Scratched

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is the story of a very demanding, unusual, and nevertheless lovable cat named Scratch. I wrote this after he passed away several years ago because he deserved to have his story written.

Submitted: January 03, 2014

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Submitted: January 03, 2014

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Scratched

Charlie and I were making out on the couch. Tony Bennett had just made a comeback and was seducing the room with jazzed-up romantic rhythms from his new CD. Candles were burning low, giving off the scent of vanilla and jasmine mixed with the heady aroma of Sauvie Island flowers. We had picked our own and paid by the bucket. Every vase I owned was overflowing with deep colors and soft textures like Monet's garden in moonlight. The house itself seemed to tip and sway under the influence.

We were new at this. Neither of us had been with a partner for some time. This night held the possibility of fumbling, sliding or simply leaping into the next stage.

There was a knock at the door. It was late. A young boy stood on the front steps under the light and apologized for interrupting, but he was told that this was the right house -- that a cat had been hit by a car and was lying in the road.

 It was Scratch.

Scratch was the kind of cat that tried your patience, like it was his purpose in life to find new ways to make you crazy. He’d often drive you to the edge with dark fantasies about dropping him into the deepest abyss. There was the food issue. He ate anything and seemed to be ever ready to sample whatever was available. So, you could never leave anything out on the counter or table because the minute your back was turned, he would be licking, nibbling or simply devouring the unattended morsel. It didn't matter what -- mayonnaise, lettuce, marmalade, even peanut butter. Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, butter-- all food groups were fair game.

He had a curious way of eating his own cat food. He ate with his paw, which was no small utensil since he had an extra toe on each of his front paws. He would dip into his bowl and scoop up the cat food, bring it to his mouth and eat from his paw. Unique, yes, possibly even cute, except that after three or four scoops he would shake off his paw and chicken liver or salmon bits would splatter on the walls, floor and kitchen cabinets -- whatever was in plain shot.

He also liked to bat around at the bottom of his water bowl until the water would spill out on the floor. I started weighing his bowl down with a heavy rock so it wouldn't move. Most of the time, I didn't have a clue why he did what he did.

I acquired him from a teary-eyed friend who pleaded with me to take him; she was moving to a place that didn't allow cats. I said yes, though I had my heart set on getting a kitten. Scratch was ten years old.
 
Just as I was about to drop off to sleep the first night he stayed with me, Scratch jumped up on my chest. He was a fat cat, so there was no ignoring the weight of him. He started purring loudly and looked me straight in the eyes, walking toward my face. I felt mesmerized by his frame, the look, and the sheer intensity of his focus. Once he reached my head he placed his massive paws on the pillow on either side of my neck. His purring increased as he moved his pink lips to the side of my neck and began to gently suckle.

I gasped, sat straight up and ran him off, shaken by what had just happened. It had been years since anyone had shared my bed -- let alone displayed so much desire -- and suckled at my neck.

Once an Indian psychic met Scratch – shook his head back and forth,  and said, "This is not a cat."

Scratch, Scratch Patch, Scratchy Bear, Mr. Scratch, Mishtah and Mr. Bad Boy were only a few of the names he went by.

People sent me cards consoling me about his death. He had a following -- a cat with a reputation -- a rascal in long grey and white fur, white whiskers and the longest plume of tail that crooked back toward his head, parading high over the length of his back like a furry arch. He could have been a frat boy in the 1920s, in an oversized fur coat ready with pranks, an easy brawl, or an after-curfew night with the ladies. There were stories about Scratch, all of which were true.

He would wake me up at 4 a.m. every morning just to have me play with him, or maybe it was just to irk me. It was never enough that he simply woke me. He wanted me up and out from under the covers or he wasn't satisfied. He would get on top of the dresser and slowly nudge items one by one to the edge then over, clattering down to the floor beneath. When that failed, he would hook his bent tail on the dried eucalyptus. I would hear the crinkle of the dried leaves and leap up out of bed just in time to save my mother's vase from a broken fate.

I tried keeping him out of the bedroom at night, but that was useless. He would scratch frantically at the door and eventually get up on his hind legs and pound with all his weight until the door rocked. I finally gave him his own bedroom, started putting him to bed in the guest room and closing the door before I went up to bed. He seemed to like having his own room and would go there about 10 p.m. every night, bathe and wait for me to come in and give him a kiss goodnight.

When I did the dishes at night, after all the food was put away, he used to lie at my feet and gently cup his paws around one of my ankles and now and then give me a soft nip with his teeth.  Roommates used to tell me that he would go and sit at the front door and wait for me to come home from work -- sometimes up to two hours he would sit just staring at the door. Then when I would open the door he would get so tangled in my feet I could hardly make it down the hall. Eventually, he would just plop on the floor with his belly up -- his ultimate way of showing you how crazy he was for your touch.

Keeping the peace with a few roommates was an ongoing problem until I finally got my own place. Perfectly sane people who professed to be cat lovers prior to moving in became parole officers suspicious of Scratch’s every move and ready to throw him into solitary confinement at the smallest infraction. One woman in particular did freelance PR work from a home office she had set up. Scratch had a propensity for big women -- a big lap was always preferable for kneading, so he would follow her everywhere. She liked to have food around her when she worked at her computer, and meals to her were something of a religious experience. So, you can imagine.

