H.E. Double Hockey Sticks

My twenty year-old son stumbled out in to the living room shortly after noon, rubbing sleep out of his eyes and grumbling some sort of dire warnings about the leftover pizza that better still be in the fridge, Mother, but stopped suddenly to question me over what he obviously saw as a far more important situation.

“Okay, Mom,” he asked warily, glancing  around the room, “what did you kill this time?”

I must have looked baffled — understandably so — because he pointed at the broom that I had leaned against the wall.

“The broom. The broom is in the living room,” he explained. “Dad used hockey sticks, you use the broom.”

I’m not sure if he has that little faith in my housekeeping habits or that much faith in my hunting skills, but I tried to explain to him that the mice and chipmunks in the immediate area were all safe and sound for the time being. “I swear, I just finished cleaning the bathroom.”

“Sure, Mom. Sure.”

In the absence of any rodent corpses or tell-tale bloodstains, he let the matter drop and lumbered away in search of cold pizza.

I wish I could say that this conversation was unusual for us, but unfortunately it was not. I am constantly astonished to find out the way my adult children  remember different aspects of their childhood. Like the hockey stick/broom conundrum, apparently.

The Big Guy, their father, was a former hockey player, which explains the hockey sticks. Sort of. He had skates and shoulder pads and helmets stuffed into the back of the hall closet behind his ice fishing gear, which sort of made sense. But the sticks were everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere.

There was a hockey stick by the back door, and two in the barn. There was one in the kitchen, near the door to the basement. He had one tucked in behind the couch in his office, a well as another beside our bed. That’s right, he kept a hockey stick beside the bed.

Now, I’ll admit to my fair share of sexual fantasies that may or may not involve a large, muscular hockey player skating away with me for a quick hat trick, but the bedside hockey stick had nothing to do with any kind of role-playing.

Unfortunately.

The Big Guy’s hockey sticks were there for self-defense. Against bats, big hairy spiders, mice, and a very confused raccoon in the mudroom on one memorable occasion.  He wielded a hockey stick like Adrian Paul wielded a sword in late-night reruns of The Highlander. The only time he let me use the hockey stick as a weapon was the night someone tried to break into our home at 2:30 in the morning. Even then, he only handed it over because he was busy loading his hunting rifle.

I’d like to think I was at least a tiny bit intimidating, but it’s probably safe to say that the intruder was actually frightened away by rifle, not by me in all of my bathrobe-bedhair-hockey stick terror. Although I’ll be the first to admit that I gave myself a bit of a shock when I glanced at my reflection in the window.

I was pretty damn terrifying.

While my children remember a hockey stick as their father’s weapon of choice, they apparently remember a broom being mine.

You may have caught on by now to the fact that none of our cats have ever been very good at their job. Instead of killing mice in the house, our confused little felines prefer to capture rodents outside, only to bring them inside and then release them. Mice, chipmunks, moles, you name it and they’ve probably brought at least one into my living room. One cat even brought in what I assumed was a dead possum.

That, of course, was the night I learned where the saying “playing possum” comes from.

Let me digress for a moment here. I once got a bad review on Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass because the reader was “disgusted by all the animals [I] beat and killed.”  I want to be very clear about the fact that I am not some kind of animal-abusing whackadoodle who enjoys beating rodents to death with hockey sticks and brooms–or anything else, for that matter. I’m more than happy shooing the little buggers outside with said weapons whenever possible. But I will not co-habitate with them.

The only smelly, dirty animal allowed to live with me in my house is my son, and I’m really trying to convince him that showers are, in fact, necessary on a regular basis, and that it is not normal for his dirty clothes to stand up on their own after he takes them off.

“Brushing your teeth is not optional, son,” I’ve had to remind him more times than I care to admit.

At any rate, cleaning out the house for our renovations has raised many questions. Why was there a Cool Whip container in the fridge with the words “Don’t Eat! Cocoons!” scrawled across the lid in black Sharpie? Why was there a mummified bat wedged in behind the lath and plaster in the living room? Why was there a fifty year-old pocket knife under the bathroom floor — and why was the neighbor’s name engraved on the handle of that knife?

