Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative,
poem, spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.
Helen Presents: a short story by Elaine Terranova
Taffy’s Blog, the First Months
NOTE: (See picture.) The new member of our household, Taffy. She comes from a shelter in Camden, NJ, and has gone from feral to a tamer alley cat under our tutelage. She is a kleptomaniac and steals and hides things. She moves very fast and gets everywhere ahead of us when she decides where we are headed. I think I could teach her how to jump through a hoop. She wakes me up every morning, butting heads and rolling around and chewing on my hair. Scratches and bites. “Only playing,” she’d say. And loves to bat at the cursor when I sit down to the computer. My belief is she wants her own blog. She also sheds a lot and I discovered an undocumented cat allergy but I brush her within an inch of her life every day. That seems to help. The Man found her in a pet shop where they try to place shelter cats. We usually avert our eyes passing because we don’t want to see them and feel guilty. But this day he looked.
SOCIAL WORKER ASSESSMENT, February 7
for adoption, a 4 lb. female tabby, yellow and orange stripes, wears hair long, one dark whisker on left side of snout. (female tabby is a mutation of the more normal male tabby.) anti-social attitude. rolls into ball or hides. bites, scratches. has not learned to care for herself. breaks wind. smells. eyes mostly closed. does not speak. her sister, with none of these characteristics, claimed in first hour of captivity.
Owners’ Comments, on receiving cat, February 8
Small and darling and ours!
Taffy, February 9
I am adopted! I come to the house of many stairs and a basement lined with pipes and broken mirrors and years of leftover home improvement materials. Many places to hide. “Poor little orphan kitty,” someone says. “Pauvre Orphelin.”
They say I must think of them as Mum and Dad. Dad, what is that? I wonder. It turns out to be the bigger one who throws you up in the air and ruffles your fur. But also gets up to feed you almost first thing in the morning and before that, let’s you sleep on his stomach.
Lady, February 12
Oof, she is dirty. Easy to track. Pawprints on all white furniture. What owner lives with a cat without barricading the furniture? The cat’s job description, to reach below surfaces, if you should ever wonder what a couch is made of. In need of weekly manicure. And hair? Sometimes you must brush, brush, brush until the cat is in danger of disappearing. Greet her in the morning, or her first morning of the day, “Hey!” (patting the head). “The little sweet kitty!” (One learns to exaggerate.)
Taffy, March 6
Sometimes she’ll pet me even after washing her hands before she goes out, saying, “Anyhow, you’re cleaner than money.”
Taffy, March 12
Dash up to the third floor, where the bedroom is, 10 a.m. I’ve been up for hours. Dash down to basement. Dash up to third floor, 3 p.m. Dash down to my single sheet of paper on file cabinet, my post. Dash up to third floor, 5 p.m. Dash down to kitchen. Maybe food? Dash up to third floor, 7 p.m.
ARE WE GOING TO BED YET???
Lady, March 12
She disappears for so long at a time, I say to the Man, “Didn’t we have a cat?”
Taffy, March 27
I’M A PUSSYCAT AND I’M O.K. I SLEEP ALL NIGHT AND I SLEEP ALL DAY.
Sleep, they say, is my middle name, Taffy S. for short.
Once the Lady comes to me and says, “I dreamt of you last night and learned your whole name was Taffy S. Dickstein.
Taffy, March 28
Sometimes, I don’t know, this engine starts up inside me like a drumroll and grows and grows. A sound like the refrigerator or even the Ford. The purr might begin with a little yelp like, “Save me, I’m drowning!” And when a hand reaches down to pet me, I don’t know whether to lick or sink in teeth and BITE.
Man, March 29
See how Taffy climbs up to inspect the plug on the window fan? What a wonderful cat. She is concerned about electrical safety.
Taffy, March 29
Maybe I can blame my behavior on some kind of wrong wiring, how you purr and bite at the same time.
The way I see things, the world is made up of Taffy-shaped spaces and non-Taffy-shaped spaces. The way I see things, it’s my job to fit in. Someday I will find a room in the house I didn’t know was there.
