Curled like a giant fuzzy prawn, he slept. Nicholas (AKA Big Nick, Nicky, and His Nicholasness) completely filled the soft cat bed and spilled over the edges, even though the bed itself was billed as Large, and described as “a roomy rest for your most formidable feline.”
Nicholas weighed upwards of twenty-five pounds, and carried it well. He was old enough to have developed dignified aplomb, which was only enhanced by the fact that his belly hung close to the ground these days in spite of his impressive height. But he was young enough to still be agile, his dashing and leaping muscles still limber and strong. Not that he actually dashed and leapt as much as he used to. When he’d been a kitten, twelve years and more than twenty pounds earlier, he’d loved dashing across the room and climbing the drapes. He had a vague memory that his human had objected, but he hadn’t cared at the time and couldn’t really remember now. Sometimes he still contemplated the drapes and imagined dashing all the way across the room and leaping up, up, up, grabbing the fabric with his claws, and hanging, suspended for one ecstatic moment before his human started yelling. He didn’t care about the yelling. His human was useful as a source of food and flattering talk, and when he was in the mood, full-body petting, ears to tail. When he wasn’t hungry or lonely he didn’t care.
The real issue wasn’t what anyone else thought about it (again, he didn’t care), but that he was just too big now — too mighty. One leap would bring the whole thing crashing down, curtain rod and all. That had happened before, perhaps. He couldn’t be bothered to try to remember the details. But the drapes seemed like they were no longer his playground, and possibly dangerous.
There were other options for dashing and leaping. For example, there was the kitchen dash-and-leap from the hallway, around the kitchen island, and up on the counter to grab a dishtowel and freeze for just a second, poised with his ears back and his eyes wide, looking his best and most powerful. Then there was the stairway dash-and-leap, down the hallway and up the stairs in a flash (well, two flashes) for a thorough scratch-and-stretch on the upstairs carpet. He liked doing it when the human was around to see. He looked good. The human should appreciate him more. He was glad to oblige by being so spectacularly athletic. You’re welcome, human.
The humans who visited the house to trim his claws were in awe of his heft and his beautiful face, not that it mattered. Nick didn’t really like them anyway. What they did wasn’t painful, but it was an indignity to be wrapped in a towel and talked about in the third person when he was right there. But he wasn’t going to make a big fuss about it, which would be undignified and beneath him. He just went limp and let them do their annoying and intrusive task, all the while staring balefully at them so they’d know how much he didn’t care.
At the vet’s office, it was similar. Nick didn’t like the vet either, though there was one assistant who seemed to get him. She talked right to him, like his human did, not about him, not over his head like he was stupid, like the claw trimmers did. The vet assistant was just in awe of him, obviously, admiring his coat, his expressive eyes, commenting on his good looks and intelligence. For that reason, Nick didn’t mind the vet as much as the claw trimmers.
There were other humans, too, but of course Nick didn’t care. They were occasionally interesting, but not usually. Some of them came inside his house, like an older human who seemed to be related to his human. She came pretty often, and usually had a bag of treats. Sometimes she dropped human food on the floor for him, but Nick didn’t like human food. He didn’t see the point. The big problem with this older human was that she talked to him like he was a halfwit. Her voice got all high and screechy and she called him idiotic names like Nickinums. He would have just snubbed her entirely, but there were the bags of treats to consider.
There were also humans outdoors that Nick could see through the window. Nick and his human’s house was in a group of other houses, all two stories and attached together. Outside the front door, where Nick wasn’t allowed to go (not that he wanted to) there were paths and garden beds and a pond, and Nicholas could watch the humans and animals come and go from the front window. On the back of the house was a wooden deck, ten feet above the descending hillside below.
Nicky did go on the deck when his human was there. It was probably the most interesting part of his day. There were squirrels there, darting around just out of reach and impudently staring at him from the railing while they rapidly nibbled fat leaves plucked off the succulents. There were birds as well, visiting the feeder hanging from the tree and chirping and tweeting at each other in a very irritating way. He liked to watch them through half-closed eyes, to keep them guessing about whether he was even awake. But inside he was full of energy, a powerful and noble predator who was a threat to all creatures. He tried to repress his strong desire to dash and leap. He felt his muscles tense and imagined how he could grasp the insolent little furred or feathered creature in his jaws, biting down… and that’s as far as his fantasy took him. Nick found the idea of fresh blood distasteful, and his ancestral instincts told him it that biting another creature would be bloody. Still, sometimes he actually twitched as he tried to hold still against his powerful dash-and-leap desire.
For bird watching, his best view of the birds was out the front window. There was a human who apparently liked to feed them. Nick couldn’t see the point, but it didn’t matter, he appreciated how the food brought birds in such large numbers to the walkway in front of his house. He would open his mouth and utter a series of little sounds, cat chirps, his human called them. His muscles would tense for a dash-and-leap that couldn’t happen against the glass. It was ecstasy.
On this day, his human didn’t go out on the deck so Nick was alternating between his cozy cat bed and the show at the front window, where the bird-feeding human was scattering largess and dozens of birds of different species were flocking and diving. His own human went out the front door and he could hear her say, “Ava, I wish you wouldn’t do that. It makes such a mess of seed and bird poop. And it’s not good for the birds either.”
