Do you remember the great comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson? It ran from 1985 to 1995 and captured to perfection the essence of a little boy and his stuffed tiger. I had a stuffed panda bear when I was a little boy—a condition that hasn’t changed, since Darleen claims I still have the emotional development of a seven year old, and I still have the bear—and I speak from experience when I say Watterson’s genius was his ability to recreate the intricate richness of a little boy’s life with an imaginary playmate. I was reminded of Hobbes, the stuffed tiger, when Darleen rescued a pounce of kittens. (A “pounce,” by the way, is the correct term for a congregation of kittens, and is about as perfect as any word can be.)
There were nine kittens from two different litters left at an abandoned house down the road from us. Six of them were too old and too wild to ever be properly domesticated, but we were able to get them neutered and to place them with people who needed or wanted barn cats. The other three we kept. They came from a mother whom we also rescued and named Grace (because she once was lost, but now was found) and the kittens we obviously named Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith and Hope are normal bouncy, pouncy kittens, but Charity…
All cats have incredibly rich and vivid imaginations. In fact, they are probably the creative fiction writers of the animal world. (I base this on the fact that Darleen frequently tells me—usually with a heavy sign, sometimes accompanied by a rolling of the eyes, sometimes with outright annoyance—that I have a rich and vivid imagination, especially when it comes to things like balancing the checkbook.) They invent games amongst themselves and individually with their stuffed toys, a sort of mirror image of Calvin and his tiger. But Charity takes this creativity a step further. I would call her a demented homicidal psycho jungle cat except that she’s as loving and affection as she can be.
All three of the kittens play games with their stuffed toy mice, games where the mice attempt to escape or, variously, to attack, an event which causes extraordinary feats of athleticism and courage. But Charity doesn’t even need a toy. She’ll be lying quietly on the floor, ostensibly dozing, and all of sudden unseen monsters from hell will start creeping up the hallway and Charity’s tail will turn into a bottle brush, her back will arch like a Halloween cartoon, and she’ll start dancing down the hall, either in flight or in attack depending, I suppose, on the invincibility of the monster. Sometimes these monsters are so dangerous and terrifying that she’ll go right from dozing to frantic flight, and good luck to you if you happen to be between her and the bed she wishes to hide under.
Her most extraordinary routine is a game of her own devising that she plays under the kitchen bar-counter where we eat our meals. There is apparently something there, where I always sit, that must be caught, but that has supernatural powers of evasion. She crouches down, staring intently at the…thing…on the floor. Her tail lashes, then the hindquarters engage with the little wriggle cats do before they attack, and then comes the pounce, high and arching, coming down with a whap of the front paws. But whatever it is invariably escapes and, quicker than thought she’s after it, leaping into the air, whapping her front paws against the counter, down on the floor again, but it races past her and she spins, striking out with a single paw and, almost before the strike is complete, she’s leaping into the air again, sometimes doing complete back flips in her frantic efforts to catch…the thing. Whatever this…thing…might be, it never goes anywhere, but Charity never catches it either, and the game may continue for five minutes at a time.
At least, I think it’s a game, a sort of Calvin and Hobbes kind of imaginary game. I hope it is. I’m beginning to get a little nervous about sitting there.