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Organogenesis: The formation of body organs during embryonic stages in mammals for the respective term of gestation. Which in humans, is usually nine months. In elephants, twenty-three months; chimpanzees, eight months; but in small domestic cats that number dwindles to a mere sixty days, or two months. That is to say, that is the usual amount of time in which we'd expect a pregnant cat to give birth, but then things don't always go according to nature's plan. Things happen... anomalies, deviations, defects, anything from genetic flaws to great athletic and/or intellectual blessings. But what of these attributes we've come to think of as blessings? Are they what we'd like to think they are, out of envy or jealousy? Or are they merely weights to bear for those they've been bestowed upon? I really can't say for sure, but since my family and I met up with Carl, my eyes have opened to an entirely different range of possibilities. Possibilities I never even knew existed, until we witnessed this one unique, fantastic deviation of evolution...
"Mom," said Natalie. "I told you we should've gotten Cat spayed. Now look at her."
"Gosh almighty," I added, walking into the living room with my TV remote in one hand and a glass of soda in the other. "Looks like ol' Cat went an' got herself knocked up don't it?"
"You always know just what to say, don't you Reid," replied my wife, chiding me and mocking my commentary. "Any more bright observations you'd like to make?"
"I just call 'em as I see 'em Mary. What's for dinner anyway?"
"I don't know," she answered. "A time like this, and all you're worried about is dinner? Can't you see we've got a problem here? What in the world are we going to do with kittens?"
"How should I know?" I replied. "Stir-fry?"
"That was sick, Dad," said Natalie, as she turned to look at her mother sitting beside her on the living room sofa. "What about an ad in the paper?" she continued. "It could read; FREE KITTENS TO GOOD HOME. What's wrong with that?"
"That oughtta do it," I said, opening the refrigerator door, in search of man's best friend - which was, at a time like this... a package of Bologna.
After our informal discussion and through the late night hours of the evening, I wondered what it would be like to once again become a "cat dad". I'd already been one some years previous to this and thought I had a good idea of what to expect from our furry companion, Cat. Of course I expected her to grow in dimension, suitably adjusting herself to the task at hand both physically and emotionally, as any good mammalian female would. Then, like any cat about to give birth would do, I expected her to find some warm, dark place under a bed or in a closet and bring her children out into the strange, but interesting world in which we live. And as I hit the off button on the remote, I knew that was precisely what my wife and two children expected also, as most people would have. Now, I thought to myself, as long as we're all on the same wavelength here, what could go wrong? So we'll put an ad in the paper and wish them all a happy, safe life. What's wrong with that? But as I turned the lamp off on my nightst
and and stared out into the dark of the bedroom, a strange feeling of insecurity passed through me. A feeling similar to the kind a parent has when he or she doesn't know the whereabouts of their teenager and panic begins to set in. Hmm, I thought. I know Ellie's in her room sleeping and Natalie's tucked away in her bed too - then why do I feel like this? Could it be a premonition? I wondered. Could I be subconsciously warning myself? "Nonsense," I said out loud, as I closed my eyes, turned over on my stomach and peacefully nodded off.
The next morning went as routinely and smoothly as any other. I dragged myself out of bed at seven o'clock to let our three dogs out to relieve themselves. Then I promptly met my younger daughter in the kitchen and blindly bumped shoulders with her as we struggled to find our way around the kitchen in a state of half sleep, half wakefulness.
"Oh, excuse me Dad," she muttered under her breath, searching for a good spot on the counter top to stir the two raw eggs she was carrying around.
"Sure Ellie," I replied. "You want coffee?"
"Sure, I'll take a cup," she answered, even though she and I both know she rarely touches the stuff.
"How would ya like some coffee crap in it?" I responded, hoping that the Irish Cream flavored coffee additive I was using might make the offer more appealing.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, on her way to the microwave to complete her scrambled eggs. "Not right now, it's just something else I'll have to carry in the car."
"Okay then, suit yourself," I quietly answered, while I poured way too much water in the coffee maker as I usually did, resulting in way too many cups of leftover coffee.
Next to rise from her silent slumber was my wife, Mary. Bumping shoulders as we usually did, vying for position in the bathroom like racers on a track, I stumbled to locate my toothbrush. Putting a dab of toothpaste on it, I returned it to the shower stall where I regularly brushed my teeth twice a day. But just then, as I stood at the open shower door, methodically setting the toothbrush down near the soap dish - as if I were suffering from a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder - I heard the ever so faint cry of my older daughter's voice, seeping its way though closed doorways, turning corners and traveling through nearby walls, it traversed its way to the recesses of my inner ears.
"Mom, Dad," we heard, straining to hear her plea. "Come here!"
Grudgingly closing the shower door - thinking that this so-called emergency would only serve to slow me down from my morning chores and make me late for work - I opened the bathroom door and walked out into the dim morning light of the living room with my wife to find out what could be so troubling at this early time of day.
"Look," said Natalie, pointing at Cat as she spoke. "Look at her."
"What?" I replied. "Looks like Cat to me. Is that it?" I continued. "Can I take a shower now?"
"Of course it's Cat," said Mary. "But look at her."
"What about her?"
"Don't you see?" answered Nat. "Her belly is sooo much bigger already, in just twelve hours."
"Oh my God, Natalie," said Mary in disbelief. "How in the world? Maybe she has a really big litter to carry?"
"But Mom," questioned Natalie. "How could it be showing so soon? We only just realized it yesterday."
"She's probably got worms," I added. "And all this worry is for nothing. I gotta go," I continued, looking back and forth from Mary to Nat. "I'm gonna be late if I don't get movin'."
As I turned to leave the living room, Ellie walked out of her bedroom with some of her schoolbooks in hand as usual, and couldn't help but wonder what the focus of attention was. "What's going on?" she innocently asked.
"It's Cat," replied Natalie. "Her belly looks like she's at full term and it's only been a matter of days at most."
"Wow," she answered. "Maybe she's got worms?"
"Don't be silly Ellie. That's what Dad said. How could she have worms; she stays in all the time. Besides, worms need time to grow and we just looked at her yesterday. I didn't see a belly like that yesterday did you?" questioned Natalie, of anyone who was listening.
"Nope," replied Ellie. "You got a point there Nat, but I gotta go. Mom, are you gonna drive me? I'm late."