Lady, April 7
We can see Taffy is troubled and turn to a Cat Wrangler found on Craig’s List.
Alternatively, there’s time to get rid of it while the cat is just a vague allergy, a stuffy nose, before she has become a personality.
Cat Wrangler, in consultation with cat, April 14
Listen, if you don’t watch it, it can all come apart, the cat, the name you know her by, and who she is to you.
Lady, April 21
The cat makes me sad. She can never be human despite her aspirations. And what’s more, she is mortal. I am also sad because I don’t seem to ever accomplish more in a day than eating lunch. I’m becoming like Proust, where it’s enough to just contemplate going out. The cat is exploding my phobias which were my only defense. Dirt and chaos are second nature to her.
Cat Wrangler, April 22
Hey, I’m here to help the cat.
Taffy, April 30
I like to head butt. I don’t like when they are standing five feet over me, lecturing. I’d rather jump onto the bed and find the pillow where someone’s face is and go forehead to forehead.
Cat Wrangler, April 30
I tell you you’re better off trying to sleep when the cat is sleeping.
Lady, May 1
“Who’s that riding? John, the Revelator. John the Revelator. He wrote the book of the seal.”
I sing to her because the cat is expecting it.
When the cat sits by the screen door at night, I worry small bugs will be drawn to the light or to the warm, furry body.
I worry what to have for lunch tomorrow.
Taffy, May 3
There’s a great deal of satisfaction in sitting in the back window gnawing on my plants and just listening to the dog chained to the fence across the way, barking and whimpering. Or the cheery red bird I know will one day make a mistake and come within reach.
Remember, Dharma is just the law of life.
Taffy, May 5
I interpret the buzz of a fly as a call to action!
Rhyme, May 12
fat cat/ fat cat in a hat/ pat the fat cat/ give her a bat/ watch her rub her belly against the telly/ get her by the tail
(She doesn’t know she belongs to the tail.)
Cat Wrangler, May 20
All cats are girls. All dogs are boys.They are pets because you pet them.
Taffy’s Mother (in memory)
How to know something: with your breath, your mouth, your paws. Know too that you are perhaps in a dollhouse, that this is all make believe.
Taffy, May 21
Today on the radio it said the world would end. But there is an AfterRapture.com to save pets. I don’t know if the Man and Lady put up the ten bucks to join, but anyhow I’m not superstitious. Today I came out from under the bed where I like to stay so I can poke out a paw at anyone passing. Also, it makes me think of my kittenhood under cars, safe and heavy in case of a tornado or earthquake, especially if the world comes apart. It never rains or snows under a car and you just have to hope no one will drive away. Mom gave me the last piece of advice she ever did, “Get out of Camden.” The big toms, my brothers, left too, to start new families, and then it was just my sister and me, did I tell you I had a twin? We found a cat-size opening in an empty house and made it up to some pipes in the ceiling. What we ate was dust and garbage and newspapers that blew in, the occasional mouse.
It wasn’t a bad life, cozy snuggling up through the winter. One day we heard the noise of a wrecking ball and hairless giants broke in. Not sure if they used a net or a paper bag but someone caught us. I tried to hold on but you can’t get a good grip on metal. Did they want to eat us? I knew under the car by the feet walking by they would have to be big. One held out an open can of wormy-looking stuff, but it didn’t smell too bad and we were hungry, so we let them get us. But not too easily. We knew to put up a fight.
Man, June 1
Well, who isn’t it, with her big sleep eyes! With her tipped up nose and her spots and stripes like a fur flag?
Dialogue: June 1
Man: “The priddy little puddy.”
Taffy: (not I love you too, but) “Where is my feathered mouse?”
Man, June 7
(to cat): Have you had a productive day? Have you bit anyone?
Taffy, July 5, 2011
On personal grooming. Remembering Mother: Sponge your ears and the back of your neck with the right front paw. Then lick the paw. The choice of paws is important. It has ancient religious significance. Keep a front paw, ether one, on your food or water dish while partaking to steady it. Pull some food out to floor where it’s easier to ingest. When finished eating or drinking, lick both paws, chewing at claws. Wash your entire body. DO NOT FORGET: The tail is part of your body.
