I awaken to find Dolly Gee Squeakers, formerly of the Humane Society Squeakers, seated at the kitchen table.
A cup of coffee to her right, an ashtray in the shape of a Spaniard’s helmet to her left, the gray-blue smoke of her Virginia Slims curls up and veers, lazily, toward the open window, where small, plump birds hop in and out of the gutters, splashing. From her perch here on the second floor, she watches intently, her jaw bouncing, chattering with desire for their feathery little bodies.
She looks up, guiltily.
She looks up, guiltily.
“Oh,” she says. “’Mornin’.” And Dolly Gee Squeakers, a cat with the bearing and grace of a young Karl Malden, waves a fuzzy fore paw hastily, tries to sweep the curling tendrils of cigarette smoke out into the early-morning air.
How many times do I have to ask that cat not to smoke in the house?
I am about to point this out to her – again! – when she sighs heavily, sadly. The loss of her team, Syracuse’s Orangemen, in the NCAA Final Four, has hit her hard.
As it does every year.
Every year, Dolly Gee Squeakers, formerly of the Humane Society Squeakers, bets her treat money on basketball, believes she has locked down a system whereby she determines the winners of the tournament based upon mascot size.
“Orangemen,” she whispers toward the window. “Orangemen.”
She doesn’t know what it could be, this “Orangemen”, but it seized her excitable little brain earlier in the season, and by the time Porkmuscle J. Hamfat’s toady Pupples McBean showed up with the bracket, it had been decided.
The Orangmen would win.
And for a while, it had looked good. The cats had gathered for the games, drinking microbrews and taking turns going out to the porch when they thought I wasn’t looking, out to the porch where they threw catnip on the floor, only to return to the living room, paws twitching, giggling nervously.
I pretended ignorance. A little catnip never hurt anyone.
But in the end, it was as it has always been; and when the Orangemen finally lost to Michigan, Dolly Gee slunk off to the bathroom, where she managed to pull a towel out of the hamper and burrow into it.
I look at the clock. The bus will be here in eight minutes.
I’ll have to skip curling my hair.
I reach out to her, stroke one silken ear with an index finger. “You okay?”
She nods, sadly, stubs out her cigarette. Having bet her treat money, the Virginia Slims are now smoked in half-cig increments.
“I have to leave in a couple minutes,” I say. “How about we get together after work? I’ve tucked a little something away…”
Dolly lifts her head. “Albacore?”
Since learning the word, simple, pretty Dolly describes all that is good in the world with it.
“I promise,” I say.
Dolly jumps down from the kitchen table and promptly flops on to one side. I lean down, scratch her belly, and she smiles, sadly.
“Orangemen,” she says.
I nod. “Orangemen.”