ONCE UPON A DAY GONE BY
What you call a “cat” am I.
I halt on the path that was made by wheel ruts through the acres of cornfields away from Ms. Jorgun’s farmhouse. I turn to look toward my tail. The two kittens are attacking my tail playfully.
Clouds fill my eyes and those clouds begin to rain the days that have passed.
Once upon a day gone by, there had been four lives. We had been Minnie-Lee the Calico, Yang the white kitten, Yin the black kitten, and I, Noah the Grey. We shuffled down a dirt trail through the acres of cornfields.
Minnie-Lee the Calico sniffled constantly and she was weak but she rubbed her face into my neck. She was a happy cat in her deep soul.
Yang and Yin attacked pebbles and twigs playfully, sometimes falling too far behind us.
Minnie-Lee the Calico whispered, “Noah, I am so hungry and thirsty but I must lie down, I am so tired.”
I croaked, “Minnie-Lee, lie down in that shade. I will find a locust.”
Minnie-Lee was able to say firmly, “Come, children,” to Yang and Yin as she moved slowly away toward the shade beside the dirt path. Then she said for me to hear, “Or maybe a crow,” and I knew that she smiled. She entered into the shade of the desiccated corn, with the rolling kittens, and she sniffled and wobbled and toppled onto her side and exhaled. I swayed watching Minnie-Lee for a while, her belly rising and falling with slow troubled breathing. Yang and Yin at last rested their heads upon her belly.
I shuffled away into the cornfield. A warm breeze began rolling over the cornfield. Under the symphony of the clashing leaves of corn above, I heard the soft rattle of locusts ahead. I could not have been hunting more than a few whiskers of time but I was starting to have alluring daydreams and when I shook myself I could not tell for sure how long I had been walking. A foolish locust landed on my face and I took him. Did I no longer look like a cat? I was relieved that I did not have to jump. I shuffled back to where I had left Minnie-Lee and the kittens lying in the shade.
Minnie-Lee was not there. I could not see the kittens.
I then saw the tufts of her Calico fur. There had been a struggle.
I staggered with despair. I dropped the locust. The locust leapt away. I then saw the whirling crows over the cornfield. The crows rose like swirling smoke above something that was moving quickly away through the cornfield.
And so there was just me.
I cursed Mau the Goddess of Cats.
But then the trembling Yang and Yin crept out from across the dirt trail and then they dashed toward me and huddled beneath me.
Once upon a day gone by, there had been six lives. We had been Suri the Siamese, Zelmo the Orange, Minnie-Lee the Calico, Yang the white kitten, Yin the black kitten, and I, Noah the Grey. We shuffled down a dirt trail through the acres of cornfields.
The tongues of the chafing corn leaves seemed to be whispering. We could not understand.
We came to the old flat-bed truck parked at an angle off of the dirt trail. We moved into the shade under the belly of the truck.
Zelmo the Orange said, “Look, water!” and he crept toward the puddle under the front of the old flat-bed truck.
Yang and Yin hopped behind him.
Minnie-lee hissed, “Children, don’t you drink that!” and then she whispered to Zelmo, “It must have come out of the truck.”
Suri the Siamese joined Zelmo the Orange at the edge of the puddle. Zelmo hesitated. Suri said, “Just a taste to see…” and she lapped once at her reflection and she said, “Sweet.”
Zelmo and Suri then began to lap repeatedly.
Minnie-Lee herded the kittens away from the puddle. She had to set an example of caution for the impressionable kittens and so she would not drink. I had become a pessimist and so I would not drink first. We watched Zelmo and Suri drink.
We all six remained in the shade under the old flat-bed truck and we napped. We dreamed of canned food while our bodies consumed themselves in sleep.
Minnie-Lee awoke first and rubbed on each of us to awaken us, saying, “We can’t stay here.”
Once out from under the old flat-bed truck Minnie-Lee and the kittens and I turned and waited for Zelmo and Suri.
Zelmo and Suri emerged from under the old flat-bed truck, wobbling the way Ms. Jorgun’s father had begun to wobble.
Zelmo tried to shake his dignity back but he fell over. Yang and Yin bounded to him, thinking he was playing. He got up again and said, “I’m still half-asleep,” and he again walked uncertainly and erratically.