Taffy, July 14
Doors. Now bigger, I can get into rooms that are almost closed to me, bedroom, bathroom, etc. I shove my weight against them and thanks to some clever hardware, maybe a hinge, they swing. The only trouble is, it’s hard to gauge which way they swing. I don’t know if I will find myself inside or outside. It’s embarrassing. Sometimes, I lock myself into a big, dark box.
Lady, July 17
And so at a certain point when the purr starts and she comes up to the pillow. It’s 5 A.M. I feel my back being kneaded, my hair chewed. Awake, I look to the bottom of the bed where Taffy is coiled like a tapeworm, where I have trained her to stay. Is it a dream or that she just moves that fast?
Lady, August 6
So (as pundits put it), so, Taffy is on her landing pad letter paper, on the file cabinet. A door serves as a counter balanced on the files. Just in front of my place at the counter, she licks her paws and goes on licking the bare surface of the counter. She licked it white from its usual marbled grey patina, digested the surface grime, and went back to her paws. When she got up I thought I should clean the surface with Fantastic and then a damp paper towel, the basic kitchen quick-cleaning materials. But Taffy went on with ritual licking, first her paws and then her surroundings whenever she landed on the sheet of paper, sometimes in a great hurry, retreating from a perceived threat at the open window, also a favorite perch. Was this some kind of ancient cat religious ritual, an ablution?
Cat Wrangler, August 7
Have you thought of a second sheet of letter paper laid contiguous with the first?
Taffy, August 11
They’re wrong. It wasn’t Camden. I was born in Cherry Hill, N.J., on the right side, to a family with children. My brothers and sisters and I had a loving mother with many teats. We lived in a cozy attic among suitcases and various pieces of furniture. We batted around discarded legos and chewed on the hair of worn Barbies. One day the children came to visit and left the little trapdoor leading to the rest of the world only slightly open. But I was tiny then and curious and followed the scent of air all the way down to the unlatched screen door. It was intoxicating. Sun, grass, trees. But where was I really? All I loved, gone. O, lost Paradise. O, alien world. It isn’t travel because I’m not where I intended to be, at least, not conclusively enough. And worst of all, I led my twin sister astray.
Taffy, August 13 (on flowers)
There’s a big bouquet on the kitchen table.
Roses taste pretty good. And I like to bat around the irises.
Man, August 15
We think each time when we take her to the country with us on weekends, she is hiding from us because she knows we have to trap her in her carrier. But what if to Taffy, each time is the first time?
Taffy, August 15
Anxiety, is jumping ahead of where you are. Anxiety, is always jumping.
Man, August 18
The cat comes on little cat feet. The battle to carrier-ize her has made Taff philosophical
Taffy, August 28
They call it a carrier but to me it’s just a cage on wheels. It’s punctured with little holes for air and to steal a look outside, and the front might as well be barbed wire. The carrier moves very fast, a bumpy ride. They are in the front seat and the Lady puts a hand in just to see how I’m doing every once in a while. I might give a half-hearted cry to get sympathy or I might not give her the satisfaction. Sometimes dead squirrels, even cats, lie in our path on the road, but I try not to see them. I’m taken with the big tanker trucks and the fast-moving cars the man gets ahead of or crawls behind. If I got out of the carrier, my paw could be an extra hand on the steering wheel.
Lady, August 29
Don’t do it! I cry silently, not wanting to alarm her. Taffy is up on the ledge of the loft, one foot lifted, staring over the 20-foot drop. I’m afraid what she’ll do if I make a grab for her. Instead, I try to talk her down.
“You have so much to live for, a family who loves you. Twenty cans of cat food on the shelf. Eight other lives, as far as I know. And don’t forget the ball, wherever you’ve batted it. We’ll find it and play.
“And you can sit on Dad’s stomach all night.”
What would we do without her?
Elaine Terranova has published six books of poetry and recently short prose pieces. She’s working on a memoir. Her work has appeared in Hotel Amerika, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Salamander, the New Yorker and other magazines. She has received an NEA, the Walt Whitman Award, and a Pew Fellowship. Find out more about her here.