So  many questions that can never be answered. But I had a very simple answer prepared when the contractor asked me, “What’s the deal with all the hockey sticks?”

“Self-defense,” I told him, and now I think he’s just a tiny bit afraid of me.

If he thinks I’m scary with a hockey stick, he should see me with a broom.

 

Cat’s Crazy

I think my daughter has begun to worry about my sanity.

That’s really not anything new, to be perfectly honest. Most people who have known me for more than thirty minutes generally have a few questions about my state of mental health. It might be my habit of blurting out random words that have nothing to do with the words that I think I’m saying. Or perhaps it’s the way I make obscure jokes and references to 1970’s British television programs and then laugh alone at what I just said.

My habit of trying to say multiple sentences at the same time probably doesn’t do much to allay their concerns, either.

At any rate, the moment that really tipped the scale in my daughter’s mind took place yesterday during a shopping trip to the Bent-n-Dent, which is run by our local Amish Community. She commented on the multiple cans of cheap New England clam chowder I was stacking in our cart.

“My cat likes it,” I explained.

“You’re buying soup for your cat?”

“I like it too. We share it for supper sometimes.”

“Mother. No.”

“What, do you think I should buy him his own can?”

Let me explain. In the past three years, I left my husband and watched my two oldest children go away to college. My youngest child spends every other week at his father’s house, which means that I spend every other week alone. Completely alone. I went from being part of a family of five to living alone, and as a result I recently got permission to have a cat as an Emotional Support Animal.

My cat, however, needs more support than he gives. His name is Mr. Twinkletoes (named by my son), but I call him Nimrod. And he doesn’t like me.

I bought him a scratching post and a bunch of little toys, but to no avail. I bribe him with canned cat food and bags of little kitty treats. I clean his litter box multiple times each day. I’m telling you, this creature is more high maintenance than all three of my children combined. And still, he will not allow me to pet him.

He likes to steal my desk chair. He won’t sit on my lap, but he’ll climb the back of my chair and wriggle his way in between the chair back and my butt, where he promptly goes to sleep after giving me a few well-placed puncture wounds on one cheek or the other.

The only time Nimrod seems to like me at all is on those nights when I open a can of New England clam chowder for supper when I’m home alone. Then he goes into a frenzied routine of twining himself around my ankles and crying until he eventually falls over and just lays there, twitching. I think he may be part possum, actually, because he then plays dead for a while, and the only way to “revive” him is to scoop a little bit of my soup into a dish for him.

Do you know what’s more pathetic than a middle-aged divorcee eating canned soup alone for supper?  That middle-aged divorcee sharing her canned soup with a cat. And then telling people about it.

I think Nimrod starting to warm up to me, though. When he thinks I’m asleep, he jumps up on my bed and curls up to sleep near my feet. If I happen to reach down and pet him, he hisses and snarls before drawing blood from at least one of my extremities and then hides himself away in the closet, probably to poop in my shoes.

He also likes to climb in between the shower curtain and the clear plastic liner while I’m taking my shower. I wouldn’t mind it so much if he didn’t insist turning his unblinking gaze upon my body and yowling throughout the entire process.

I really can’t help but take that a little bit personally.

Nimrod has a Christmas stocking because my son insisted on it. I bought some catnip and a little stuffed mousie with a bell in its belly, as well as his very own can of clam chowder. But I’m not putting the chowder in his stocking because I may be crazy but I’m not that crazy.

Merry Christmas from me and Mr. Twinkletoes!

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Whoosh!

I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by. — Douglas Adams

Coming out of the apartment building one morning last week, my sons and I discovered a medium-sized Huggies box that had been placed upside-down in the center of the sidewalk. On the bottom of the box, someone had written a message in big black letters.

“Do not move this box,” it read.  “Poop beneath.”

I ushered the boys past the box and into the car so I could take them to school, but I couldn’t stop wondering about the person who had left that well-labeled box on my sidewalk. I kept thinking about the effort that must have gone into locating the box, finding a marker, scribbling the message, and then carefully placing the box just so.

