Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or Not
Whenever a vehicle pulls into the driveway of my little cabin, my cats come to attention. I tell them, “It might be THE PEOPLE WHO TAKE AWAY BAD CATS, you’d better let me do the talking.” I’ll go out and try to get rid of whoever’s there. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful and someone manages to get into the house, and the cats are never anywhere to be seen. There are those who don’t believe I even have cats.
Clearly I’ve been able to instill in my cats the same misanthropic view of the human race that I have. The notion that there really are no cats is ridiculous. Of course I have cats ” whom else have I been talking to day and night all these years? I pamper my cats in the manner that crazy old people with cats do. It’s a bit embarrassing but not weird … I hope. I’m not like those people with chimpanzees who think that they’re children, and then proceed to get them hooked on drugs. Who the hell shares their drugs with their kids anyway? Get a damn paper route and buy your own drugs. You’ll never convince me that chimpanzees are unemployable either; Tarzan’s sidekick Cheetah worked his entire life.
My cats think their job is to kill anything they can find that’s smaller than them. My role is that of the subcontractor who cleans up later. I have no choice; they’re never going to stop hunting and they’ll never clean up after themselves. I try to enforce two rules: no bunnies and no hummingbirds. My disappointment is great and my grief deep when these rules are broken. On occasion I’ve been able to intervene and save a little creature before my evil monsters inflict the coups de grace, but this is small consolation as the ones I am unable to save haunt me. The cats mock me; I once saved a bunny and released him out into the scrub oak at the edge of the yard. I later found a pair of bunny ears on the landing halfway up the stairs, just the ears and a little blood. The cats and I have had many long discussions on this matter and, sadly, I might as well be speaking a foreign language.
My cats are tough guys only when it comes to things that stand absolutely no chance in a fair fight. The one dog they would ever have anything to do with was my neighbor Jimmy Ibbotson’s aging yellow lab, Columbo, who loved everything. Columbo had been a sweet and gracious host to my cats during a period when I was flopping at Jimmy’s house, and ever since had been a welcome guest at my cabin. The cats truly liked the old dog and sometimes when he would curl up in front of my woodstove they’d join him, or at least stop and give him a sniff as they walked by, to make sure the old fellow was still breathing. If my murderous cats, in the end, are cowards, then I’m afraid Columbo was a kindred spirit.
One night I was conked out on the couch and heard a commotion around the corner, in the front hall where I fed Columbo. It sounded like his tin water and food bowls were being kicked around. As I slowly regained consciousness I saw the woodstove was blazing and started inventorying the animals to assess blame. The cats were lined up on the back of an easy chair, shoulder-to-shoulder, sitting bolt upright at attention. Columbo was lying in front of the stove, wide awake, eyes shifting back and forth, eyebrows twitching, but not picking up his head at all. He was trying to pretend to still be asleep.
With all the domestic animals accounted for I deduced we must have a visitor. In the dim light of the woodstove I rose quietly and picked up a huge, razor sharp broadsword, my medieval home security system. I looked straight at Columbo, “do you want a piece of this?” His eyebrows twitched up and down and his eyes shifted back and forth nervously, but he didn’t move a muscle. I crept around the corner to find a fat raccoon frantically trying to lick the last molecules of dog food out of Columbo’s bowl. He was frantic about the food, not the killer cats in the next room, or the dog that outweighed him by 50 pounds, or me. “Hey,” I hollered. He gave me a dismissive look. I whacked him on the butt with the flat of the blade, “out!” He started waddling towards the cat window in my office that he had somehow managed to squeeze himself through to get in. I followed and every time he slowed his pace I’d give him another gentle whack. When he finally squirted back out the small opening I sealed everything off for the night and returned to the living room. The cats were still on the back of the chair, but now grooming themselves in a relaxed manner, and Columbo was sitting up, wagging his tail. I’ve never seen animals with facial expressions that were so clearly that of pure relief. The subtext was their body language that said, just as clearly, “Yeah, no problem, we had your back if things got rough.”
Columbo has been gone for several years now, but sometimes on stormy winter nights the cats and I will sit around the woodstove and reminisce about his great heart and sweet nature.