Suri halted and retched loudly. Suri said, “I drank too much water too fast,” and she arched her back and retched again, but only saliva fell into the dirt. Yang and Yin sniffed that dirt.
Zelmo fell over again and this time he said, “I’m just too sleepy. I’m going to sleep a little more.”
Suri sat next to Zelmo and she said, “I think I need more sleep, too.”
I yeowled, “You can’t stay like that in the road!”
Minnie-Lee went and nudged Zelmo and Suri, saying, “At least get back under the truck. What is wrong with you? Come on. You too, children.”
Zelmo and Suri said, “OK, Ok,” and then they got up and wobbled and stumbled back under the truck and curled up next to each other to sleep some more. Minnie-Lee and the kittens and I had no choice but to go back under the truck with them but we couldn’t sleep. Something was wrong.
We watched Zelmo and Suri sleep. Minnie-Lee would lick their heads once in a while. I fell asleep finally.
I awoke and Minnie-Lee was near my face and she was sad. She whispered to me, “Zelmo and Suri are dead.”
I began to yowl and hiss. I cursed Mau the Goddess of Cats. I clawed the dirt and I flung the dirt and I covered with dirt the puddle under the front of the old flat-bed truck.
Yang and Yin ran away from me, out from under the old flat-bed pickup truck. I heard Minnie-Lee hiss at me, “The children!”
Then I heard Minnie-Lee purring loudly and I ceased my tantrum.
Minnie-Lee purred, “Thank You, Mau the Goddess of Cats, for sharing with us the lives of Zelmo and Suri,” then she rubbed against me and added for my benefit, “And thank You for the loan of our own lives. In the name of the Amun, the Ra, and the Horakhty, let Mau hear us.”
Yang and Yin crept back to us.
We all stayed with Zelmo and Suri until they were cold and stiff to our touch. And then the crows could be heard gathering around the truck impatiently.
Minnie-Lee, Yang, Yin and I moved on.
Once upon a day gone by, there had been six lives. We had been Dairy King the White, Dante the Woolly Brown, Suri the Siamese, Zelmo the Orange, Minnie-Lee the Calico and myself, Noah the Grey. We shuffled down a dirt trail through the acres of cornfields.
The full moon was just rising and the sun was just covering himself with the horizon.
Minnie-Lee rubbed against Dairy King the White and asked him, “How has your neck been today?”
Dairy King the White had suffered a cyst the size of an egg on his throat. It would have choked him to death if Mrs. Jorgun had not taken Dairy King to the veterinarian. Now the cyst was gone and only the shaved naked skin on his neck showed the scar. The veterinarian had said Dairy King needed an expensive operation or the cyst would return but Ms. Jorgun did not have enough money for that operation. The veterinarian had nodded sadly.
But Dairy King was strong again on this day and he replied to Minnie-Lee, “I am fine. I can run farther now without losing my breath.”
We all still teased Dairy King about his odd “hair cut” around his neck.
Dante the Woolly Brown teased, “You still look like the wrong end of a poodle!”
Dante the Woolly Brown was Dairy King’s best friend.
Dairy King replied, “Well, Ms. Jorgun thought you were a girl!”
That was true. When Dante was very young he was mostly soft woolly fur and he was not strong and so Ms. Jorgun thought he was a girl and originally named him “Dainty”.
Dante strutted in response and said, “I have many children.”
Minnie-Lee added under her breath, “Somewhere,” but it was heard by all of us.
Dante responded, “You don’t believe me?”
Minnie-Lee said, “Oh, I believe you. You just don’t know where. Most tomcats don’t.”
Dante replied, “Yeah, that’s right: I’m a tomcat. So?” and then he added sarcastically, “Hey, Minnie-Lee, the moon also rises.”
Zelmo asked, “Minnie-Lee? You? A prude?”
I started to hiss ‘leave her alone’ but Minnie-Lee boldly replied, “I can’t have children. I don’t know why. It was the wish of Mau the Goddess of Cats. But I think you tomcats should know your children.”
Dante huffed, “And I think you mollies should stay in the barn and let us tomcats be tomcats.”
Minnie-Lee laughed, “Dante, you are an inferno of wisdom.”
Dante mocked, “Well, then, it must be the wish of Mau the Goddess of Cats.”
