Regal and Waiting

“Hey there, big kitty, how you doing…c’mon, sleepyhead, wakeup….Cinnamon?”

The boxy head pops up; icy green eyes scan the human face on the other side of the bars. Recognition never comes, and all enthusiasm fades as the cat’s eyes glaze over with disappointment and disinterest.

The woman standing there checks the card on the stacked metal cages that hold cats from the local rescue. Surprise flashes across her face when she reads that the large cat with a most inelegant head is indeed a female. Cats are usually defined by a slightly feminine grace, even the males. The girth of this particular feline is impressive.

She is appropriately named. Her fur is deeper than butterscotch or peanut butter, and while she would fall into the category of orange tabby, her coat is a dark, two shade variation of rusted pine needles. Her profile card says that she is nine and her former owners surrendered her because they didn’t want her anymore. Surrendered; the softened, politically correct term for abandoned, guaranteed not to inflict guilt upon an owner. No one forced them to give up the animal.

The profile cards admit when owners move, develop allergies, have a child of whom the animal is jealous, or returned to the rescue because he or she didn’t get along with earlier acquired pets. Cinnamon’s tag clearly indicates that she is no longer wanted.

Other people stop by the cages, read the cards, and cautiously poke their fingers through the bars to scratch behind an ear or under a chin. Cinnamon returns to her nap just beyond the reach of the grasping fingers; she is oblivious to the kind words and prying eyes.

She has seen this all before on the faces of these humans who stop by to look at her and her fellow rescues. Their eyes search first for the kittens or at least the young cats a year old or less. Then they read the cards on the cages, making mournful noises in their throats over the rescued strays. They compare each cat to one they’ve known at some time or other (This one looks like Lucky, only bigger or Doesn’t that one resemble Jane’s cat, Dartmouth). They cheer victoriously when a cat allows itself to be petted; more so should the slinky creature meow as if for their pleasure. They chuckle at funny names bestowed upon the cats (Witherspoon, Merlin, or Chairman Meow).

Cinnamon doesn’t care about any of this, but then neither does Ziggy in the bottom, left-hand cage. They continue napping, lending to the aloof reputation that cats enjoy and proving sullen, dog-loving boyfriends correct when they claim cats aren’t as nice or cuddly as dogs. Cinnamon does not need or want to go home with the young women dating these idiots. In fact, she doesn’t need anyone, or at least that’s what she wants you to believe.

Sometimes, during the hours she spends at the pet store in the small room with a glass partition, she wonders in cat fashion how long she’ll be here. And where are her owners? Why never crosses her mind because it isn’t her fault. She does wish the store employees wouldn’t prop open the door to the room. The store can be quite noisy, especially on the weekends.

A Dash of CinnamonOn the days that Cinnamon graces the public with her wakeful presence, her peridot eyes, and her expressionless visage, she likes to sit upright in her cage with tail wrapped around her front toes. From this position, she regally dispenses judgment like Bast. Go ahead and assess me if you dare. Her countenance would lead one to believe that she could read thoughts.

If she could, she would find humor in those running through the head of a man who really wants another cat but doubts the two he has at home would get along with her. His boys, both under two years of age, can be quite rambunctious at times. They would probably torment Cinnamon relentlessly as she attempted to nap. He imagines a scene in which Cinnamon rises like a disturbed lioness that tears into his precious fur babies with tooth and claw. Yes, perhaps, he’ll leave this one for someone else.

Then there is the young couple with two toddlers in tow. The mother, pregnant to the point of bursting, repeatedly corrects the children rattling the lock dangling from Cinnamon’s cage. The temptation is too much, and the mother must remove her offspring who tries to climb the front of the cages. She calls to the father who lingers a moment in the glass room, considering Cinnamon for adoption until a vision of a black lab playing with his grade school-aged children passes through his thoughts.

A little girl, who has been promised a cat for her birthday, complains to her anxious parents that she couldn’t rename the dumb, old cat because she probably wouldn’t learn her new name. She balls her fists on her hips and shouts Muffin. Cinnamon ignores her. When the child says Cinnamon, the cat’s head moves. The little girl stamps her foot, shouts I told you so, and dissolves into a tantrum of tears. She is dragged, screaming, from the store.

