I was a Navy brat growing up, which meant every few years my father was assigned to a new duty station. Until I was five, my younger brother and I lived in the suburbs. When our dad was sent to a rural area in upstate Maine, our parents were determined to show us what country living was about.
Dad searched high and low for the perfect house, but was unable to find one that met his “countrified” requirements. Then, purely by accident, he came across an old farmhouse set on several acres of land with a barn, a huge garden plot, and a pond.
We were in our new home a few months when Dad came home from work one day with a cardboard box in his hands. We could hear mewling sounds coming from inside.
“What in the world have you brought home?” my mother asked.
My father, lover of all things lost and forgotten, told us how a co-worker’s cat had given birth to a litter of kittens. She’d found homes for all of them except two, and was on her way to take the final pair to the local pound when Dad offered to take them.
One look inside the box was all it took for my brother and I to instantly fall in love. The kittens were adorable. One was pure black with four white socks, and the other was a mixture of black, browns, and grays. I chose the black one and named her, predictably, Fluffy. My brother chose the other and named him, of all things, Dirty Face.
Mom was not as thrilled.
“Pleeeeaaaase, Mom?” we begged. “Can we keep them?”
And so began the love-hate relationship between the cats and our mother. It was as if those two critters could sense her initial reluctance, and they made sure she knew they never forgot it.
It started out innocently enough. The wooden legs to the kitchen table became their scratching posts, and they had that dining set looking like something from a salvage yard in no time. They also shredded two sets of sheer drapes my mother had made for the living room.
When they got older, they would leave little treasures for her on the back stoop, like dead mice and moles and small birds. Fluffy and Dirty Face were not easily deterred, however. If they couldn’t find any prey outside, they would take easy pickings from inside the house.
As a special treat for our dad’s birthday, Mom was defrosting a pair of T-bone steaks and a couple of lobsters in the kitchen sink. That afternoon, we ran errands with her. When we got back, the steaks and lobsters were gone.
We searched everywhere for the missing birthday menu items, but couldn’t find them. We couldn’t find the cats either. A few hours later, my brother yelled from upstairs that he had found Fluffy and Dirty Face. They were stretched out under his bed on the hardwood floor, their bellies swollen to an alarming size, the remains of their stolen booty scattered around them. Apparently, the T-bones were not to their liking. The lobsters were a different story. To this day, I have never seen a pair of lobsters picked so clean.
While both cats seemed to take particular delight in terrorizing our mother, Fluffy was the most aggressive. About the worst Dirty Face would do was pounce from dark corners and scare her, but Fluffy clearly had a more adventurous streak.
The final straw came one evening when my mother drew a hot bubble bath and told us not to disturb her. Apparently, Fluffy didn’t get the memo. Mom was soaking in the tub, unaware the cat had somehow managed to climb the outside trellis and squeeze in through the open bathroom window holding a small green snake, still alive, in its mouth. My mother heard a soft plop and opened her eyes to find Fluffy perched on the rim of the tub.
“How did you get in here?”
Then she looked down.
I will never forget the blood-curdling scream from that bathroom. We watched as our mother, covered in bubbles and wearing only a towel, came racing down the stairs yelling for our dad.
“Those cats hate me!” she cried.
The following week, Dad took them to a neighbor’s farm several miles away, where they quickly adapted to their new lives as barn cats, playing amongst the horses and hay and tall clover in the back pasture. We visited them often that last summer before we moved. On one of our last visits, the farmer came over to the barn and told us about a strange occurrence a few days prior.
“Those two cats are wrapped in mischief.”
“What do you mean?” Dad asked.
He pointed to Dirty Face. “That one there ain’t so bad. Just likes to jump out from behind the barn door and scare the dickens out of my wife when she goes to collect eggs from the hens.
"But that one there,” he said, pointing at Fluffy, “is pure devil. We don’t know how in the world she got in the house, but the other morning while we were eating breakfast, she jumped up onto the kitchen table and dropped a live baby copperhead onto my wife’s plate. Can you believe that?”
Dad tilted his head back and laughed. “Doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
Third Prize Winner in the Chattanooga Writer's Guild Spring Writing Contest 2015
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