Cat Tales 2003 December
All this, however, was untrue. The cat had no cousin, and had not been asked to be godfather. He went straight to the church, crept up to the pot of fat, began to lick at it, and licked off the top of the fat. Then he went for a stroll on the roofs of the town, looked out for opportunities, and then stretched out in the sun, licking his whiskers whenever he thought of the pot of fat. He did not return home until it was evening. Is it a usual one in your family?
Before long the cat was seized by another fit of longing. He said to the mouse, "You must do me a favor, and once more manage the house alone for a day. I have been asked again to be godfather, and since the child has a white ring around its neck, I cannot refuse. The good mouse consented.
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However, the cat crept behind the town wall to the church, and devoured half the pot of fat. What are you saying? I have never heard that name in all my life. I'll wager it is not in the almanac. The cat's mouth soon again began to water for the delicious goods. The child is totally black, only it has white paws. Otherwise it has not a single white hair on its whole body.
Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
This only happens once every few years. She trotted to the stream, hopping from paw to paw on the hot ground.
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Chalky-white with ashes, the water tasted bitter, but she drank until her stomach was full. Then she was hungry, so she ate a dead bird she found beside the stream, burnt feathers and all. From the corner of her eye, she caught something stirring inside a storehouse. Maybe it was an aunt who had hidden during the fire, or maybe The Painted Cat had come back to help her.
She ran across the hot ground and into the storehouse, but there was no cat.
What had she seen? There, in a window, she saw the motion again, but it was just an old bamboo curtain. She searched everywhere. The only living creature she saw was a soaked rat climbing from the stream. It shook itself and ran beneath a fallen beam, leaving nothing but tiny wet paw prints in the ashes.
The fudoki was more than just stories: the cats of the past had claimed the garden, and made it home for those who lived there now.
See a Problem?
If the cats were gone, was this still home? Was it still her garden, if nothing looked the same and it all smelled like smoke and ashes? Logs and broken roof tiles filled the courtyard. The house was a ruin. There were no frogs, no insects, no fat ducks, no mice. Small Cat cleaned her ear with a paw, thinking hard. If Small Cat could find her, there would be two cats, and that would be better than one. The Painted Cat would know what to do. A big fallen branch leaned against the wall just where the hole was. She inched carefully across the ground, still hot in places, twisting her face away from the fumes wherever something smoked.
There was no way to follow The Painted Cat by pushing through the hole. She crawled up the branch. There were people on the street carrying bundles or boxes or crying babies. Many of them looked lost or frightened. A wagon pulled by a single ox passed, and a cart pushed by a man and two boys which was heaped high with possessions. A stray flock of geese clustered around a tipped cart, eating fallen rice. Even the dogs looked weary. The branch cracked in half. She crashed to the ground and landed on her side on a hot rock.
She twisted upright and jumped away from the terrible pain; but when she landed, it was with all four paws on a smoldering beam. She howled and started running. Every time she put a foot down, the agony made her run faster. She ran across the broad street and through the next garden, and the next. Small Cat stopped running when her exhaustion got stronger than her pain. She made it off the road—barely—before she slumped to the ground, and she was asleep immediately.
People and carts and even dogs tramped past, but no one bothered her, a small filthy cat lying in the open, looking dead. When she woke up, she was surrounded by noise and tumult. Wheels rolled past her head. She jumped up, her claws out. The searing pain in her paws made her almost forget herself again, but she managed to limp to a clump of weeds.
Where was she? Nothing looked or smelled familiar. She did not know that she had run nearly a mile in her panic, but she knew she would never find her way back. She had collapsed beside an open market. Even so soon after the earthquake and fire, merchants set up new booths to sell things, rice and squash and tea and pots.
Cat and Mouse in Partnership
Even after a great disaster people are hungry, and broken pots always need to be replaced. If there was food for people, there would be food for cats. Small Cat limped through the market, staying away from the big feet of the people. She stole a little silver fish from a stall and crept inside a broken basket to eat it. When she was done, she licked her burnt paws clean. She had lost The Painted Cat, and now she had lost the garden. The stories were all she had left.
But the stories were not enough without the garden and the other cats. They were just a list. If everyone and everything was gone, did she even have a home? She could not help the cry of sadness that escaped her. Small Cat was very careful to keep her paws clean as they healed. For the first few days, she only left her basket when she was hungry or thirsty.
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