"God, Mom," asked Natalie, looking more frustrated by the minute. "Am I the only one who cares or what?"
"They care honey, we all do," said Mary. "We just can't drop everything for her right now though. If she has trouble with this pregnancy, you know I'll be right there for you. But now then," continued Mary. "You'd better get dressed, or you'll be late for school. And Natalie..."
"I wouldn't worry about it. Everything has a way of working itself out."
Days passed, and went by as normally as they usually did - normal for our household anyway - except for the growing concern behind Cat's growing width. Natalie was of the opinion that Cat should be checked out by our neighborhood veterinarian as soon as possible, but we delayed - as we usually did - for budgetary reasons. Between ourselves and all the pets we had, doctor bills added up to more than a minor amount of money. But Natalie's persistence paid off, and we made an appointment for Cat to see Dr. Douglas, at Angel Animal Hospital here in Springfield, Missouri. When he finally laid eyes on her, he had a hard time believing how big she'd already grown in such a small amount of time.
"She looks as if she's about to give birth on the table," he said, gently squeezing Cat's girth. "Do you have an idea when conception may have occurred?"
"She's only been outside once in the last few months, and that was only because she ran out by mistake when I opened the door. She's an indoor cat," continued Natalie. "She's been declawed."
"And when was that when she last got out?" inquired Dr. Douglas. "Last month some time?"
"No," answered Nat. "Not even last week. Just about two days ago I'd say, wouldn't you Mom?"
"Yes," Mary replied. "I don't even remember the last time before that. Let's see... this is February. I think I recall her getting out in August some time, but we got her back inside before we went to bed, remember Nat?"
"I think so."
"That's impossible," interjected the doctor. "She's at least halfway into her term, you can see for yourself. I don't understand. You're sure there's no other male around?"
"Positive," answered Nat and Mary in unison.
"Hmm," uttered Doctor Douglas, as he mulled over the strange problem we'd brought before him. "There's something I'd like to do. As far as conception date is concerned, we have a drastic deviation from the norm, which leads me to believe that something's either gone wrong, or to put it quite simply, our dates are incorrect. I don't mean to offend you or your mother," he said, calmly watching the expression on Natalie's face for any sign of panic or alarm. "But someone must have made a simple error. I'm thinking that she must've gotten out sometime around the beginning of last month and everything is fine, but just to make sure, I'd like to take some X-ray images. It's something I don't normally do, but this may be an abnormal case, and my curiosity has gotten the better of me."
"When can we?" asked Nat. "The sooner the better."
"What's wrong with right now?" responded the doctor. "It shouldn't take me too long. You can leave her here if you have some place to go." Turning to look at each other, Mary and Natalie made the mutual decision to stay and wait for Cat until the doctor was through. Whatever the news was, good or bad, they both wanted to know as soon as possible.
A good half hour had gone by, and Natalie's concern for Cat had caused her to fidget in her seat. When the doctor finally walked into the waiting area, he could hear the sound of Nat's foot tapping to the beat of the falling rain she'd been watching through the windows, but when she caught sight of his white hospital smock through the corner of her eye, all of the tapping and fidgeting she'd been doing suddenly came to an abrupt end. Holding Cat in one arm, while running his free hand through his hair, Mary and Natalie could see the concern in his face and for a brief moment, there was no need for him to even speak. Obviously, the news was not going to be good, and both mother and daughter braced themselves for what they expected to hear.
"I'm afraid I've got good news and bad," he said, sitting down in the empty chair between Mary and Nat, stroking the dark brown fur behind Cat's ears as he spoke.
"Oh nooo," cried Natalie, about to burst with emotion. "I knew there was something wrong Mom, I just knew."
"Now hold on a minute," added the doctor. "Lets not go all to pieces. Sometimes things happen and there's just not a whole lot we can do, but just listen to what I have to tell you. Often, after coming to terms with issues like these and confronting them, we find we can better deal with them. You just have to keep a cool head."
"What?" asked Mary. "What issues?"
"Let me explain," said Doctor Douglas. "In fact, why don't you follow me down to my office and I'll show you Cat's X-rays. I think the whole thing will be easier on you if you know what's happening beforehand - before she actually delivers her litter."
Seated in the doctor's office, Mary and Natalie couldn't help noticing the many X-ray images hanging on the walls surrounding them. Wondering which of the images were of Cat, Natalie's eyes searched from picture to picture, hoping to get some early idea of what her beloved cat's problem might be, but on seeing this, Doctor Douglas calmly called her attention to a large manilla envelope he picked up off his desk. Removing from the wall two views of a dog who required an operation to an injured leg, he stacked them neatly in a pile on the edge of his desk, opened the envelope and inserted the top edge of each electromagnetic image inside into the two, now vacant clips.
"As you can see here," he began, as he pointed to the transparent image on the wall. "Cat should be the proud mother of four healthy kittens, as long as everything goes as it should, and normally, things do. Bear with me now, the tiny embryos are hardly more then dots and are very difficult to see here, but trust me, they are there."
"Then what are we worried about?" questioned Mary. "What was the bad news you had for us?"
"Well..." he continued. "It's difficult to see if you're not used to reading these things - they're kind of like blueprints to a building, but if you look closely, you'll notice this image here that I'm outlining with my pen."
"Yes," replied Natalie. "I see it now. It's much bigger then the other tiny dots around it, isn't it."
"That's right, it is, and that of course is what the problem is. This area here, that I'm pointing to now," he said, running the point of his pen around a large, bulbous shape deep inside Cat's womb. "That's why I thought you should see this. It's obviously an anomaly."
"You mean a defect?" asked Mary. "A kitten with a birth defect?"
"Mmm, I suppose you could call it that, but as of right now, I can't tell how extensive this deviation might be, all I can tell for sure is that this embryo is developing at a far greater rate then its siblings. Also, the head is unusually disproportionate to its body. Do you see here," he went on to ask, drawing their attention to a shape roughly the size of a quarter. "If he keeps going like this, the poor thing will have a hard time just holding its head up."
"Oh God," exclaimed Natalie. "What should we do? Wouldn't it be cruel of us to bring it into the world? I mean... the way it is and all, it's not normal. It won't have a normal life."