Dairy King then cried out, “Look! Two mice ahead!”
At once we all became cocked for action. I thought I saw a white mouse and a black mouse run back into the cornfield from the dirt path. We all slunk in that direction, low to the ground. Except for Minnie-Lee.
Minnie-Lee said, “Wait. That couldn’t be mice. There are no white or black field mice.”
Dairy King whispered, “Dante, come with me. The rest of you stay here.”
Dairy King and Dante tiptoed rapidly to the spot where the two “mice” had vanished and there they split up and circled into the cornfield.
Suddenly we heard a quick thrash. Then silence.
Together Dairy King and Dante emerged from the cornfield onto the dirt path each carrying in their mouth one of the two “mice” by the scruff of their little necks.
Those “mice” were two kittens!
Dairy King and Dante strutted comically up to Minnie-Lee and dropped the two kittens before her.
Dante said, “Well, Minnie-Lee, I guess you can have children after all.”
Minnie-Lee purred, “Oh, you poor kittens. Where is your mother?” and she turned to us saying, “We can’t just leave them here.”
I said, “Aren’t you going to look for their mother? Or at least wait awhile?”
Dairy King and Dante looked at me and silently shook their heads and I understood.
I said, “Of course.”
Suri the Siamese teased, “We wouldn’t want to make this journey more difficult for us.”
Zelmo the Orange teased, “And we can eat them if we can’t find food.”
The two kittens ran behind Minnie-Lee.
Minnie-Lee said to the kittens, “Don’t you listen to any of them.”
Then Minnie-Lee licked the head of the white kitten and said, “I shall name you ‘Yang’,” and then she licked the head of the black kitten and said, “I shall name you ‘Yin’.”
Then I said, “Let’s get moving.”
Minnie-Lee said, “Yang and Yin are hungry. Can we catch a locust for them?” she pleaded.
Dante said, “Sure, fine. Come on Dairy King. It will be like old times. The rest of you go ahead. We’ll catch up quick enough.”
Minnie-Lee admonished Dante, “No catting out there, no exploring, just hunting, OK?”
Both kittens, Yang and Yin, were nosing at Minnie-Lee’s belly for food.
Dairy King said, “Let’s get going. Don’t worry, I’ll keep him celibate.”
Dante hissed back, “That’s easy when you look like a poodle’s ass.”
I said impatiently, “We’ll see you later.”
But we never saw Dairy King or Dante again.
Once upon a day gone by, there had been nine lives. We had been Dairy King the White, Dante the Woolly Brown, Suri the Siamese, Zelmo the Orange, Minnie-Lee the Calico, The Three Long-Haired Brothers (Paolo the Pale Orange, Bruschetto the Gray & White, and Boboli the Tangerine), and myself, Noah the Grey.
We nine meandered down the dirt path through the acres of cornfields, away from Ms. Jorgun’s farmhouse. We were moving at night because the day had been so hot and humid and without rain.
The Three Long-Haired Brothers (Paolo the Pale Orange, Bruschetto the Gray & White, and Boboli the Tangerine) complained about the lingering heat and thirst and hunger.
Boboli the Tangerine hissed, “Ms. Jorgun she would’a been a’feeding us a’now. And a’she like’a me the best.”
Bruschetto the Gray & White, and his other brother, Paolo the Pale Orange, made kissy-kissy sounds at Boboli.
Bruschetto teased, “She sure’a do. I think she want’a write’a you such a nice’a love poem (kiss, kiss)”
Paolo recited comically,
“Boboli is a big round cat
He is fluffy
He isn’t fat
He will purr when she walks past
Hey! Someone likes him at long last!
Boboli is a cat serene
Is he orange?
Round just like a pizza pie
Don’t be fooled for he is spry
Boboli is Ms. Jorgun’s pet
Rest her soul
We don’t forget
Maybe they’ll be reunited
Round and round are all things righted
Boboli is God’s loving creature
Sound I now
Like a preacher
You don’t have to take my word
Boboli will have, I’m sure, conpurred”
Boboli made an obscene gesture with his tail, saying, “Up’a you ass, you guys.”
Suri the Siamese wrinkled her nose and said, “Please stop, you guys. Things are bad enough without listening to you three.”
