calico kittenI am going to get this out of the way right up front and tell you that I am not a cat person. But that does not make me a bad guy, and I encourage those of you who are cat people to continue being so with my full blessing. I couldn’t be happier for you, or for your feline friends. My own mother loved cats, and that may be where I got off to my bad start with them. I spent my formative years shooing cats from my bed, removing freshly-born kittens from my closet, and vacuuming cat hair from my clothing. And I swore that when I grew to manhood, I would never, ever own a cat.

What was I thinking?

When my youngest daughter was four years old, she discovered a female calico kitten in our front yard, a scraggly little tortoiseshell cat that was all legs and eyes. By the time I got home from work, it was fed, bathed, and named Britch. No, that wasn’t a typo. She named the cat Britch. We don’t know why. Now, my daughter is twenty-two and gone from home. Britch is eighteen and still here. Eighteen cat years is about the equivalent of nine-hundred people-years, and she still has all of her teeth. I may not like cats, but I sure know how to take care of them. Just hand me a cat, and then stand back and watch it thrive.

Not long after we were blessed with Britch, I took her to the veterinarian’s office for shots and to be spayed. Taking her to the vet is a challenge. It requires two people, a can of cat food, a blanket, and nerves of steel. While one person distracts Britch with the cat food, the second person flanks around to the left and throws the blanket over her. Once the commotion under the blanket dies down, it is then possible to pick her up and put her in the car for the trip to the doctor.

I will never forget that day. I stood there in the office next to the examining table with the squirming, jumping, cat-in-a-blanket in front of me. She had worked one paw free, and it was whipping around with claws extended, seeking man-flesh.

“What have we here?” the veterinarian asked warily.

“We have a cat that needs to be spayed,” I replied.

“Well, we are going to need to take her out of the blanket,” the vet told me.

“I’ll be right back,” I said as I eased towards the door. I figured that the person gaining the one-hundred dollars could handle that part while the person losing the one- hundred dollars waited in the hall. After the examination, I received the good news that Britch was probably too small to ever have kittens, and that she was too young to be spayed right then, anyway. The office staff and I got her back into the blanket, and I took her home.

Six weeks later, Britch had kittens. I don’t think the vet was wrong. I think that Britch just wanted to make him look bad. As a general rule, she does not do well with vets, anyway, and I keep having to transfer our business to new doctors fresh out of veterinary school. Our current pet doctor practices in Macon. I live in Rome.

“You guys are a long way from home,” she said as we looked at the squirming blanket on the examining table.

“Britch likes to travel,” I replied. “I’ll be out in the hall.”

Britch is a porch cat, and she considers ours to be her personal domain. She runs a tight porch and does not like company. Over the years, I have watched her suggest to several dogs large and small that they get on back out into the yard. I have seen her run off raccoons, possums, squirrels, and moles. She hates rival cats, birds, UPS employees, and children. She will not tolerate neighbors, mail persons, brothers-in-law, or little ladies from the church.

But I don’t want you to think that she is just a furry ball of negativity. There are a lot of things she likes. She likes to chew on wicker. She likes to shed. She likes to leave commemorative hair balls where they will be found by visitors. She likes that brown stuff that comes in the Little Friskies cans. And, unfortunately, she likes me.

Last week, out of nowhere, a scraggly little female tortoiseshell kitten that was all legs and eyes showed up on my front porch. She mewed at me as I walked up, looking and sounding exactly like Britch had looked and sounded eighteen years ago. I looked over at Britch, who was busy chewing on the wicker, and pointed at the intruder.

“There is a cat on your porch,” I told her. She ignored me and shed some hair on our new cushions. For the next three days, Britch continued to tolerate the little kitten. It was kind of creepy.

“What do you think?” I asked my wife as we watched the feline pair eat brown stuff from Britch’s bowl.

“I think you were bad to cats in another life, and it is coming home to roost now,” she replied.

“Thanks.”

