Animals can talk. I don't care what anyone says. They can talk. Perhaps I've been around them for too long, or like a lot of other animal people I simply see our quadrupeds more like personality-rich peers than pets. And some days, it seems the cats' comments drown out everyone else's.
"Ta-da!" exclaimed our tuxedo kitten, Jack, as he flopped over on his side.
"Falling over isn't much of a trick," I commented.
"But aren't I cute when I do it?" he asked, looking a little hurt.
"Actually," began our 16-year-old Afghan mix, Kit, "you just look fat when you do it."
"Kit," I said. "That wasn't called for. Jack, yes, you're cute when you flop over like that."
"Ta-da!" he said, with another flop.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Kit added as she climbed into her bed for her third early-morning nap.
Jack is definitely the family comedian. As an indoor cat, he has plenty of free time to work on his tricks, jokes and routines. And though his diet is well-regulated, he is the feline incarnate of Bob's Big Boy. Jack looks like a miniature "Macy's Day" balloon with baling twine legs and comically tiny feet.
Next to flopping, his favorite activity is sitting on people. Jack will climb on your stomach, usually after you've eaten a large meal, and vigorously knead your belly with his tiny front feet while he purrs. It's hard to hate him, though Kit does a pretty good job.
"I need to go out," said Macy, our indoor-outdoor tortoise shell-tabby-calico.
"You just went out," I replied.
"Well, I need to go out again. I think I saw a mouse over there by the holly bush."
Macy is a small, though exceptionally athletic cat with a most unusually patterned coat. She looks like she could only be camouflaged among the bizarre bolts in an eccentric fabric store, but it doesn't slow her down: She's an amazing mouser.
I remember once watching her catch one of the wild rabbits eating the lettuce out of our garden. I think bunnies are cute, and I still love The Velveteen Rabbit, but witnessing this particular hunt was impressive. I mean, rabbits are fast, but Macy was faster.
Strangely, I don't think she had planned on actually succeeding. She seemed confused, if not bewildered by her good fortune. Fortunately, our Aussie mix dog, Hazel, was there to help. Hazel took the catch to an empty stall and dispatched the entire thing. I promise that we do actually feed our animals.
Macy typically limits her pursuits to mice and rats. And there are new ones daily.
"Well, that's another one for you," Macy said rather nonchalantly as I opened the back door for her. "I left it near the garage."
"Er... thanks," I managed.
"That's in addition to the one near the barn and the half-of-one in the driveway. Don't you appreciate the rodents I catch for you?"
"Yes," I said. "Absolutely."
"But you never eat them," Macy said.
"I'm... allergic," I lied. "I get bumps."
"Mom does, too," I added.
"Oh... I see," she responded thoughtfully. "That's too bad. They're actually quite good for you. You know, low fat, high protein. Maybe if you--"
"Bumps," I repeated with a shrug. "Thank you, though. You're really sweet. Besides, I think Hazel enjoys them far more than we ever could." I leaned over and scratched her chin.
"Okay," she purred.
"Ta-da!" Jack flopped. Macy rolled her eyes. Kit groaned.
Macy's long-haired sister, Sascha, peered in the window from the railing on the back deck. It had begun to rain, and she looked more troubled than usual. I opened the back door and called to her.
"Who said that? Dad?" Sascha answered, squinting. I should explain that Sascha has horrible eyesight. If they ever made glasses for cats, we'd be the first in line. The poor eyesight confuses things, but hasn't slowed her down. In fact, Sascha's strategy is to run from anything big that moves, but toward anything small that moves.
"It's me," I offered. "I'll bring you in." I went out, picked her up and carried her inside.
"Hey, Sascha!" Jack hollered as we walked by. "Check this out--ta-da!"
Sascha squinted and hissed.
"All right, that's enough," I said, carrying Sascha into our bedroom, closing the door behind me. I set her down on the bed, and she nearly disappeared in the center of our puffy comforter.
"Are you comfortable in there?" I asked.
"Who said that?" Sascha asked.
"Nevermind," I responded. She purred herself to sleep in just under three seconds.
Once on our bed, Sascha doesn't usually move for at least 24 hours, sometimes longer. She takes no food, no water and no bathroom breaks. Typically, at about the 36-hour mark, Kimberly or I will have to carry her outside. Sascha seems fine after her marathon naps, but we worry that it's not healthy for her.
And invariably, during the night that she sleeps in the bed with us, she has to inspect her surroundings. About 3 a.m. I'll awaken to Sascha's face in mine, with our noses touching and her whiskers tickling my face.
"Can I help you?" I ask.
"Is that you?" Sascha inquires, our faces still touching.
"Last I checked it was."
"You can't be too safe around here," she whispers, and begins "grooming" me--usually by applying her sandpaper tongue to my forehead and temples. I can usually sleep through it, but I wake up with a bright red rash from my eyebrows up.
Despite my intermittent skin condition, we don't mind Sascha taking over our bedroom now and again. She used to come inside and roam the entire house with Macy and Jack, but she and Jack had a falling out (he flopped on her) and these days hissing is all she can manage in his presence. And her hatred is thorough. Not only does she hiss at Jack, but she hisses at every dark spot in her field of view, whether it's a dark T-shirt on the floor or simply a shadow in the corner of the room. Blind and paranoid are tough qualities for a cat.
Jack was nowhere in sight when I carried her outside the next day, but she hissed the whole way to the door.
"Jack wasn't even in the living room," I said as I set her down on the deck. "Sascha, you hissed at a speaker, a peace lily, a rolled pair of socks and a thermos."
"You can't be too safe around here," she whispered and jogged off toward the barn to continue her nap. She's commandeered two bales of orchard grass upstairs in the loft and sleeps on her back, wedged in between them. I've tied orange plastic to the bales, lest we forget which ones they are. Sascha would never forgive us if we tried to turn her into a pancake.
"Ta-da!" Jack flopped again as I came back inside.
"Okay. How about a new trick?" I asked.
"That was new!" Jack protested. "I fell on my left side instead of my right. Though, I have been working on another-ugh-trick-oof-hold on. I can do it." Jack panted and wheezed as he attempted to push with his tiny, white feet and roll on his back to his other side.
He finally just grabbed his belly and threw it. The rest of him followed. "Ta-da!"
"That's great, Jack," I congratulated him. "Mom will be really proud."
"Ta-da!" Jack was clearly amusing himself, throwing his belly to and fro, rolling from his left side to his right and back again. "Ta-da! Ta-da!"
Just then, Kimberly opened the kitchen door and stepped inside, looking at Jack. "That is soooo cute!"
"How was your lesson?" I asked, kissing her.
"Great!" She answered, then looked again at Jack rolling back and forth. "Look at this little kitten!"
Kimberly picked him up. He smiled at me over her shoulder as Kimberly grabbed the cat treats from the pantry. Jack and I looked at each other as I shook my head. I shake my head quite a bit on this farm.
Kimberly put Jack on the kitchen floor, and he performed some more flop and roll combinations that were adorable enough to net him some treats.
"Dinner's almost ready, are you taking a shower?" I asked her.
"I'll be quick--I'm starving!" Kimberly said over her shoulder as she jogged to our bedroom.
"Mom loved my new trick," Jack beamed.
"Yes, she did."
"Can I have some of that roasted chicken you have in the oven?" Jack asked with big, bright green eyes, a little smile and a paw on my leg.
"We can talk about that," I answered with a slight grin.
"Well," Jack said, "let give you something to think about in the meantime... ta-da!"
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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