To Catch a Human
(Story 1a in the Building to Last universe)
Me mum taught all 'er kittens that it was best to catch their 'uman young and raise 'em right. That way you don't have to break them of bad 'abits. But there's a lot to be said for moving in with the mature bloke--especially if 'e's never lived with a cat before. I've tried both, and I don't know but what I prefer the latter.
I'm a London cat, born and bred. Take after me mum, I do. Short black fur and green eyes, that's me. I was one of a litter of eight. Like my brothers and sisters, I went to a good home when I was old enough to leave me mum.
My 'uman was named Mary, and she was a good kid--even if she once did have me got up like a dog's dinner in one of 'er dollie's dresses. But only once, mind you! I escaped from the dress, from Mary and from the flat. Spent two days scrounging dust-bins and hunting rats. Me mum taught me that way of training the two-legged beasts, and it works a real treat. When I thought Mary'd learnt 'er lesson, I went back to the flat. She petted me and promised never to do it again.
I liked Mary's mum. She was a bit of all right. You could always count on the odd bit of liver or the drippings off the joint. Didn't 'alf care for Mary's da, though. 'E was the shirty sort who didn't like cats. I 'ad to be careful when 'e was about or 'e'd give me the odd kick in the ribs. When I was in an evil mood I'd get back at the sod by leaping up in 'is lap and digging in me claws. It was right funny, 'im leaping up into the air and swearing like a sailor! But, 'e 'ad the final laugh, 'e did.
I came back from a few nights out on the tiles wooing me lady friends and found that the entire family 'ad done a bunk. They 'adn't left so much as a crust of bread or a dirty sock. I'd been cruelly abandoned-- and I knew exactly who was to blame!
Bit of a shock, that was. Fortunately, I was better prepared than most cats. Me mum made sure all 'er litter knew how to hunt--mice, sparrows, pigeons, rats...the odd garden toad... She also taught us about dust- bins and dust-bin lids. I wasn't the first London cat to be abandoned by a fickle 'uman family. Mum 'ad done 'er own stint as an homeless feline. She did 'er best to teach 'er kits how to survive in case it 'appened to them.
Part of mum's teachings 'ad to do with the best ways to get a 'uman to invite you into 'is home. If you've ever lived with a cat you know at least part of the drill. Cats are past masters at ingratiating themselves with their two-legged hosts, and then wrapping the daft creatures round their paws. Most 'umans are flattered if you rub up against their legs, or flop over on your back and invite them to scratch your turn. If that doesn't get them, you can always try 'ypnosis.
That's right H-Y-P-N-O-S-I-S, 'ypnosis. Felines are experts at subliminal suggestion. 'S all in the eyes, you know. You get a 'uman to gaze deep into your pips and then you project something like 'poor little me.' An expert cat can convince the average 'uman that 'e's starving away dwindling down to a mere cat skeleton, or even worse, turning into a caricature of one of those disgusting prints where the cat is three feet tall, one inch round, and 'as eyes as big as oranges. 'N all this while the wily feline is so fat 'e can 'ardly waddle. Course, doing the 'ypnosis bit is how he got that way. Fat, I mean.
If all else fails, there's always the "Silent Miaow." Our most potent weapon that is. 'S'ow I caught my present 'uman.
I'm a choosy bastard. It took me almost six months after Mary an' 'er family did their moonlight flit before I found another 'uman that I wanted for me own.
I was scrounging a dust-bin that stood behind a block of flats. It was one of my regular stops. I was so busy licking the scraps out of an old tuna tin, that I didn't 'ear the 'uman approach. First thing I knew, a plastic trash-bag landed next to me in the bin. Practically levitated, I did. My standing 'igh jump put me on the rim of the dust-bin, and almost even with a startled pair of blue eyes capped by a head of dark fur that was almost the same shade as me own.
"Sorry, cat," the man muttered. "Didn't mean to disturb your supper."
I took one look at tall, dark and 'andsome, and decided that what 'e really needed was a cat to run 'is life for 'im--and that I was just the cat to do it. After all, it isn't often you run into a 'uman who 'as the manners to apologize for startling a body.
Naturally, I 'ad the good sense to suss out the situation before I made me move. I spent a few days watching Blue Eyes. Learned a few things, I did. Tall, dark and 'andsome was named "Bodie." 'E lived alone. Didn't spend a lot of time in 'is flat. When 'e did, a ginger-furred bloke was often with 'im. Either that, or Bodie 'ad a female biped with 'im...and 'ardly ever the same female more than two or three times in a row. More to the point, Bodie wasn't living with another cat--or a dog, or a budgie, or even a guppy, near as I could tell. 'E was up for grabs, and I intended to grab 'im!
