Monday, June 7, 2010

Ch. 1. The Cat and the Cougar

Tabitha could see his outline through the frosted shower curtain. While most people would chalk up his presence in the bathroom to curiosity, Tabitha knew he was just being a perv. “Get out Thistle,” she called as she turned off the water.

She watched for the orange blur jumping off the toilet seat before she pushed open the curtain and reached for a towel, wrapping it around her and wrapping her hair in another. She retreated from the steamy bathroom (she really needed to get that window unstuck) and left wet footprints on the old, highly polished wood as she moved down the hall to her bedroom.

Thistle was lying on the bed pretending to be asleep, but an involuntary swish of his tail betrayed him. “You big faker,” she said, rubbing the top of his head. Despite his downfalls she couldn’t help but be affectionate, especially when he started to purr.

Thistle lifted his head so she could scratch him under his chin. “You’re right,” he told her. “Your thighs are getting bigger.”

“Thank you,” she replied, tone dry. She was fairly certain other cat owners didn’t have to put up with this. “Get out. I have to get dressed for work.”

I’m already dressed for work,” he told her, getting up with a stretch and digging his claws into the green quilt she had sewn herself.

“Work,“ she scoffed. She was the one keeping him in Fancy Feast. “I’m not going to hear any complaints about you wandering into Mrs. Garret’s yard and tormenting her poodle, am I?” she asked him as she sat on the side of the bed and let her long brown hair loose from the towel.

“Anything is possible,” Thistle replied. His voice was slightly raspy and reminded Tabitha of a favorite uncle that smoked too much. "I have no control over that dog's reactions to my astounding wit."

"Astounding my ass. Go away."

"I don't care if you get naked," he tried to explain. “I lick myself in front of you all the time."

“Out,” she said for the last time and managed to scoop up the ten pounds of ginger cat without losing her towel. She’d had a cat growing up and she’d never been too concerned about it seeing her naked, but Thistle was no ordinary cat. She found the bedraggled Thistledown Copperbottom (that was his full name, he informed her at the time) under her front steps, six months old and dumped at the side of the road during a thunderstorm three years before. Her perception of cats and pets in general had changed.

Tabitha wasn’t much of an animal person but she could hardly turn him away, so she brought him inside and fed him leftover chicken Kiev. It had shocked her to no end when he looked up at her with big green eyes and said, “Please ma’am, may I have some more?” Though his voice was squeaky and weak at the time, she still screamed and bolted from the room. Later she learned that he had gotten the Oliver Twist reference from a movie but that he could read. His mother had made sure of that.

“I come from a long line of gifted felines,” Thistle told her once she had regained her composure, his prepubescent kitten voice sounding ridiculously superior. “And I have been told that we are descended from Hemingway’s cats.”

“How…nice,” Tabitha had managed to sputter as she dumped the last of the chicken Kiev onto his plate.

It wasn’t easy having a talking cat. Thistle was difficult for a number of reasons. He complained about his food, the cat litter, the condition of his catnip mouse (and he made her fetch it every time he knocked it under the sofa). Thistle could answer the phone but never remembered to give her any messages, and more than one boyfriend had left because “her brother” picked up the phone at her house.

Tabitha didn’t know if there were other people with talking pets, and she certainly wasn’t going to find out. After the first telephone fiasco she tried telling her boyfriend Jeff the truth, but Thistle had refused to say a word to him, and that was it for Jeff. Thus she had lost Bill and Kyle in similar fashion. Her current was Caleb and she had the house phone disconnected. So far, so good.

She dressed for work quickly, pulling on stockings and opening the closet to reveal a neat row of white shirts and five suits in various shades of navy and black. Snagging one at random from its hanger she slipped into the outfit, wanting to kill herself. The pencil cut skirt did nothing for her figure (she was slightly bottom-heavy) and she was not a navy and black person. The rest of her clothes were splashes of bright colors and exciting prints, but she had a very traditional boss and as a result she didn’t really care what her work clothes looked like as long as they were inoffensive.

Maybe this week you’ll quit, she thought to herself, knowing that it was a joke. She got the secretary position at Daws, Daws and Billings Attorneys through a temp agency, but five years later she was still there.

Thistle had turned on his morning CNN, but got up off the couch when Tabitha came downstairs. “Food, woman,” Thistle demanded, and Tabitha screwed up her face in distaste.

“What have I told you about that language?”

"I'm simply mimicking the mating calls of your species. Its the same as when you meow at me you know."

“It isn’t,” she said. In the kitchen she started coffee for herself and took a can of tuna flavored wet food out of the cupboard. While the opener was running she grabbed a floral print saucer from the cabinet. Thistle always ate off of the good china. "I'm going out with Caleb after work so I wont be home until late. I'll put some hard food out for you in case you get hungry."

"If I had opposable thumbs I would rule this kitchen," Thistle told her. "With an iron fist."

"I bought the expensive organic stuff. I thought you liked it."

"It's tolerable."

She put the dish on the black and white tiled floor and scooped some of the hard food into a bowl and put it down beside his water dish. Thistle gave the tuna flakes a tentative sniff and, finding it acceptable, ate in small, dainty bites.

"I'll bring you home some cheesecake tonight," she said to sooth him.

"I don’t see why you continue to go out with that guy."

“Lets see. He’s dependable, has a job, he’s pretty—”

"He's a dog person," Thistle said between bites. "And a cop. He likes people and animals to be subservient to him."

"That's not true."

"You ever meet a cop with a cat?"

"Maya." Maya was Caleb's ex-partner, recently promoted to detective.

"Lesbians don’t count." He glanced up at Tabitha rolling her eyes. "The name 'Caleb' means dog in Hebrew."

