I hate cats. There, I said it. It’s okay, because I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. I don't mean to, they just scare me. Not the 'witch's familiar' black cat scare, but close. I know what you're thinking. Barbara's a vile, mean spirited cat hater, either that or she had the breath sucked out of her when she was a baby. For the record, it’s not the baby thing. It isn’t a deliberate hatred. I don't wear an ‘I hate Cats’ T-shirt. You know, the one with the cute kitty face, behind a dayglow red circle with a line through it, $11.99 online. More likely, it’s simply a childhood phobia of unknown origins, that I never outgrew.
"You just don't understand cats. They're so sweeeet and lovey," That's my cat loving best friend Kara. Her voice raises an octave when she says “sweeeet” and “lovey”. I have to remind myself we're best friends for reasons totally unrelated to cats.
Given my less than warm fuzzy feelings toward cats, maybe someone can explain why the neighborhood stray firmly attached itself to me, my house, my yard, my back door, my fence, my line of sight. No matter where I went, there was that cat, in full aristocratic posture, giving me the 'lowly peasant' sidelong look. Every day. When I’d take out the trash, there was that cat. Raked leaves, there was that cat. No amount of verbal abuse worked to dethrone his majesty (her majesty?). And before you ask, no I never fed or pet or otherwise engaged or enticed said cat. It just appeared, one day, staring at me from the edge of the driveway.
I had no idea what kind of cat it was, though Wikipedia suggested an orange tabby might be one possibility. I’d always heard stray dogs referred to as fence jumpers or whodunnits, but stray cats? I thought it best to keep my favorite nicknames to myself, lest the neighbors mistake my frustration for animal abuse.
Of one thing I was certain, that cat didn’t understand English. ”Shoo! Go on, now! GIT!”
“Vete ahora mismo, gato estupido!” or Spanish.
“Va-t’en tout suite chat stupide!” or French.
“AMSCRAY!” I was fresh out of alternative languages.
Maybe that cat only understood cat language, or was just stubborn or deaf. “Now, look,” I’d admonish, “only one of us pays the bills around here and I’m pretty sure it isn’t you!” Nothing.
“Have mercy! I’m allergic to cats!” I’m not, though I suspect that in some bizarre cat intuitiveness, it knew I was lying.
Such was our daily routine. I’d venture outside into what used to be my yard, only to be met by the new, self professed landlord. There were days when that cat even held court in the neighbor’s driveway, arrogantly daring me to go back inside. We engaged in many a stare down, which that cat always won.
It all came to a head one morning, when I heard barking coming from the oak tree, just outside the kitchen window. Confident that dogs don't deliberately climb trees, I went outside to investigate. It wasn't a dog, at all. It was a squirrel. That cat had treed a squirrel up in my tree, in my yard. Hissing cat, barking squirrel. It was quite a sight, I’d never before seen or heard. I had no idea what sparked the confrontation or why that cat didn’t just climb up the tree.
The squirrel barked, again. “Welcome to my world.” I commiserated.
Now, I will tolerate arrogance, entertain aloofness, even respect tenacity. I will not, however, allow bullying from anyone, including the likes of that pesky squatter Rey Gato!
That cat was so busy intimidating the squirrel, it didn’t hear the window squeak open. “HEY! Go find your own tree!”
That cat shot straight up like a pop bottle rocket, which I’ll admit humored me just a little. I was certain, it lost at least one life, when it damn near jumped out of its fur. The fear was short lived, however, and that cat returned, eight lives still intact.
Later that day, while watering the grass, it occurred to me that cats hate water. With Senior El Gato statuesquely poised, on the corner of the fence, I considered my options. I plotted and waited. I envisioned busy body neighbors watching from behind half opened Venetian blinds.
Spaghetti western music whistled in my head.
One final stare down.
Having learned from the best, I used my new found cat skills. I held my breath, never blinked or so much as twitched an ear. I was one cool cat. I stood there for a long time, waiting, watering, pretending to ignore that cat, all the while eyes fixed through half opened eyelids. That would be the day I’d look back on and reminisce with a triumphant fingernail shine to the shoulder, or at least an all knowing side smile.
Certain that the sound of running water had almost lulled at least one of us into complacency, I stealthily crept up behind that cat and squirted it with the garden hose. That cat let out a string of cat obscenities and bolted. Suddenly, I spoke fluent cat. I victoriously clap dusted my hands and retook ownership of my land. Or so I thought.
The next morning, when I opened the back door, there on the step, lay one neatly posed dead mouse. Ordinarily I would have cringed at the sight, wondering how to dispose of the carcass, while squelching nausea. I sighed, about to close the door in procrastination, when something caught my eye. At the other end of the walkway, that cat looked down its snooty uppity royal nose, with a puffed up "How do you like me now?" look.
All I could do was chuckle and concede defeat. "Okay, fine, you can stay. Now, come get this mouse."
The next time I opened the door, both the mouse and that cat were gone. I guess Monsieur le Chat spoke English, after all. I haven’t seen either since. I miss that darn cat.