It seemed to me that it would have taken less effort to just clean up the poop.

“Maybe it was a practical joke,” my cousin suggested when I told her about it. “Do you think there might have been a hidden camera nearby? Did you pick up the box and look at the poop?”

“Of course I didn’t look at the poop!”

“I would have, just to see what kind of poop it was.”

Oh, well thank you for that.  What kind of poop? My mind hadn’t even begun to dive down into that particular rabbit hole, but it sure went there after that conversation.

Was it perhaps toddler poop? That would explain the Huggies box. Maybe a toddler was in the process of potty-training and just didn’t quite grasp the whole concept of dropping trou and making a deposit in the proper receptacle. The embarrassed mommy could have dashed inside for the box and a marker, planning on returning to clean up the pile after cleaning up the child.

I thought back to the days when I was the parent of toddlers during the potty-training stage, and quickly dismissed the idea. When my kids were toddlers, I was never organized enough to know where to find a box, a marker, and my child all at the same time. Besides, I was so used to cleaning up piles and puddles of baby-mess that I probably would have just grabbed a handful of wipes and scooped up the offending pile.

Well, either that or I might have used the toe of my shoe to nudge it into the nearby flowerbed with the excuse that I was fertilizing the plants.

I hate to admit it, but that probably would have been my chosen path of action in that situation.

So maybe my current box o’ poop came from an animal? There is a herd of feral cats in the woods that surround the building; maybe one of them was just too lazy to do the usual feline dig-poop-bury routine and just decided to leave a gift on the sidewalk. That didn’t seem like too much of a stretch when I thought about the “gifts” my cat used to leave on the steps — dead birds, headless mice, partially-eaten moles, etc. All things considered, poop might have been the preferable present.

But no, a feral cat wouldn’t have left the carefully-worded sign on the Huggies box.

A dog, then. A dog with a conscientious owner. See, here’s the crazy thing about my no-pets building: everyone has a pet. They’ve all gotten their doctors to sign off on a form that says depressed people need pets to help them get through their days. Apparently, we are an incredibly depressed building.`

As the only person without a pet, I can only marvel at the realization that this makes me the only person in the building who is not officially depressed enough to own a cat. Technically, this means that everyone else in my building is more depressed than I am.

Good lord, that’s a depressing thought.

I have so much to do, and so little time to do it, and yet I spent nearly a half-day wondering about the box o’ poop on the sidewalk downstairs. I could have been editing those final chapters of Their Love Rekindled or working on the opening chapters of my new Love & Destiny series; I could have been washing the dishes or unpacking those last few boxes that have been sitting in the middle of my living room since I moved here just over a month a go. I could have even worked on writing a few blog posts ahead of time and getting them scheduled to go live at convenient times.

But no, I had to sit here pondering the origin of poop on the sidewalk downstairs. I’m not sure, but I think that automatically grants me a PhD in Procrastination.

And to make things worse, I decided that I needed to look up the perfect quotes about procrastination to finish off this blog post. That took up a good forty-five minutes that could have been used changing the sheets and scrubbing the bathroom. But if I hadn’t done that, I would never have found this little gem from Nora Roberts:

My top three pieces of writing advice? Stop whining and write. Stop fucking around and write. Stop making excuses and write. — Nora Roberts

Yes, ma’am.

And so the mystery of the box o’ poop shall never be solved because I am getting back to work. When the mighty Nora Roberts tells me to stop fucking around and write, what else am I to do?

Nora

Cat’s My Story

There is a running argument in my family that has been going on since before my children were born. It began when my now ex-husband and I were newlyweds, and it centers around his continued insistence that I killed his cat on purpose.

Before I say anything more, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in no way responsible for the death of Smokey the Cat. It’s true that I hated him, but the feeling was mutual. Smokey belonged to the first Mrs. Big Guy, and he made it abundantly clear from Day #1 where his loyalties were.

The Big Guy and I had been married for only a few months when the ex called and issued the ultimatum: If we didn’t take the cat, she said, she would take him to the vet and have him put to sleep. No negation.  She was done with the cat, and that was simply all there was to it.

