32: The Taste of Victory

32: The Taste of Victory

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

The Taste of Victory

One reason we admire cats is for their proficiency in one-upmanship. They always seem to come out on top, no matter what they are doing, or pretend they do.

~Barbara Webster

“Honey, come here. You’ve got to see this.” I stared at the blob resting on our porch rug.

The hard fought battle waged between the boys had been won.

It all started one morning with an abandoned litter of bobtail kittens at the vacant house across the street. After a week of feeding and care passed, one of the neighbors decided to adopt the runt, a tiny female tabby.

That left us with the males. Two stump-tailed balls of fur mewed and tumbled together for hours, perpetually obsessed with outdoing the other. Each of them proved irresistible in his single-minded determination to win.

Before long we noticed several distinct differences developing between the pair. Johnny, a shorthaired marmalade, bore a crisp white bib and mittens. He weighed in at close to double his little mate. A muscle-bound mass of feline energy, he despised being carried, and held cuddling in disdain. If he’d been born of my species, he’d have sought work as a bodybuilding cage boxer.

Nothing pleased him more than a bowl brimming with food. Well, almost nothing. This ruffian’s supreme joy remained attacking his smaller sibling from behind — or as he slept or ate or simply breathed. If one looked up the phrase alpha cat in the dictionary, Johnny’s photo would run alongside.

Timmy — short for Timothy — seemed cut from different cloth. A long, luxuriant coat the shade of a buttery biscuit clothed his sleek frame. Soulful green eyes gazed out from a face angled with aristocratic lines. His chin even sported a clef.

This little fellow moved with the grace of a dancer, eating only enough to stay alive. An afternoon spent on my lap in front of the fireplace or dozing in the sun suited Timmy just fine. If he were human, I wager he’d grace the cover of a gentleman’s magazine. Or perhaps he’d lead an orchestra with his discerning gaze and graceful and precise movements from the podium. Whatever it might be, his career would focus on sharing joy and beauty. Unlike his brother, the big galoot.

Like oil and water trapped in a bottle, the sibling rivalry roiled and churned with every show of affection I offered. For those who argue animals don’t possess emotions, I’d invite them to spend an evening with my two. There could be no denying the flashes of jealousy volleyed back and forth.

A couple of months passed as the vying to be Top Cat played on.

Timid, small and endlessly harangued by Johnny, Timmy and I shared his elation when at last he discovered something at which he could beat his nemesis — hunting. Despite, or perhaps because of his size, the little fellow could have caught the wind if he so chose. After a while, a steady flow of little critters were dropped at my feet, accompanied by a sweet meow. And living at the very edge of town, with a river running nearby, the availability of all manner of varmints seemed infinite. Timmy learned to strut and swagger.

Johnny didn’t care for that, not a bit. He narrowed his eyes and stepped up his efforts. If a training course in stalk and kill had been offered, he’d have signed up. One way or another, he’d master this skill. He meant business. But disappearing for most of the day, he returned home empty-pawed and disappointed every evening.

My heart went out to the big lug. At times, I almost wanted to say, “Stay quiet and still, then pounce. You’re doing it backwards.”

At last, through sheer dogged effort, Johnny caught on. Assaults on his beleaguered brother slowed as he strove to outdo Timmy at another task.

And so, one week I might be gifted with a field mouse from Timmy and the next a fresh vole held in Johnny’s strong jaw. Gophers and nutria also landed with a soft thud, as the cats cleared the floodplain for us, one rodent at a time.

Timmy excelled at his favorite pastime, but clearly Johnny participated only for the sake of the game. He never fully understood the technique involved, and there were instances where I felt certain he’d brought home an icky critter dead of natural causes. He wasn’t fooling anyone.

Worse still were the times Johnny merely stunned the little creatures, releasing them in the bedroom or bathroom for us to deal with. Snakes slithered and terrified mice skittered and ran as David and I struggled to trap them and bring them outdoors. The bat bouncing around the ceiling still gives me nightmares.

Today was even weirder.

There on the floor at my feet rested a large beige lump, about five inches square. Hairless, headless, and legless, I thanked heaven it wasn’t moving. The thing didn’t look particularly appetizing, but they rarely did. This meat wasn’t an animal, at least not in the purest sense. Unless one of the boys moonlighted as a butcher, I might owe one of the neighbors an apology.

Because, this trophy kill was a roast, straight out of somebody’s pot or slow cooker. I could almost have served it. “Hurry, honey, or it’ll get away,” I called to my husband, trying not to laugh.

My husband arrived at the front doorway a few seconds later.

The two of us stood side by side, staring down at the beefy mass. It had put up quite a fight, as evidenced by the chewed spots and claw marks covering it.

I wondered what to make of this most recent prize. “Now, what?”

“Potatoes, carrots?”

I rolled my eyes, focusing my attention on the cut of meat. “I wonder who…?” No kitty hovered over this victim, or beamed up at me with pride. No one claimed this catch.

Just then, Johnny raced up the porch steps, sniffed the sorry Sunday dinner and strolled into the house.

My husband grinned. “Looks like Johnny found somebody his own size to fight. He’s the only one strong enough to wrangle something this heavy up the stairs.” He grabbed the beef and carried it away for disposal.

I remained planted in place. Something didn’t fit — why hadn’t Johnny waited for the usual praise? I disagreed with my husband regarding this, the largest offering we ever received from the pets. Crossing my arms and shaking my head, I headed back inside.

At the last second, I turned and scanned the porch railing.

There, hidden just beneath the wisteria’s greenery, lay Timmy. A tiny morsel of beef clung to his clef chin, and his lips stretched in the widest Cheshire cat grin ever.

He’d bagged a cow.

~Heidi Gaul

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