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The small, orange tabby cat opened her eyes to find another pair staring into her own. They were very green, with flecks of burnt yellow outlining the dark mass of the pupils. Round and unblinking, they spoke of love and warmth. Something soft and furry wrapped around the little feline’s body like a blanket. The eyes came closer. Heat enveloped her and she plunged into darkness as her eyes closed again.
The second time her eyes opened so did her ears. The world was a noisy, fast paced place. There was loud banging noises going off in the distance and a yowling, screaming, sound blaring right into her left ear. The entire room was huge and colorful, its four walls creaking with invisible movement. So much sound to listen to- so many sights to look at! The effects were nauseating. The Little Cat opened her mouth and cried. Would someone please turn off the sound?! The screaming something next to her stopped its raging caterwaul, much to her relief. The other noises, creaking, banging, slamming, and distant mumbling, it still continued, but she was grateful for whatever silence she could get. Suddenly a greyed blur swam into her vision and slammed into her head with a force that shook her whole being. The feeling of discomfort was not foreign- she’d experienced it countless times before- but this was something different. A new distinction rose up within her spirit and though her mind had not fully grasped the idea, it occurred to her that what had just been done was annoying. Now she was angry, though she did not know it completely.
Clumsily, she hefted a paw from the soft, white, warm surface it rested upon and flung it towards the grayish thing beside her. Turning to view its repercussion, she realized there was another pair of eyes attached to it. These were wide and watery blue, quite like her own infantile ones. This was her sibling- a brother amongst the many- and a happy thought came to her. This was a playmate. They could play. And play they tried, until swatting at each other grew dull and tiresome and their eyes closed. This time, her ears remained open and her sleep unfocused. Every creak and grumble caused her ears to twitch the way cat ears do, and her body to shift. A large golden paw was available for heat and comfort, but slumber would never be as restful as before. Nor would she belong comfortably within her psyche as she had before senses and thought dawned upon her cat brain.
As the days wore on, descriptions flowed through the Little Cat’s head like milk through her mouth. The chair by the window was red. The pillows on the chair were golden orange. The sofa was white. Its pillows matched the ones on the chair. The window was blue, the curtains framing the windows were white lace. The white lace was scratchy and fun to touch. The blanket was softer and a creamier white. It was fun to roll on. So many things to notice! Of course, the Little Cat did not know the names for the colors, but she saw them, and she acknowledged them, which was the important thing.
The biggest object of attention, however, was their mother. The Little Cat had three brothers and three sisters, which meant individual time with Mom was scarce. When the litter was still nursing, there was the volleying for positions at her teats, the competition of nutritional intake. When they were introduced to solid food by a very large, soon to be identified, black haired being who smelled like cold milk and plastic, the game changed considerably. Now it was no longer a matter of being nearest to their mother, but finding her and trying to pry attention from her. The parent was starting to pay less frequent visits to the blanket, as it was vital to her kitten’s maturity that she separate herself from them a little at a time. Besides, they were already quite independent- the Little Cat and a few of her brothers had begun to venture off the blanket. It was time that the rest of em started to do that as well. Little by little, the mother cat left the room entirely for short periods of time that got longer and longer with each passing day. When she was within the sight of her children, they trailed after her like miniature shadows, yowling piteously. On the event that she left for one entire day, the litter was completely overjoyed at her return and in their contest to be close to her, managed to turn the entire blanket into one big hissy-fit.
With her mother frequently absent, the Little Cat spent more time exploring her surroundings. She discovered the bookcase, which lay to the right of the white couch, and the fireplace, which was quite cold and dirty. On one memorable occasion, the litter had participated in knocking the bookcase clean on its side. It was a small shelf, with hardly more than twenty-five books on it, but there was a lamp sitting atop it as well. When the lamp smashed onto the hard stone hearth, it made a miraculous crashing sound, followed by the pitter-pattering thumps of literature flopping to the floor. It was a fantastic mess and the larger beings of the house had to clean it all up while they played underneath the white sofa. The Little Cat had plenty of adventures within the room’s boundaries, all of which would become fond memories, but it was curiosity and youthfulness that drew her and her siblings towards the rest of the house. It was a particularly modern floorplan, compared to the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. The rooms were not completely divided by corridors and door frames, and each room made sense in accordance to what it was connected to. In short, everything flowed nicely and the overall effect was clean and neat. Of course, the little cat and her siblings didn’t know any of this, the open floorplan simply made it easier for them to invade the rest of this human domain.
