Photograph of Pippin the catFeeding Cats - a quick lesson in how
not
to take care of your kitty
     

Chapter 1 - arrange care for your cat

"Well," I asked Arthur, my smart but these days preoccupied friend, "Can you feed Pippin, Sara's solid black long-haired kitty, while I travel to see Sara, then to Toronto, then home?"

"Sure," says Art, adding, "If I go to NY City I'll just ask Bets (his girl friend and the better functioning half of a lovely pas-de-deux)."

Later Bets confirms that if Art goes to NYC she'll not - so on Wednesday I bring Art the door key, which one might better write, dorkey, as in dorky dorky dorky dorky dorky dorky day.

But I didn't know that at the time. Or things might have been different. And we discuss the cat, the plan, the food, the schedule, the works. It's all set.

Back at my place. Food is out, written instructions, and Art has my spare dorky with a big white American Home Service Company tag on it. Can't miss it. And I get lucky, and *find* the darn cat and manage to sequester her inside with every bowl I can find in the house filled with dry food, and a two-gallon bowl of water (because, you see, I have a premonition). And the cat runs to the door as I try to leave.

She's very very quick. But I'm quicker this time and the move is to throw the cat as far as possible towards the living room, then quickly shut the back door behind me before Pippin makes her speedy dash outside. It works.

This time.

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Chapter 2 - preparing to leave your cat

I double check and see her there throwing her body repeatedly against the back door -- from the inside. So I know she's safe. At least for now. Doors in the house are carefully propped open or shut as needed - don't want kitty trapped for a week in the attic! Door to basement and litter box is propped open. Don't want Art to close kitty off from poop box. Else she uses the bathtub. Not what you want to step in at the start of your bleary-eyed morning shower.

I leave. And I do not worry much about the cat, though while visiting Sara at school she asks a time or two how her kitty is doing. "Fine," I say. "Just fine." I do not describe throwing kitty across the kitchen, a clean shot right into the living room, as I leave, slamming and locking the ratty door behind me.

I think of Pippin and that sci-fi story about the guy in prison who throws himself against the stone wall of his cell again and again. He knows that at an atomic level our bodies are mostly space. And so is the stone prison wall. If he can hit the wall at just the right velocity and just the right moment, he will pass *through* the wall and escape. He and Pippin, they just keep trying. Sometimes you get lucky.

Chapter 3 - what if your cat runs away

Something smells odd! I think of Pip once again when I come back into the house the next Monday night. It's been just six days. The house stinks. Stinks of cat food. Art has left dirty cat food cans on the counter, spilled cat food juice on the counter, left my one remaining bowl out with dried cat food in it, and I see another one has been moved to the back porch where "you know who" and I do not mean Pippin, comes over from across the street to eat all of Pip's food, which is why I left strict instructions to feed Pippin from and only at INSIDE the darn house!

"You know who" and I have met a time or two. She is *not* my friend, and, fat sassy calico from across the street that she is, we have had harsh words a time or two.

Chapter 3 - is your cat really missing?

In the house I look: no Pippin. I call. "Here kitty kitty." "Pippy?" No Pippin. No kidding. None, nothing, nada, zippo. No cat.

Things look very strange. There is NO water on the floor and the 2 gal bowl I left sits empty in the sink, along with every one of my dish towels. I recognize this work, I've seen it before. But I cannot explain it. Jane has been here, and 1 year old Aaron, who dumps over the bowl, soaks the room, and gets wiped off with all my dish towels. Yes! There's his little red shirt draped across the kitchen chair, inside out, and dry. So it's been some time since they were here. And why were they here? I begin to smell not a cat, but a rat.

Chapter 4 - was your cat properly cared-for?

What sort of idiot would leave a cat trapped in a house for days with no water? Is the cat dead? I look for her. Under beds, in closets, but this cat is impossible to find even when she's alive. I'll *never* find her when she's dead--not until she begins to smell. I sniff the air and I wonder how long it takes for a body to begin to smell. Morbid thoughts fill my heart.

I call Art - there's no answer, and I leave an anxious message - "What's up with my cat. Call me?"

Chapter 5 - where to look for a missing cat

I look in the basement. I look in the attic. I look under the beds, and atop my printer, and in my book shelves. I look under Sara's bed, and I dump out her laundry basket and look there. I look under my bed. I look in the attic. I look in the basement again, with all the lights on, carefully. I look in the litter box. This looks *very* bad - there is only a single poop - no one has been eating, much less pooping, in this house! It looks bleak. I go upstairs and pick up my mail. I check the tub for poop. I leave all the closet and attic doors open. I picture Pip dragging her weakened body, feeble cries, out into the hall from some hidden refuge.

There is a letter from Sara. I'll read it later, at dinner. I look under my bed, I just cannot believe the cat is dead somewhere in the goddamned house! I hear footsteps on the back porch. It's Betsy! She has a very serious look on her lovely face. Something is wrong here. The actual words of our conversation are lost, blown down the Hudson River by the same anxious winds that make sailboats turn upside down beneath the old railroad bridge. Tricky. But I remember the sense of it, I can smell the meaning. Art forgot about the cat. ART FORGOT??????? Yes, until Sunday - or was it Monday - wait a minute, isn't this Monday?

Chapter 6 - why did the cat run away?

Picture Jane chatting with Bets - it must have been on Sunday, and Jane says something like "How's Art doing with feeding Pippin?" Betsy must have been silent for a moment of serious reflection. "Art is supposed to be feeding Pippin?" "Yes...." Perhaps Jane picked up some incredulity here. "Art is in New York City!" "Whaaat!"

