The nocturnal cartoon of the city seeped through the drawn curtains of the Simonton home. The seams of lace and light spun a fine thread through screen and pane, stitching the distant activities of nighttime Chicago to the quiet bedroom quilts of the Simonton family. Dancing shadows froze for a moment on a wall, then swept away their darkness to forge the alloy blackness of the night. Through the floodlit intensity, traffic noises, and smog, Chicago held its tranquility. The city, for a moment, dampened its heartbeat, and all movements were quieted. Evening was gone, and the night was poised, ready to unleash its essence, and cover the still streets.
Rowena Simonton felt it.
It was sort of a combination of a bad tuna can and nature's call, but not either one wholly. She woke up.
Her eyes were glazed like meringue marbles. It never felt good to just wake up. Focus arrived.
Blurs became shapes.
She knew she didn't want to subject her eyes to the white stab of awakening again, so she told herself she may as well stay up and watch the night.
She slid out of her bed and stretched. Yes, sleep was preferable to this, but she was too sleepy to stumble back into her bed.
The floor was cold and not nearly as clean as it could be, but that didn't matter, through crumb or soiled carpet, Rowena heard her time, and nothing could stop her now.
A clock chime rang once.
It sounded like a rat's last sound after a mouthful of D-con. That was the problem with the old mantle clock, it served no function other than to belt out what time it was, and belt it out it did. It was a Green Stamp clock worth a fortune in sentimental value. And even worse, it never shut-up at night!
Time, time... Time wasn't that important. Time had a power over people. It dictated when mealtime was, it told bedtimes, but worst of all it meant change. Change! That's what separated Rowena from the rest of the Simontons, that and the fact that Rowena wasn't a human.
Yes, that was true about Rowena. She was a change-hating claw-abiding canned-food Cat! Meow. No doubt.
Rowena Simonton was part of the family, but still a cat. The family fed her and gave her shelter, but other than that-No fringe benefits!
Of course being a cat, Rowena had to direct herself to follow the codes of her responsibilities ....
Use the litterbox. Don't claw babies, even if they pick you up by the nostrils. Don't climb the curtains. Don't eat mice and show them to the entire family. Eat them in private. Don't eat people food unless it's good, and slipped to you under the table. Eat fast, regurgitate later.
And those were just the basics. Rowena abided by her rules like a saint except at night. And this night was just too much to sleep away.
She slipped across the cool, linoleum floor, her swab feet sliding as she crossed. She looked down at her dish and traced her sandpaper tongue around the border of her mouth. Empty! She stared at her bowl ominously. Yes, something had to be done about this situation. She leaped onto the above counter. It too was bare. Not even the remnants of a midnight snack were present. Rowena scowled and rolled her ribs around the toaster. She smelled something. It was meat. She sniffed around and found the source. A small portion of a polish sausage was wedged under one of the burners on the stove. It was half charred, but it was meat! She pounced on the burner as if she were a jungle lioness leaping a Gazelle. Meow! She had a hold of the sausage but her paw was painfully stuck. She yowled, yanking with such force that the burner flew off the stove and landed with a rolling crash on the floor.
Rowena heard a sound.
The Simontons knew! She quickly gulped down her sausage and jumped to the floor with a slight belch. Voices!
"Harry? I think someone's in the house. Harry? I'm scared. HARRY!"
"All right all right... It was the wind."
"I'm scared, Harry."
"Whadda want me to do?"
There were footsteps. Mr. Simonton creaked down the stairs. He was swaying like he'd been drinking, but the bags beneath his eyes told otherwise.
People are so ugly! They look like shaved mice with oversized legs.
Mr. Simonton's feet slapped the floor. His round toes met the concentric wrappings of the steel burner and he fell.
Rowena watched from the living room. They might find out! No...
"Harry? Are you all right?"
Mr. Simonton mumbled, trying sarcastically to cover his pain.
Yes! Yes, I'm fine dear. The burner fell off of the damn stove again. Piece of... That's all it was. Go back to bed!"
If a cat could laugh Rowena giggled. The night was still young and already so much excitement!
Mr. Simonton knew.
