The glass window magnified the warmth of the sun, and Mitzee closed his single working eye as the rays seeped into his weary, old bones. He had a good home, a roof over his head, meals on demand, comfort and luxury all round.
It hadn’t always been this way. He’d been a streetwise scoundrel, a ragged ne’er-do-well in his youth and into his early adulthood. A soft smile twitched his lips at the recollection. He’d been a terror. There was not a crime he hadn’t committed, or at least attempted, and he was usually successful. Pickpocket, cat burglar, assassin. If it required stealth, he was the master. Well, Snow would have said that she was his superior in that aspect, and perhaps it was true. When he knew her, Snow had been svelte and lean, her physique perfectly proportioned for getting into and out of trouble in the blink of an eye.
Ah, it had been years since he had thought about Snow. He wondered whatever had become of her? She probably landed back in maximum security multiple times. Mitzee couldn’t see her settling down to a simple life of domesticity, it just wasn’t in her nature. He’d never thought it had been in his nature either, but age had caught him quite unexpectedly, and luxury had softened him. Warmth and food and company, he’d never had much need of them. Not until that day his Little Scrapper, with the gap-toothed smile and single working eye, took one look at him and declared she would free him from maximum security.
Where was the Scrapper, the little girl who stole his heart? Mitzee’s smile fled his lips, and he frowned. It had been such a long time ago, and he just couldn’t remember. She had loved him with a kind of painful love that he begrudgingly accepted. It was the kind of love that was comfortable to lie down under a tree together and watch the clouds or the birds. He could remember doing that. He remembered wintry nights curled at the foot of her bed. There had been a time when he had spent whole days and weeks on that bed with her, staring wistfully out of the window as the seasons changed, and birds sang, built their nests and threw out their fledglings to begin again.
Then the bed was empty.
Those days of emptiness lasted for eternity. No one bothered Mitzee, and he became quite content to spend his time plotting and planning one last grand adventure, an adventure larger that all others. He was good at the planning, but it seemed that he lacked the willpower to execute it.
As spring returned and flowers began to blossom outside, Mitzee could feel a change, like a quiver in the air. For as long as he could remember, (which at his age was an awfully long time) there had been a sadness, the kind that reminded him of spaces with nothing inside. He was too old to fill those spaces. His body ached and groaned in protest at the thought of curling up in a cosy box. These days he preferred the luxury of a sofa, or the comfort of sitting in the golden sunshine that warmed the Persian rug.
Mitzee opened his one good eye as The Mother, her face lined with crinkles, returned from her outside mission. He sniffed, and he could smell her unique flavour. She would forever carry the tang of sadness, but it was muted, almost overpowered by another scent. A ripple went down Mitzee’s spine, his hair bristled as he turned his head to watch. The Mother placed a large box on her floor. Once a box like that was an invitation to curiosity, but not now. It smelled wrong, or rather, it smelled familiar and it shouldn’t.
One thing that Mitzee had perfected in his long life was the glare. He turned it on The Mother, unblinking and disdainful. Being interrupted in his afternoon ritual of basking in the sun put Mitzee in a foul mood and, being in such a mood, he was not receptive to surprises of any kind. Especially not the kind that had two fluffy ears atop a face that was all eyes as it peered over the rim of the box.
With an inelegant scuffle, the little creature tumbled from the box to land in a fluffy heap of limbs and whiskers.
“Play?” it wailed.
Mitzee curled his lip, showing teeth, and rumbled a warning.
“Play?” the creature warbled again.
Mitzee’s rumbling warning increased in volume.
The little ball of fluff gamboled over, its four paws tangling together as it tried to pounce. It bounced around, each bounce bringing it closer to Mitzee, and he arced up, fur on end, as he hissed a warning.
“Back off! Get out of my face!”
“Play!” The creature postured and posed, its rear end in the air. It had a tail, Mitzee noticed, and it twitched excessively.
The creature pushed its whiskered nose at Mitzee, who hissed again and swiped that smug face with a well-timed swing that sent the creature wailing, a helter-skelter of paws and claws. Mitzee didn’t bother watching it leave, as he turned tail and scampered furiously in the other direction.
Once the fury had subsided a little, Mitzee found himself on a window ledge, his favourite sunny ledge in the Little Scrapper’s empty room. He missed her, the plucky, scrappy child, with one eye and missing teeth. As he sat on the ledge, busy with the task of bathing himself and repairing the dignity he’d lost in his mad dash from the creature, his thoughts turned again to his lost friend. He couldn’t remember where she’d gone, he just knew she wasn’t here and her loss left a hole, a gaping, empty hole in his life and a tearful one in The Mother’s. Sometimes, when no one else was around, The Mother would come into this room and curl up on the bed, just where the Little Scrapper would sleep. She would leak from her eyes and gasp as if her breath were attacking her from the inside. Drawn by the sound, Mitzee would sometimes curl up nearby and fit himself into the crook of her arm. It was warm there, and the ragged, sharp breaths would settle as The Mother’s hand stroked long sweeps down Mitzee’s back. It was a sensuous feeling and the ripples of pleasure would call forth an uncontrollable feeling of peace that caused his chest to vibrate.
Once again, when Mitzee was happy that his fur was tidy, and he was bathed to his satisfaction, he curled his limbs beneath him, closed his single eye and relaxed as the last rays of the fading sun warmed his back.
“Play!” Mitzee shot upward as needle fine claws grasped his tail, sending lightning throughout his body. He spun and hissed, swiping a clawed paw at the tiny, irritating creature. It tumbled with a wail off the ledge, and Mitzee was a little chagrined to realise the irritating creature had crept up on him unawares. He was getting quite rusty and complacent in his old age.
