Sunday, April 17, 2011

Max Takes No Prisoners

Several years ago, a feral cat took up residence in a shed at the back of our lot. There was no way you could get close to the beast. We would sometimes get a glimpse of her, usually nothing more than a fleeting shadow in the underbrush. We would put out food for the cat but it was seldom touched. There were too many small rodents among the brush and honeysuckle vines for canned cat food to offer any temptation. Over a period of months, she would look back at us from across the distance, but it was impossible to approach her. We named her Maize, after an eccentric young woman in R. T. Delderfield’s novel, God is an Englishman.

One day when I went to check her food bowl, there was a little of it missing. Not a lot, but just enough to let us know that she had tried it, but found it far short of her usual fare. A few days later, I started out the backdoor and found a mole on the welcome mat. When I turned it over with the toe of my shoe, I saw the impressions of small teeth on the back of the mole’s skull. I didn’t know if this was her version of the famous scene from The Godfather, or if it was a hint for something a little more suitable to her taste. It took several years before we could coax her to our back steps. Another summer passed before we were able to make physical contact, and then it wasn’t in the way I imagined. I remained motionless in a lawn chair as she approached from underneath the azaleas. I could hear the faint sound of her sniffing, then the light touch of whiskers along the back of the hand I had dangled over the arm of the chair. After a short and tentative exploration, she was gone.

By the end of the next summer, we were finally able to run a hand along the top of her back. Maize tolerated it in the same way a drama queen will allow a kindly old grandfather to pat her on top of her head. The back lawn was her kingdom and she tolerated our presence, although her acquiescence was usually accompanied with a regal toss of her head.

The daily routine changed somewhat with the appearance of a large tomcat on our back steps. He was bigger than she was and didn’t seem to understand the rules. He had the appetite of a Shetland pony and ate everything we put in front of him. We named him Max. Maize became more affectionate, often rubbing against our legs and giving us an imploring look that seemed to say, ‘I was here first.’

After a few weeks of Max’ appearance, Maize decided that the best way to handle the situation was indifference. When indifference didn’t work, she would give him a swift swipe with her claws that would send him skittering backwards. He seemed bewildered but never discouraged, despite the frequent putdowns. The situation was the kind of tangled scenario that reminded me of my first year in junior high.

One afternoon as both cats were eating their evening meal on our patio, a large Pit Bulldog appeared and confiscated their dinner. They disappeared into the top of a nearby tree. Max seemed offended by the outrageous intrusion, while Maize became somewhat withdrawn. We started feeding the cats on an upstairs deck of a storage shed where the dog couldn’t reach them, but still put out food on the back step to keep them coming to the door. We didn’t want Maize to revert to her former feral behavior.

Yesterday, Maize picked her way daintily to the backdoor. I was preparing to get her a snack when the pit bull appeared and started toward her with its head lowered in attack mood. There was a sudden explosion of activity from underneath the azaleas. Max launched himself directly toward the dog’s head. The surprised dog gave a little yelp, then turned and ran. Max was on his heels as they rounded the corner of the house and went across the front lawn toward the road. A few minutes later, Max was back. He has always had a springy walk, but this time he was prancing like one of the characters in a Walt Disney cartoon. Maize was as impressed as I was and ran to meet him. They sniffed each other’s nose and then started licking tongues. I don’t know why I never have a camera handy when the good stuff happens, but I would have liked to have captured this incident on video. Romance is definitely in the air. I think this is going to be an interesting summer.


The Belle in Blue said...

That was the best thing I've read in a long time, Joe! And you're right, I may just have to steal it from you for a future book with the names changed to protect the feral! ;-)

Joe Prentis said...

Belle In Blue,

I can't think of anything that would please me more than to be remembered (even without credit) in one of your books. I remember a woman on one forum thinking someone had stole a sentence she wrote. No one wants a book to be stolen, but a nod from someone who thinks we have something intelligent to say is very flattering.

Best to you,
Joe Prentis