With a sinister timbre in his voice he called the cat. "Here kitty. Come here Rowena. Nice kitty. Hah!"
Rowena heard the change in his voice, but it was too late.
Rowena felt cold hands slide between her ribs.
"You're going outside! You're nothing but trouble tonight, and I don't need it!"
The front door opened and Rowena felt a gush of cold night air hiss in her face as she landed on the gritty sidewalk.
She hissed back.
The streetlight above her swayed. A wisp of light streaked across the pavement and bent the already long shadows of the street. Rowena hated wind. Wind meant change. She shook herself off and assessed her coat. Ruffled. A stroke and saliva later she was ready. The night had called, and she answered.
She crossed the potholed street and managed to scramble a very rickety fence. Looking something like a four-legged tite-rope walker wearing a fur coat, she balanced her way across the rim of the fence. A large apartment building loomed above her. There were still lights on. She straightened her back as if she were a dancer readying herself for a performance. She saw a blue light through one of the grimy windows. The noise light. How two-leggers could stand to sit and stare at a glowing box for hours on end was beyond Rowena's comprehension. The changing, complicated lives of people were too confusing. Rowena loved the simple, uncluttered life. No chains and no change, that was the ideal Rowena life.
The fence ended into a narrow alley. Rowena hopped down, making like a furry hangglider. The pavement was cracked and worn. She arched her back, stepping over some remnant glass. She heard a sound. Something was draped around a brick corner not two feet away. It talked in a slurred rhyme.
"Ro-Roses are red Violence... uph Violets are blue... shegh ... I-I'm really ha-happy to be... Hee hee! "
Rowena couldn't identify it, but it smelled like a lawnmower. She strode quickly past.
The alley was indeed a place for a cat. It was isolated, narrow, and held a certain amount of mystery to it. Alleys were quiet too. Rowena looked up. The moon was visible; its yellow light seemed pale in contrast to the city lights of Chicago, but it still overwhelmed the night. If a cat were to ask for a perfect night to roam, this was certainly in the top five. The streets were still, and all that was missing in this alley scenario was the presence of one small housecat. Rowena nominated herself (as most cats do).
The night was beckoning, calling-out, but Rowena couldn't understand. Her stomach growled and she tasted her previous "burner" meal. It was much better the first time down Rowena decided. She hoped a scurrying rodent would cross her path so she could slowly nibble at it until it ceased to squirm; it was cat instinct, but none did. This alley was getting boring, but she felt something else. It was a new feeling for her ...something was going to happen. A cool breeze blew a cavalry of debris through the alley. She closed her eyes and paused, waiting for the paper-storm to pass. Yes, this night was special.
Rowena heard the knock. It was faint, almost ethereal. There was a crash. Definitely a door, and the sound was to her left. She stared at the sound. There was movement emanating from the source. People! Two dark figures moved. An undistinguishable noise was uttered, and the figures slipped inside a shadowy doorway. This was interesting. Rowena moved to the door. A crude metal bar holding too much weight slid, and the door was closing. She saw her chance. This is what she woke-up for. She gambled on her instincts and darted through the closing door just before it shut with a thud. The room was dimly lit and smelled funny. Food! Yes, this was getting good.
Rowena heard two people. Their sounds were short and direct.
"What da hell was dat?"
"Probly da doar. Musta blowen shut."
"Yeah? Well I don't like it. I don't like it at awl. An' I don't like DIS place either. Meat-packin' plants always gave me da kreeps, an' now is no excepsion."
"So. We know da rocks are here right?"
"So all we gotta do is find 'em. Norman sed dey wuz in a fish."
"Yeah. You 'n me will be sittin' pritty if we kin steal 'em beefor Tyrone."
"So let's find 'em first!"
Rowena was in cat heaven. Everywhere she turned her nose-compass she could smell food. Good food. She started to browse.
"We ain't alone in here."
"I can see somethin' over dhere. It's a cat!"
"Shhhh! Forget da flippin' cat!"