I planned me strategy well. Unfortunately, Blue Eyes was a trifle slow on the uptake. Not that 'e wasn't generous, mind. Second time I saw 'im, the dark-furred bloke offered me fillet steak. Decided then and there that I could really pick em. After I'd finished eating the paper serviette-full of diced meat, I walked over to where Blue Eyes sat leaning against the dust-bin watching me. 'E 'ad 'is arms clasped about 'is drawn-up knees. I decided to let 'im know I was interested in making friends, so I got close enough to sniff 'is fingers.
Bodie snatched 'is hands away like 'e thought I was going to snap them off at the elbows! Almost bolted, 'e did.
Must admit, the thought was on my mind as well. Wasn't expecting 'im to jerk that way, was I? When 'e did, I leapt backwards and crouched into a good takeoff position. And there the two of us froze.
After a bit we both realized that the other one wasn't going to attack. Bodie relaxed and put 'is hands back on 'is knees. I washed. That's what me mum taught me to do when I was flummoxed. "When in doubt, wash," mum always said. Right soothing, it is. And it gives you a few moments to think. By the time I finished, I 'ad a new plan.
You see, I'd figured out what went wrong with me approach. Bodie didn't know cats. 'E didn't know what a great honour it is to get sniffed. 'S'our way of committing a body to memory. Much more effective than just looking them over.
This time I looked into Bodie's blue eyes and blinked sleepily. Then I yawned, stretched fore and aft, and sauntered back towards 'is legs. This time, I didn't try to sniff. Instead, I started to purr and began to strop myself against 'is legs. 'Ad two purposes, that did. It showed tall, dark and 'andsome that I was friendly, and it put my scent on 'im, warning other moggies that this 'uman was mine.
Bodie soon got the idea. My second pass by 'is legs, I felt a hesitant hand stroke down me back. I revved my purr into overdrive and turned round to butt the hand with me head. Bodie scratched behind me ears. Love that, I do. I sat down, curled me tail round me front paws and leaned into that 'and. Only thing I moved was me 'ead, and then I only moved it enough to guide those magic fingers to just the right place.
I could've sat there for hours. Unfortunately, 'umans don't have that much patience. I did get a good fifteen minutes of ecstasy out of it before Blue Eyes left off. 'E was bloody good, for an amateur.
Next day I moved into Phase Three of my efforts to move in with Bodie. Phase One was getting 'im to feed me. That'd gone off quite well. I 'adn't even 'ad to make the overtures. Phase Two was getting friendly with 'im. We'd 'ad a bit of a problem over that, but we seemed to be doing smash-on now. Phase Three was getting 'im to invite me into 'is flat. That proved a bit more difficult.
Blue Eyes started looking for me every time 'e came 'ome. I took to 'anging about near the dust-bins or in the garden of the 'ouse across the way just so's I'd be there when 'e did. After all, tall, dark, and 'andsome was feeding me, so I didn't have to do the rounds of the dust- bins, the ratholes and the parks where the pigeons 'ang about. I ate well, I did.
Bodie gave me part of 'is dinner, and 'e was a meat and potatoes man, emphasis on the meat. But 'e proved a bit reluctant when it came to letting me into 'is 'ome. Second time Blue Eyes fed me, 'e let me jump into 'is lap, sniff 'is fingers and rub about 'is chin. Smelled good, 'e did. Bodie didn't use all those smelly chemical things, and e didn't smoke. Sometimes 'e smelled like oatmeal soap and sometimes 'e reminded me of sandalwood--but 'e didn't use a lot of scent so it didn't 'urt me nose the way some of that stuff does. We have very sensitive noses, we cats. 'Arsh scents make our sinuses ache. Worst of the lot is fresh peeled citrus fruit. You ever want to drive off a cat, just peel an orange.
When Bodie got up to go inside after feeding me, I followed 'im. Tried to ooze by 'is legs when 'e opened the door to 'is flat, but 'e wouldn't let me. That only made me more determined.
You see, I figured that Bodie's problem was the same as mine-- 'e was afraid to commit 'imself. As long as 'e was only feeding me, it was okay--I wasn't really anything to do with 'im. Let me inside 'is own place, and I was a bit of a threat. I'd be 'is flatmate, then-- connected to 'im.
Was going to be difficult, that. Bodie'd been hurt, and 'urt badly some time in 'is life. E wasn't the sort to give 'is affection lightly.
Neither was I, usually. In the five months, one week and four days between my cruel abandonment and my meeting with tall, dark and 'andsome, I 'adn't met anyone I cared to live with. Not that I 'adn't 'ad offers, because I 'ad. 'Andsome cat like me, I'd 'ad little old ladies, young women, children of both sexes, and the odd 'uman male make offers to take me in. I just 'adn't wanted any of them. I did want Bodie. I'd figured that out exactly 30 seconds into our first meeting.
