There is nothing as stubborn as the Front End of a Cat

“The geese come in the morning, after bad weather.  The wind blows the bird feeders in the backyard, and they show up underneath them, eating spilled corn and sunflower seeds.  The cat stalks them from the fence.

 He drops his body to be even with the bottom rail and moves a muscle at a time toward the tree, stopping when they stop-the paw a half-inch off the ground-waiting until they begin eating again to move closer.  Seeing him coming, they gossip.

The cat is not quite a cat.  He is nine or ten months old, still breaking in.  He has two verified kills-a mouse and a sparrow-that he brought home and gave to Mrs. Dexter.  The mouse was still warm.  He also brought her an eyeless catfish.  Call me a crazy romantic, but there is something about the woman that makes you want to do things like that for her.

 The rest of it he is picking up faster.  He lies in the sun well, he can climb trees and urinate in houseplants.  He will jump a bare foot from behind curtains and he can toss a hair ball with anybody.

 But the hunting is slow in coming.  The problem, I think, is mental-related to a batter who can’t get the hitch out of his swing.  The cat will spend all afternoon stalking a jaybird, and then, a second before he is ready to make his rush, his tail starts to twitch and the back feet jump.  His front feet aren’t ready to move yet-there is nothing as stubborn as the front end of a cat-so the part that does move goes up in the air.

Before it comes down, the blue jay is gone.

 The cat will stand in the spot then, staring at the ground-the batter refusing to leave the plate, refusing to believe he has struck out on another change-up.

But things get better for him when Mrs. Dexter hangs the bird feeders.  There are more birds to stalk, and less time between them to sulk.

 And then the geese show up.  Two white and two almost brown, they come every morning after bad weather, and from his first look, there is something in the cat that shows new confidence.  He knows something that big with feathers has to be easier to kill than a jaybird.

 And every morning he seems to get closer.

 He stalks the birds, always from the fence, moving like poured syrup, until he gets to a place five yards from the bird feeder.  Then his back end jumps and the air fills with beating wings and webbed feet.  And when his back end comes down, he chases the geese all the way to the lake, and the noise hangs in the air with the feathers.

 And though he never kills one, there is something about them all running away that he seems to like.  And he walks to the porch and falls asleep in the sun, smiling.

 Today, though, the geese are different.  The older male is chasing the others all over the yard.  He is an old, beat-up renegade and he has decided it is mating season.  The others know it isn’t, and bite at him and shame him and refuse to go near the water, which is where geese have their way with other geese.

They stand together, two ganders and a liberated goose.

The male tries again, he gives up.  He picks at his food while the others eat.  The cat is moving beside the fence, getting closer all the time.  The old male watches him, the others see him and gossip.

The cat gets to a place five yards from the tree and flattens himself to the ground.  His tail begins to twitch, his back legs jump ahead of the front legs, the geese beat their wings and run for the lake.

 All except the old male.  He is still there when the cat’s back end comes down, and he is there when the cat arrives.

 He comes up off the ground, his wings pounding the air over the cat’s head.  He hisses and bites, a piece of fur floats in the air.

The cat backs up, the goose follows him.  The cat turns, flattens against the ground again, and runs for a tree.  The goose chases him to the tree and watches him climb up into the branches.

 It is a half-hour after the goose leaves before the cat will come down, backwards and checking every few feet.

 He sits on the porch, cleaning himself off.  Then he lies in the sun, sleepless, looking out at the spot under the bird feeder.

 Wondering where it all went wrong.”

 -Pete Dexter, Paper Trails

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