That should have set off a few alarms, but I love cats and couldn’t wait to meet my new step-cat.

The Big Guy described him as dark gray longhair with a cuddly, loveable personality and possibly a bit of Maine Coon somewhere in his bloodline. He had started life as a barn cat at my Mother-in-law’s farm, so he was a strong and self-sufficient animal.  I couldn’t wait to meet him; it was like meeting a new adopted child. I spent the evening pacing and glancing at the clock until the Big Guy walked in the door with the cat carrier and plunked it down in the darkest corner of a long hallway.

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“You might want to give him a few days to adjust to you,” he warned me, opening the door of the carrier and trying to hide the bloody scratches on his hands and arms.

That should have set off some really loud alarms.

I peered inside and made little cooing noises that were greeted with hissing and spitting. All I could see was a pair of narrowed yellow eyes glaring out at me from a darkish lump.

“He, uh, sometimes takes a while to warm up to new people,” the Big Guy explained.

It was a week before I saw Smokey.  I knew he came out of the carrier at night, because his food and water dishes needed refilling every morning and he was very precise about leaving little calling cards for me to clean up just a few inches to the left of his litter box. After he finally starting emerging during daylight, he slunk around the house and refused to let me pet him. He purred and purrted for the Big Guy but continued to greet me with spits and hisses.

“He really hates me,” I said.

“Give him time.”

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A few weeks later, I still had not been able to touch the animal. But as my husband and I drifted off to sleep one night, I felt a little movement at the foot of the bed and realized that Smokey had jumped up there with us. I held my breath as he paced and kneaded his way back and forth and then felt a little rush of affection for him when finally curled up on top of my feet.

“He’s finally warming up to me,” I thought.

Little did I know that my Hell had just begun.

I awoke a few hours later with the horrifying realization that something was wrong.  Something was terribly wrong. I wasn’t breathing.  I couldn’t breathe at all.  Something was covering my mouth and nose, pressing down and blocking all oxygen. Something warm and soft and purring . . .

Damn cat.

And so it went.  Every single night, approximately every 90 minutes, all night long.  Our house was a hundred-year-old farmhouse that we were renovating, and there was no door on our bedroom at that point, so there was no keeping that murderous feline out at night. The Big Guy slept through the murder attempts and refused to believe me.

“He’s just cuddling,” he insisted. “I’m sure he’s not really trying to suffocate you.”

During the days, that cat continued his campaign of hiss, spit and avoid. I bought him catnip and fluffy cat toys and even tried to buy his affections with a can of smoked oysters, but to no avail. He hated me.  I started wondering if the first Mrs. Big Guy had somehow trained him in secret kitty commando techniques and sent him on a mission to assassinate me.

I became tired and irritable. The Big Guy and I argued about the cat. When winter came, he told me that Smokey had once had a habit of climbing up underneath cars and tractors to stay warm, which meant that we should always remember to drive very slowly around the driveway. I immediately started pulling out of the driveway like a NHRA driver doing burnouts at the starting line.  I was John Force in a mini-van.

That cat had at least 247 lives.

I am watching you, human . . .
I am watching you, human . . .

The night I snapped, I must have awakened and pushed that cat off my face at least five times. Finally, at around three a.m., I woke up gasping for air one last time and decided that I had had enough. I sat up in bed, lifted that cat high over my head in both hands, and threw him over the foot of the bed.

Or so I thought.

I should probably mention here that the height difference between the Big Guy and me was almost a foot.  When I threw Smokey, I threw him far enough to clear my feet, but not quite far enough to clear the foot of the bed. He landed just below my husband’s knee, claws extended, and skidded the rest of the way, taking strips of flesh with him as he went . . . all the way from knee to ankle.

The poor man was awake and yelping in pain in an instant.

“What the hell are you doing?” He demanded.

“Throwing the cat off the foot of the bed!”

“Well, you missed!”

He put a door on the bedroom by morning.