I dunno what it was that attracted me at first. Maybe it was the black fur like mine, or the blue eyes like me mum's. Definitely, 'is good manners 'ad a lot to do with it. But, most of all, I think it was the loneliness I sensed in 'im. For all 'is busy life and the procession of females through 'is bed, Bodie was a lonely person. The only times I saw 'im when 'e didn't look a bit lost were the times when 'e was with the ginger-furred bloke, who's name 'appened to be Ray... or Doyle, or Sunshine (depending on how Bodie was feeling about 'im at the time).
Felt a bit lonely meself. Before Mary left, I'd always 'ad someone to call me own. First there was mum and me sibs. Then there was Mary and 'er mum (I don't count 'er da as 'e was more of an irritation than anything else). After several months by meself on the London streets I'd finally found someone that I thought needed me every bit as much as I needed 'im. And I wasn't about to let 'im throw my friendship away just because the daft bugger was afraid to get too close in case 'e got 'urt. Pain is a part of life. If you try too 'ard to avoid it, you avoid living. One thing we cats are good at is living in the present.
I tried everything to get Bodie to let me into 'is flat. One day, I rolled over on me back and offered me tum for a scratch. The next, I rubbed up against every part of 'is anatomy that I could reach. The day after, I even resorted to playing silly buggers chasing 'is fingers about. Nothing worked. Finally, I 'ad to resort to the ultimate weapon.
It was the perfect day for my purposes. The sky 'ad been pissing down rain for hours. I was crouched in a small semi-dry spot between the wheels that supported the dust-bin. Me fur was damp from an earlier foray into the weather. When I 'eard Bodie coming I moved out into the rain and prepared to turn the full force of the Silent Miaow upon the stubborn 'uman.
As tall, dark and 'andsome approached, I crouched even closer to the ground. At the last moment, I widened my eyes, thought sad thoughts and looked up to catch Bodie's blue eyes with my own green ones. I projected poor, pitiful, 'omeless me--drowning in the rain. When I'd given Blue Eyes enough time to take in the whole thing, I opened my mouth and barely breathed a soft 'mew.'
Bodie stopped dead in 'is tracks. 'Is eyes widened in startled confusion. I knew 'e didn't really see me--instead 'e saw the 'elpless, abandoned kitten that I was pretending to be.
"Poor moggy, you look half drowned," 'e said. 'E came closer, trying not to scare me, then knelt on the soggy ground and put out a tentative hand.
I bunched me muscles as if I were going to flee into the grey twilight. Shivers danced across my body--mostly caused by adrenaline, but some from the cold rain that was soaking me to the skin.
A soothing stream of nonsense poured out of Bodie. "Poor wet kitty. I'll soon have you out of this rain."
I went all limp as Blue Eyes scooped me into 'is arms and bundled me under 'is jacket. Still crooning inanities, tall, dark and 'andsome carried me into 'is flat.
I'm always amazed at 'ow well that works. The Silent Miaow 'as been known to turn strong men all soft inside like treacle pud. Normally, Bodie would rather cut off 'is arm than 'e would burble on like that. Of course, the whole key to using the ultimate weapon is never letting your target feel the fool. You ever let your 'uman feel all self- conscious-like an' he's liable to give you the boot. After all, no one likes to feel like the 'ind end of an 'orse.
So far I'd been concentrating on getting me whiskers inside Bodie's flat. Now that I was there, I realized that was only the first step in me campaign. I would know I'd won the war when Bodie started caring about me--when 'e bought things specially to tempt or entertain me; when 'e worried if I was feeling rum or when I spent a night out on the tiles and didn't come 'ome when 'e expected me.
I knew I 'ad me work cut out for me. Fortunately, I 'ad some unexpected 'elp, in the form of one Raymond Doyle.
At first, Bodie pretended that nothing 'ad changed--even though I now 'ad free run of 'is flat, at least while Blue Eyes was 'ome. It was small, but neat. You could even say that the place was a bit Spartan. Most of the furnishings came with the lease. I could tell that by the lingering smell of past tenants.
Bodie still shared 'is food with me. When 'umans start buying the canned stuff meant specially for cats it's one of the first signs that you're part of the family. Of course, we still like sharing 'uman food, but a steady diet of I nothing but table scraps isn't 'ealthy for one of us.