Aside from the cat population, four other creatures lived in the house. Three humans, and a hermit crab named Douglas. The crab wasn’t of much interest to the kittens, as he resided high above their heads atop a dresser. The people were a different story. One human in particular was most desired, as she was most likely to scratch behind the Little Cat’s ears and whisper sweet, loving phrases. She was fondly referred to as the Good One, and smelled of plastic and cold milk. The other two were short tempered and became quite cross when an animal’s existence interfered with there’s. Because of this, the adults of the house were identified as Harsh Ones. Once, the Little Cat had peed on the floor of the kitchen and the more ferocious of the two Harsh Ones, had discovered it unintentionally as he was brewing his morning coffee. He had yelled for a very long time, and pounded the table-top with his great hairy fist. After peeling off his urine-soaked sock he’d stomped off up the staircase where the tremors of his anger shook the whole house. The Little Cat, who had remained hidden under a bar stool the entire time, crept out and scurried across the floor, heading for the sanction of the blanket, only to be intersected by another human. This one was less hairy and slimmer, who smelled like some of the scents that wafted through the blue window when it was left open- accept ten times as strong. She plucked the Little Cat off the tile by the scruff of her neck and carried her over the blanket where she was dropped. No harm came to her, but her paws were rather sore and her head hurt for hours afterwards. This was a great educational moment in the Little Cat’s life, as she learned never to interrupt the Harsh One’s during early hours. In fact, she steered clear of them for as long as she lived in that house.
The Good One had skin the color of their blanket but was flecked with brown across the face, and the kittens learned to recognize her, because her presence signified treats and back rubs and general attention for all. The human was not at all quiet, and could sometimes be too rough with the Little Cat, but she had good intentions and it was difficult to dislike her. Sometimes she sang lullabies to the litter and rubbed their paws so gently that their bodies rumbled with pleasured purrs. One time she bought a box of special snacks that tasted like chicken and fish and milk and everything good they had ever tasted rolled into one. So much better than the brown, mushy, wet stuff that they ate from a dish after it was popped out of a metal can. When they braved the stairs one afternoon in an attempt to find her, she laughed in a lovely way and helped them clamor up- one cat at a time. She was an active participant in of the feline family, and the Little Cat liked her more than her own siblings most of the time. They all worshiped the ground The Good One walked on.
When the Little Cat and all of her brothers and sister were deemed old enough, The Good One took them outside. She took a shoebox, lined it with a dishrag and searched out each cat to place them inside. Once all seven tiny cats were accounted for, she pushed open the screen door and advanced out onto the back deck. Scents wafted up the cat’s noses, causing them to twitch sensationally. The air was cold and crisp, much colder than the temperature conditions under which they’d been living, and it stung their whiskers and clung to their fur. Everything smelled slightly damp and there was a perfume to the world, as if the entire out of doors had been sprayed with a quick dose of one of the Harsh One’s perfume. Their shoebox was set down on a glass table top that furnished the patio and the Good One gently removed them, one at a time. The Little Cat was taken out third, and the sights that met her eyes were absolutely mind blowing.
The blue she’d seen from the window covered the entire ceiling, which was so far overhead she could not see to the end of its extent. Great brownish green growths came up from the dampened ground, their immense branches intersecting with the clouds, and the blue. The floor was carpeted with a brilliant shade of chartreuse, and the colors lining the tall reddish fence mingled splendidly with the endless swirls of green. It was the most amazing thing ever to befall the eyes of the Little Cat and she ached to be a part of her surroundings. An instinct tugged at her heartstrings. “This,” it told her, “Is the Outside. This is where you are mighty.” The only obstacle between herself and the rich, green, earth was the glass counter and the distance she would have to drop. Peering over the blackened metal edge of the table, she could judge that it was quite a fall. All of a sudden she was in the grasp of The Good One and soaring over the deck floorboards. In the Good One’s opposite hand lay a brother, whose tiny claws were extended in anticipation. The two some were set down on yet another blanket, this one a soft shade of lilac. Blades of grass poked through the knit. The Little Cat arched her back, gathered herself, and then pounced, claws outstretched, upon the tallest stalk of green. The effects were minimal but her endorphins skyrocketed. The Outside was her kingdom and she ruled supreme over its every feature. Running across the blanket, she tumbled into her sister, who greeted her with a smack across the face. Meowing gleefully, the two had at it, amidst the lovely laughter of the Good One. The wind blew softly, ruffling their fur and tickling their noses till they sneezed. The colors drifted around them. Their playing began to wan as the clouds grew thicker and the sky darkened. The Little Cat crept up to the Good One, who had long ago replaced the presence of her mother, and curled against her warm thigh to sleep.
