The Observer has a cat problem.
You see, whether because of where The Observatory is located — though we haven’t noticed any new canneries or fish markets springing up along Maple Street — or because some felines live to make a nuisance of themselves, The Observatory has been besieged by alleycats of late. Let us begin at the beginning …
Remember back during the blizzard we had here in Arkansas a few months or weeks or days ago? Time runs funny here in Quarantine, but we’re positive the state we are currently living in got 15 inches of snow awhile back, though it’s possible we dreamed that. Anyway, there were already a lotta “outdoor cats” hanging around this part of town, but as the Snowpocalypse bore down on Little Rock like a trucker sliding on black ice toward a hunnert-car pileup, The Family Observer made two mistakes:
1) Spouse started putting food out for them. If you’ve ever been in a place with a lotta unaccompanied cats, you know feeding strays is something like that scene in “Jaws” where Chief Brody says: “Why don’t you come down here and chum some of this shit?” just before the Great White reveals himself in full. Or, for a more accurate comparison, it’s like getting Gremlins wet. They were everywhere, man. We fully expected to look out there one snowbound night and see an escaped tiger from the Little Rock Zoo among them. But that is Spouse: the Lady of the Manor, distrustful of horses and mall kiosk salespeople, but kind to children, drunks, musicians and all the little creatures of the field. Or, in this case, the little creatures of the now clover-strewn backyard of The Observatory.
2) In response to Junior and Spouse worrying that all the outside kitties were going to become hair-flavored popsicles during Snowmageddon, The Observer said: “I’ll leave the door to the crawlspace under the house open. That way, they can get under there and stay warm and dry.”
That, we see now, was a big mistake.
Here’s the thing about cats: They either can’t or won’t speak English, and even if they did, they wouldn’t give a shit about anything you said to them. That includes: “Snow’s over! Time to leave!” and “Hey, stop fighting under the house so I can get to sleep. It’s 3 in the morning!”
They say no good deed goes unpunished, and that is definitely the case if you allow a herd of rangy feline hippies to seek shelter under your home during a snowstorm. As we write this, it’s 71 degrees outside, the snow is gone and the little birds are singing, but — and we wish we were making this up — as we type these words, what sounds like two full-grown panthers are in a death-duel directly underneath our feet, scratching and flipping and yowling to the point that they are thumping the floorboards. At least, we hope they’re fighting. Lord knows we don’t need any more gatdamn cats under there, and they say that’s also how little kitties are made. We can’t even think about what they’ve done to the ductwork. Nothing good, probably. We feel better knowing they’ll be cool under there this summer, though.
Short of throwing a can of tear gas under there or installing a one-way cat-door into the foundation with a fish-shaped neon sign over it that says: “FREE FOOD THIS WAY!,” The Observer is kind of at a loss on how to get them out. That said, there are scattered times, usually when we’re not trying to sleep, that we don’t want to.
Despite the letter you were probably about to write to the editor, excoriating Yours Truly for even THINKING about tear-gassing or otherwise harming a single hair on the head of a furry little snugglepuss, The Observer is a cat lover of some renown, too lazy to walk a dog every night but still in constant need of a someone who will listen intently to our problems and never offer half-assed “solutions” as long as we keep scratching her ears. Given that, we’ll probably at least try chumming in the driveway with Meow Mix to lure them out before we resort to that microwave gun the Army uses to break up riots.
Since The Observer started laboring exclusively from home on March 16 last year (!), we’ve been working in the back room of The Observatory, which was called “The Room of Requirement” before J.K. Rowling turned out to be a transphobic nut, and is now just called “The Back Room” again. Along one wall of The Back Room are three large windows that look out on the backyard, which is currently buzzing with life, little flowers popping up all over and the irises soon to emerge from winter sleep like women in beautiful gowns. Amongst all that is a rock: a wool-gray boulder the size of a wheelbarrow that the plumbers excavated, rolled out and left where it fell when they replaced The Observatory’s decrepit, unflushable sewer line with cast iron some 18 years ago.
On warm and sunny days, the cats take turns on that rock in the afternoons, seen so often that we have named them now: Big Gray, Patchy Tom, Son of Ascot and Halloween, a lithe black cat so dark that he looks like a solar eclipse until he fixes you with his squash-yellow eyes.
Sometimes, when we’re supposed to be working, The Observer stares out at whoever has claimed the rock for the hour, sitting zenlike in the sun, shipwrecked among the sharp iris leaves and clover, and we manage to catch a little shred of their calm here in the Apocalypse. That’s nice. They don’t speak English, so they don’t know it, but The Observer thinks it for them: It’s good that there are still kind ladies down on Maple Street willing to do what it takes to keep even the least of us from dying.
That gives us some peace as we sit here, waiting for our second dose, waiting to get on with the first day of the rest of our life. Ten more days.