Zelmo chimed-in, “Yeah. I am so sick of licking leaves for drops of condensed moisture. Oh, for a big pan of well-water.”
Suri pleaded, “Oh, Stop, please, stop it. Yeah…, Ms. Jorgun gave us fresh water every day in the barn.”
Boboli had held his tongue long enough and he whined, “I’m a’so hungry. A locust is a’so dry and a’so unfilling.”
Everyone began to play their grumbling guts.
I finally said, “I’m going on ahead to hunt. You are all making too much noise,” and they were making me feel the weight of my thirst and the vacuum of my belly.
I trotted ahead, my eyes sucking up the moonlight, scouring for hints of moving shadows.
It wasn’t long before I heard something behind me.
The Three Long-Haired Brothers Paolo, Bruschetto, and Boboli were joining me.
Boboli whispered, “We be a’quiet.”
The four of us wove around the cornstalks hunting until the sky began to bleach with the imminent sun.
We heard a commotion of crows and we slunk toward the sound. At a clearing of flattened cornstalks we saw the terrible scene.
Crows swarmed and hopped upon the fallen body of Agnes the Sheep. Beside her in leaping anguish was Paschal the Lamb of Agnes, bleating and trying to chase away the crows that were the size of her head. Crows would pull out the bloody intestines from the cave where once was the belly of Agnes the Sheep and poor little Paschal the Lamb of Agnes would leap and flail at those crows, blinded with tears. No sooner had Paschal raced at another group of ghoulish crows when those crows that the lamb had tried to drive away returned to their horrid meal. Crows were attacking Paschal as well and he bled from several gashes.
Boboli charged into the savage scene first and he struck down a crow.
The wounded crow hopped on one foot with his broken wing and said to Boboli in astonishment, “Do you know Whom We Serve?”
Boboli leaped upon the crow and bit through the crow’s neck, and Boboli growled, “I’m a’serving you in’a my belly.”
Bruschetto and Paolo were leaping and swatting and biting in a whirl of fury and screams. I finally found my nerve and ambushed wounded crows as they fled above my head or hopped through the cornstalks.
Outraged, the murder of crows flew away with harsh curses, on toward the retreating twilight.
I came back. Boboli, Bruschetto, and Paolo, their long-hair wet and bloody, surveyed the carnage in the clearing of the cornfield.
Agnes the Sheep was at the center, her belly as if exploded onto the trampled cornstalks. Paschal the Lamb of Agnes collapsed to his four knees wailing above her head. All around were the black tufts of crumpled dead and dying crows.
Boboli, Bruschetto, Paolo, and I surrounded Paschal and began to lick his wounds. He had seven bloody gashes on his head and body. His tears were bloody.
As Paschal continued to weep over his mother Agnes the four of us stepped back and whispered together.
Paolo hissed, “What a’now?”
Bruschetto hissed, “We can a’not leave a’Paschal here.”
I sighed, “What’a …(shit), I say what can we do?”
Boboli hissed, “We three can a’take Paschal back a’to the barn. Noah, you go on a’back to the others.”
I yeowled, “What?”
Paolo purred, “Sure.”
I hissed, “What about food and water?”
Boboli replied, “There’s a’green a’grass around the well pump. It’s a’gott’a leak. Paschal eat a’good, drink a’too.”
I growled, “What about you three?”
Bruschetto said, “We drink too. We eat a’crow.”
I reminded the three of them, “Crow is bitter.”
Paolo concurred, hissing, “Sure. Crow he a’taste like a’shit, but…hey.”
Boboli laughed, “Hey. I lick’a my own ass and it taste a’better than crow. But whatt’a ya gonn’a do, hey?”
I cried, “What if a Coyote…?”
Boboli strutted and said, “We fuck up his ass a’good.”
Paolo and Bruschetto said together, “Yeah. We a’fuck him up a’good.”
I shook my head.
Paolo said to me, “Take as a’many crows a’back as a’you can for the others.”
Bruschetto added, “Yeah. We a’gonn’a help you pick’em up.”
Paolo said, “You don’t a’worry about us no way.”
I have to believe that they all made it back to Ms. Jorgun’s barn. I have to believe that I’ll see Paolo, Bruschetto, and Boboli, all three of them, with Paschal, again upon another day coming.
