Saturday, July 10, 2004
A Deadly Lesson
Noudnic the Cat is always considerate of my feelings. For example, he scratches endlessly in his kitty litter loud enough for me to hear him wherever I am in the apartment just to assure me that he uses it. He sits on the pile of clean clothing in the middle of my bedroom floor and not on the pile of dirty laundry just so I know which is which. Sometimes he rearranges my books for me. And a few days ago he brought me a gift.
Many people, and these are usually the people who give their cats names like "Smoofikins" or "Princess Pastel" and take pictures of them hanging adorably out of baskets, will swear up and down as if cats spoke English (ou français, o español, eller svenska, או עיברית, etc.), when their cats plop bloody, pulpy, half-alive creatures before them, that they have been presented with a precious gift of love. "My little poopikins loves me so very very much!" they will exclaim joyously as they nuzzle their faces through the cat’s fur. So far will people go to believe that everything in the world revolves around them.
Now, as much as I’d like to think that Noudnic lives for me, I acknowledge that he in fact lives because of me. I feed him and make him feel not to alone in the world. And when it comes right down to it, that’s about all one can say of most human relationships (this is my justification for being almost 34 and single again, or still, but that’s another series of stories full of serendipity and mishap). I don’t labour under the misguided notion that he does anything for my benefit out of love; he does it only because he knows he has to share space with me.
I recall reading once on a site I can no longer find that cats actually bring their human slaves little tidbits the same way that mother cats bring their kittens half-alive squirrels. It’s education: the kittens must learn to kill and devour and their prey is mostly incapacitated to make the slaughter a little easier. And the same goes for us: they observe our incomprehensible eating habits (by their standards) and they undertake our edification. It has less to do with "I love you" and more to do with "Eat this, stupid . . . "
There could be no trace of affection in the gift that Noudnic gave me a few days ago as I slept. I awoke in the middle of the night to see a slight fluttering inches from my face. I leapt out of bed as I realized what lay on my pillow. It was a spider only the size of the nail on my little finger struggling to run away and hide in a corner. But it couldn’t move because all but three of its legs had been ripped off. Noudnic lounged on the windowsill observing us and I had no idea what to do.
I hate spiders. They terrify me. When I was a child I would run away from daddy-long-legs because it seemed impossible they be anything but monsters, tiny as they were. I was probably the only person who shivered rather than laughed through "8-Legged Freaks", rented by a cruel friend.
As Noudnic watched me coolly from his windowsill, his yellow eyes glowing faintly from the lights outside the window, I stared in horror at the creature struggling on my pillowcase. It quivered spasmodically as it struggled to raise itself up and then fell, tumbling off the pillowcase. It lay on my bed as its three remaining legs flexed and convulsed. The spider was obviously in excruciating pain as Noudnic gazed at us and I wrestled with conflicting impulses. Silly as it may sound, I felt compassion for it as it thrashed about through its torture, half of its body missing. I couldn’t bring myself to kill it, but keeping it alive seemed just as cruel. What kind of life could a mutilated spider live? I was grateful that spiders don’t make noise. It would have been screaming in agony.
Noudnic didn’t deign to watch me as I skulked out of the bedroom. As I closed the door, separating myself from the small patch of wilderness my room had become, I turned and saw Noudnic rise, poised to leap onto the bed, his ears slightly flattened. My sleep on the couch that night was not a good one.
The next morning Noudnic chirped at me pleasantly when I let him out of the bedroom. There was little trace of the nocturnal hunter from the previous night. I stared at him suspiciously as I knocked about a crumpled paper ball he fished out of my recycling bin and chased it around my living room before carrying it to the privacy of the bathtub to rip it to shreds. After the night, it didn’t seem like such a fun game anymore.
There was no trace of the spider and I felt a little pang of guilt, and even a brief moment of sadness. I know how ridiculous to feel bad over a spider, but after witnessing its horrible fate I pondered the terror it must have felt in the last horrible minutes of its life. I can’t bring myself to sleep on the sheets on which it had been devoured, but it seems inane to throw them away over such a small affair.
I have a healthier respect for the being I share my space with. Sedate and affectionate, he has no interest in harming me, but he is still a wild animal at heart who would obviously know be able to survive if I weren’t here to pander to him. So to those who insist their cats are hardly more than sentient Carebears, watch out when you roll over at night. You never know when Princess Pootikins will decide to educate you.
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