I did my best to put me mark on Bodie and on 'is flat. I rubbed my scent all over everything, and especially over me 'uman. Cats have scent glands beside their nose, behind their ears, and under their tails. When a cat rubs up against a man, 'e leaves 'is scent markers all over the 'uman. Made all the usual moves, didn't I? Rubbed against 'is ankles; purred when 'e scratched behind me ears; kept the vermin out of 'is flat; jumped into 'is lap at every opportunity. An' Bodie liked me in 'is lap--unless 'e 'ad a female with 'im. Then 'e 'ad better things to do. I liked being in 'is lap. Blue Eyes 'ad a great technique for scratching the itchy bits I couldn't reach meself.
Still, I was getting nowhere with the daft berk. 's defenses were proving tougher than I was. At least, they were until another emotion ambushed Bodie while 'e wasn't looking.
The way I figure it, Blue Eyes was so busy trying to keep 'imself from caring about me, 'e didn't notice that 'e'd fallen in love with 'is partner. That's right--tall, dark and 'andsome fell for the ginger- furred bloke. Bodie didn't even see it coming.
To me, it was as obvious as the whiskers on me own face. Fortunately, Ray Doyle knew cats. Took to me right off, 'e did. And I took to 'im. 'S'not everybody I'd let pick me up and scratch me tum, but I liked it when Doyle did it.
Knew the right way to treat a cat, did Ginger-Fur.
I must admit, I was a bit surprised the morning I walked into Bodie's bedroom and found 'im and Doyle in bed together--and they certainly weren't just sleeping. Not that it should 'ave come as a great shock. I'd noticed them making eyes at each other for at least a week before it 'appened.
It was the first time Bodie let me spend all night in 'is flat. I woke up I 'ungry, and decided to see if breakfast was on offer. I strolled upstairs to the bedroom and found Bodie and Doyle in bed together. It wasn't the first time that the two of them 'ad shared a bed--I'd smelled the ginger-furred bloke's scent on the sheets often enough to know that.
But this was very different. The two of them were knotted together like two strands of a rope, and the scent boiling off of their sweaty bodies 'ad so many mating pheromones in it, that it fair made me dizzy. Being as curious as any of me ancestors, I jumped up on the bed to see what was 'appening.
Well, I 'adn't ever seen two 'uman males mating, 'ad I? Not that its unknown in the feline world. 'S'just that it's bloody unusual. Like most cats, my philosophy is, "If it feels good, do it. And if you like it, do it again." Mating another male wouldn't be my preference, but I must admit that Blue Eyes and Ginger looked very good together.
Besides, I liked Doyle better than any of the females that Bodie'd brought 'ome with 'im. Add to that the fact that I owed Raymond a very big favour. 'E was the one that finally broke down Bodie's defences. And it was Doyle who finally got Blue Eyes to give me a name.
Very important, that is. 'Aving your 'uman give you a name, I mean. It's one of the most binding things that can 'appen between cats and 'umans. Not that most cats ever show it. Most of us just ignore the clumsy bipeds when they try to call us by one of the names they give us. But it's flattering none the less. It means that we've wormed our way into their affections to the point where they talk about us, and sometimes to us.
Of course, every cat already 'as a feline name--one given to us by our mother, or earned on our own. We only use our names among other cats. No 'uman 'as ever learned to speak our language. Poor things, they 'aven't the equipment to understand it, as our language is part scent, and part telepathy, with a bit of body language thrown in.
We don't mind being given 'uman names--it's a sign of affection, after all. Most cats appreciate affection, if it's done the right way. Of course, some of the names that 'umans give us are enough to make a self-respecting feline cringe. I am 'appy to report that my 'uman did much better than that. 'E actually gave me a fairly good name, as far as 'uman names go. Bodie named me Raven, and, when 'e did, I knew that I was 'ome at last.
But I was a bit surprised to end up living with two 'umans instead of one. Two weeks after I found Bodie and Doyle in bed with one another, Ray moved in with us.
That was a bit of all right. It meant I 'ad a live-in interpreter, because Ginger-Fur knows more about cats than most blokes.
Of course, it 'as its drawbacks as well. The two of them aren't 'alf randy. They're forever chucking me out of the bedroom so they can have their ends away in decent privacy--neither of them being the exhibitionist sort. Too bad, that is. I wouldn't mind seeing what the two of them get up to in bed together. It'd be an educational experience. But I don't think that I could convince them of that.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 8, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1991
AUTHOR NOTES: I've shamelessly borrowed the following concepts from Paul Gallico:
'The Silent Miaow' (The Silent Miaow: a Manual for Kittens, Strays and Homeless Cats. Picture story by Suzanne Szasz. Translated from the feline and edited by Paul W. Gallico. New York: Crown Publishers, 1964)
'When in doubt, wash' (Jenny aka The Abandoned. By Paul Gallico. New York: Knopf, 1950).
Any ailurophile who hasn't read these two Gallico books is missing out on a real treat.