FORWARD: The story is about a talking cat who sets out on a journey of self discovery
Having a voice is like, and I know this is crude, but it’s like pissing. If you never had to take a piss it wouldn’t matter, but once you do that pressure is going to build until it comes out. As satisfying as it is to relieve that pressure, it is arguable whether or not it has done anything for the rest of the world. Still, I was bursting. I longed for the philosophical conversations with Dave or in Maggie’s warm voice. In the cold dead of night, trying to divert my thoughts from the cold, I would blather away more or less coherently to Gray and White, though she hadn’t a clue nor really cared what I was talking about. Still, just to hear myself, like some sort of urban Robinson Carusoe, I’d talk politics, muse about nothing, recap events of the day or talk about the weather, anything to keep my mind active. I might have even improvised a poem or two, but it still wasn’t enough. I might as well have been on a desert island, talking to a soccer ball with a dirty palm print for a face!
One icy cold morning during a foray to the deli dumpster I noticed a curious character at the bus stop across the street. I should preface that. He was odd, not so much that he was strange looking, relatively speaking, but more that it was far too cold for anyone to spend much time in one place. And yet, the fellow was sort of slouched on the bench, like a rag doll someone had tossed there; a somewhat plump rag doll.
At his feet was a hopelessly worn black backpack with ancient anmd tattered airline tags still attached to one strap. His tennis shoes, stretched to the limits by layered sports stockings were so weathered and filthy that I thought he might be homeless. He was surrounded in a thick blue workman’s insulated coveralls and an even bulkier green ski jacket with a faux-fur lined hood that was bunched behind his head. The jacket was open. The zipper no longer worked.
A knit cap hid most of his brow. It was an oddly unnatural shade of light brown, and left only his scraggly grey beard and red nose exposed to the frigid morning air. I wasn’t immediately certain that shade of brown even existed in nature. His eyes were lost to the shadows beneath the hat. I was reminded of a forlorn and even brooding garden gnome fallen on hard times. There was a sympathetic air about him that drew me curiously to the edge of the street.
A well dressed woman sat beside him, briefly fishing for something from a handbag. The fellow seemed bothered by her presence, perhaps by the juxtaposition of their circumstance, or from something else. I watched with infinite delight as he leaned back to eye the woman up and down with obvious disapproval, but with a sense of innocence and whimsy, which the woman, momentarily taking note countered with a grimace that belied ultimate disgust.
Refusing to be condescended to he pulled out a can of sardines, picking out the oily canned fish without removing his mittens. He held it out, dangling it in the frigid air between them, thick droplets of yellow oil falling to the bench between them. He offered it to the woman, though through the tangle of beard and mustache it was impossible to make out his mouth. With a thoroughly horrified look, the woman stood fled from the bench. As he downed the sardine I saw him smile with supreme satisfaction.
I laughed, catching myself a bit should someone notice, and He was perfect. Not perfect, but the perfect person for my needs. I was desperate for some conversation and who would believe this character if he said he’d been chatting with a talking cat? By the looks of him most folks would believe he had frequent conversations with talking cats, not to mention stop signs, space aliens and aquarium fish!
Traffic was heavy and slow along Adams Street. I waited for the light and traffic to stop then sprang from behind a newspaper box, between the forest of legs along the sidewalk and into the street. Without breaking stride I cleared the street, past a taxi cab and beneath a newspaper delivery truck in barely six long leaps. I leapt onto the bench beside him and gave a long loud sigh. He looked down at me for a moment, then drew a sardine from the can and laid it down on the bench between us.
“Go ahead, little, fella,” he said. “You must be starved.”
“Actually, no, I began. “Well a bit. I actually came over to meet you.”
He downed another sardine as if it was a normal thing to hear a talking cat. “Okay, well that’s odd.”
“Don’t be alarmed,” I said quietly. I cleared my throat. “You’re not crazy; I really am a talking cat.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he replied sort of deadpan.
“Well, not something I’m sure you run into everyday.”
“How do you know, we just met.”
I nodded and cocked my head to one side. I liked him instantly.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t assume,” I said.
“Besides, do I look that crazy?”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Niceties, I always thought were for people, not cats. Cats speak their mind.
“Seriously?” I replied.
“What does that mean?” he complained.
“Honestly, I picked you, you’re, well, sort of, you have to admit… you’re different.”
“Different?” he exclaimed, half mordantly. He raised both hands like a preacher and said aloud, “The talking cat says I’m different!”
“Sshh, hey,” I said urgently, “keep it down.”
“Relax, your secret is safe. I’m Sid, Sid Yiddish.”
“I’m a Jew. You’re not one of those anti-Semite cats?”
I’m a cat. I’m not pro or anti-anything!”
“And you are?’
“I’m a cat!”
“No, what’s your name?” he frowned somewhere beneath that beard.
“Oh, gosh, I’m Oliver.”
He stood and slung the beat up and totally overstuffed backpack over one shoulder. “My bus is coming. I wish we had more time to talk.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said with a notable measure of disappointment.
“Where do you live,” asked Sid as the bus slowed to a stop. He set down the can of sardines beside me. “Maybe we could meet for a…for milk.”
“Um, uh, I’m just sort of a stray at the moment.”
The bus door opened with a hiss. The driver looked at Sid with some annoyance as he hesitated in the door.
“I’ll be here tomorrow, same time. Come earlier, we’ll chat.”
Sid climbed into the bus. The driver looked around trying to see who Sid was speaking with. Sid noted the man’s perplexed expression and motioned in my direction. “It’s okay, he’s my friend.”