One woman passes up the opportunity to adopt Cinnamon because she fears cat fur would stick to her cabernet colored suede couch. An elderly couple decides against the option because they worry about who would take the cat in the event she outlived them. Another couple admires her, but their children are grown, and they want to start traveling; finding someone to watch the pets is such a chore.

No matter. Cinnamon is not in a hurry to go anywhere. Her owners might return at any minute. Maybe tomorrow.

One by one the lights in the warehouse-sized store begin to go off for the night. The staff scurries to finish sweeping and arranging displays. They grab coats, purses, keys, and lunchboxes. One calls out goodnight to the rescue cats. Then it is dark and silent, except for security lights and the bubbling of tanks in the fish department.

Cinnamon stares into the darkness, searching for movement in the aisles of pet food and toys. She doesn’t move for thirty minutes or more. It would feel so luscious to be able to escape her cage for a few moments, to stretch and roll along the floor, to prowl the quiet store. She curls into a ball under the wooden shelf in her cage and falls asleep contrary to her nature.

In her dreams, there is a person who visits the store for the express purpose of taking her home. Perhaps it’s a man, maybe a woman, but either way the voice is kind, soothing. This human is gentle with her, only saying her name in the long, drawn out way a human does when he or she is calling for someone. This individual doesn’t scold harshly when she is caught sleeping on the couch or lapping puddles off the shower floor. Cinnamon isn’t expected to curl up on a lap or play with kittenish toys. But this person is always within reach, reading the paper on the floor and laughing when Cinnamon decides to plop down on the pages, or sitting on the basement steps and inviting her to share the space. Most importantly, this person is patient. Patiently waiting for Cinnamon to relax enough to bestow even a fiber of trust. However long it takes, this person will wait, and he or she will recognize success when the sandpaper kiss of a tongue caresses the back of a hand just once.

Paws twitch and eyelids flicker. Cinnamon chatters in her sleep.

Across town a widowed woman said goodbye to her beloved cat today. Tomorrow, she will visit the pet store in search of another to help her work through her grief. Probably an older specimen for they are usually calmer, more settled. She is partial to orange tabbies.

Going For the Gold

imagesGCJIQJEDI was an avid keeper of goldfish as a child, but I suspect every child passes through this phase at least once. For me, goldfish provided the opportunity to prove myself responsible. They were the first step toward securing a more serious pet such as a cat, a dog, or to fulfill my wildest dreams, a horse

My piscine experience began with a traumatized little specimen won at a carnival. I believe I landed a Ping-Pong ball in the narrow mouth of the perfectly round bowl from which my prize desperately tried to escape. As he waited for me to hone my skill to victory, he pinged his nose against the circumference of the bowl looking for the fissure that would allow him to swim free.

Several goldfish were procured in this manner, and like each of their predecessors, they usually succumbed within a week. About this time, I discovered the goldfish tank at the local grocery store, Acme Click’s. This was during the era when they had a wonderful pet department, toys, clothing, and home goods.

In my youthful ignorance, I failed to understand that I viewed a tank full of feeders doomed to end up in the belly of a larger fish. I saw a pet lover’s bonanza of tangerine, carrot, and marmalade colored fish just waiting to be owned by me. I pinpointed the goldfish that caught my interest and followed him around the tank with my eyes, never once losing sight of him.

imagesZ2SSZUHOThe perfect name always presented itself upon the purchase of my latest aquatic pet, names that usually determined the gender depending on what I’d chosen. It would be years before I would learn how to sex a fish, and even then, it proved to be tricky. Other than Coral and Muffy, I don’t recall what I named any of my goldfish.

What I do remember was the clerk’s frustration as she tried to net my specific fish from a tank of hundreds, possibly thousands, that all looked alike. Her minor annoyance paled in comparison to my desire to rescue the goldfish I knew I was destined to own.

“Is it this one?”

“No, it’s that one right there,” I said pointing him out even though I had turned my head to watch the girl’s pathetic efforts, all the while thinking just get back in there and listen to my directions as I guide you toward my fish. Because of children like me, today’s breeder tanks bear signs stating, “Unable to net specific fish.”

Sometimes, I didn’t even have a bowl for my goldfish. A plastic margarine tub provided living space for one goldfish I won in Tennessee while visiting my great aunt and uncle. I floated little yellow flowers on the surface of the water and enjoyed watching him nibble at them. images7Y98O0LRWithout the benefit of a lid, I held the bowl on my lap for the long trip home to Ohio. As water swayed precariously close to the edge, my father constantly reminded me to not let it spill on the seats of our Cadillac, and I fretted the whole time worrying that my goldfish wouldn’t make it home alive.

