A woman's battle against generations of feral cats. Written in my native dialect. Fiction.
| 1,996 words. |
One Saturday Daddy told me to go to Taylor's store and buy Grandma a couple of twists of Shoe Peg. The fact is, I was uneducated concerning the twists and turns of an old woman's habits. I didn't know a thing about Shoe Peg.
I went down to Taylor's store, and Mister Taylor handed me what looked like a couple of dried up pretzels, all stretched out and kind of twisted off their axis a little bit. I worried over that stuff all the way home. It smelled like a mixed up jumble of cobwebs and licorice sticks. After a while, I reckoned it was some kind of medicine. When I hove in sight of the house, there on the porch sat Grandma in that cane-backed rocking chair of Mama's. She was singing about an old rugged cross.
Grandma spied me in another step or two, and hailed me. "Come on over here, Jamie honey. I reckon you got my Shoe Peg?"
"I shore did, Grandma."
"Be quick, boy. I reckon you want this horehound candy I have in my hand, don't you?"
I put a little extra perk in my step right about then, and directly I was handing that Shoe Peg to Grandma."
"Come a little closer, boy," she said.
I came up against her, and she squeezed my hand and hugged me for a minute or two as she slipped several pieces of candy into my hand. I watched as Grandma put one of those twists of Shoe Peg into her mouth and started worrying it this a way and that, till a chunk of it came off into her mouth. Then she said, "Wanna chaw, boy?"
She put that twist, and the other one into the pocket of her dress. She smiled as she started chewing on that stuff, and I was hoping she wasn't gonna repeat her offer. I was to learn in a moment that Grandma had a much better use for that Shoe Peg.
Down under the floor of that porch, Mama's calico cat was in the midst of serving tea to two gentlemen callers. Grandma frowned on such as that something awful. Directly, those two gentlemen began to fight and claw, sending an unholy rhapsody of yowls wafting up through the cracks in the floor. As they did so, Grandma's jaws worked that Shoe Peg faster and faster, and a gleam came into her pretty, blue eyes.
"Aint nary one of them cats yourn is they, son?"
"They're strays, grandma."
"Those cats just ain't no good, Jamie boy. They don't belong to nobody, just come around messing in an old woman's business. They come around flaunting their nastiness right in front of me, because they know I am old and can't be chasing them, nor protecting my property from their foul dispositions."
"One morning I was sitting at the table eating some sausage gravy when I heard a noise on the front porch. I got up and ran out there to see what I could see, but nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Perturbed, I went back to the kitchen to finish my breakfast. Nothing untoward happened for a few minutes, but as I was forking the last bite of sausage toward my mouth, things seemed to get fuzzy in my vision, and I realized I was fixing to start in a chewing on a feline hairball."
"I declared war agin cats right at that moment. The reason I came out here on the porch, was to rock a little bit in this chair, and to say myself a prayer or two, but those cats been agitating me ever since I first sat down. I saw them go under the porch. One of them is a big, black cat of no particular persuasion and that other'n, he's almost white. I oughta know what kind of cat that almost white'n is. I 'spect it'll come to me before long."
Those two cats I was calling gentlemen just a little while ago, can't rightly say they were. I formed myself a second opinion on that matter when they began to claw out little batches of fur from each other. They came right out from under that porch and up the steps, twisted up together tighter than one of those Shoe Peg things Grandma had in her pocket, interrupting my conversation with Grandma. They spit and clawed and jumped, fighting like tomorrow was yesterday before they settled down on the porch between Grandma's feet, purely to catch holt of their breaths, I reckon.
Grandma looked at me, and I looked at her. Presently a grin I would have paid twelve dollars just to see one time come to birth on Grandma's face. She worked herself out of that rocker and stood up, all the while fixing a premeditated glare on that almost white cat.
"Seems it came to me, son." Grandma said. "Ain't many of those almost white cats around this country anymore, but I reckon I've laid eyes on a few of them, time and agin."
That almost white cat was almost pure white, 'cept a little, light brown colored pattern right between his eyes. He was down there licking his hurt feelings, staring innocently up at me and Grandma.
"Take yourself a good look at that almost white cat, son. It's likely the only one you will ever see in your lifetime. Those no-account things can't seem to thrive in my vicinity. I have a suspicion those almost white cats have an aversion to Shoe Peg tobacco, son. That'n is the first one of them I ever saw around these parts."
