The Cat And Mouse Days Of Summer

Kathie GibboneyBy Kathie Gibboney

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The Cat And Mouse Days Of Summer
The cat lies on the cool marble of the fireplace hearth, snoring. I’m hoping the last mouse has been caught. It seems that for the entire summer the Have-A-Heart trap has been in service with varying degrees of success. At first, the Beleaguered Husband would set the little cage, carefully baiting it with smeared peanut butter and pieces of a Snickers candy bar to entice the rodent to come trick-or-treating only to find the bait gone in the morning, the trap door unsprung, and not even so much as a thank-you note left behind. Something about the temperamental mechanism of the metal contraption seemed to confound Michael. He labored over it, muttering and swearing, turning it this way and that attempting to balance the two prongs that activate the door to snap shut, thus trapping the intruder, yet not harming neither whisker, tail, nor regions in between. The cat wakes in the morning, walks halfway across the room and lies down. For quite a while we had heard a mysterious, scurrying sound behind the walls and little pattering feet scooting, invisibly across the ceiling. The noises began in one part of the house, then moved to another, back and forth, as if a game of tag was being played in the secret wrens and warrens hidden from our view. I hoped that the uninvited, late-night guests partying behind our walls with such gay abandon would just leave the way they came in moving on to the next disco. Who were these unseen guests? Squirrels, elves, racoons, rats? Who would leave an acorn in my slipper? Who left some empty peanut shells in the silverware drawer next to a shredded-up cocktail napkin as if they had been frequenting a local bar? Adding insult to injury, no tip was left. The question was answered one night when two small, bright-eyed, gray mice were spotted sitting boldly on the kitchen counter. They looked at us for a moment and then quickly vanished somewhere. Where there are two mice, there are more or soon will be. Hence the use of the trap which, like the coffee pot, now seems a familiar part of the kitchen, as if it has always been there. When we finally became more adept at operating the apparatus, we’d hear its metal door clang shut, which was the satisfying sound of success, and run to examine our catch. Enclosed would be a cute little mouse, soft and fairy like. Michael would take it over to the creek for release. Sometimes we’d hit the jackpot and catch two in one night. Soon we were catching so many rodentia the novelty wore off and it dawned on us that the smart little creatures might be finding their way back and we were just catching the same ones over and over. Michael dabbed one with a touch of green paint before releasing and sure enough we caught it the next night. We began relocating the little guys further afield. The last mouse we caught was slightly larger than the others, perhaps the leader, the Mouse King. With it now vanquished it appears the tribe has moved on. No thanks to the cat. The cat is sleeping in front of the screen door, the cat is sleeping on the bed, the cat is asleep. next to the refrigerator, the cat sleeps in the closet, the cat sleeps impossibly curled up in a little round cat bed he outgrew years ago. Butterscotch Tailwind Muldoon must be twelve or even thirteen years old. In cat years that makes us almost the same age, God bless us both. He is orange, big and fluffy in the style of a Maine Coon cat. His right ear is clipped as a tribute to his early feral days. Under his watch in the past, no mouse would have been left unattended. He would ferret out any rodent on the premises, sitting motionless, transfixed for hours, biding his time, planning, waiting for the cat-toy-come-to-life and venture out from under the dresser or China cabinet, ready to pounce and expertly dispatch poor mouse to its maker. Now, for some reason, he seems to have suddenly retired. Just quit, maybe as a protest against the cheaper litter. He showed not the slightest interest even in a caged mouse on the kitchen floor, which once would have mesmerized him. Instead, he is draped carelessly across the dining room table half on, half off, too lazy to straighten out, his tail twitching precariously close to a bowl of soup. Sad to see how the mighty mouser has fallen. Actually, I’m rather envious. I, too, would like to pass the oppressive summer days prone on the cool floor or splayed across the dining room table (though it might shock the children), with nothing to concern or distract my stupor, simply dozing in a ray of sunlight, dreaming of my mousing days, and purring a little. The trap has sat empty for over a week now. No scampering of little feet is to be heard behind our walls, no more nuts hidden in surprising places, no clanging of the trap door. I almost miss the action. And the cat still lies inert. Suddenly, a bird lands by the screen door and the snoozing cat opens his green eye following its movements. He’s up and, even makes that involuntary chattering noise cats make when hunting prey. Seeing the old light in the cat’s eye it occurs to me that maybe the doldrums of the long hot, climate-changing summer are what has really produced the lethargy in my Muldoon. Maybe he is just too hot and deems the mice too small to be worth all the time and effort of the chase. Perhaps he made a deal with them, “Look, just go into the little box and eat the treat. Then you’ll be released to run free in the wild paradise of Topanga. I’ll leave you alone but only until the end of summer.” The cat and humans feel the gentle breeze of a summer night. Outside mice run free, one moon shines, a bird returns to its nest, wine tastes sweet, and it is summer in Topanga.
Kathie Gibboney

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August 20, 2021

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