"I agree," answered Doctor Douglas. "But I can't go in and surgically remove one fetus from the womb without endangering the others, even though the kitten could turn out very strange in appearance. Even worse, it's ability to function may be so hindered that it may not even be able to play, or feed itself. Whatever the case may be, you can always make the decision to euthanize it after Cat has given birth. That is, if we've determined that it would be the most humane thing to do."
"And in the meantime doctor," asked Mary. "What can we do?"
"Not much we can do," replied Dr. Douglas. "Just take her home and try to make her comfortable until she's ready. If you can see that she's having a hard time though, by all means, bring her in. I may have to perform a cesarean section on her if that kitty keeps growing the way I think it will, but that's no reason to press the panic button. She'll be fine, I'm sure."
"Thanks Doctor," answered Mary, as Natalie reached for Cat and persuaded her back into the cat carrier she'd brought her in. "I've got a strong feeling we'll be seeing you later."
Smiling, Dr. Douglas looked back at Mary and Natalie as they walked through the open doorway of his office and replied, "I've got a strong feeling you're right."
When it came time for Cat to give birth to her litter, we were all home sitting around watching TV - relaxing as we usually did on a Saturday afternoon, laughing at sitcoms, eating popcorn and doing chores; but when we realized Cat was missing from the scene, we nervously jumped to the conclusion that she'd somehow gotten out and began to search for her. Ill suited for the great outdoors which she so longed to be part of, even though she was declawed and half the size of other cats in the neighborhood, we expected to find her where we usually did, hiding in a shrub in front of our house, watching for birds and other interesting signs of life. But to our surprise, we found no trace of her and gradually resumed our search in the interior of the house. Finally, we found her in one of the bedroom closets and couldn't help noticing how strange and funny it was to see another of our female cats watching over her, acting as midwife as Cat birthed her young. She'd already given birth to two of her kittens and was busy tending to them when suddenly, another new arrival began to squirm its way from her body and out into the world. "I've never seen anything like this," whispered Natalie, as the four of us looked on in wonder from the open closet door.
"This is the second time around for me and your dad," replied Mary. "But it's just as cool as the first."
"Yeah," I admitted. "It's really neat. I just hope we can find homes for all of 'em. It's not everybody who likes cats as much as we do, ya know? Uh-oh, wait a minute now," I remarked, as the third darkly colored kitten arrived to reveal itself to the world. "That's three down and two to go, right? So far, so good."
"Right Dad," said Natalie. "I just hope she keeps going the way she is. Doctor Douglas said we might have trouble, remember? Maybe we should get the cat carrier ready just in case."
"Good idea Nat," replied Mary. "I'll help you get it off the shelf in the garage." But almost simultaneously - as Mary and Natalie left for the garage - the fourth kitten also began to emerge from its mother's womb, to the soft carpet of the closet floor. By the time they'd arrived back with the cat carrier, most of its diminutive body had already become visible.
"Here comes number four," I said, as Mary and Nat reappeared beside me.
"God, Mom," whispered Natalie, trying to avoid startling Cat. "She's almost done. It won't be long now."
"Hopefully," replied Mary, but even as she spoke, the tension around us began to grow. With nothing to do but watch, we witnessed our other female cat lick the remains of placenta from each kitten, cleaning them, giving them a sense of closeness and intimacy - nurturing them in the way an intelligent mammal will instinctively do. But as time passed, it became apparent to us that Cat was not going to birth the last kitten on her own, and leaving Katrin in charge - our other female cat who'd performed her duties so well as mid-wife - we picked Cat up, put her in the carrier and swiftly left for the doctor's office.
"How is Cat today?" asked Doctor Douglas, as we set the carrier down on the shiny, stainless steel examination table.
"I think she's okay," answered Natalie, "but she can't seem to squeeze out the last kitten by herself."
"Why don't we take a look," reasoned the doctor. "I've got a new ultrasound machine we can use that should answer our questions." Turning around, he pulled a large cart on wheels closer to Cat until it stood firmly pressed against the exam table. On it rested the new, impressive, state-of-the-art piece of electronics. Switching it on, the monitor lit up in a generous display of color and activity, and standing there waiting, we wondered what it would reveal as Dr. Douglas lifted the handheld transducer from its holder, pressed it to the bulge in Cat's abdomen and ran it around and around in a small circular pattern.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," muttered the doctor, as he observed the two-dimensional picture on the monitor. "I haven't seen anything like this in all my years of experience. Look at the size of this guy!" he exclaimed, excitedly pointing to the computer's interpretation of the ultra high frequency sound waves. "And his cranium, my God. It's almost..."
"Almost what?" asked Natalie.
"It's almost human. It's amazing."
"But Doctor, I feel terrible about this whole thing," explained Mary, holding on to Natalie's hand just as hard as she could, showing her emotion in the strength of her grasp. "There must be something we can do for it. What do we do if it can't feed itself? What if it's born retarded? We'll be feeding it, and who knows? changing its diaper for the next twenty years!"
"That may be true, but at this point, it's just too soon to tell."
"Are you going to do the Caesarean you mentioned?" asked Natalie, wondering what the doctor had in mind to do, now that he'd had a look inside Cat's womb.
"No," he answered. "At least not yet. From what I can tell, believe it or not, this fetus is still in growing stages. If we birthed it now, it'd be premature and its chances for survival would be slim to none. My advice is to let Cat continue on just as she is, but the minute you notice any changes in her, bring her back immediately. We can make our decision at that time, but for now, as I've said, just let her continue on. This is new ground to all of us, I'm sure. I've never seen a cat fetus like this, nor have I seen gestation last beyond, say... seventy-three, seventy-four days. All we can do is wait it out. I'm sorry if that doesn't answer your questions, but there is one thing I can tell for sure by examining the image on the monitor."
"What's that?" asked Natalie, eager to learn at least one definitive thing concerning the strange unborn cat.
"You can start thinking of names for a boy. It's definitely a male cat."
