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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Cat Who Lit Itself on Fire

Pookie was a slightly heavier cat of white and orange whose real name was Marmalade. Pookie, though, had the rare, if not completely unique, characteristic of having survived meningitis as a kitten. Pookie was, as one might imagine, handicapped. Pookie’s handicap did not hinder his survival for Pookie was a beloved indoor cat. Pookie was able to walk, with some assistance of a wall, in a straight line. Pookie was able to eat and use a litter box. Pookie was able to find a heating vent and howl like the world was ending until it provided heat for his singular enjoyment. Pookie was also able to climb about on the furniture until he was comfortable enough for a nap. Pookie, in his unique fashion, loved spaghetti. To say Pookie was a connoisseur of  this food was unfair as Pookie did not care of the quality of the product; he loved all variations of spaghetti the same.

Pookie’s owner was a friend of mine whom I met at college. In our Sophomore year she had to make the ten-hour trip home from school for our spring break and was despairing over having to make the drive alone. I, with nothing to do that week, was willing to accompany her as I had never been to her home state. We made the journey in the requisite time in an uneventful manner and arrived at the home just in time for dinner. Dinner, as it was easy to prepare and provided a window of time between being ready and needing to be eaten, was spaghetti.

Upon entry to the home and the requisite introductions to my friend’s parents we all sat down to eat in the living room. Her parents alighted in their accustomed chairs and my friend and I found seats upon the sofa, in front of the coffee table. Pookie, of course, had developed a grand interest in the wonderful smells of his favorite food and was vocalizing his interest in our dinners as he wandered about underfoot. After seating myself on the sofa my friend realized that she had forgotten something, I cannot any longer remember what it might have been, and returned to the kitchen to locate it. As I was a guest in the home I set my plate on the coffee table to wait, patiently, for my friend to return before I began to eat. This, it turns out, was not the best course of action.

Upon the center of the table was a scented candle, burning away to perfume the air. The candle, oblivious to everything, was patiently performing its designated task adjacent to my dinner plate. Pookie, being the insistent cat that he was, opted to take advantage of the placement of my plate to acquire for himself some of his beloved food. He leapt, with a grace that did not mirror his walking ability,  onto the table and stepped directly toward my plate in an effort to help himself. This, of course, placed him directly over the aforementioned candle. Pookie’s positioning was singularly effective for stealing my dinner but, even more so, it was also conveniently placed for the candle to supplement its fuel with his fur. Barely a second after Pookie approached my plate to help himself to the spaghetti his coat erupted in flame. Time slowed down as I watched the flame dance from one piece of fur to another and grow across his flank. I reacted as fast as my body could move, which was painfully slow to my mind. I snatched Pookie from my plate by the scruff of his neck and slapped the engulfed area of his side until the flame was out. Pookie, oblivious to the danger he was in, howled in anguish and surprised. He struggled to escape my grasp and clawed his way up and over my shoulder, ran along the back of the couch and disappeared through the doorway into the kitchen. Relieved that the danger of a home engulfed in flame had passed I sat back in the couch and issued forth a sigh of relief.

This is NOT what my friend and her parents saw.

Imagine, if you will, that your daughter brings home a male friend from college to see your home and meet you for the first time. Imagine that, in the past, your daughter has made good judgment in friends and that, as a result of this, you had no concerns that this young man must be a good character for, otherwise, she would not be his friend. Imagine then that you see this scene before you.

The young man sat on the couch and, with the respect that is not often seen in the current day, waiting for our daughter to return from the kitchen before beginning to eat. Pookie, as usual, wanted some of the spaghetti and he jumped onto the table to investigate the young man’s plate. The young man, in response to this, violently grabbed the cat and beat him furiously until the cat managed to escape and run away.

That is what my friend’s parents witnessed and she, as she was standing in the door from the kitchen as the event happened, witnessed the same.

I looked at them and saw their frozen countenances and realized, in horror, what they must have seen happen. It was obvious that they did not see me save their cat but, rather, abuse it. The telltale sign of this was that each of the parents had stopped, fork midway from their plates to their mouths, to blankly stare at me. Their horror was so complete, and the room so stunned, that I watched as the spaghetti unraveled from their forks and fell back to their plates while they sat, frozen in time, staring at me.

After an eternal period of mere seconds I broke the silence. “The cat was on fire” was all I managed to utter. This accomplished my intent; it broke their curse of solidification and they reanimated. But, to my chagrin, their countenances did not reflect the relief that I expected to see. Rather, their faces contorted into a new shape of further disbelief as if to say “You beat our cat and THAT is the best you can come up with for a lie?”

I realized my outlook for retaining good graces was rapidly diminishing. “Really, the cat was on fire. I think he is fine now” I professed to their unchanging faces.

In horror I realized that nothing I could say would change their mind; that only some additional evidence could exonerate my actions. It was then that the smell made its way to them. At that moment their noses all wrinkled as they took in the stench of burnt cat fur. They all began sniffing a bit more thoroughly, taking in the reality that I had experienced and professed to them rather than the reality that they believed they had witnessed.

I cannot recall which of them spoke first, nor their exact words but the sentiment of “wait, the cat was REALLY on fire?” was conveyed to me, and to the others in the room. I answered this with a simple “yes.”

Pookie was hiding but his handicap had already caused him to forget why. All he knew was that he was scared. He was coaxed out with a bit of spaghetti in his own bowl and examined. His flank, the one that had retained very little sensation since his bout with meningitis, was no longer only white and orange. A large patch of his fur was now brown. The brown of hair that is burned and melted. The brown of fur that is singed on the outside but intact closer to the body. His side was hideous and smelled terribly but he was oblivious to these facts because he was happy to FINALLY get some spaghetti.

This story is a true tale with a happy epilogue for the cat. Pookie lived for several more years and died of old age. His owner and I ended up in a relationship for several years before moving in different directions with our lives. She and I are still friends. When I last saw her parents they insisted that I was always a welcome guest in their home, even though their daughter and I were parting ways.

(Author's Note: this is tagged with the fiction tag as it is an amusing bit of writing that readers of my fiction stories who use the "fiction" filter might also enjoy. It ABSOLUTELY happened.)

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