“I don’t believe you!”
The two stood at the top step, the door closed behind them. The words were overloud in the silent air, no birds, no wind, not even the bark of a dog to break the silence. A disdainful flick of the tail was the only sign the words had been heard, the older cat uncaring if she was believed or not. It changed nothing; truth was truth. “So don’t… see if I care.”
“But… how can that be,” came the insistent little voice, the mind working hard to make sense of what he’d just been told. Could it really be true? His gift was nothing special at all… a trait inborn to all felines? He’d been so sure he was different. “You say everybody has it?”
“All felines, yes.”
“So that means me too?” The question was out of his kitten mouth before he could stop it.
“Yes… even you,” came the reply, the bored tone and emphasis on the last word driving home the insult, though the whole exercise was more out of habit than real feeling. These days amusement did not come easily to the shorthair who once loved to laugh. She had become accustomed, as all good felines must, to the new addition to the household — an irrepressible little buff colored creature with boundless energy and curiosity to match.
Despite his promising appearance, this hapless young feline was decidedly lacking in the proper sensibilities. He had no natural disdain for canines, carried himself with no grace or even a smidgeon of dignity yet somehow held the humans of the household enchanted. Worst of all, the kitten they’d named Winston was blissfully unaware of the appropriate reverence due the elder pet of the household. All in all a terrible disappointment.
The cryptic answer and dismissive manner would have silenced another, but Winston usually missed cues like this, and so he did this time. Resigned to his presence, the older feline moved slowly down the steps and around the corner, the little one right at her heels, hurrying as fast as his stubby little paws would carry him toward the perfectly sized opening to the space under the house. Here it was warmer than outside, drier too; and there were plenty of soft sleeping places where a feline could snooze without worrying about being disturbed. Winston had discovered this place on his very first outing, and came to visit every day since, exploring the nooks and crannies, waiting for the arrival of other felines. Nikki was the only one who came, and so it was here that he posed his endless questions, and it was here, if she was of a mind and not too sleepy, would answer.
The earth underpaw was hard packed and icy, not something to be easily born by a southern kitten who liked his comforts, though Winston did his best to ignore the burning cold on the pads of his stubby, buff colored paws. He settled on his haunches, a perfect pouncing stance that he held without moving, ready for a bit of prey to come along so he could work on his hunting. When nothing did, he straightened, his pale gaze settling on the older shorthair as she roamed the space, testing this and that in her search for the best of the sleeping spots. When at last she decided on one, she took her time circling and getting comfortable, arranging her paws and tail just so, her green eyes slowly closing until no more than a slit remained. Assured of her full attention, he launched his next question.
The inquiry was impertinent, as usual, and Nikki tried not to let it annoy her, though it did anyway and she hissed at the upstart, arranging her features into a most fearsome look. The fool kitten proved once again that he was impossible to intimidate, staring right back at her not a bit put off, as if he had every right to expect his curiosity to be satisfied. She was too old, too tired for this,
“The canine possess some level of skill… so they say, but nothing to match our own… well my own.”
Winston bristled, his buff and white colored coat standing on end, emphasizing his indignation. “How can it be special if a canine can do it?”
“It just is,” Nikki retorted with a flick of her multicolored tail. Why was it no surprise that this would be the kitten who missed the most basic of lessons… for even a shelter cat, as she had been, was taught about the magic that was a gift to the feline race. It had always been so, even in the dark days when the feline had been reviled and suspected. True, cat stories of valor and loyalty did not get the same attention from a canine-loving media, but it was impossible to imagine a feline of today not knowing, “and you are a fool not to know it.”
He’d been called this, and worse, enough for the insult to have no power, “Nobody told me… I would have remembered that for sure.”
“Well I’m telling you now,” came the emphatic answer, the words chosen with care so the message was simple enough for even this slow witted creature to grasp. “All pets, be they feline, canine or some other creature, can offer love and healing to a willing human. The two need only share a touch and the energy passes from one to the other. Most humans don’t realize this, too busy they say, but in the animal world using this skill with effort is well known, prized even.”
So that was why the big, drooling beast they called Bailey stayed so close to the humans, why she looked at them with such adoration, why that long, impossibly distracting tail of hers wagged so hard. It was the touch she wanted, she knew how glorious it was and was working her own brand of magic… a shameless, sloppy display that couldn’t possibly win the heart or mind of a thinking being… could it?
“Any pet can do it,” Winston repeated the words as if this would help them settle in his brain, be remembered. Dogs too! How could it be so? His special magic, feline magic Nikki had called it, was not his own unique gift but the inborn talent of all of his kind… even the canines. It was hard to accustom himself to such an idea… he’d been so sure he alone had the ability to offer love, healing and companionship to the humans around him. It was hard to bear.
Nikki was surprised by the tug at her own heart at the sight of the younger cat and his clear distress. Those ears, still a bit too big for the kitten head, were sagging and his whiskers drooping. Even the tail he was so proud of sat unmoving at his side. If the people, most especially the lady, could see the kitten now they would deny him nothing for the rest of his days, he’d be set for life. As it was, she was the only one to see, and so she shook her head at him, putting real effort into keeping her tone from being too harsh, “Why are you making such a fuss anyway?”
“It’s just… I thought… I thought I was… special.”
Nikki snorted, truly amused for the first time in a long while, longer than she could remember. It was a good feeling, made her forget her aches and pains, the things she missed. Oh Winston was special all right, but not in the way he thought and it made her wonder if all the young were so brash and foolish… had she been the same? It was hard to remember.
Well you’re not, you’re just like the rest of us.”
Winston didn’t want to believe that at all, but some long buried instinct told the young cat he was hearing the truth, hard though it was to believe, even harder to accept. He’d let himself imagine he was special, had ignored the dog drool on his coat, had accepted that anything left in his bowl was any pet’s to claim, had even allowed the elder cat the prime place on the chair by the window — he’d ignored these everyday annoyances because they were nothing to a cat with special gifts. Now he felt cheated.
“Oh no, I’m not.”
Nikki, comfortably settled and always up for a nap, had fallen asleep and made no reply, but that hardly mattered. Winston was thinking hard and too busy to listen to anything she had to say, he’d heard all he needed. At least no one could deny the magic was there, that he had the sensitivity to tell when the lady of the house was hurting or sad or distressed, and do something about it.
She didn’t have to say a word, make a sound — all it took was a moment in her presence and he would know. This was where his speed was essential, his lack of balance and undignified flops endearing; for though Nikki might snicker behind her paw, the lady was won, completely and for all time by everything the little kitten did.
Winston didn’t need anybody to tell him that being with the lady, being her loving audience and special companion was the best thing ever… all that mattered. It was the reason he’d come to this house, he knew that for sure, without asking Nikki or anyone. The lady was his own, and he’d cemented his place on her lap and in her world so surely and solidly that even the elder pet of the house had to admit to it.
The thought brought his head up, and he puffed out his coat to its full length once more, though there was no one to impress with the display it made him feel better. So what if he wasn’t special… there was no one better at being him, Winston. He had a place and a job to do, and that was enough. While it was true his purr was not as loud, as rumbly as the shorthair sleeping before him now, he was working on making it loud enough to fill a room with sound, but for now he was still growing, getting stronger.
And no pet, no matter how old or how full of slobber, was going to best him when it came to loving his people, especially that lady. He was going to love her so hard that no matter what made her sad it would go away, if just for a little while, when he was near. He’d get her to smile or die trying. And with this though, he turned his back on his sleeping elder and bounded back through the darkened space, out of the cat sized hole and up the steps to wait by the door. He’d be ready.