Passing days turned into weeks, as the doctor's vague prognosis gave us no clue as to when we could expect Cat to give birth this one final time. All we knew for sure was that the developing fetus was nowhere near ready to enter the birth canal, but Cat didn't seem to mind. She played as she usually did and nursed her young as we hoped she would. Katrin, our other female cat who'd acted as mid-wife, also shared the responsibility in taking care of the newborn kittens, and became a kind of aunt to them. We began to call her Aunt Katrin and the name stuck for a good long time. Throughout all of this though, Natalie's main concern was Cat's health and well-being. In fact, we all wondered if Cat would make it through this alive - since there was no similar previous case on record we could draw on - so we scheduled regular check-ups with the doctor, and after three more long, stressful months, Cat was finally ready and determined to give birth.
Early on a Tuesday morning, in the first week of June, we loaded Cat into her carrier and brought her back to the animal hospital - since her kitten was much too large to be birthed naturally. Kiki - as we named him - came struggling out from the confines of a tiny, narrow birth canal and ended up in a ball in the doctor's hands. He looked very much like his four siblings who were birthed naturally just three months before, with one clear exception that stood out like a sore thumb - he was a lot bigger. Surprisingly, the different parts of his body were proportional to each other and normal in appearance but his head, as the doctor had warned us, was much larger than normal. Even so, in the days to follow, we could see that the muscles in his neck were doing their best to compensate, and building to an appropriate size and strength; they allowed him to pick up this overly large mass with relative ease. What worried us mostly in the passing weeks was his inability to walk - as his four siblings stood on
their wobbly limbs soon after birth - Kiki was either reluctant to try them out, or simply, he was physically unable. Like a human toddler, we tried to stand him up on his feet and help him to find his balance, but in every attempt - even when it appeared that he might stand for a while on his own - he fell, back to the hard, unforgiving ground he'd started from. Then one day, with his eyes wide open, he suddenly decided to grapple with the situation and to our amazement, not only stood for a brief period on his new legs, but took his first few steps. Slowly, he left the supportive hold of my hands behind him and walked toward Mary - who was a few feet away from me - like a proud, baby boy. I could've sworn at the time, I saw what looked like a smile on his face, but then, at the time, Mary assured me that it just wasn't possible. "Everyone knows," she said, "cats don't smile."
In time, we learned how much Kiki liked to go outside. In fact, he practically lived outside and since we were in such a quiet neighborhood with very few passing cars, we let him out nearly all the time, unless it was freezing cold. I put two heaters on one side of our garage - a side we used for an exercise room - and made him comfortable with a cat bed and some pillows. That way, he could come and go as he wished and didn't have to consult any of us. It seemed that the first months of Kiki's life were going along as normal - except for the fact that he barely played with his brothers and sisters and when it came time to put ads in the newspaper to find homes for them, he acted as if he never noticed they were missing, as some cats might. Some lonely cats have been known to walk around the house "meowing" in protest, but not Kiki, he was unaffected. What was most noticeable to all of us at the time was the fact that anyone who came over to look at the litter decidedly and obviously passed up Kiki. It seemed as though he was just not going to get adopted by anyone and on several occasions, I couldn't help but ask, why? - as if I didn't know. As it turned out, the most popular reason for not wanting to adopt him was the size of his head. "I'd take him," said a young college-bound girl one day, "but he's so different. I think he's too big for my apartment, and besides, his head... it's not normal." To me, all this didn't matter. Although we already had a few cats, I just thought we'd make room for one more, especially one as unfortunate as Kiki, who nobody seemed to want.
One by one, in the weeks to follow, Kiki's siblings were adopted and sadly disappeared from the household. It was a necessary evil though, as three dogs and two other cats besides Kiki were more than enough to keep us busy, and the neighbors hating us. At the time, as things settled down and got back to normal, the only thing that bothered me, or I should say, made me wonder about our new cat friend Kiki, was that as time went on, he played less and less in the great outdoors and spent more of his time in the garage, lonely and without any of the outdoor stimulus so many cats hunger for. Not only that, but the exercise room had always been a good spot to store old schoolbooks and other paperback novels we'd read through the years and had become bored with. Stored on shelves and old tables, I kept some of the books for reference and study guides for my two college-bound daughters, and never thought much of them until I began to find them on the floor, or in other places of the room, in the way, or otherwise out in the open. After questioning my wife and kids to find out if they were the ones responsible for the out of place books and after having them tell me they didn't know what I was talking about, I began to question myself. I knew I had problems, but I always thought I was in control of my own actions. I knew, or I thought I knew, that if I'd taken a book down to look at it for some reason, I'd have sense enough to return it to its rightful spot. I'm middle-aged, I thought to myself one day, when I walked down the steps to the garage and found an old encyclopedia open to some color photos of the animals of the African Kalahari, but I don't have Alzheimer's yet, do I? I knew I didn't take that book down, but if I didn't, and neither did Mary or the kids, then who did? That was a question which eluded me for months.
A few days after I found the encyclopedia on the floor, I found it again, but this time was different. This time I found Kiki, hunched over the book, looking as though he was really taking it in. The whole thing was comical to me when I finally realized what was going on. For some odd reason, Kiki had been pulling books down onto the floor, or leaving them strewn about on tables; but I was used to the kinds of trouble kittens and other young mischievous cats get into and didn't think much of it. I had to laugh out loud as I walked up to him and asked, "What the heck are you doing? You're the one who's been tossing books down all along aren't you? You really had me goin' there. I thought I was going nuts. Okay," I said. "Time to clean up now..." but as I reached for the book, something very strange happened. Kiki - who was by now about the size of a twenty pound wildcat - put his left paw down over the open book as I started to take it away. "What the heck's goin' on here?" I remember saying. "What in the world would a cat want with a book anyway? Fork it over buddy, let's go." Insisting on getting my way - after all, Kiki was just a cat, just a pet messing up my exercise room - I snatched the encyclopedia away from him, closed it up and started to put it back where it belonged. As I turned my back to him to put the book back in place, I thought I heard my wife calling to me from inside the house... "Hey... Reid," were the words I thought I heard, very succinctly, but softly spoken.
"Mary!" I shouted up the steps of the garage. "What did you say?"
"Hey buddy, psst. Down here. Yo, It wasn't her, it was me." Just then, opening the door that led from the house to the garage, my wife stuck her head through the doorway to find out what I wanted. "Did you say something?" she asked.
"Uh... I thought you called me. I guess you didn't. False alarm, sorry."
"Whatever," she replied. "Dinner's in five minutes."
"Sure thing Mary," I replied. Watching the door close, my attention again turned to Kiki, who seemed to be attentively observing the scene.