Rowena ignored the men. She had more important things on her mind. Food. Yes, hunger was a strange thing for a cat. It wasn't something that was absolutely essential, but more the principle of it. A fat cat was healthy, and the bigger you were, the less chance you were going to lose a fight. It made purrfect sense.
The men were throwing things; a link sausage flew through the air, then a ham hock. Rowena was oblivious to the men. She was too involved deciding what she really was hungry for. She combed her lip with her tongue-brush. Something different. She thought of her plastic dish at home...Nine lives...Friskies...Generi ...Yech!
She decided she needed something else, anything else. She climbed onto a salt-smelling counter and flicked her tail. Suddenly she thought back to her kitten days. It was something she didn't often do. Cats weren't supposed to be able to remember that far back, but it was as clear as cats eye marble.
She was with her mother ...They were underneath a big thing ...a bridge ... she was being told how to survive...how to kill ...Mother jumped into a shallow pool of water and came up with something ... it was strange and looked like a wet rat, but it was even uglier ... it smelled odd, but good. It had dark, slimy skin ...mother called it a flopimunch ... Rowena knew better now. It was fish. A fish!Yes, that was what she wanted. She MUST find a flopimunch! This place had many things, but a fish would be too much to ask for.
A jar sat tantalizingly close to Rowena, almost as if it were an answer to her dream; a huge jar with something floating in it, a fish! She walked over to the jar, steaming it-up with her desire. The jar was huge. The fish was good-sized, but nearly dwarfed by the transparent bulk of the glass. The fish was there, floating, waiting... Just to bite into its slimy skin ... Rowena was a kitten again mother told her to survive ... kill to live ...mother told her to survive kill to live mother had the fish in her mouth ... she was going to explain how to ... eat the fish .... Rowena remembered ... the noise... that awful sound ... the huge metal box the people machine she saw her mother with the fish again ... then the box. Mother never had a chance to survive... the rocks and dirt fell all over ...mother tried to move but ... the rocks and gravel ... mother was buried buried with the ... fish...mother was just going to tell her how to ... live ...survive ... No Mother... You're fine... Don't... Don't change... Don't change...
Rowena remembered it all. with her mother's untold instructions in her head, Rowena leaped against the huge fish jar. She felt like a crazed trickdog as she tumbled off the edge of the counter-the jar falling with her. She landed on the floor with pickle juice and glass falling all around her. She shook her triangle head dazed for a moment and moved over to the fish. It was limp and cold. with a slight cat-grimace Rowena grabbed the fish, her vice needle teeth pinching to the limit. People voices!
"HEY? Whut wuz DAT?!
Rowena ran, fish in mouth. Her feet sliced through a broken, pickle jar. She ran anyway. There was something strange about this fish. It was stuffed with something! The fish mouth flopped as she ran and suddenly something came out of it. It looked like broken glass but it was shaped differently. People voices ....
"Da cat's got OUR diamonds!"
Rowena heard a clicking sound, like bones crunching when you eat birds, and Kroungk! She felt something graze her abdomen. Her side was warm, but she didn't feel the pain. She heard more clicks and that horrible sound again and again.
"You idiot! Stop, or you'll have da whole city after us!"
"I got da cat!"
Rowena felt dizzy.
She saw the man come toward her. She was too weak to fight ... too weak to survive ... His face was near. His breath smelled like a can of freshly opened
Dog-food. She cringed, and wrapped her paws around her prize fish. The man's hands were two-feet away now... She could barely see through the haze ....
Suddenly, as if in a dream there was a crash. The approaching man jumped back. He was yelling.
"God, it's da cops! Let's get outta herel"
There was the sound of people feet on the floor. There were clicking sounds and loud bangs and ... Rowena still had the fish ... she heard the footsteps come nearer ... she was tired now... Very tired...
Rowena woke up in a cage. There was something wrapped around her waist but it felt good. There were people staring at her. The Simonton family was a big smile. She looked to the corner of her cage. The fish! Rowena suddenly felt hungry. She felt very hungry. She tore into the slimy fish and thought about her mother. The fish tasted much better than a can, much better! The fish was dead now, but Rowena knew she had killed it. She took another mouthful and purred. Yes, perhaps it was time for a change.