The Cat in the Box

 

     I really wasn't looking for a cat to buy. I was just enjoying a moment out walking, along the empty streets of our downtown.  There was a brisk breeze about, not cold to a point that chills one to the threshold that makes one think of discomfort, but just enough to appreciate the tingle of being alive.  Accompanying this whisk of air was the magnificent reds, yellows, and oranges of the impending sunset, masterfully further perceptually receded by its juxtaposition to dark and heavy silhouettes that were mountains, themselves serving as backdrops for the buildings across the street.  I took a deep, slow breath, aware enough that this was a special moment to appreciate,  to remember, as usually I am too busy to be idly walking without purpose in the first place.

     Then I came to this large store front window.  It was a pet shop.  I always liked going into pet shops when I was a child.  Reminisce? Let's do it!  I walk in, passed the never disappointing array of different colored, shaped, sized tropical fish in the proverbial row of tanks all bubbling away.  At the end was another door, leading evidently into another display room.  I look at the shop keeper's eyes and read it was almost closing time.  The yellows and oranges were giving way to deeper reds.  But what the heck, he must know I was truly enjoying this moment down memory lane and must sense that, in my mind,  I might truly buy something to make it worth his time.  I entered the passageway before he could stop me.

     My God, there in the front of me where an assembly of HUGE cats, larger tabbies than I had ever seen in my life! 
Quite a change of scale for an owner of a tiny Dachshund, quite an insignificant bug compared to these mammoth specimens of muscles and fur.  Behind them was a shelf of huge wooden boxes, more like crates, from hence they must have came.  There was the pure snowy white one with fur so long I could not see its face.  Next to it lay the creamy yellow one with short fur and a wide face with broad lower jaw, almost the head of a predatory lion but yet a domestic cat.  It crossed my mind that what if this cat was alone in the house with my sister-in-law's new infant, sleeping there on the floor,  and we had forgot to feed it - the cat, not the baby!  I blocked out the completion of such a passing terrible thought. 

     It was repressed easily as I spotted the most unusual patterned cat that I have ever seen in my life.  It had long hair, with unnatural colors and patterns.  Vertical broad stripes, from head to hips, marked it's shaggy coat.  A pair of broad purple stripes, on of each side, with black and tan ones parallel to each other and meeting in the middle along the spine accented by a pink line.  It's eyes were glowing like huge yellow saucers, it's mouth shaped like an unintentional smirk.  I thought to myself, what an intriguing animal, lying there, totally at ease in timeless space.  But as it turns out, it was patiently waiting to just go back into it's box. 

      By this time the shopkeeper was also in the room.  I asked the fellow, "How much do these beautiful creatures cost?"  He replied, "Around five hundred dollars."  I thought, "That's not your average kitten cost, but for such HUGE, unusual and obviously rare creatures, I could afford it!"  Not that I was in the market to buy a cat. After all I was just browsing.  In fact I don't care for cats. Not even dogs, for that matter.  They're both humbug, pooping all over the floor, need to be fed, bathed,  and entertained - extra work for a busy family.  My thoughts were interrupted when the gentleman said, "If you're interested, you'd have to come back some other day." And with that he clapped his hands and suddenly all the huge cats, reposed on the floor like throw rugs, came to life, stood erect and simultaneously sprung into their respective crates. They were like circus lions,  trained to jump through the hoops at the snap of a whip. The lids shut closed, the boxes slid backwards, and down some sort of chute they went,  Poof, like magic, the room was suddenly empty!  

     The man gestured for me to leave as he wanted to close shop.  So I felt compelled to commit and told him bluntly,  "I must have one and want to buy one now!"  I summoned the courage to be this demanding by thinking to myself that "The customer is always right!"  Besides, I could tell he had been idle and without customers during this pass last hour before closing.  It was dark out now...  He must be persuaded by this chance to make a sale.  He said "OK, you can see the animals further by going down those steps."  There was a basement where I guess they spent the nights.  He went back to the front so I just went below by myself.  

     Wow, what a delightfully bright room it was!  There were these well behaved tiny little ponies, with cute leather saddles and bright red bridles, all standing in a row.  The tags said $500. I could forget about the cats that I didn't really want and get one of these wonderful ponies, a luxury and rare find in the city.  But they were so small, I'd crush it trying to have a ride. Plus they make more poop than cats, remembering the carnival grounds of my past that offered pony rides.  I walked deeper in, beyond the pony section.  Now where were those cats?  By this time I had narrowed my choice to that color striped creature. I had to have it; it was a work of art!  