"Down here Mac. It wasn't her, it was me. I called you."
"What the hell? You can't talk! Cats don't talk. Oh no, I'm crazier then I thought," I said. "This can't be happening."
"It is though. It is happening. Now pull yourself together dude, I can't talk to you if you're gonna wig out on me."
"But how? I don't understand. How in the world did you learn to talk?"
"Well... actually, it's not such a long story. I have ears ya know. I've been listening to the whole family on and off since I was born. And you know the encyclopedia, the one you so rudely took away from me a few minutes ago?"
"I learned the alphabet from it. I can write too. You know, in a way, I'm glad this happened. I've been thinking of asking you for an inkwell for awhile now, but I didn't want to shock you. If I put one of my nails in it, I can use it like a pen. Not bad huh?"
"You gotta be kidding!" I exclaimed. "A talking cat who writes! What next?"
"Now that you mention it, I'd like to check out those old math books you've got laying around. You don't mind do you?"
"No Kiki," I answered, confused and emotionally drawn. "I don't mind, whatever. I'm just wondering how in the world this all happened."
"Genetics I suppose. I've often wondered about it myself. I have to, you know, after all I'm the one going through all this. Don't you think I know I'm different than other cats? God, how should I know how it happened? A quirk of nature, a mix up in my DNA, I don't know. All I know is, as long as I'm here, I may as well make the best of it. I've got a lot of questions on my mind now, not just how I got here. I feel like I'm getting a little smarter every day. A few weeks ago, I could hardly write my name, now I'm ready for algebra. I wanna know what makes things tick, the world around me, everything. Not just me and you, everything."
"Great Kiki," I said. Not wanting to appear conceited, I added, "I went to college, maybe I can be of some help?"
"Maybe. I like to work alone though Reid. If I need you, I'll ask. Fair enough?"
"Sure," I said. "Fair enough."
"Just one thing," said Kiki. "Can you quit calling me Kiki? It's killing me. I hate it."
"What would you like me to call you... Einstein?"
"Naw, you gotta be kiddin'. Way too corny. How about Carl? Carl's a nice name isn't it? I think it sounds intelligent don't you?"
"Yes, I do."
"Oh," replied my insightful cat, as I turned to walk upstairs. "Let's keep this between you and me, okay? I'd just like to keep this quiet. Word gets out I can talk, you'll never see me again. Think about it, newspapers, photographers, the works. Most likely, I'd expect someone to steal me wouldn't you? And then what, who knows? Ransom, death threats, you know as well as I do what people will do for a buck... need I go on?"
"No, you're right Carl. I won't say anything. You have my word."
It was very interesting, watching Carl work down there in the garage. Sometimes, I could tell he was working late studying because I could see the light from a small table lamp we used, shining its way under the door which adjoined our bedroom to the garage. During the day, when I'd walk down to exercise and talk to him, I could tell what kind of progress he'd made almost without asking, by the pile of used scratch paper on the floor, or the number of books he'd used for reference, still open and laying in various haphazard positions. In fact, the more time that passed, the less fresh air and sunlight he got and the more he stayed inside, trying desperately to answer some of the questions on his mind which plagued him, and kept him from sleep.
"Whatcha doin' Carl?" I asked him one day, on my way to burn off a few calories in the exercise room.
"Gosh Carl. What for?"
"It's just a stepping stone, to get to where I want to be."
"And where is that?" I asked, a little surprised that he'd made so much progress so quickly.
"It'll help pave the way to a better understanding of physics, planetary motion, celestial mechanics, things in general; things I don't want to bother you with," he said.
"I guess you're leaning toward the sciences, huh."
"Not necessarily. By the way," he remarked casually. "I made a list of some things I need. It's there on the chair." Pointing with a right paw, with one of the claws extended, Carl directed me to a list of things he'd compiled while working late. Picking it up, I read it out loud. "1. A laptop computer with word processing software. 2. A refracting telescope with digital camera attachment, minimum of one thousand times magnification. 3. A multitask printer 4. Twenty-five hundred sheets of heavy bond printer paper, ninety-five brightness, minimum 5. An artist's easel and a set of oil paint... Good God Carl!" I blurted out. "Are you nuts? I can't afford all those things. Where am I gonna get the money for all that? You know how much a telescope with digital camera attachment will cost me? Forget it dude. I'm not going into hock for your education. I've got two daughters who want to go to college right now, isn't that hard enough?"
"You're wigging out again, calm down. Here," he said. "Open this."
"What is it?" I asked, opening a thick brown manilla envelope he'd prepared for me and left on the floor where he was working.
"It's a manuscript. A little something I've been working on while you've been hard at work, pounding your ear." Removing the thick stack of papers from the envelope, I read the title out loud. "'A Matter Of Money by Reid Laurence'. But Carl," I said. "I never wrote a word of it. Why would you sign my name to it?"
"You think people will believe a cat wrote it? Don't worry about it. We need money right? See what you can get for it. I don't care about rights to it either, I just want you to help me buy the things I need. They're important to me. Important to my work."
"Holy smokes Carl, you wrote a whole damn book? I can't believe it."
"Believe it, I've got another finished too, over on the chair there. A murder mystery called, Jack's Mess. All you've gotta do is find a publisher, think you can handle it?"
"I... I don't know," I remarked lamely. "I never looked for a publisher before. This might take some time."
"Don't let it take too long. I need the things on that list, and besides, I've got another manuscript nearly completed. I think I'm gonna call it A Killing Rain. Whaddaya think? Is that a cool title or what?"
"Yeah Carl, I guess," I muttered in a low monotone.
"Hey," he replied. "Don't cop out on me now. I need you to carry a positive attitude to see this thing through. Now let's get going, okay? We're a team now. It might expedite our situation if you think of me as a quarterback. I need a good running back on my side to help me get the job done, follow?"
"Yeah Carl, I follow."
"Good. That's the spirit. Now get upstairs and get on the horn. We're not gonna find a publisher standing around chewin' the fat."