One Saturday I was cleaning in the living room when I heard a blood curdling scream come from her office. Betty had been sitting at her desk in an open back office chair with her rounded derriere protruding, ignoring Scratch as she munched on mini microwaved pizza rolls. It was too much for Scratch. Overcome, he had stretched up from behind and dug in all twelve claws on either side of her dimension. After that she related to Scratch as if he were a back-stabbing co-worker who was hell-bent on ruining her career. She summed him up as an over-indulgent bully with strong narcissistic tendencies. She admitted to me long after she moved out that Scratch was often the main topic of her therapy sessions.

Bernard was another roommate who edited scholarly journals and meditated twice a day. Turns out he didn't like anything competing with his own thoughtful presence. It wasn't very long before he started to have a visceral reaction every time Scratch entered a room. He would look up, squirm and sit straight up, then lower his long nose and stare down over his glasses with a look of disdain bordering on murder. He said that Scratch was inordinately arrogant with an overblown ego and had an obvious sadistic streak. Bernard delighted in observing Scratch whenever I had to clip his claws back -- a procedure Scratch would complain bitterly about.

Oddly enough, both these roommates claimed they missed him after they moved out and asked about him often.

Scratch never talked. I mean, he didn’t meow or anything close to it. He only vocalized, if you could call it that, when he was upset about something. He would throw his head back, open his mouth wide and a staccato "eh, eh, eh, eh" would escape from deep in his throat.

He actually did meow just once during his life, but I heard about it second hand. Before I acquired him, my friend had asked her brother to cat-sit while she went out of town for a few days. Her brother knew Scratch well, and it took some major pleading on her part to persuade him to agree to it. He was working on his dissertation at the time. After only a few hours with Scratch, he had had it, so he put him down the basement stairs and shut the door.

A half an hour of quiet went by until he heard an anguished, full-blown meeeowww coming from the basement. He tried to ignore it, but it went on. Suddenly he panicked, realizing that he had never heard Scratch cry before. He thought something terrible had happened. So, he rushed to the basement, opened the door and there at the top of the landing was Scratch, who looked at him, opened his mouth wide and yowled again as a big bubble came out of his mouth and popped, followed by another. Scratch had apparently gotten into the laundry soap box and eaten his fill. He survived the ordeal, but no one ever heard his voice again.

Unlike a lot of cats, Scratch loved dogs -- the bigger the better. The night he died I was holding him in my arms, sitting on the front steps in the moonlight when a huge black poodle came bounding up to say hello to him. Sniffing the air, he realized what was happening and crooked his neck as he watched Scratch's labored breath. Then he bowed his head and just stood like that next to us, still like an ancient Egyptian statue in mourning at the entrance of a tomb backlit against a full moon, until his owner came and slowly coaxed him away, saying, "They were great friends."

I had lost both my parents at separate times, and though I loved them and grieved, somehow I wasn't emotionally prepared for this. I went to the attic and got out a beautiful oversized boot box I had saved and lay Scratch out in the box on top of some fresh white linen and flower petals from my Sauvie Island collection. Charlie helped me dig a grave next to a car port I had transformed into a makeshift patio. We lay him in the ground strewn with all the rest of the flowers from my house while we burned incense.

I could feel the tears welling up and knew it was going to be a long night so I told Charlie I would call him and he left. At that moment the Irish in me took hold and I wailed. I couldn't stop. I just couldn't stand the thought of Scratch going cold in the ground all by himself. So I held an old-fashioned all-night wake aided by a six-pack of Full Sail Ale Charlie had left behind. Let's put it this way, if Scratch had had a wooden casket lying out above ground, I would have been draped over it all night.

By the time the first rays of the sun came up I was wrecked. My eyes were puffed up beyond repair and I was supposed to go to work in a few hours. Worse yet, I was out of coffee. So, I went to the 7-11. The cashier was a woman somewhere in her sixties who had obviously seen many all-night catastrophes come through the door over the years.

She said, "You all right, honey?"

Her simple concern put me over the edge and I blubbered out the complete story while torrents of tears fell once again. She tried to console me, saying, "You know, maybe it was just his time -- sounds like he went out happy, which is all any of us could wish for."

Somehow, that helped. Scratch had been an indoor apartment cat all of his life until moving into this house just eight months before and he had never been so happy as he was there. I guess his true nature could finally let loose when he got a taste of freedom and going outside on his own. I let him out gradually at first and closely monitored his outdoor experience until he got the hang of it. He was especially intrigued with grass, loved the smell and look of it, but would only sit and stare at it from the front walk. This went on for two days until I picked him up and walked out about twelve feet on to the lawn and left him there. At the first tickle of grass under his belly he jumped straight up in the air with ears back and in three great leaps made his way back to the safety of the front porch. A week later he was not only eating the grass, he was rolling in it. His adventure in climbing trees was usually accompanied by an all-out rescue and a borrowed ladder. He never got over the thrill of running with wild abandon up the trunk of a tree.

All kinds of neighbors, some I had never met before, came by and told me that he used to visit them all the time -- no doubt they gave him treats from their own kitchen. Over the months many of his usual annoying antics had subsided. Once he had a yard and a neighborhood, he discovered for the first time that he could actually run at full speed without knocking over lamps or being thwarted by furniture. He had always looked so awkward when he walked or tried to run in the apartment as if his joints weren't put together just right. His belly hung low and loose, and there were his moppish paws. He looked more like a bear plodding along.

But when he ran outside, he was as graceful and powerful as a thoroughbred, with his fur flowing and his long tail flying straight back with the wind like a banner unfurled with the word FREEDOM. It was magnificent to see.

 


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