(Photo credit: This short story was inspired by German painter Heiko Müller‘s piece, Sonnenkater. http://www.heikomueller.de)
For my 50th blog post I thought I would lighten things up a bit! Welcome to my sense of humor, as well as my love of animals and nature!
Men with briefcases move up and down the streets like ants: all in lines, moving this way and that. Scouts sent forth from their secret dwellings, with secrets at their sides and secrets in their minds. They rush into the world to gather and to hunt and when the day is done they hold their provision over their heads, like ants but also like African women carrying water back to their children.
All is a race, if you think of it thus.
In the shadowed jungles of the sewer holes and pipes that run wild under the city, there in another kind of race. As the suits and ties vibrate with the ticking of the clock above, there are men and women of valor whose orders have been pecked out by feats of daring and of strength. Yellow eyes—but sometimes green—flash through the underground tunnels and make plans for the sun-filled above.
The cats run the city below the city, and there is nothing we can do to stop them.
“I call to order the weak and the strong, everyone has their place. Some of us thin and some of us fat, all are fit to run the race.” Garrin’s voice was loud: a little too loud, to be honest. It rose into the echoey chambers of the 27th District of the sewer line and fell flat with self-importance, but also boredom. Garrin was wry and dry and not at all shy, which is why he was elected to the position of Mayor.
Their voices and fur fill the underground roads. If you don’t believe me just ask them yourself.
Camille, a mostly white cat, lay on the recently-swept floor and licked her right paw, “Garrin, I need to be given my daily task now because I have to be home early this evening. One of the human I live with keeps feeding my kittens milk, which is giving them diarrhea, so I want to be home in time to feed them myself.”
“I know what you mean,” said Fluffy McHairball (a name given to her by a female human with no imagination at all). Fluffy continued, “My kids are growing up without me, Garrin. You’re giving us too much to do.”
Garrin laughed out of the corner of his mouth as his tail wagged back and forth, giving away his annoyance, “Ladies, please. I can announce the daily tasks with speed and efficiency as soon as you stop complaining.”
Camille did not appreciate Garrin’s belittling tone. She lowered her ears, looked away and wrapped her tail around herself. “Spoken like a man whose kittens are grown,” she whispered. The other women around her chuckled and rolled their eyes.
Ignoring Camille and the attention she drew, Garrin began to announce the daily tasks to the cats under his charge, in alphabetical order, of course.
“Anthony, I need you to target the garbage bins outside the seafood restaurants, today. As we are all aware, I had to fire Catpernicus last week because his was the seafood beat and he was woefully lazy, thus the embarrassing shortage of seafood in our storage bins.” Anthony stood like a soldier, ready and willing to carry out his newly given orders.
“Yes, sir,” said the young Anthony, whose voice creaked with puberty when he spoke.
Garrin continued, “Bartholomew, you’ve done well on your rounds as of late so I am promoting you to the Starbucks run. We need you to carry as many of the cup sleeves back as possible because, let’s be honest, they are fun to play with and they work well as portable scratchers.”
“Garrin, you’ve got to be joking!” interrupted Fluffy. “The humans may not mind depleting the forests for such waste but we do not need to be a part of the madness by collecting their bad choices.”
Garrin’s tail again began to unconsciously wag with annoyance, “Fluffy, please. If you are ever mayor (which I doubt) you can make the decisions. As you know, we have brought your grievance to the Board of Governors and they have settled the issue. The cup sleeves are useful to us and we are not the ones cutting down the trees. Can I please continue so you can all begin and end your day in a timely manner?”
Fluffy yawned in disgust and then licked herself in spite.
Feeling the weight of their insubordination, Garrin listed the rest of the daily tasks in quick succession and then ended their daily meeting with their familiar chant, “Go forth into the streets, the weak and the strong, everyone has their place. Some of us thin and some of us fat, all are fit to run the race.”
The young cats exited the tunnels with fervor and the older cats sauntered into the shadows with their tails pointing high in the air, in Garrin’s general direction.
Did you think we were the only ones who daily race about like ants? I hope you will accept that sometimes you are wrong.
Camille’s eyes squinted as she climbed into the sunshine. The day was warm and the sky was bright blue, the way it often is when Spring blankets the earth. She liked the way the warmth of the sun sunk into her coat and how the steamy cement of the street felt under her paws.