Armed with the two manuscripts Carl gave me, I poured whatever spare time I could into finding someone who would pay us for his work. It wasn't easy, and I must've contacted a hundred or so editors and publishers, but finally I found someone over the internet who struck a deal with me and sent me a contract. They purchased the rights from me, and in turn, sent us a check for two-thousand dollars. Five-hundred for A Matter Of Money, which was a small book of short stories and fifteen-hundred for Jack's Mess, a book about a psychopath with a penchant for murder. (I didn't really understand how Carl came up with the idea for Jack's Mess, being the laid back, easy going type of cat he was, but who knows, everyone has some kind of mean streak in them and after all, a writer is only giving us back what we give him. A personal interpretation of what he sees, wrong or right with the world. Sometimes things we like to acknowledge, and sometimes things we'd rather not.) Anyway, I knew I couldn't buy everything on his list right away, but I had enough for the two most expensive items; the laptop and telescope, so I went out and made the purchases to try and appease him for the time being. When I went downstairs to give them to him, he seemed glum and disappointed, staring out the garage window into a grey, overcast sky. After all the hard work we'd been through, and after finally getting something out of it, I couldn't help but wonder why. "Why so down Carl?" I asked. "I thought you'd be happy about this. You got what you wanted didn't you, most of it anyway."
"Hey," I replied. "Just last month you were telling me to think of you as my quarterback. What happened to the old team spirit?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, sis-boom-bah, rah rah rah."
"No reason to get sarcastic Carl. What put you in such a bad mood?"
"Ah, I've been reading the newspaper. Nothing in it but bad news. Bad news on every page, practically. What the hell kind of world are we living in anyway? People say it isn't safe to walk outside anymore, was it ever? I swear, the human race will always be at war with itself, in big ways and small. People are even at war with themselves on a personal level, makes you wonder how they even got as far as they have."
"Hey c'mon, cheer up man," I said. "You just learn to live with that stuff after awhile. That's life, now help me set up your new computer."
"Yeah, life, right. You sure have an over-simplistic view of things. Superficial," he said, turning his head away from the window to look at me. "Wouldn't you say?"
"Hey Carl, they're a bunch a things I can't do anything about. I don't wanna sit around depressed all day worrying about all the bad in the world. You gotta snap out of it. Hey, I got an idea," I said. "I'll tell my doctor I'm depressed and I need something to help me out of it. People tell me Lexapro's a good antidepressant, why not give it a try?"
"Naw, I got a better idea. You got any cigarettes?"
"I think so. Mary smokes a little sometimes, why?"
"Can you get 'em for me?"
"You're gonna start smoking? You know it isn't good for you Carl."
"I know, but please don't start bugging me about my health. There's another thing you can do for me too Reid."
"Booze, you got any? I could use it to calm my nerves. I'm nervous now, I don't know why."
"I suppose Carl," I said. "But if you start drinking, how are you gonna go on learning and writing? You were gonna finish A Killing Rain remember? How are you gonna do it if you get tanked up?"
"Don't worry about it. It's done anyway. Here," he answered. "Take it. I hope it helps your money situation. College gets expensive, doesn't it."
"It sure does Carl," I replied. "Now lets get down to business. What direction would you like me to point the telescope in? The moon, the planets?"
"It's done, don't worry about that either. The computer software will do it for me. I'd write a program to do it myself, but I'd take up too much of my time."
"God Carl, where would ya start with something like that? Sounds complicated."
"Not really. Just start by looking at star charts, programming coordinates. It sounds hard but it isn't."
"Okay," I answered. "I'll take your word for it."
"I'll tell ya what you could do for me though, you could get me a few a those cigarettes and the booze we talked about. That'd make me happy."
"If that's what you want, I'll bring you down a scotch on the rocks, how does that sound?"
"Sounds like a good start. Why don'tcha just leave the bottle so I won't have ta keep asking you for it?" As I turned to walk up the steps to the house, I could hear Carl muttering after me, "There's gotta be something more to life then what I've seen so far... gotta be."
"I read what you wrote," I said, walking down the steps to the room in our garage. "Kinda creepy isn't it? I mean... a guy who hacks off heads an' talks to 'em like they're still alive. Wow, where'd you get the idea for that anyway?"
"Oh," answered Carl, feeling compelled to listen to me but still immersed in what he was thinking. "You mean Raymond Mort, the psycho from A Killing Rain. I'll tell you Reid, I didn't have to think that hard to visualize someone like that. Killers in the past have done just about anything you can imagine, from body parts in refrigerators to ash trays made from human hands. I just got a little creative with it, that's all. No big deal."
"Well, I just wanted to tell you I liked it. I thought it was cool having him hold conversations with them like they were his friends."
"You hit the nail right on the head Reid. They were the only relationships he could maintain. That was partly my point. He was so far removed from the mainstream, the only friendship he could make last was one he'd fabricate himself, a lot like Jeffery Dahmer, remember him?"
Yeah, I do."
"He wasn't the only one in his line of work though," replied Carl. "I could go on."
"No Carl that's alright, I believe you. Anyway," I said, thinking of changing the subject to something a bit more pleasant. "What's new? Is the universe still expanding? Will I see loved ones in heaven when I die?"
"If you're trying to be funny, you're gonna have to work harder at it."
"I just wanna know what you're up to, that's all."
"If you really want to know, I took an I.Q. test on-line yesterday," answered Carl. "It was disappointing. I thought I'd do better then I did."
"Oh yeah, why?" I asked. "What'd ya score? Can't be any worse then mine."
"One seventy-nine. It was timed and I was feeling rushed. I get nervous sometimes. I can't really apply myself when I'm feeling nervous."
"Holy shit! You're complaining about a score like that? That's genius level Carl. You oughtta be working at NASA or doing heart transplants. Whatta they call those guys anyway, Cardiologist isn't it?"
"That isn't where my interests lie Reid. Besides, who wants a cat working on them, performing surgery? It'd never fly."
"Yeah you're right, I forgot. God, I still can't believe it though. If you were human, there isn't anything you couldn't do."
"I suppose," said Carl. "But you know what?" he started to say, laying down to curl his body up in a "U" shape, as any domestic cat would do to relax, given the right mood. "I find myself leaning more and more toward the arts as time goes by. I've studied your books, I enjoyed differential equations, I liked theories of vibration, laws of physics and so on but honestly, after awhile, all that computation gets dry. I like to exercise my creativity beyond what those subjects have to offer. I want to be free. Free thinking... do you know what I mean? Technology is stifling. I need to let my mind wander where it may. But that doesn't mean I don't want to be logical about it. Every good artistic endeavor has an interesting theme about it. The viewer or reader may not follow at first, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been planned out."
