Once Upon a Time...

December 19, 2007
By Adriana van Manen, Lawrenceville, NJ

Once upon a time there was a mustard yellow cat. This mustard colored cat had a pudgy face, a tongue that felt like nettles, damp nose, and a stomach that swung when he padded across the floor. He lived in a shelter inhabited by lots of skittery little kittens. They came and went with names that got mixed up, forgotten and changed. He, however, was permanent. He had never been permanent until this shelter and wore the meaningless title, simply proud to have something. From time to time families visited. High-pitched, grabby children clutched tempting kittens with big eyes, wrinkly faces and uncontrollable claws. He stayed, his rolls of furry fat curled up against the cold and refreshing wall.

There was woman who came by, to play with the cats, even diseased ones or kittens that had been born unattractive She was the skinniest woman that The Mustard Colored Cat had ever observed, had mad scientist gray hair and wore soft moccasins ever day. She ignored the mustard colored cat though and he was too aloof to acknowledge her first. Rejection was not really unknown to him and he liked to fight fire with fire and disregard it. Occasionally when he was all alone in his mesh cage The Mustard Colored Cat liked to roll and rock on his back, exposing his stomach. If he could see how vulnerable and sweet this made him look he would have never done it again, but then again he was just an animal. It was unlikely he would ever recognize this fact.

It was a Tuesday evening when the Roberts family stopped by. They were a typical sort of Princeton family, blond; well dressed in preppy basics, politically correct and had two delightful almost adult twins and a healthy twelve-year-old daughter named Megan. Of course they looked at the kittens. Megan however denied the stereotype of the moody tween who comes to life when presented with a squirming little kitten. She leaned against the wall looking at the three weird older cats. First at Blair, a slinky black cat that was not for sale as the owners of the shelter liked her. Then Captain Hook, an irascible old tabby who enjoyed fighting. Finally she eyed the Mustard Colored Cat who blinked twice and turned away. Then suddenly he felt soft hands on the soft part of his stomach, picking him up. He was a gentleman and did not protest.

The Roberts family had many pets, three horses, a whole flock of sheep, two geese, a graceful orange fish who swam in a fishbowl on Mrs. Robert’s desk, and a dog named Kooba. None of the pets or the people paid attention to The Mustard Colored Cat. Except for Megan. She yelled and screamed at her parents ever day and then came into her room and held The Mustard Colored Cat tightly on her shoulder. He did not meow at all.
She turned on the music, crying for a few minutes. Then she wiped a slobbery mess of tears and mucus off her face. There was a moment where the music was merely loud noise, then, then the shock was over, and the feeling ended, soon every part of her was engulfed in the tempo. The Mustard Colored Cat curled up on her lap, not really knowing what to do as she rocked from side to side.

“I’m supposed to write it all down,” She said to The Mustard Colored Cat, “or else it all comes pouring out on everyone like rain. An’ then I yell lots.” He padded next to her face and awkwardly liked her nose.
“You sophomoric kitty cat,” she said. She usually spoke in a grammatically correct manner but now words poured out in a childish and frank. “See, I could be a writer, I know lotsa good words, everyone says so. I remember the nice words and I can use them in essays an’ stories.” She rambled on; “One time I wrote this story about an adopted girl. It won a writing contest. I thought I was gonna be a real writer. But then next thing I knew I got only a C+ on my English essay about some story we were supposed to read. I guess that’s cause I didn’t really read the book. It was a stupid book, so I just weaved some good words around the title. The teacher said my metaphors were first-class but that I hadn’t really said much about the book that she agreed with. I was supposed to say that it was the best book I’d ever read but it sure wasn’t. You see nothing is forever, you can write real nice or honest from your heart but not everyone’s gonna like it or see it every time”

The Mustard Colored Cat cocked an ear at her.

“I think you’re my forever cat. You aren’t gonna be goin’ away like my Auntie with cancer, or changin’ like the geese who seemed real fragile and cute when they were young but grew up and got bitey and mean. I don’ think your gonna change like my older twins who won’ play any time more.”

She didn’t look so ordinary now, her tan legs were long and her face was gentle and heartbreaking.

“You’re my forever cat. You are never going to go from pretty to ugly and disappoint me cause you’re already ugly and silly so it can only get better. Well, at least my Mom says you’re one ugly cat but I think you’re real cute and sweet.”

They curled up on her carpet, “My forever cat,” she said happily.

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