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.

And the Chickens of the Club . . .

Confession time:  I am enjoying the chickens much more than I expected to!

It’s been three weeks since we bought the first dozen.  Four of them are adult hens and eight are pullets – which I have learned is the right thing to call a half-grown chicken.  We were told that the pullets would be ready to start laying eggs in “about a month”, although the woman who sold them to us assured us that the big hens were already laying every day.

The first day was hilarious. Those poor birds had spent their entire lives within a pen, and they were totally overwhelmed by the grass and leaves available at their new home.  They moved around as one big unit, taking possession of an old broken swing set in the back yard and chattering amongst themselves like proper old ladies congregating near the coffeepot after church on Sunday.

They became agitated at nightfall, as though they knew they should be going inside somewhere but not sure where to go.  I am officially an awful wife, because I laughed myself silly watching my husband chase them around the yard. One by one, he scooped up each one, tossed her in the coop, and slammed the door.

After that, they put themselves to bed every night.  They only need us to shut the door at around 9:30.

I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to name any of them.  I refer to them as “The Ladies” and I love the way they spring out the door when I let them out in the morning.  It sort of freaked me out at first when they clustered around my feet and chattered at me; I was sure they were going to attack my toes or fly up and peck at my eyes.

My five year-old refers to them as “The Peckers”.  I know I’m going to have to put a stop to that, but I’m still having too much fun laughing about it.

One of the hens is a bossy Rhode Island Red who seems to be in charge of the other ladies.  She reminds me of a busty redhead in a constant state of flustered excitement, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Garret on The Facts of Life.

I call her Edna.

The other Rode Island Red became Irmengarde, and the two adult New Hampshire Reds were soon christened Charlotte and Gertrude.  I haven’t named the pullets – a mix of Isa Browns and New Hampshire Reds – but my son named one of them Blackie.

Blackie, according to my husband, is a Black Sex Link chicken.  I’m not sure I believe that’s really a breed of chicken; I think the Big Guy might be messing with me.

We added four new hens and a rooster this weekend.  The rooster and one hen are Australorps, and they are simply gorgeous.  Little Man named the rooster Awesome.  The other three are Araucanas, or “Easter Egg Chickens”.  When they start producing eggs in a few weeks, the eggs will be different shades of blue and green.

The Araucanas are without a doubt the oddest-looking bird I have ever seen.  They have thick necks and broad heads that make them look more like some kind of a mutant hawk than a chicken.  And they have these strange tufts of feathers on either side of the face that make them look  . . . well, simple.  They appear to be wearing a stupid smile all the time.

Unfortunately, their behavior so far hasn’t done much to make me think my first impression is wrong.

Having learned his lesson with the first group of chickens, the Big Guy released the new ones into the coop this time. And let them run out the other side.  We assumed this would solve the problem of their not understanding where to go at bedtime.

We assumed wrong.

The two Astralorps did just fine.  When the others trotted up the little ramp, those two followed obediently.  Didn’t work quite so well for the Araucanas.

No, that particular brain trust settled in for the night on top off the chicken coop.  It’s like they’ve figured out where the building is, but sort of gave up learning anything beyond that.  For two nights in a row, my husband has had to carry a stepladder into the pen and climb up to capture the new ladies so he can toss them inside with the others.

For the most part, they don’t put up a fight.  The Big Guy says they are still learning, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the only thing they are learning is that going to sleep on the roof is a great way to be picked up and tossed inside for the night.  I think our Araucanas see this as the way the bedtime routine is supposed to go:  climb up on the roof, doze off until the nice man scoops them up and speaks gently to them, and then snuggle in for a good night’s sleep with their sisters without ever having to climb the ramp.

For all I know, they aren’t bright enough to figure out how to get through the doorway at the top.

I call them “The Derps”.

We get three brown eggs every day, and sometimes a fourth one.  We aren’t sure if Gertrude sometimes hides her eggs outside the coop, or if she’s just really sensitive and doesn’t always lay on a regular basis.   But either way, I have perfected the art of making omelets; yesterday’s was made with tomato, basil and spinach.  I have also subjected my family to quiches and the Big Guy is really becoming excited about starting to sell the eggs.

We hadn’t planned on selling the eggs, but when all sixteen hens start laying, I think we’re going to have to.  If sixteen hens lay an egg per day, that’s 112 eggs per week.

That’s a lot of omelets.

I’m not sure we really thought this through.