About this time, ten years ago, our cat Bitsy died at the age of eighteen. He left behind a legacy of fluff, entertainment and a young companion called Holly. Honestly, I don’t think he liked Holly, and probably wished that we never took her on, but he was lonely after his brother died and driving us nuts at dusk when he wanted company to hunt the hedgerows, so we took on the “small and non-aggressive, non-dominant cat”.
Sometimes the description on the packet is misleading.
Holly is still with us, although we only ever use that name for the vet’s paperwork. Holly has various names, as did Bitsy, and as did his amazing fluffy tail, which alone would need another thousand words. When she first arrived, Holly became known as Small Cat since she was half the size of Bitsy, and perhaps because she had clearly failed to graduate in any of her Basic Cat Skills training courses.
Bitsy, the Fluffy Master, taught her to climb trees, walk along fences, balance on the top of a fence post (although she never mastered scratching her ear at the same time), and generally fake it as a fully qualified cat. The faking it is the operative term, because Holly never quite got it right. As we used to say, anything that Big Cat can do, Small Cat can do eventually, sort of. Holly would produce something that almost looked right, even if she completely missed the point.
At every lesson, and every attempt, the words were writ clear…
No, Small One, more like this…
Yes, Oh Fluffy Master, like this?
No… no… oh, no…
Climbing trees is a prime example. When Bitsy and his late brother, Tigger, played tag they would race up and down our apple trees as if the trunks were just another piece of level ground. Holly worked up to climbing the three-metre high cypress hedge behind the house, but that was comprised of multiple trunks with regular and intertwining horizontal branches, so not so much a hedge as a living climbing frame which appeared to be uniform wall of green from the outside, rustling to the movement of the cat within.
No, Small One, come down smoothly, with grace, and flounce that tail, and…
But, Oh Fluffy Master, I can… wheeee! Ow. Ow-ow. Ow. Ow-ow-ow…
Holly proved skilled at falling out of cypress trees, and rattling down in a controlled tumble like the ball in a pinball machine, progress marked by the quivering foliage, until she finally emerged at the bottom, where she then failed that other essential cat skill, the nonchalant air which says I meant to do that, and didn’t I do it well?
Perhaps that was when she first practised dark glares, because embarrassment can do that to a Small Cat.
Bitsy completely failed to teach her to fight, which is probably just as well, and also a testament to his amiable nature. Holly ignored Bitsy’s refusal to teach fighting, and attempted to wrestle with him on a regular basis, pitching her two-plus kilos of incompetence against his five-plus kilos of zen-like judo mastery. Holly would leap, and grab, and wrap herself around his neck. Bitsy would shrug and dump a pile of frustrated black fur on the ground.
That is probably when she also gained the moniker of Little Missy Trouble. Being the epitome of unstoppable persistence, she would leapt again, grab again, and again, and eventually Bitsy would get irritated, reach out with one big, fluffy paw and hold her head to the ground.
Enough, Small One.
Yes, Oh Fluffy Master….
Stop wriggling, Small One.
Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master.
Still wriggling, Small One. And stop squeaking.
Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master. Promise.
And then leap again…
Perhaps she first started developing those furious stares and furious squeaks when her head was held down, because that sort of embarrassment can leave a mark on even the blackest cats, and trouble the most persistent of Little Missy Troubles.
After Bitsy turned up his furry feet, Holly took over the patch, made it her own, and firmly adopted the name Squeak, largely because in keeping with her stature, she has a small voice. Loud, but small, and perhaps a little bit whiny.
Without Bitsy’s guidance, and weary but superior glance, Squeak caught a rat, brought it into the house without killing it, and then let it loose. Clearly Bitsy missed passing on the basics, or Squeak wasn’t paying attention.
Yes, Small One, play with the mice all you like, but rats get it in the neck, immediately.
But I wanna play a bit, Oh Fluffy Master.
No Small One, pay attention now, mice play good, rat play bad. And stop smacking my tail.
Yes, oh Fluffy Master, but…
Wise as he was in the Way Of The Cat, it never occurred to Bitsy to mention that with rats, don’t let the little beast at your food bowl because it will only get bigger. In Bitsy’s world, no cat brought a live rat inside.
I did finally managed to catch the rat after it had chewed a hole in the cupboard under the sink, eaten half a bag of raw potatoes, and for the main course, devoured the internal wiring of the dish-washer.
Perhaps that was when Holly-the-Squeak started upping the intensity of the dark looks. For a Squeak to be out-squeaked by a rat has to be pretty embarrassing. Especially when the Fluffy Master told her not to.
I know the whole black cat thing means that all of her looks have a certain measure of intrinsic dark to them, but Squeak does glare, and brooding, and serious scowl at the lightless end of the spectrum. Those dark looks earned her the the most recent name of Scowly-owl, and are at least something which she does well. The Scowly-owl can glower from the sofa, sulk on my chair, or crawl under a pile of blanket and leave one perfectly sour green eye radiating disapproval out into the world.
If Bitsy were still with us, I think the Scowly-owl could out-scowl him.
If she couldn’t, I dare not imagine how dark the embarrassment would make her stares.
Squeak is calling from the sofa.
Lap time is required, so again she almost learned something. Bitsy would never shout.
Pay attention, Small One, this is how you train your people to be properly attentive. Today, we practice the purr of submission…
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This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Owl, because the day after the prompt came out, Squeak gave me the scowl from my partner’s lap, and I reflexively commented on the Scowly-owl.