     I came across this isolated box and opened it.  Out slid this beautiful white peacock!  It took immediately to me, pressing against my chest, begging to be caressed. What a loving creature, so fluffy, soft and genteel,  but I reminded myself that I was searching for those cats and wouldn't be sidetracked by a bird.  So I dumped it and foraged deeper into the room.

     But no cats.  This next room had huge containers, almost like well designed, tight enclosed spaces, to bunk on in a submarine.  But instead of animals, there were men in here.  Young and most muscular, and in the prime of their lives.  My first take was that these were other customers, looking for the perfect pet.  

     Suddenly I spotted someone I knew, a famous pop psychologist.  I won't mention his name.  I also recognized a rich celebrity and author,  and also another guy who is famous in computer art.  I must admit the latter looked out of place here, not surrounded by the wall of fans that usually surrounds him in public, always threatening to collapse his private life.  What were all these folks doing here, in this back room of a small pet shop, that know apparently led to lower level warehouse?  It was a larger operation than I realized, or that anyone could imagine by just passing the street level pet shop window.

     It was past closing time, they did not look like they were shopping, some where getting naked.  "Oh my God" I thought to myself, "They're homeless!"  Although famous in the recent past, this place was shelter from whatever circumstances led them to their demise.  I did not want to be quick to judge, after all, I was among them, if not one of them,  for the moment!

     I then realized how benevolent the owners of this "pet shop" were.  There was extra space available  as probably the animals that these partitioned quarters were constructed for were gone.  I thought probably sold, as they were indeed magnificent creatures, evidently of very good stock.  So  I asked the fellow next to me, "Where are all the animals?"  "Well, he said, some where sold but those that weren't, where put to sleep.  They do not keep losers here."  That shocked me and made the human situation here even that more ironic.  I mean, there were some pretty famous people in here that I looked I admired and respected. It was a stunning discovery to see the real life situation.

    For example, I had read in the social columns that the psychologist, a superstar in his circles, was having his biography made into a book by this famous writer.  Both were in here.  But I found out it was never completed, never published, a stalled project ending in failure.  I took the liberty to ask the psychologist why this promised book never got done and he said, "Well, as we got to know each other more, we both realized he was the wrong person to write to book about my life. It really became obvious when it came to my attention that he did not have the necessary talent to design the book cover which is so important to me.  My life's works must be succinctly captured by the cover's graphic design.  He couldn't do it."  

     Somehow, that didn't seem such a hard task for me. I knew of his theories, fumbled through my pockets but managed to find pencil and paper, and in a matter of minutes presented to him a design that obviously not just satisfied him but amazed.  This was all interesting but I then remembered my situation.  I had to get out of here and back to the street as it was dark and I was not one of them.  I had a flat with a comfortable bed waiting for me.  And where were those cats?

     Besides, now most had reclined into their regular shelves, bedding down for a sheltered evening of sleep.  I didn't belong here and besides, it appeared there was no occupancy.  So I slipped quietly out a back door and somehow was now behind the shop, the warehousing and under open evening sky.  It was dark but my instincts led me towards the exit gate.  As I walked the narrow and crowded corridor of containers, making my way to the freedom of the streets, my nose suddenly caught the stench of death.  It was overwhelming, one of those moments you wish you hadn't inhaled but was caught off guard as respiration did its obligatory  inflow.  Making out the source of the putrid smell led to my dismay.  There, cast into abandon metal trash containers were  cats, slayed for having not found buyers during the previous days!  And on top of heap of carcasses was a fresh kill -  my beloved multi-colored cat, now just coated with pale layered pastels, as lifeless form, returning to the dull gray of death.  How horrible they are, I thought, those butchers!  

     Then I realized why now there was room to accommodate those men, down on their luck, with simple yet adequate shelter.  The company staff had made room for them by sacrificing  surplus product, a result of a lessened demand for supply during these trying economic times. 

     Indeed, I thought to myself, it is a humane society.

 

 

by Rodney Chang, for little Ingrid
a dream, Feburary 2, 2002
recalled February 2nd, 5 am