inspection—she suspects I withhold tuna fish; about every fifteenth can is tuna fish—so she must dip her nose into contraband tomato soup, black beans, stewed tomatoes, and then give me baleful, sarcastic stare. If it’s NOT ABOUT HER, it’s not about. 3. The FOOD BOWL must be half full at all times or she will do her best impression of a fire engine. 4. Her USE OF THE LITTER BOX is a favor to me: beware. 5. DIRTY SOCKS do not belong in a clothes hamper; foot odor is a feral pleasure. I recently bought new slippers, for which she showed disdain—not smelly enough. 6. SHE will initiate a stare. Staring contest are permitted, but Scout the Cat must make the first move.

Sheila S. has six thousand cats, two of which live indoors. The five thousand, nine hundred ninety-eight outdoor cats have lots of shelter—a cat house and some barns—and they line up for feeding and fresh water. You never know when one of them might crawl under your car or, if the window’s open, jump into the front seat. I think Sheila S. secretly prays for cats to jump in partygoers’ cars and not make their presence known until a guest has driven away and decides, hell, I’ll adopt the cute little thing. An outdoor cat must show some initiative to be admitted to the house. Recently, Pretty Boy announced he was ready for the indoor life and in he moved. Cats, you see, make announcements.

Which brings me to the Alton Mall—of course. Between doctor appointments yesterday, I took a short stroll around the second floor of the mall. I stopped at the cookie store and bought a muffin. Another essay, on buying muffins in cookie stores, may be forthcoming. Today it’s all cat.

I sat at a table and muffin munched and prayed that a woman named Muffin might walk by—alas, that did not happen. A gentleman at the next table was staring at me and loud talking into a Smart Phone, which lay on a napkin.

The regular gentlemen, who meet every day for coffee and poke gentle fun at me for walking so fast—twelve minutes per mile; yes, I’m boasting—sat at the next two tables past the Smart Phone guy. Every so often, a coffee club guy would turn his head and glare at Loud Talker. That is the extent of a Midwest protest: glare at the offender’s back. Go home and insult the wife.

(“My thyroid’s threatenin to strangle my vocal chords,” Farmer Orville said the other day. “She,” he said, nodding at Quilt Queen across the table, “would love a mute mate.” Quilt Queen blinked her baby blues in rapid succession. Their four identical cats were crawling across my car roof.)

Here was actual patter of Loud Talker, as he implored a female named April: “April! April, I am talking to you, girl. I’m in a mall in Alton, Illinois, watching senior citizens. (Loud Talker looked to be eighty) April! April, will you answer? Will you please just let me know you are okay? April, it’s me—Daddy. April! Kiss Daddy. Kiss-kiss-kiss Daddy on him lips. Him lips are awaiting. (Falsetto) On the lips, honey. Come on, April. I’m alone in Alton, Illinois. With seniors walking all over the dang place. Give Daddy big fat kiss fo duh road. (Listening) April? April, girl? (Regular voice) Lorraine? Lorraine, get back on the phone. April, ungrateful cat, won’t talk to me.”

I imagined April, somewhere snug and safe, wishing for a mute mate.

Loud Talker stood and angrily walked away. The coffee club boys, collectively hard of hearing, shook their heads. They thought Loud Talker’s wife was named April. They felt sorry for her.

“Bud, did you hear?” I was the designated Bud. “He was talking to his cat,” I told them. “April is a goddamn cat? He ruint our cookies to talk to a cat? It takes all kinds of loonies.”

Indeed. Loonies walk among us. You cat always get what you want. April, the fool, had kissed Daddy and now Daddy wanted more: the way of men. I think the book of Genesis warns about this. Scout the Cat, were I to attempt to kiss her, much less sniff her butt, would slash my nose to a pulp.

Cats, you see, make announcements.



About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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