My panic increased when a broken fan felt disabled our car late into the evening just outside of Akron. My Uncle Howard had to retrieve us for the last short portion of the drive home. I thought for sure my goldfish would be left behind to spend a chilly night in the car, but my mother allowed me to bring him as we crammed five abreast into the cab of Uncle Howard’s truck.

One year, I secretly campaigned for a goldfish when my Aunt Ann asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My mother absolutely could not refuse goldfish given as a present, of this I was sure. My Aunt Ann, a parent herself, knew better. Much to my chagrin, she asked Mom right in front of me if it would be all right for her to give me a goldfish. I thought her tactics a little unfair as I recalled her own daughter, my cousin Lisa, used to have two lovely goldfish named Sonny and Cher that swam in a bowl on Lisa’s dresser. I used to sneak into her room to watch them swim, coveting the fish with superstar names.

images3HVUBDWIIt all worked out in the end when Mom called me home from playing Barbie dolls with my best friend. As I ran up the driveway, I spied Aunt Ann and Uncle Howard’s car parked there. I had actually forgotten my request until I burst through the side door and saw my aunt and uncle sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl, net, fish food, and two brand new goldfish flitting around the clear, plastic bag. Good ole Aunt Ann; she came through for me.

The sensation of owning a pet as a child is hard to describe. It probably had something to do with overcoming my father’s resistance to having animals, a fact which perplexed me because he grew up around pets even if they weren’t his. I would have gladly compromised and kept my furrier acquisitions outside, but until then, I kept my aquatic ones in my room. Evidence of their lives appeared as pine twig crosses staked beneath the tree in our backyard, fastened with bent nails pilfered from Dad’s toolbox, marking the graves of each dearly departed goldfish. He insisted I keep them to the area where the pine needles fell so he wouldn’t mow over them. One summer, the sad reminders of lost lives encircled the entire base of the pine tree.

imagesHSSVGSFLMy services as funeral director were pushed to the limit as I scrounged my jewelry box and top dresser drawer for earring and necklace boxes in which to bury my beloved goldfish. Their dulled bodies with cloudy, vacant eyes were gently placed between the layers of cotton before I sealed the box with tape. As I walked to the garage to look for my mother’s hand trowel, she called from the window, “Make sure you bury it deep enough so the cats don’t get it.”

Decades have passed since I last owned a goldfish. I turned to bettas as an adult, and my fish hobby exploded to twenty one tanks of rainbow-colored, freshwater, egg laying fish that I bred and enjoyed for years. I even joined the Greater Akron Aquarium Society and participated in fish auctions always as a buyer. Never once during my adult fishkeeping days did I select a goldfish for my tanks, not even the lionheads or fantails. I grew beyond the humble goldfish in favor of killies, gobies, and tetras. I even succeeded in acquiring many pets of the four-legged, furry variety just short of a horse. Riding lessons were as close as I came. Still, I will never forget the role the always popular, readily abundant goldfish played in my initial love of animals.

Zane in the City

Love Me, Love My Dog

Love Me, Love My Dog

The following short story was written for a contest hosted by the American Kennel Club.  When I wrote it, I had my friend, Diana, in mind.  Diana is a member of the writers’ group I attend at the North Branch of the Stark County District Library.  She is a dog lover and owns an Italian Spinone.  Her beloved Bernese Mountain Dog, Targa, recently passed away.

Targa was an amazing dog who pulled a little cart.  She was the subject of several children’s stories Diana wrote.  Together they attended classes to certify Targa as a therapy dog.  Even though she didn’t pass, Diana’s love for Targa was evident whenever she talked about her.  My goal was to capture that love and channel it into a story about a dog owner and her pet.

I decided upon a hound for my story because of another friend’s fondness for them.  Hounds can be strong-willed beasts who will own you if you don’t lovingly, patiently train them.  Even then, you may find yourself bested from time to time.

You’ll want to make a cup of cocoa for this cold weather story.  Lucky for you, there just happens to be a recipe for cocoa on my blog under Edible Fiction.  It’s the perfect beverage for the tale that follows.  So, grab some cocoa, curl up under your favorite throw, make sure your four-footed friends are gathered around you, sit back, read and relax!

Zane in the City

 

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