Once upon a day before, there had been twelve lives. We had been Dairy King the White, Dante the Woolly Brown, Suri the Siamese, Zelmo the Orange, Minnie-Lee the Calico, The Three Long-Haired Brothers (Paolo the Pale Orange, Bruschetto the Gray & White, and Boboli the Tangerine), Moonshine the White, Moonshadow the Black, little Popeye, and myself, Noah the Grey
The clutter of barn cats had gathered. They murmured. They waited for me to speak. Ms. Jorgun had not fed us for two days. We had all seen the crows circling the farmhouse, landing on the roof, strutting on the porch, defiling Ms. Jorgun’s garden
I sighed and it was hard to make words, “I went to the house. We all have seen the crows from here. The crows… At the house I could see that crows were flying in and out of the broken bedroom window. I went to that window. The crows were disdainful of me and unafraid. I saw into the bedroom where Ms. Jorgun’s father has been bed-ridden…,” I couldn’t speak what I had seen.
Minnie-Lee prompted me, “Yes? Noah, tell us. What is it?”
I said finally, “Ms. Jorgun and her father are dead in the bedroom upon the bed.”
The clutter of cats hissed and yowled.
Zelmo said, “We all heard the noise two days ago. What happened?”
Then I said, “The Sheriff is dead in the kitchen.”
Minnie-Lee said, “Dear Mau the Goddess of Cats…”
I shook my head.
The hiss and murmur rose again.
Suri cried, “What happens to us?”
I said simply, “We have to find another barn.”
The hiss and murmur became yowling and wailing.
Boboli said, “The next a’barn is across all’a the cornfields.”
Dairy King said, “Boboli’s right. I saw it when Ms. Jorgun took me to the veterinarian.”
Little Popeye spoke up, “Me, too. I saw it when Ms. Jorgun took me to the veterinarian.”
Little Popeye was weak and he needed an expensive operation. His right eye was infected and swollen grotesquely out of his face. Bruschetto had whispered to Boboli and Paolo, “It a’looks a’like he got another head a’coming outt’a his face.” Ms. Jorgun could not afford the operation to remove little Popeye’s infected eyeball so she made for him her “medicine milk” with warm cream mixed with antibiotics from her cupboard. Little Popeye was brave about it but Ms. Jorgun knew that the infection was a whisker away from Popeye’s brain and likely he would die.
Minnie-Lee whispered to me, “Popeye can’t make a journey like that.”
Dante overheard her and muttered, “I’m not sure most of us can make a journey like that. But Popeye couldn’t make it out of this barn.”
Moonshine the White said very loudly, “I’d rather take my chances here. I’ll stay with Popeye.”
Moonshadow the Black said with bravado, “Me, too. And, hey, Popeye, when you are stronger we’ll all go catch up with the others at the new barn.”
Popeye had been scared knowing that he could not travel and that he was going to die alone. Now, the words of Moonshine and Moonshadow made him cry.
Boboli said in jest, “Hey, don’a cry, Popeye! You gonn’a make a’you other eye fill-up!”
Popeye laughed. Minnie-Lee and Suri and Moonshine and Moonshadow and soon all the others crowded around Popeye and they began to sing ancient songs.
I hope Moonshine and Moonshadow and Popeye were there to greet Boboli, Paolo, Bruschetto, and Paschal the Lamb of Agnes when they made it back to the barn.
The Sheriff had come to the farmhouse. He knocked. It took a long time for Ms. Jorgun to come to the kitchen door. The Sheriff pushed the door open.
Ms. Jorgun shot the Sheriff and he fell in the kitchen.
Ms. Jorgun went into the bedroom of her invalid father who was suffering dementia. She sat on the bed and cried and kissed her father.
Ms. Jorgun picked up her Bible and read aloud from Genesis to her oblivious father, “… the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground…”
Ms. Jorgun reloaded her shotgun.
Then Ms. Jorgun shot her father dead.
Ms. Jorgun turned and looked out the bedroom window at the barn and whispered scripture, “…By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
She reloaded her shotgun.
Suddenly, she turned the shotgun upon herself and she blew her life away, flying backwards onto the bed.
Already, on that New Year’s Day 2014, Ms. Jorgun’s farm had been foreclosed.
No rain yet had fallen.
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