"You're losing me Carl. There's a big difference between making a painting and writing a book."
"Not really. That's where a lot of people go wrong, including those who've been in these fields for years. They like to separate the art forms into distinct fields as if they have nothing to do with each other. Some writers even believe there's a formula for writing good fiction, when in fact, there isn't. You just begin Reid, and you let it roll, just like the paint of your brush. Move the words and let them flow."
"That's a little vague for me right now Carl, but if I ever think of writing anything, I'll try to take your advice."
"You'll be a lot better off if you do," he added. "And one thing more..."
"What's that?" I asked. Interested in whatever else Carl could add that might someday help a regular Joe like myself.
"Don't go to school. If you ever want to learn an art form, you won't learn it there. All you'll learn is how to handle criticism. That's about all the good it'll do you. Waste of time."
The next day I visited Carl, I walked down the garage steps into a room filled with cigarette smoke. The smell of scotch whiskey permeated the air, but what I saw surprised me so much, I didn't mention the offensive odors in the room. He was hard at work as usual, but this time, I found him standing on his hind legs, balancing on a chair in front of the artists easel he'd asked me to get him. He'd gotten an excellent start on an impressionistic painting and was finished sketching, beginning to paint and fill the canvas in with awesome colors - using the side of his right front paw like a brush - when I walked up behind him to ask how he was doing. "Hey dude, that is cool. Where'd you get the idea for it?"
"Oh, Reid," he said, never turning to look at me, poised carefully in front of the canvas with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. "I didn't hear you come in. How's it goin'?"
"I was about to ask you the same question. I never knew you could stand on your back legs like that. Is it uncomfortable?"
"Naw. I admit, It took some getting used to, but it's like riding a bike. In answer to your first question though, you remember when I had Raymond Mort copy from Monet and some others in the story I gave you?"
"I did a little research at the time. Had to so I'd know what I was talking about. Anyway, one thing led to another and here we are. Whaddaya think?"
"I feel like I'm back in France, in the Eighteen-Eighties, watching a master at work. How in the world do you learn so fast?"
"I learn from others, Reid. Learn from their mistakes, and the knowledge they've gained just like you do. Do you remember who said, 'If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants'?"
"I think so. Newton, wasn't it?"
"That's right," said Carl. "And that's all I had to do."
"Easy for you to say. I could stand on their shoulders and still be myopic. Anyway, whaddaya think of the booze; mind if I join you?" I said.
"Help yourself. It's not bad for cheap stuff. As long as you're here," he continued. "Why don't you pull up a chair? There's something I meant to talk to you about. Something I think you should know."
"Sure Carl," I answered, taking his advice and pulling a chair up to the spot where he'd been standing, working. "What's on your mind?"
"I've been thinking," he said. "Thinking that, well, I don't know how best to say this, so I'll just say it. I have to go."
"You what? Gimme that again," I said, wondering if I'd heard correctly. "You have to what?"
"I have to go. I'm not getting anywhere by staying here with you and the family. Sure, I appreciate the food and all the help you've given but I need to grow, Reid. The only way I can is to go out on my own. There's so much to see that I'm not seeing from here. I can't go on living my life through a book. I want to experience those far away places I've seen on the internet first hand. You only go around once in life you know, you have to grab at it while you can or it'll all pass you by."
"Yeah but, gosh Carl, this is all such a surprise. I had no idea."
"It shouldn't have been that big a surprise Reid. All cats have a territory, mine's just expanding a little that's all. Well, okay," he admitted. "I really don't know the best way to explain it to you, all I know is, I'm still feeling stifled here."
"Stifled, but Carl, I've done everything I can to keep you happy and now you're leaving. I don't understand. I haven't stifled you have I?"
"No, Reid. I know you've been trying. It's not you. It's just what I have to do, that's all. It's a traveling itch that I can't really, fully explain. Maybe it's inherent to my genetics, who knows. All I know is, I'll be hitting the road soon. I'm sorry, I have to go."
"I'm sorry too Carl," I said that day. "We'll all miss you."
At least he got us ready for this, I thought. He didn't just all of a sudden run off. Looking around the garage, the day after we spoke, I found a note on one of the chairs Carl used to relax in between projects, or when he was done studying. I read it out loud to myself:
Hey Reid, I thought I'd write you a note before leaving. I wanted to tell you not to worry about me, I can take care of myself. I've been wanting to check out some of America's beaches for some time now, looks like now's as good a time as ever to do it. First stop - South Padre Island in Texas, after that, who knows where I'll end up? (I'd send you post cards but it's tough for a cat to get letters in the mail.)
Anyway, this is going to have to be brief - I wanted to get an early start. I just wanted to say, good luck with A Killing Rain. I hope it sells for you. You might want to continue on as a writer, now that I've given you a head start. Wouldn't it be neat to see yourself in the newspaper? Think about it. Good luck buddy,
I have to admit, I moped around for a while after Carl left. He was really one remarkable guy, the likes of which I knew I may very well never meet again. Even more remarkable because after all, let's face it, he was a cat. How often does one meet a cat who not only talks, but explains techniques of advanced calculus like a professor. Not often, I guess, unless there are others like him in the world who people just don't talk about, for the same reason we didn't talk about him. Oh well, it didn't much make sense to go on thinking about the whole thing, since I thought I'd probably never see him again, so I got down to the task of trying to find a publisher for the last few stories he left behind, and while I was looking, I decided to take Carl's advice and began writing the story you're reading now. I know a lot of people won't believe that Carl could really talk and do the things he did, but that doesn't bother me much. It wouldn't bother Carl either, knowing he'd rather stay anonymous anyway.
I think it would have made him happy to know that soon after he left, I did a book signing at a local bookstore for the novella he penned; Jack's Mess. I sold a few of them just sitting there, but on and off, I couldn't help feeling as though I were carrying on some strange masquerade, and that Carl should've been the one sitting there, signing those books. It should've been his day of glory, not mine, I thought, but then, he may not even have cared. For him, the writing thing was just a means to an end. He did it to make money to buy the expensive educational tools he desperately wanted. So why feel guilty? I reasoned. He got what he wanted, and at the same time, set me on this very interesting path.