The Outside became a pace of intense desire and fascination for the Little Cat. The blanket, now deemed useless had been rolled up and put away in a basket during the day. Why shouldn’t they be given free run of the Outside like they had the Inside? The Little Cat thought herself rather self-sufficient at this stage of her life- limited parenting, solid food, a larger range, knowledge of the Outside, longer legs, sharper claws, more teeth, a criminal urge to chase and destroy flying objects- it was all coming together. But she didn’t feel quite at ease with herself. At night, when the litter retired to their blanket in the basket next to the red chair, there was a distinct urge to flee. Run for the window, climb the lacey drapes, scale the stairs- just get away! It was nearly as powerful as the need to stay. Here there was connection. Six brothers and sister; a hodgepodge of tawny golden fur and Smokey grey locks. A mish-mop of dazzling green irises and pale, watery blue ones. A menagerie of claws and teeth and tails. There was the creamy colored blanket and the Good One and their semi-existent mother. Here there was Canned Glop in a Dish three times a day. But at night the only thing that held the group together was the whispered words, “Away, Away, go away!” they all listened to, deep in their secret hearts. On the rare occasions that the kittens were brought outside, they never stayed together. The Good One chased them around for ages until they were all safely accounted for in their traveling shoebox. It was difficult for her to manage the litter in the dangerous Outside, so it got to a point where they were only brought onto the deck- which increased what little animosity they had had towards the Inside and their wanting of freedom.
There came a day when the Good One took a tour of the house, collecting cats to put in a box. It wasn’t the usual dish-rag shoebox traveling arrangements, so curiosity had spurred the adolescents out of hiding. When all were assembled, the Good One hefted the large container off the floor and made the left towards the front door. The cats flew high over the red chair, the white couch, their creamy soft blanket and its basket, the bookshelf, the fireplace, and the lacey drapes framing the blue window. There was excitement among them, none had ever ventured close to the front door before, as there was quite a draft that originated from it. It occurred to the Little Cat that she was going outside, but questions still boiled in her consciousness. Why the front door? Why the different box? It was a firmly held belief that whatever was beyond it was marginally similar from the bounty that the back door gave way to. Within their box, the kittens cowered in place, each lost in their individual insecurities, dreading the uncertainty, but anticipating whatever would come next.
Through the front door they went. Above their heads the sky wasn’t quite as blue, but more of a pale, periwinkle shade. It was colder out, which might have been the reason they weren’t let outside much anymore. With the expanse of color in full view, the Little Cat felt a tug of rebellion. The wind whistled around the sides of the box and the Good One murmured her compliments. “Get away,” whispered the cold, autumn gales, “Away, away, away.” The Little Cat flattened her ears and brought a paw to her tongue. Licking her fur into submission, she internally calculated the walls that contained her and her siblings. They were within leaping range, she could scale them if necessary. But she had absolutely no idea where she was or where they were going. So to flee was to face unknown dangers. At least within containment there was safety.
The cats remained inside the cardboard carrying device for a long, long time. The Good One was walking, they knew this movement well, and eventually she walked through a foreign door. Immediately, the Little Cat knew that this was not the cozy, living room she’d grown up in. It smelt strongly of unidentifiable chemicals, and leather. There was the faintest trace of bird, but the overpowering aroma of people and cleaning products blocked it out almost entirely. The Good One began to speak, her voice mingling with that of a man, who was much, much older than she. They discussed something for a long time, meanwhile, the box containing the Little Cat and her brothers and sisters had been handed over to an unidentifiable male. He smelled like spearmint gum and baby wipes, and set their box down on an unfamiliar table-top. The smell of leather intensified.