The creature, (Mitzee supposed it had a name, but he was going to call it Menace) cried out and scampered from the room on soft paws.
“Good riddance!” Mitzee hissed and spat.
“Mitzee! Be nice!” The Mother admonished from the doorway as she gathered the little Menace in her arms and soothed down its bristling fur.
“Play!” wailed Menace.
Mitzee glared at it. “Never!” he hissed.
“Now Mitzee,” The Mother cajoled, her voice dripping with catnip. “This is Ginger. She’s only a baby. Be nice.” Mitzee didn’t like catnip. It was dangerous stuff and could turn the most hardened criminal into a floating fluff-ball, like dandelions on the breeze. Mitzee refused to stand down. He glared at Menace until The Mother removed the creature from the room.
The life of ease and peace had become Mitzee’s lot, and he was quite accustomed to having meals delivered to his own personal dish, rather than hunting them down. If truth be told, he rather doubted that his reflexes were up to pouncing upon his dinner and he had become quite partial to rabbit and tuna. It was not the kind of cuisine that made his staple diet when he lived among the riff-raff on the streets.
He was enjoying his own meal in quiet solitude when he was ambushed on his blind side. Menace pounced upon his dinner as if she had never eaten before. It was not to be borne! Mitzee snarled a warning a split second before he lashed out. No one, absolutely no one, took food from him and lived to tell the tale! In a tangle of limbs, claws and teeth that resulted in a flurry of fur, Mitzee attacked. His howl of rage filled the room, and The Mother came running, broom in hand.
“Mitz! No! Leave her alone!”
Mitzee fled the room as the broom handle swept past him. He was furious! It was most ignominious to be ‘broomed’ in his own home. Who does that? How dare they! He scuttled under the lounge in the front room and huddled in the dark. His thoughts were tumultuous and rumbled from his throat in disbelief and dissatisfaction. It took many long minutes for the feelings of aggravation and mortification to abate. As his heart rate slowed down again, he sat in the dark beneath the lounge chair and fumed. Who did the bloody Menace think she was? How dared The Mother admonish him for defending his food from the little invader?
Once he felt more comfortable in his own skin again, he crept cautiously from beneath the furniture and leapt up onto the windowsill. The outside beckoned. There were rules to the outside, every beast for himself. That was the rule. Kill or be killed, a simple, easy rule to follow. No confusion.
But the outside didn’t have rabbit or tuna. It had rat or bird, and neither of those options was as tasty as what he had here. Such a dilemma.
He nearly leapt straight up in the air when an annoying cry startled him from his reverie.
Mitzee hissed and turned his head to glare viciously at the intruder. If looks could kill, the fur-ball would be deader than dead, a fried up, sizzling mass of smoking cinders. But unfortunately, Mitzee’s glare was non-lethal. He settled for yowling, and a low, bloodcurdling, ominous sound emanated from deep within his soul. Truly terrifying.
Menace blinked, “Play?” She didn’t sound quite as sure or as confident anymore.
“Mitzee!” The Mother came running, and growled his name, before she gathered Menace in her arms and crooned at the fluff-ball. At least she took Menace away. That appeased Mitzee a little. He turned to gaze longingly out of the window again.
The days turned into weeks and Menace grew more annoying. Mitzee longed to swipe the satisfied smirk off her face when he padded into the Little Scrapper’s room to find The Mother asleep on the bed and Menace tucked securely into the crook of her arm.
“And what are you going to do about it?” Menace seemed to say with just her wide eyes and twitching whiskers, haughty, as if she had every right to be there. Mitzee just scowled and padded to his usual spot on the window ledge, basking in the sunshine. He watched the birds flit freely in the trees, unfettered by annoying upstarts who didn’t know their place in the world.
Mitzee had a plan. It had come to him as he watched through the window as The Mother hung washing on the outside line to dry. With silent feet, he followed the next time she gathered the next basket of wet clothing from the machine. Cautiously, he followed her outside, careful not to alert her to his escape. It had been so long since he had touched the ground outside that it felt uncomfortable against his unusually sensitive paws. He ignored the sensation, and with a running leap, he scaled the fence, scrambling for a foothold as he clawed his way to the top. Not the most elegant of performances, but it achieved his purpose. He was free.
“Mitzee!” The Mother gasped and threw her laundry back into the basket as she dashed to the fence. There was no way she would stop him, and Mitzee quickly leapt to the ground on the other side. It wasn’t his most stellar landing, and the impact jarred his old bones. He picked himself up and scurried away, not looking back even once.
The neighbourhood was unfamiliar. Mitzee had never wandered here before. The cats and dogs that lived behind fences and doors were strangers, and he felt the heaviness of loneliness on his back. He could feel their stares, their assessing glares and judgemental sneers as he passed. A warm patch of dappled sun under a bush called to him. It was secure under the leaves, no eyes to see him, no creatures to annoy him, and best of all, no Menace.
The soil was warm and soft. The mulch of years of fallen leaves created a carpet that cushioned his weary body. He could feel exhaustion creeping up on him and he curled into a comfortable ball, nose tucked under tail. The wind gently caressed the leaves above, rustling them in a soothing ripple of sound that gently relaxed his tired bones. He closed his one eye and sighed peacefully.
As the long, contented exhalation left his body, he heard a sound, one he had not heard in so long.
“Hello Mitzee.” It was her, his Little Scrapper. Her voice was soft and loving, welcoming and secure.
Mitzee smiled to himself as the last breath of his sigh faded away into the golden glow of the dwindling afternoon sun.