"Chloe Creek used to be overran with them, but one after the other'n, every one of those cats received a baptism and skedaddled, a hightailing it for Mingo County, West Virginia. That'n you're a looking at son, seems I have seen that same unchristian like expression on his face before this. I suspect I might have baptized him a time or two, but none of them ever took root and thrived. That almost white cat you're looking at son, has took water from the Lord and has slunk under that porch thinking I would not recognize the fact that he's a backslider."
Grandma let loose of a spectacular grin about then, as if she had a secret she was keeping. I could see the birth pangs of a cackle in her eyes wiggling itself this a way and that, trying to get itself out to the light of day, but Grandma was holding it back.
"Son," said Grandma directly, "I know your Mama is a Hellfire Baptist of the Old Regular Baptist affiliation, and I love her like my own daughter, but a boy like you ort to have gotten himself a sense of humor from his grandma. Would you keep it a secret from your Mama if I was to take myself a notion to baptize that almost white cat?"
Along about then Grandma reached her hand into her dress pocket as she said, "Have another stick of this horehound candy, son."
"Grandma," I said, as I started licking on that horehound, "I wouldn't say a word if you baptized every cat on Turkey Creek and half of the ones over to Williamson, West Virginia. Me and cats have been allergic to one another ever since God showed them how to hide their leavings in the dirt right where a boy like me might be a playing cars and trucks and place his hand in it. Grandma, when an uncalled for event like that happens to a boy, he'll be puking and gagging all day long. The only reason I tolerate that calico cat under the porch is because she belongs to my Mama."
Grandma looked at me real solemn like, and commenced talking. "Let's pray a little bit son, while I'm getting the water ready for that almost white cat."
"Dear Lord, we ask you to forgive us, me and this boy here, for our thoughts, and for what we are fixing to do. Lord, I reckon it is plain to you that neither one of us is particularly partial to cats. And you know in your heart that I can't tolerate a bunch of almost white cats follering me around, a burying their poop in my tomato patch, and a coughing up their hairballs in the seat of my rocking chair."
Grandma looked as if she was getting ready to have a fit there for a minute or two, then she let loose of that laugh she had been holding back before. That cackle worked its way out of her eyes and was born again into a full-fledged laugh as it bounced along every curve on Cold Fork Holler, sounding to me sweeter than a dogwood fiddle. I waited as Grandma finished apologizing to the Lord and started praying in earnest.
"I know, Lord, it's not a fitting thing to be asking for forgiveness before the deed is done, then going right along and committing the sin, but Lord, that almost white cat is lying there almost begging to be made a Christian. Lord, if it ain't in your heart to be laughing with the both of us when the moment comes, I hope you'll find it in your heart to understand why me and this boy is laughing. Amen."
Grandma gave a final chew on that Shoe Peg tobacco and turned so she was facing that almost white cat. Before that moment that cat was looking unperturbed, but an expression of apprehension was beginning to cast its shadow across its face as it and Grandma looked at each other.
Grandma made an almost imperceptible sound deep in her throat and I saw her cheeks puff out a little, that almost white cat saw it too, and started getting to its feet. A dreadful look became stuck on that almost white cat's face as it was rising from the porch. I think Grandma's cheeks puffing out had jogged its memory, and it realized it was in imminent danger of suffering a second baptism.
That almost white cat was fast, but Grandma surprised me. While that cat was still thinking of vacating Grandma's church, Grandma jumped straight up in the air, and while she was still airborne, she hawked out a blue ribbon winning gob of Shoe Peg tobacco juice and spat a long string of that foul concoction toward that cat. That ungodly swill flung itself through the silence in slow motion, till directly it affixed itself into a tremendous splat straight atwixt that almost white cat's eyeballs.
It was thigh high pandemonium when that juice scattered itself into a thousand droplets of Shoe Peg tobacco globules and made its initial contact with that cat's eyeballs. When that vicious swill went in for a landing, that almost white cat went into a set of the most peculiar convulsions a fellow ever saw and started letting out what sounded to me like a string of glory hallelujahs. Then he went screeching and caterwauling down that road, wobbling and spitting on his way to join his brethren in Mingo County, West Virginia. Every now and agin, as that bewildered cat's feet carried him pell-mell away from the proximity of Grandma, he would pause in his journey to throw a curse over his shoulder at his antagonist.
"Grandma," I said. "Thank you, that was the best baptism I ever saw."
Grandma just smiled and said, "I think I was partaking of either Brown Mule or Union Workman when I baptized that cat before, neither one of those two won't settle and take root permanently on an almost white cat like Shoe Peg will. I reckon that almost white cat will stay baptized this time."
"Grandma," I said. "That almost white cat ain't almost white no more, now he's just mostly white."
"Reckon so," Grandma said as she handed me a stick of horehound candy.