You can imagine the rest of it. Bets calls Art - and oh yeah now he remembers, Dan left a KEY - and they manage to locate it. Meanwhile Jane, who openly covets Pippin but is ambivalent about litter box cleaning, has dashed to my house, used her key (Jane is both ex-wife and holder of the mortgage on the only house I ever bought twice), and searches for Pippin. She does not look under my bed. She puts food outside on the back porch. NO NO Jane, NOT THERE!!! But she cannot hear me, and she puts it there for "YOU KNOW WHO."

Chapter 7 - so where is the missing kitty? Keep looking!

Meanwhile, Pip is, I speculate, merging her atoms with the wood of the back door. But Pip has not emerged through the 1.75" thick panels, and the atomic structure of both remains odd - and the universe is disturbed. And Aaron dumps over the water bowl, gets soaked, and Jane cleans him up, using all of my dish towels. "But Jane, " I ask later, " how could you leave the cat with no water?" "Well, I left a *big* puddle of water on your floor" she tries lamely. I don't buy it. Besides on my floor the water runs under the refrigerator.

I stop this story and run into my bedroom to look once more under the bed. The one I had a huge fight about with Rockaway Bedding because they increased the price of my bed to above the floor price the day I went to pick it up. No cat. Bets has left - she'd come over to try to find the missing Pip. I now have more details. Art was not sure, but he thinks he captured Pip outside, and brought her in the house and left her with food - when was this, probably Sunday night? "A big fat cat, brown and white and black..." he describes. "No No NO Art," my soul screams agonized piercing cries heard back in Oakville, maybe even Toronto. "That's the NEIGHBOR's Cat, and besides she fights with Pip and Pip has no front claws."

Oh god. I look again under the bed. First he leaves my cat for five days with no food and water, then he captures the neighbor's cat, imprisons her in my house with fresh food (cats take their water from their dead mice, usually), and probably (maybe?) my cat, if she was not already dehydrated (maybe that's why there's no dead cat smell) became petrified with fear, or was dumped, mauled and bleeding, among Sara's dirty sneakers or jammed under some dusty insulation in the attic! Poor Pippin. Starved, tortured, dehydrated.

I look in the laundry baskets again, and this time, back in the basement, I open the clothes dryer to make sure she didn't get shut in there. She's also not in the washer. Panicked, I begin to look in ridiculous places. I open cabinet doors and look behind stacks of towels in closets. Moves of a desperate man.

Chapter 8 - Escaped cats have great survival skills

A thought occurs once again to me. Could she have escaped to the outdoors. Jane swears to god that no cat got past her at the door. So does Art. I wander the neighborhood for hours calling "Pip Pip Pippiiiiin," until shouts of "SHADDAP" drive me back inside in the wee hours of my catless house. I cannot sleep. Sara is gonna kill me, and Art, and Jane, but probably Bets will live. Art says "Well I thought it *might* be your cat, and she seemed quite happy to come in the house. She acted as if she lived there!" Sure, that fatso steals any food outside - that's why Pip eats only indoors now. Calico blimp, fatso Rabasco. Not the first problem I've had with that family. "Later," says Art, "I came back, and the cat was farting terribly, so I let her back outside." Must have been all that rich cat food.

I wander the house. I look under Sara's bed, and even inside some of her sneakers. This is absurd. Pip would never fit in a sneaker. Well what about if she were dehydrated? It's time to read Sara's letter, which chats about school, is all excitement and good news, and not much homesickness, and ends with "Give Pippin a kiss for me." A tear rolls down my cheek. Sigh. Another trip outside calling, calling, ever calling, is there Pippin? Nevermore? Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

I wander the house. I look in the bathroom again, behind the toilet. The blinds rattle. The blinds rattle?

A breeze has blown the blinds and I see that the window is open about four inches. There is no screen over this window, and it opens onto the front porch roof. My heart leaps! Maybe trapped Pip had a slight chance - if she could survive a death-defying leap from roof to ground. I race outside. Are there cat prints in the bushes? Cat blood on the sidewalk? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. I am resigned to it. And in the best Zen fashion, I give over to the absence of Sara's pet. And sleep, finally.

Chapter 9 - Old Mister Johnson - The Cat Came Back!

It's Tuesday morning. I am naked. I race downstairs and open the back door and step out -- no wait! I'm naked! I step back in and from the door, just like always, I call Pippin to breakfast. Like the Jews calling Elijah at Passover, I have set a place for her, but like the Prophet, she does not appear. I consider shorts, and another trip outside. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Put on tea. Feed antiquated, crippled old Katie-dog (who survived her care in professional hands of Barb, the dog girl of Brooklyn, but that's another story.) And walk down the drive towards the garage. "Pippin. PIPPIN. I shout louder."

Suddenly! A black blur catches my eye. Twenty yards away, leaping high through three-foot grass, a small black furry cat with long hair, bounding, bounding high above grass. African tigers and lions, no panthers, leap less gracefully and with less strength. I am proud with joy. Ten times her height she is flying. Over the uncut grass of Mrs. Bowman's back yard. The only cat in America that comes when called. (Sometimes.) And she's mewling hungrily at my feet and in my arms and we embrace, tears, and we share breakfast together, even the cream intended for my tea.

Chapter 10 - PostScript - excuses for bad cat care

"I had a lot on my mind," Art pauses, desperate for a legitimate excuse for the inexcusable. He adds "Bets is bugging me to get married."

Postscript note from the author: Art and Betsy set the date for April 8, 1995.

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