“Climb the highest branch of the highest tree and loudly cry,” she repeated her daily task into the air around her. “How embarrassing,” she said to herself. “And I am sure to break a claw.”
Camille’s task was the most loathed of the daily tasks—more of a monthly task, really—but someone had to do it. Today it was her turn. The objective of the task was simple: it served as a test of the emergency services at their disposal. “This is only a test,” Garrin’s instructions replayed in her head.
It would be horrible if one of the kittens ever jumped onto a tree and ran all the way to the top only to find that the local Fire Department had silently decided they would no longer be saving furry, four legged babies from the highest branches. So, today, Camille was charged with the job of testing their emergency system. “For the children,” she reminded herself.
As she trotted up and down the streets—through human legs covered with denim, under long cotton dresses that smelled like perfume and around the strollers filled with crying babies—Camille looked for the highest tree.
“Hi Camille,” said Rupert, an overweight English Bulldog, as she walked along her path.
Camille answered with her ears held high, “Hi there, Rupert. Nice collar. Is it new?”
“Ah, Camille, that is what I love about you. You’re so observant. And nice to observe, if you know what I mean. If only we were the same species. If you know what I mean.”
She knew what he meant.
“You’re a charmer, Rupert! Have a nice day.”
Rupert passed her and then turned to watch her as she sauntered away.
Moments after she passed Rupert, Camille spotted a tree that towered most others along the sidewalks within her district. It stood across the street, near one of the many Starbucks along this road, and she watched for a moment as Bartholomew pranced away from the garbage can outside the door. He was carrying three cup sleeves between his teeth and there were crumbles of a scone falling from the sides of his mouth. “Garrin will be so pleased,” she thought to herself.
After looking both ways—the number one rule in their employees handbook called, “Roadkill: A Manual Of Safety and Instruction”—Camille headed toward the tree.
Camille sat at the base of the tree and looked up. She closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed the breeze that blew past her nose in the shade of the leaves. She could hear the sounds of the city street—the honking cars, the women clicking about in their high heels and the men talking to ghosts on their Bluetooth devices—and she swayed to the rhythm of the cacophony. She could smell the bread newly baked in the bakery and the hint of ground coffee wafting onto the sidewalk from inside the Starbucks. Camille took in a deep breath through her nose and released it out through her mouth, a moment of meditation and being present.
It is good to pause and enjoy the moment.
Camille stretched out her two front paws and stretched deeply into her back paws before calmly and aptly climbing the highest tree. She had done this many times before. Once she reached the top she lifted her voice even higher, “Meow!” she called. And then again. And again. Camille’s body was mostly hidden by the network of braches and leaves surrounding her, which gave her the courage to sing with volume and with flair. To be honest, she had a great singing voice.
Suddenly, a shriek filled the air, breaking into the cacophony of sound on the city streets and the sunlight was joined by hues of red and blue. The cars stopped honking, the women stopped clicking and the men exchanged their long sentences for pleas to “wait” and “hold on.” The fire truck came screaming down the road and Camille felt proud of her performance among the leaves that danced around her.
Within a matter of minutes, a particularly handsome fireman was lowering Camille from the tree and placing her paws gently on the warm sidewalk. Sounds of applause filled the air like a symphony conducted for a hero: the fireman blushed, Camille rubbed a “thank you” against his leg and both trotted off in separate directions, pleased with the jobs they had done.
We all feel proud to have done our jobs well. Oh, did you think it was only you?
Her daily task completed, Camille felt free and content. She thought of strolling home but realizing dinner time was still hours away, instead she made her way down a side street that lead to the park.
A grassy knoll filled with light saw Camille walking his way and he called for her to spread out atop his softness.
Nature speaks its desires and enjoys the companionship of those who listen. If you listen to it, you will know what I mean.
Camille lay in the center of the grassy knoll—careful not to dip her tail into the water below—and closed her eyes. She rolled her head back and forth to enjoy the shades of orange and yellow and red frolicking behind her eyelids. She could feel the heat of the ground on her back and the heat of sun on her stomach. She breathed in through her nose and released through her mouth—in and out, in and out—until her consciousness slipped into dreaming.
As she slept, the world around Camille continued to huff and to puff, like a train on a track with a destination to reach. Men with briefcases moved up and down the streets like ants: all in lines, moving this way and that. Scouts sent forth from their secret dwellings, with secrets at their sides and secrets in their minds.
Did you think you were the only one?
—Jill Szoo Wilson