The Little Cat took it upon herself to find out what was going on. She sprang to the edge of one wall and engaged her claws to the hard, papery siding of the box. There she hung her head just poking over the side, her orange-brown fur sticking up around her ears. The sights that greeted her were anything but typical. There was The Good One, her long black hair tied back, her favorite blue shirt cloaking her midsection, the rest of her sheathed with a woolen jacket of sorts. It was the first time she’d seen her from a distance at a higher elevation, and it struck her that the kind, soothing tone of The Good One was coming from a person who was very, very young. And that very young person was speaking sharply, though not unkindly, to a grey haired old man with eyes the color of their dark blue food dish in the Harsh Ones’ kitchen. He had an amused smile on his face and a soft, yet slightly bored look to his eyes. He’d obviously hosted The Good One on many fronts, and was all too accustomed to her conversational behaviors. The rest of the people were all dressed alike in the same black pants, shirts with a logo emblazed on the left breast pocket, and brown work shoes. Their only difference was the color of their shirts. All men, the four of them walked around the carpeted room, fiddling with the shelving. Each one possessed the sharp scent of leather and their own specific chemical enhancement. The one who had taken hold of their box was of blond hair and green eyes, and he never strayed far from the table on which they sat. His job, it seemed, was to keep opening and closing a metal drawer and pressing a multitude of buttons. There were six human beings inhabiting the space, which was furnished with simple, but well placed shelving units, display stations, and hard wooden benches flanked with instruments. There was a glass exhibition window situated next to a glass, double-hinged door. Could the Little Cat have read it, she would have known that the room was called the Heel and Toe Custom Shoe Shop, and could she have read the name tags worn by each employee she would have learned that the old man was indeed the owner, and his name was Mr. David Floyd. Still, without reading these things, she could tell it wasn’t a home. This was a notion unfamiliar to the Little Cat, but she knew what it was. It was where she would go, what she would look for if she ever gathered the courage to follow the instinctive tug that drew here away from her blood relations. An abstract thought, her primitive mind could not grasp its concept entirely, but she knew it would present itself to her somehow.
All at once the atmosphere in the room changed completely. There was an anticipant pitter-pattering outside, and through the large, glass window, she could see a menagerie of blonds trundling outside. All different ages, they burst through the door and piled into the enclosed area, which now lacked the capacity to hold everyone. The old man the Good One had been speaking to, bent down to scoop the smallest child off the floor, his eyes flooding with compassion. He spoke to the boy the way the Good One spoke to her, yet somehow he reached a deeper level. The Little Cat felt a twinge of jealousy. This was a human relationship, a bond of emotion. It was his litter that had come through the door. Why hadn’t her own mother wanted this for her children? Squirming away from his father, the six year old slid down to the blue carpeting and ran off to play with his brothers. Scanning the room, the Little Cat noticed for the first time that there was a strong population of males. Four boys, five men (including the employees) made for a meager amounting of females, which consisted of the Good One and a girl who had come in with the blonds.
A good deal shorter than the Good One, this girl had the most dazzling gunmetal eyes- baby blue mixed in with deep swirls of grey and white- and she was staring right at the Little Cat. There was no instinctive reaction appropriate to respond to her intuitive gaze. They bored deep into her spirit. Just like the green eyes that the Little Cat had first witnessed and the watery blue ones she had learned to play with, these eyes marked a milestone.
The brown-haired girl and The Good One, ventured over to the cat’s box. Strange hands that smelled like lavender and dog-scent were wrapped around the little cat’s mid-section and she was pried from the cardboard she’d previously clung to. “Yes, yes!” sang the whirling ceiling fans that buzzed in her ears, “go, go, go!” The girl nestled the Little Cat in the crook of her arm and extended a finger in her direction, which she promptly bit, though not to be mean. That was simply in her nature. The girl laughed and called her by the first name she could think of, one that matched her reddish blond fur.
The blue eyes responded, barely flinching as the kitten sank her incisors into the soft part of her index finger. The Little Cat’s whole body sprang to attention. Was that her name? Tittles were unfamiliar to her, there had never been a need for them in her life. Amongst the litter, everyone survived each other’s presence without individualization. The Little Cat could tell which brother she was tumbling with or if it was her sister that slept next to her at night based on smell alone. Here was an indication that she could be recognized by a vocal term. A human being cared enough about her to name her. Even the Good One had refrained from doing that, and the Harsh Ones had barely given her the time of day- much less a positive identification. Looking back into those eccentrically designed eyes, in the strange room with the many shelves and the heavy smell of leather, the Little Cat knew she’d satisfied her urge to leave. In her mind, she’d already left her siblings far, far behind.
Ginger left the Heel and Toe Custom Shoe Store cradled in the arms of Valerie Floyd, their heartstrings entangled, Ginger’s home defined.