The ancient Egyptians used to believe that cats were in touch with the afterlife, that they could see in both worlds. Of course, the ancient Egyptians also believed that guys should wear skirts and walk sideways, so let’s not get too carried away. But what if Britch has somehow sensed her own mortality and is training her replacement? What if she is mentoring little Vermin—I named the kitten Vermin—to take over the serious business of running the porch? What if Britch is turning over the reins? I posed these questions to my mate as we watched Britch and Vermin chew on our new wicker table.

“I think one of those vets found out our home address,” she replied.

###
Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.

19 Comments
  1. Terri Evans

    Raymond, you’ve done it again! Very entertaining. It reminds me (and redeems me) of the cruelest thing my husband and I ever did to our, then, 7-year old who begged for a cat for Christmas. We got her a flat cat – yes, a cardboard cutout. I know, it was twisted. She thought so too. We made it up to her a few years later with the beagle she begged for (including notes on my pillow: “Think Beagle.”) Like you daughter, she’s moved on to greener pastures and the beagle is still with us (now 14).

  2. Chris Wohlwend

    As someone once said, “When you’ve got a cat, you’re always entertained; when you’ve got two cats, you’ll never have to leave home.” Funny piece.

  3. Lee Leslie

    Wonderful. Brought back the memories of my mother allowing the cat to have a litter on our white living room sofa. Scarred me forever.

  4. Melinda Ennis

    Very funny. I too come from a long line of non-cat people. It seems felines must have a diabolical, international cat-plot to change this. My brother married a woman with 5 cats. Twenty years later they are down to one, but Steve swears that the latest will outlive him.
    We had one cat when we were growing up, a totally black feline that I named Boo (after Boo Radley). Of all of us, my father hated cats the worst and inevitably, Boo would crawl up on my father’s chest as he dozed on the couch each night . He was like glue to him despite Dad’s total disdain and even disgust (when Boo presented him with the gift of a dead bird).

  5. Eleanor Ringel Cater

    THis is better than the MARLEY book. Much.

  6. Janet Ward

    We were always cat people. Our first pet was a cat who “followed us home.” We named her Mehitabel on my dad’s instructions. He had always liked the Archie and Mehitabel poem. Mehitabel was a phenomenal cat. At one point, we moved a mile or so across MacDill Air Force Base, taking her with us. She disappeared, and we looked high and low for her, before finding her at our old apartment. I remember one time being out in the yard in front of our air force apartment where my dad had set up one of those tiny blow-up pools. My sister, Mary, was a tiny thing, sitting in the pool, when a dog none of us knew came up to the pool and started growling at Mary. Mehitabel — or as we called her “Hetterbel” — roared onto the scene and, defending Mary, freaked the dog out. He left quickly.

    When my dad went to VietNam, Hetter moved with us to Fernandina. We lived next door to a Weimeraner, Baron, who hated cats and who had, along with Sputnik, the dalmation from down the street, killed our neighbor’s cat, Snowball. At some point, Baron got out and went after Hetter. She leaped on top of the car in our driveway and, when Baron came by on the other side, she jumped on his back, scratching and clawing that stupid bastard, before jumping off to safety. Baron ended up dying because of an infection he got, and no one was upset, including his owners.

    They ended up getting another Weimeraner, Sugar, who was everything her name indicated.
    When my dad retired, we moved to Atlanta, and, shortly thereafter, Hetter, who was probably 18 or 19 years old, disappeared. We think she went off to die. It kills me to not know what happened to her. But, for all the people who say they are not cat people, I say, “That’s because you never had a Mehitabel.”

  7. Brilliant. Thanks for a great read. And as long as we’re here, can you explain why animals get crossways with UPS? Dogs cats, young, old. The brown uniform or the brown truck or both seem to make our pets coco-loco.

  8. Love the story and the picture is so cute. Cats have a way of worming themselves into our lives, don’t they.

    It is amazing that you have had Britch so long, and I do believe she tolerates the new kitten because she knows you will soon be needing a new cat in your life.

  9. Bob and I just read about Britch, and he was very impressed, thought she was likely one fine figure of a cat. He also thinks you should be happy about Vermin coming into your life, although he asked me to mention, please, that she might not see the humor in such a name.