"So you've told me." She poured her coffee into a travel mug and screwed the lid on tight. "I'm going to work. Be good." She gave him a pat on the head and left through the back door.

Tabitha lived in the German Village section of Columbus, Ohio, where the houses were all old, pretty, and built right on top of each other. One of the lucky few in the neighborhood to have her own driveway, Tabitha got directly into the car and started the drive downtown, relishing in the quiet the ride afforded her. Sometimes she wished she lived alone.


Thistle ate his breakfast in relative quiet, catching snatches of words from the television that told him that the world was a mess. Which he already knew.

Thistle considered himself a scholar of human behavior, and in the last three years he had concluded that humans (even Tabitha) were idiots, only good for opening cat food and cleaning litter boxes. Of course Tabitha was better than most, free of the violence he saw on the television and when he went on his daily rounds. And she recycled.

He finished his meal and left the house through the cat door. It was the electronic kind and he had to wear a collar, but he understood that one must compromise at some point. The very idea of being a house cat was intolerable.

His house was small for its lot, which was big for a neighborhood where all of the old brick houses rested close to each other, and as a result Thistle had a bit of yard to explore. He used the vegetable garden as a litter box before leaping up against the trunk of a squat, twisted apple tree leaning against the low stone wall separating his yard from next door.

Thistle walked delicately across a branch that hung down over the other yard where a Jack Russel Terrier sat waiting with his tail moving. "Thistle!" Fritz yapped too loud, straining his chain to run under the tree. To the human eye it might appear that the little dog wanted to eat him, but Thistle couldn’t be so lucky. Fritz thought he was his best friend.

“Heya Thistle what’s up guess what I caught a bug!”

“Good for you,” Thistle said, not moving from his perch above Fritz’s head. “Remember to breathe.”

“Right.” Gasp. “Thank you.”

“Do you have any real news?” Thistle asked, knowing the answer.

“Lost my ball,” Fritz answered. “And it’s grass day.” A boy came once a week to mow the lawn, and Fritz was deeply allergic. “I hate grass day. I can’t smell anything for days afterwards.”

“Excellent. Grass day.” Thistle would have smiled if he’d had the necessary facial muscles. He was interested in it for a different reason. Zach Gordon lived with his grandmother even though he was several years out of high school and mowed lawns for money. Fritz’s owner, Janine Bukowski, was fifty-one and Tabitha referred to her as a ‘cougar.’

Thistle wasn’t exactly sure what his larger, wilder cousins had to do with older women who liked younger men, but it definitely made for interesting gossip, and Thistle was always looking for interesting things to write about in his blog.

Thistle ignored Fritz as he continued to complain about the grass and slipped through the space between Fritz’s house and Thistle’s driveway, stopping only to nibble at some honeysuckle. At the front of the house he jumped onto the porch, scrambling up the rail to peer inside through the blinds. Couldn’t make it up the stairs, could they? he thought as he noted the black t-shirt and purple bra tossed on the floor, part of a trail of clothing leading through the living room and ending at the dining room table. He saw two pairs of legs hanging off the edge of the table through the doorway, one pair still wearing jeans bunched up around his ankles. This was the third time in a month that Thistle had caught Zach Gordon and Janine Bukowski on the dining room table.

Thistle watched with interest as the legs bounced, knocking over a chair. Eventually the movement stopped and Janine reappeared with a white lace tablecloth wrapped around her, Zach hiking his pants up around his waist and belting them again. "You'd better go start the lawn," Thistle could hear Janine say through the cracked window. "Now that you've finished me."

The boy grunted in reply as he scooped up his t-shirt and pulled it on inside out. Zach stepped, slightly dazed, out of the house and went for the lawn mower in his truck. Janine was shameless, walking as far as the door in her table cloth (the lace barely covering the areas of the human body they deemed 'private') where she ran the red painted nails on one hand through her hair and smiled. "You're doing such a good job, I'll bring you out some lemonade and cookies."

Zach turned around from the mower and gave her a fake smile. "Gee wiz Mrs. Robinson. Thanks!" The smile disappeared quickly and he wheeled the mower across the sidewalk.

Janine made no move to retreat indoors, the tablecloth dragging across the porch as she moved towards the railing. “Shoo!” she said, batting Thistle off the rail. He pumped from the porch, not keen on sticking around while Zach did his work. Mrs. Garret was out watering the flowers in her front yard (and not hiding her glares at Janine), leaving the front gate open and giving Thistle access to Jacque, her French poodle.

There was nothing Thistle enjoyed more than tormenting the neurotic animal, so he looked both ways before crossing the street (Tabitha insisted) and sauntered over with his tail in the air, pleased that his blog would not be boring that day.


So that's Thistle and Tabitha. I havent written anything this close to "reality" in a long time. For the record, Thistle is not orange because of Garfeild. I wanted him to be a grey tabby so I could use pics of my cat Xavier, but my bf thought of the name Thistledown Copperbottom (thanks Parker!) and I loved it. Of course any cat named 'Copperbottom' had to be copper colored, so orange he became. Fritz is based on my aunt's dog Petey.

So, updates will be on mondays or tuesdays. I'll try to keep it consistently monday, but I don't have internet at home so I have to go to the library to update. If it's pouring rain, you can bet I'm not biking three miles in it. A full chapter will be around 2,000 words and at the moment I'm planning on 10 chapters for Cat in Cougar Country.

1 comment:

  1. I love that Thistle has a blog. I'm hoping that we'll get to read excerpts later on! I didn't think Garfield until you mentioned it, then I was like oh talking orange cat. I don't think it'll be too much of a problem though and I love the name.

    I had to read one part several times before it made sense. It was the part about her finding him at the age of 6 months three years previous. Maybe it's just me, but the wording was kind of confusing.

    Looking forward to more! :D