Deprived of the opportunity to kill me in my sleep, Smokey settled down over the next few months. He pretended to like me.  He allowed me to pet him. He fooled my husband, but I knew better. I knew he was just waiting for an opportunity.

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But Smokey was an old cat. By spring, he was looking pretty thin and haggard, and barely had enough energy to hiss at me more than a half dozen times per day. The Big Guy and I decided to make him an indoor cat to keep him safe, and we watched him closely so he wouldn’t slip outside.

Then one day, I came home from work to find him waiting for me at the door. He meowed at me and rubbed on my legs and seemed so full of life and energy that I believed he had managed to kick whatever illness had been bothering him. I thought he was healthy and happy, and I made the judgement call to let him go outside to play.

The Big Guy was furious when he got home, and even more so when we were hit by a violent thunderstorm later that evening.  Smokey, of course, never came home, and when we found his body in the woods a few days later, my husband swore that it was all my fault for letting a sick, old animal outside in the face of an approaching storm.

Worse, he still swears to this day that I did it on purpose.  Knowing that the storm was coming. With Malice Aforethought.  Premeditated Murder.

I swear I didn’t know a storm was coming.

I swear I thought he was feeling better and it was okay to let him go outside.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Fiesta the Omen

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I have an evil kitten.

Oh sure, she’s adorable.  But looks can be deceiving.

She’s like Rebecca DeMornay in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle”:  Beautiful and seemingly innocent, but harboring a secret, evil plan.

Fiesta is a pretty gray and white calico with white paws and bright yellow eyes.  She was easily the prettiest of the litter, but somehow ended up being the only one that no one else wanted.    We hadn’t even named her like we had the others, and had to scramble for a name when we realized she was ours to keep.

Before Fiesta, we were a happy three-pet home.  There was Snickers, the neurotic Blue Heeler suffering from PTSD.   Callie was a beautiful orange/black/white calico who would come running like a dog when she was called.  She was a lady, dignified and gracious to all.  Her brother Melvin was a big orange tomcat with a bit of a personality disorder and a definite sense of entitlement.

Then came Fiesta.

Snickers hates her.  Snick has always tolerated other cats, but she snaps and snarls at Fiesta.  My husband and I scold her for it, but I think she’s just listening to her animal instincts and warning us of a threat in our presence.

One by one, Fiesta is eliminating her competition.  Oh, she’s sneaky about it.  Makes it look like coincidence.  But I know better.

Callie vanished first, late last fall.  In the four years leading up to that night, she rarely strayed farther than the woods behind our house.  She might cross the road, but for the most part she was a true homebody.  One of our neighbors informed us that Callie often crossed the street to nap in his yard on sunny days.

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When she disappeared, we searched up and down our street but found no sign of her.  We ruled out her having been hit by a car because we would have found her body if that had happened.  We questioned our neighbor, but he hadn’t seen her.

We finally decided that she had either been snatched up by coyotes, or taken by one of our neighbors returning to Illinois at the end of the summer.   Either way, she was gone and we comforted ourselves by spreading our love among the remaining pets.

Melvin was next.

We didn’t notice right away, because Melvin often vanished for days at a time.  I began to get nervous after four days, because Melvin was my cat, my special baby.  He was a grumpy old grouch, but he was mine.

Just like Callie, he was gone without a trace.  No body to be found, which means he wasn’t hit by a car.  We’ve asked all of our neighbors if they’ve discovered an extra orange cat prowling their land, but no luck.

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He’s just gone.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried over Melvin.  Fiesta jumped into my lap and coyly licked my face as if to dry my tears.  She went prrrt and then curled up into a smug little ball and dozed off.

I swear she was smiling.

I felt the first cold fingers of suspicion invade my mind at that point.  She was just a little too accepting of things, if you ask me.  I know she’s an animal and all, but she seemed awfully ready to move on.

Snickers had an “accident” in the living room last night, her first in the five years we have had her.  I think Fiesta is behind it.  I don’t know how, but I am sure that sweet little cat is framing the dog so that we’ll get rid of her, leaving Fiesta to have the family to herself.

I just hope she doesn’t feel threatened by the children.

Or me.