“So you say,” snarled Ava.
“So everyone says! Ava, you live in a community and you have to follow the rules like everybody else. The HOA already told you.” Ava was silent. Nicholas’ human seemed agitated. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to go down and sign for a delivery. This isn’t over, Ava.”
With the humans gone, Nicholas quickly got bored watching the birds. Time for a snack, he decided, but as he turned the corner into the hallway, he was suddenly shocked by something he’d never seen before. The front door was open! And no humans in sight! He froze for a moment, ears twitching, as he considered whether he wanted to investigate further or just go have a snack and pretend it never happened. But it was so exciting!
At a slow stroll, full dignity intact, Nick made his way down the hallway and paused just inside the front door, sniffing. It was a wonder. The outdoor air smelled just a little different than on the deck. He could feel the sun on his face. He could see the birds still fluttering around the bird seed, just a few feet away! To tell the truth, they were within easy dash-and-leap distance. But there was the blood thing. Still, he had to hold in his excitement to keep from going after them.
Suddenly, there was a squirrel, one of those disrespectful squirrels he hated so much from the back deck. And without thinking, Nick gathered his mighty muscles together and dashed out the front door, leaping into the spot the squirrel had been just a millisecond earlier. A perfect, awesome leap. The birds noticed and zipped upward before forgetting all about it and diving down into the bird seed again. He was supreme, a ferocious hunter, a fearsome dasher and leaper.
His muscles felt powerful, and he was suddenly at home in the great outdoors. His incredibly handsome fur was particularly beautiful in the sunlight, with the breeze ruffling it a little. How lucky they all were, to get to see his gorgeous self at his best. He glanced around, blinking slowly, to see who might be admiring him. He strolled through the birds and they lifted again and settled when he got to the other side of the path. He sauntered over to the pond and watched the insects. He had never noticed insects before. He was in his element.
But suddenly he heard a bang and turned around to see his front door closed. He was outdoors alone! His human didn’t know where he was! Not wanting to seem undignified but too nervous to saunter, he walked quickly (don’t trot, don’t trot) back to the front door. He expected it to open, but it didn’t.
He considered what to do. Other cats might scratch on the door, but he thought that was a lame idea. A cat of his presence and importance shouldn’t be scratching on doors. He would look ridiculous. He could meow, but that seemed so needy. Also, he was beginning to feel vulnerable, exposed like this with a closed door behind him. Did he want to draw attention to himself by meowing? His human should be paying attention. He was seriously annoyed.
Hearing the footsteps of a human and a dog, Nicholas moved off to the side and ducked underneath a stone bench. The dog, a bit of fluff half the size of Nick, started going crazy, yapping hysterically. The dog’s human also seemed agitated, talking to the dog, but she didn’t know why the dog was upset and didn’t see Nick. They moved on.
Nick didn’t see the point of dogs. He rarely thought about them, but he couldn’t help but notice how pathetically stupid and subservient they were, slaves to humans, really. The opposite of himself, actually.
More footsteps, and Ava came back and started tossing bird seed in the air. The flock came back in force, twittering and trilling, chirping and whistling. If anything, birds were stupider than dogs. Ava sat down on a bench by the pond and kept throwing seed to the birds, talking to them. It was all very noisy and chaotic. Nick put his ears back to signal his displeasure.
And then another dog came, a much bigger one, and the human at the other end of the leash stopped to talk to Ava about the birds and the mess all over the sidewalk. The dog knew exactly where Nicholas was, and watched him with the flat gaze of a mindless brute. Nick could play this game. They stared at each other while the humans argued.
Suddenly, Nicky’s ears pricked as he heard his own human’s voice, inside the house, calling his name. Well, about time. He waited. There was a pause, and then the human’s voice called from another part of the house. Another pause, calling again, and then the front door burst open. “Nicky?” As he was considering the security of his path to the door, his human called out to the humans across the way, “Have you seen my cat? He must have got out!”
“A cat!” exclaimed Ava. “A murderer, you mean!” The birds, who were circling and diving around the big dense dog, rose for a moment and came back. The other two humans looked at Ava with their mouths open, and she continued. “You’ve always hated my birds, and now you’re siccing your bloodthirsty beast on them!”
Well, this was insulting. Like he’d eat a bird. Gross.
And then, the last straw. Into the middle of this chaotic scene, a squirrel darted down from a tree and stopped a few feet away from Nick, staring insolently. His muscles wanted to dash and leap, but he would not. He was Big Nick, His Nicholasness, above all this nonsense.
With regal dignity, he emerged from under the bench. He would not give anyone the satisfaction of trotting to the door, like a scared kitten, like a dog. He stood tall and proud.
“Meow,” he said.
It was a tremendous meow, one of his best. It didn’t sound pathetic or needy. It didn’t sound nervous or annoyed. It was a large, loud meow, simply calling attention to the fact that he was there and everyone else was behaving stupidly. The squirrel froze, and then darted away. The birds rose higher in the air. The dog made a small sound in his throat but stayed put. All three humans looked at him, stunned by the mighty power of his magnificent voice.
And Nicholas, grand and noble, slowly strolled to the front door and entered his house, basking in the admiring gaze of the world.