Thursday, January 30, 2014

Little Windows into the Human Experience

I've stumbled upon a window inside the walls of my own home giving me insight into a vast landscape, the one inhabited by villains and tyrants, the one wherein my second cat resides.

Tucker came to live with us about eighteen months after we rescued Tank, a gorgeous cat similar to the Bombay breed in looks and temperament. Tank fetches, loves a boisterous romp, invents fanciful play when humans ignore him, and loves all things that walk upon two legs or four. He learned to box because a huge Airedale was patient and let him bat her whiskers. He learned to snuggle with a big old Labrador, and he learned to sit up on his haunches, lift his front paws, and let himself be picked up by me because that was the most practical posture. He also raised tiny Tucker who’d been abandoned in a field on one of the coldest nights that winter. But as kids often do, Tucker reached his adolescence and turned on dear dad. Wanting to be the only cat, the only pet, Tucker decided to eat and eat and eat and eat until he weighed more than Tank, then he began to push the boundaries of play to actual hissing, spitting and occasional biting spats. Tank granted Tucker the Alpha role, and he’s been sleeping fitfully ever since.

Tucker seethes when Tank asks for or receives unbidden affection. Waiting until Tank has found a nice napping place and has warmed it to the proper toasting temperature, Tucker sneaks up and pounces to demand the warm spot. Tank yields most often, but sometimes, sick of being tormented, Tank will pursue Tucker and bite him as he once did when the kid acted out.

Photo by Al Griffin
On rare days, Tucker even stalks Tank, swaggering behind him to intimidate and even challenge Tank at the food bowl or litter pan. We’ve set up several so Tank always has a remedy, but on Tucker’s worst days, Tank can’t find a watering hole or food source without being harassed.

The most tiresome behavior is Tucker’s desire to own me. If I sit down, he wants to be on my lap or at least at my feet. If I work in the study, he can be found in the same room, watching, guarding, waiting for interlopers. If I sleep, he wants to tuck himself against the small of my back--at least he did until we rescued a miniature American Eskimo named Jasper--a cottony ball of white with little coal black eyes that melt my heart. Perhaps that’s why I lifted him into bed with us, assuming he’d stay at our feet, but his first choice is a pillow between our heads, his back against the headboard.

Jasper--Jazz, for short--is a bit of despot himself. He rushes into nascent kitty quarrels and runs off Tucker. Jazz also believes all kitties must be kept at bay if we’re eating just in case we let something fall; apparently, he claims the right to retrieve all food and never share a morsel. Jazz furthermore believes that kitties should not invade his space at night while we all sleep.

Tucker surrendered for about a month, but then decided to claim the turf in dispute. He simply goes to bed long before we do, curling up on the pillow that will rest between us. I woke one night recently to hear the dog’s high-pitched squeak. I found him facing Tucker who rested squarely on the pillow and stared back, unrepentant, unafraid. The dog surrendered.

Now Tucker and Jazz compete for my lap whenever I sit. If one jumps down, the other claims me, owning the lap territory until night when the pillow dispute resumes. I must coax Tank to visit or simply collect him and close a door leaving Tucker and Jazz on one side while Tank gets his due.

And it is at these moments when I reflect upon those darker hearts of villains and tyrants, and I realize that sibling rivalry is probably at the root of it all. Pure covetousness motivates those wee pets, and if they were any larger, I’d need to wear armor, build a moat to separate them from me, their apparent prize, and possibly acquire an army of minions to fight them.

Reading Challenge:

Read the story of Cain and Abel, Beowulf, John Gardner‘s Grendel, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Each of these features a character motivated by pure envy, and each suggests the deadly effects of envy.

Writing Challenge:


Recount the story of a petty despot who brought chaos and misery into your life.