    That’s about all Bob had to say, because he was so exhausted. It’s been a hard day around here for him, what with TPing the house (why in heaven’s name do I keep the toilet paper hanging so low in the bathroom?), scattering all of my mother’s papers (she died last month and I’m going through things) and taking out the trash (not outside, silly. He took it out of the basket in the living room.) Besides which the dog got a little smart-mouthed, needed some discipline.

  10. Oh, yes, I forgot this. Janet, Bob likes the idea of your having a cat named Mehitabel, because he is also a huge fan of Don Marquis.

    Only a week or so ago he got royally ticked off with me about something, and stomped off flicking his tail in fury, muttering under his breath so I wouldn’t hear what he was saying. But I did. He was cussing. Wot the hell, wot the hell!

    He’s just plain lucky we’re no longer Southern Baptist and he can get by with that.

  11. Raymond: You are clearly a victim of Elderly Cat Syndrome. Our little terrorist, Snuff, lived 21 years. Snuff knew I didn’t like him, so he retaliated by pretending to be hopelessly fond of me. It was mean and uncalled for. When Stuff had obviously reached the end, it fell to me to take him to the vet to be put down. Yes, I got properly emotional. Yes, I held my daughter while she cried. Yes, we buried him in the back yard in a box lined with his pink blanket. Yes, I was overjoyed I didn’t have to change kitty litter anymore. No, we will never have another cat.

  12. Don O'Briant

    Raymond,
    Very funny piece.
    When my daughter moved out, she left behind nine cats. I have thinned the herd to two fixed tomcats who think I am living in their house. One thing I have learned about the difference between dogs and cats. Dogs will eat anything. Cats will send food back if it doesn’t meet their standards.

  13. Billy Howard

    If only people in Afghanistan would be as tolerant as you are. I have a cat that has done damage to the infrastructure of our house. We have had to move to a house made of stronger material. I have a friend who’s friend’s cat Patches is over 25. Good luck.

  14. Cliff Green

    Raymond, as one who also came to cats late, I sense immediately that yours is not a work of fiction. Only someone who has been lured into these creatures’ universe can write stuff this good. We lost our sister cats at the ages of 17 and 18 a couple of years ago. I miss those evil, control-freak witches every day.

  15. May I add something about a dog here? It relates to Comment #7 from Gita. My dog Sal wanted to “get” the UPS truck more than he wanted air to breathe. I think it was the roaring diesel engine followed by the man running/attacking our front porch, then running away and roaring to his next victim. Sal didn’t like any of that.

  16. Love this story. As my cat Judy sleeps after getting me at 6:30 on this rainy morning, I have to say she controls my daily routine. After seeing her on front page of our local shelter, I fell in love and later that day she came home to stay. As a child I was very fond of kittens but not my mom when I wrapped one of them in a baby blanket and laid it in my parents bed. The kitten loved it!

  17. Raymond, I swear that when I came to manhood, part of my ritual celebration was renouncing my ties to cats. Yet my first girlfriend had a hefty orange tom that favored lurking on the window sill every morning and pouncing on my groin to wake me up and serve him breakfast. Another habit of his was to perch on the ledge of the toilet bowl while I voided, a trick that finally ended in an unwanted shower.

    So far, so good. Half a decade into adulthood, I was not a cat person.

    I insist that I did not ever “get” a cat. They came to me. They tried to implore me with mews. Some even tried to hypnotize me with kitty rays emanating from their little green eyes: “Do not resist,” they seemed to say, “we are in control. You will worship us and do our bidding.”

    “Nonsense,” said I, as I opened the can of tuna.

    And so it goes.

  18. Frank Povah

    We have a relative of Britch’s here in Kentucky – the prettiest, most mischievous tortoiseshell I have ever seen. Not long ago she would have been the archetypal witch’s cat with dire consequences for her ‘owners’.

    She came to us via a shelter after her pregnant wild mother was injured on the road.

  19. Dear Raymond, You are a lucky man indeed; for Cats do not respond to just any of our 2-legged species. If a cat singles you out, you are a Kindred Spirit. Those special men in my life who have remained close to me, were designated friends because they passed the KIT-mus Test: if my cats adore a fella, I know he will be kindhearted, and nice to cozy up to on cold winter nights! Purrs.

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