I remember that day very well. It was the third book I signed, for a very wealthy lady named Laura Ravenswood. She decided to invite some of the local authors who were sitting at the book signing with me to a party she was having. Professionals from many different fields were going to be there, and she thought we might benefit from having met each other. I told her I'd attend, and on a Saturday night - about two months after Carl left - I showed up at her door in my very best suit and tie. Her butler answered the door, and after assuring him that I was invited to the party by Ms. Ravenswood herself, he grudgingly let me in. Walking around, I was impressed by her home and its beautiful furnishings. Rumor circulated that her husband - now passed on to the great beyond - had been a very successful lawyer whose real estate and land development deals had made him a fortune. I wished I could have met the guy, but I was just a little too late. He'd been gone for nearly ten years and Ms. Ravenswood, never one to miss a beat, never stopped the party, in any sense of the word. She loved to keep herself amused, I heard, and word was out that she'd taken many lovers since the old man passed on. And why not, I thought. Hell, whatever floats your boat. Whatever keeps you happy, I always say. If sleeping around kept her from putting a gun to her head, than why not? Besides, it was no business of mine and I was there just to have fun for the night and meet some people. In fact, I thought it was darn nice of her to invite me - being the practically unknown individual that I am. So I walked around and circulated among the guests and I have to say, I met some very interesting people. Some of which would have made good writing material for a new author like myself. I thought Carl would have been proud of me for feeling like I'd finally gained a grasp of what he was trying to teach me - when it came to writing anyhow. Other things he tried to talk to me about went over my head, but I did feel like I was gaining an understanding of his artistic approach to writing.
While I was there at the party, I met a dentist, a scientist, two lawyers and an engineer who worked in the area. A retired school teacher who'd taken up writing and a veterinarian also attended that evening. I was feeling a little out of my league when I sat down on a sofa in one of the spacious living rooms and took a sandwich - offered to me by the butler - from a tray he carried around. So there I was, sitting there munching on some goose liver pate or whatever it is rich folks call that stuff, when out of the blue, came a very quiet voice mixed in with the rest of the festive noises and voices. At first, I thought I was hearing things - because what I thought I heard was subtle and hardly audible. "Psst, hey, over here," I heard. But looking around, I didn't see anyone trying to attract my attention at all. Going back to what I was doing - eating, watching the guests chatting and walking around me - I heard the voice again, this time, just a little louder than before. "Hey, Reid, down here. What are ya, deaf?" Finally, peering over the sides of the sofa, I found the source of the mysterious voice. It was Carl! "Why, Carl! You old son-of-a-gun," I exclaimed. "I thought you were off roaming around those fancy beaches you talked about. I didn't think I'd be seein' you again. What gives?"
"I had to come back Reid, my roots are in Missouri. I couldn't help wondering how you an' the family are gettin' along without me. Have any luck finding a publisher for A Killing Rain?"
"We're doin' just fine," I replied. "But I haven't really spent much time looking for a publisher. I took your advice and started writing. You don't mind if I write a story about you, do you?" I asked. "I thought I'd include it in with the book."
"Heck no, I don't mind. Who's gonna believe it anyway? Naw, go on and do it," he said. "I could carry on this charade forever. The only real error I could make would be to let people see me talking. That'd screw things up for sure. By the way Reid, here comes Laura, don't let her catch you talking to me." Just then, as Carl expected, Ms. Ravenswood caught my eye and started toward me to find out how I was doing - ever the cordial hostess that she was.
"Reid Laurence," she began. "You look so surprised. Is anything wrong? Is there something I can get you? Have you tried the pate de foie gras?"
"Oh yeah," I answered, stalling for time, trying to figure out just what she meant by pate de foie gras. "The liver stuff," I said. "It was great, just great. Yeah, everything's super. Couldn't be better."
"I see you've met Harold," she said, referring to Carl as he sat licking his paws, calmly listening to every word. "He seems to like you. A little odd looking isn't he, but he seems bright... for a cat that is."
"Yes, we've met. Not much in the way of conversation though is he?" Laughing at my jest, Laura added, "Of course not. But you've just got to meet the other guests, there are so many people here I'd like you to meet. You never know, you may end up getting some writing ideas from some of them. I can introduce you if you like."
"No," I answered. "That won't be necessary. I was just taking a break. I'll get back to mingling in just a minute."
"Alright," she said, turning to meet two older ladies who were walking toward her. "I'll check on you later. You have fun now."
"Not much in the way of conversation, is he?" snarled Carl. Angry with me for treating him as though he were just a cat.
"Oh, c'mon Carl, I was only joking," I said. "Can't you take a joke?"
"As well as the next guy I suppose."
"So what's with this Harold thing? She really thinks you're her cat. Are you gonna stay here?"
"No way. It's soft here yeah, but too soft for a guy like me. I only showed up cause I thought she might've invited you. The butler let me in and gave me some chow. The food was good but I gotta hit the road. Hell, she'll drive me crazy. She's too hoity-toity. I much prefer the spartan surroundings of my youth."
"Hey, whaddaya mean spartan? We did the best we could Carl."
"I know, I know. Look," he said. "We can't sit here an' talk for too long, we're taking chances. People will start thinking you're nuts if they see you talking to me. I just wanted to tell you I'd be dropping in from time to time to say hello. As long as you're starting to write, I might come by every so often to give you an idea or two, how would that be?"
"Sounds good," I said, as I watched Carl get up to stretch. "What are you planning on doing now?"
"As soon as that front door opens, I'm outta here. Arrivederci baby."
"Good luck dude," I answered, as he started to walk slowly away from me, the way a cat walks when they're in no special hurry to go anywhere.
"And good luck to you, Mr. Laurence."
So here I am, sitting here typing this out. What the heck, if Carl doesn't care what I say about him and his abilities, then I figure why hold back? I might as well spill the beans, but then, he's probably right and no one will believe me anyway. I just thought you, as a reader, might be interested in knowing where I've been getting my ideas from. So I'm not the creative member of this partnership. It doesn't matter much to me. The way I figure it, if I've given a few readers something to think about, or if I've entertained them for a while, then I've done my job. Does it really matter who the stories are coming from? Carl doesn't want the credit anyway.
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