The cat lost her balance and fell off. This was immediately followed by a loud splash, a piercing feline howl and a blinding orange blur flying through the living room-a trail of wet paws left in its wake.
Sy, as usual, was in his boxer shorts and white tank shirt, reclining in his BarcaLounger-the remote control in one hand aimlessly flipping through the channels. A can of Krutchman's Double Malt Super Suds in the other. Channel surfing was much too elegant of a term for Sy. It might imply there was some sort of grace to it. He was more of a channel slurper. And to say he was portly would have been elegant or genteel, two words that one would have never used to describe him. He took a long multiple gulp from the can and realizing it was empty, crushed it and threw it on today's pile.
"Jesus, Harriet!" his voice bellowed ferociously through the old tenement, "What the hell did you do to the cat this time?"
Harriet came trotting out of the bathroom in her flowered house coat and fuzzy slippers. "Ahhh, she fell off the crapper again, Sy," she crouched down rubbing her fingers together in cat search mode. "Here La Toya, It's okay baby. Where'd you go? Mummy loves you, baby."
"Fer Christ sake Harriet, why don't you use a litter box like everyone else? The damn cat's to stupid to use the crapper."
Harriet stood up, turned sharply to face Sy and defiantly thrust her fists onto her hips. "Sy Gilooski, you take that back! La Toya is the smartest cat I've ever seen. She can do things no other cat can do. Why, she's smarter than that old orange snob of a cat Morris or that darn stupid aristocat cat from outer space."
Sy burped, and stabbed the remote, zapping channel change after channel change at the blasting TV until the familiar electronic sound of Who Wants to be a Millionaire blared forth. "Hey, it's Reeg, " he said outloud to the TV. "Nineteen friggin cats. For god sakes. That cat's about as smart as my BarcaLounger, Get me another Krutchman's, will ya Harriet? Regis is on."
La Toya meowed feebly from behind the bookcase.
"La Toya, baby, there you are! Come to mama, sweet babykins." Harriet shuffled over to the damp orange fur-ball and picked her up. "Come on angel, mommy'll take you in and dry you off." With the cat in her arms, she ambled off to the bathroom.
"Harriet! My Krutchman's?" Sy whined at her.
"Get it yerself. Ya lazy slob."
Sy managed to roll out of the chair. "Damn useless hag of a woman," he muttered to himself as he shuffled into the kitchen. "Wish they had a show called Who wants a New Wife. I be beatin down the door to get on that show."
"Wasted sloppy excuse for a man," she closed the fuzzy covered lid on the toilet, sat down and gently dabbed the matted orange fur as La Toya licked her paw and wiped her face with it.
The bathroom was Harriet's shrine to felines. Every conceivable machination of cat paraphernalia had a place of honor. From a clear plastic shower curtain with dancing cats plastered all over it, to eight different kinds of cat soap to six separate shelving units each filled with every possible type of cat thing imaginable. This was Harriet's world, her temple to a creature she loved and revered.
"You are smart, aren't you, baby?" she looked up at the ceiling in thought as she continued to mindlessly dab the cat's fur. "It hasn't been all that bad. We had some very good years in the beginning... I think." Harriet's eyes began to fill with tears as she remembered the scant good times with Sy some fifty three years ago. She looked down at La Toya and stroked the back of her neck. Some of the tears that had pooled in her eyes spilled out and fell onto La Toya's orange paw. She sniffed the tear stained pad and then licked the saltwater away. She stopped grooming and just sat, a dazed look on her face.
"Ooohh, I'm feeling a little dizzy," Harriet said as she set La Toya down on the toilet and went over to the sink. She braced her hands on each side of the porcelain and looked in the mirror. She wasn't quite the beauty she had once been. For that matter, she couldn't even remember the last time Sy had taken her out. So what was the point? She buried her face in her hands and wept.
"For god sakes, woman, pull yourself together." The voice that spoke was unfamiliar to Harriet, she knew it didn't sound like Sy, but caught up in her moment of grief, she answered without thinking.
"I, I'm okay... I'm alright." She whimpered through moist cupped hands.
"Then stand up and turn off the damn waterworks!"
Harriet immediately stopped crying, but kept her face covered as she straightened and slowly turned toward the voice. "La Toya?" she asked as her hands parted from in front of her face.
"That's another thing. What do I look like? Some kind of Jackson Five reject?" The voice that emanated from the matted orange furball sitting on the fuzzy toilet seat was not feminine at all, but rather a deep masculine voice. "I ain't no... La Toya. That has got to be the stupidest name I ever heard for a cat. The name's Jasper. I'm a boy, in case you haven't noticed. See these?" He turned around, pointed his rear at the stunned Harriet and jiggled the two fuzzy testicles at her.
She stared, open jawed at the speaking feline, not believing what was happening in front of her. "You... you're speaking... You can't do that, you're a cat. Cats don't speak, they meow."
Jasper turned to face her. "Yeah, yeah. An' we're finicky, we don't dance, an jellacle cats come out at night. Meow. How's that?"
Harriet quickly turned, yanked the white porcelain sink faucets on full blast and scrubbed her face vigorously, trying to wash away the disbelief. "This isn't happening. Cats don't talk. Cat's don't talk. Cats don't talk," She blubbered through the water splashing against her face.
Jasper "meowed" in a most normal cat voice.
Temporarily blinded with water-soaked eyes, Harriet's hands found the towel next to the sink, yanked it off the rack and began to dry her face. She was reassured with the normal feline voice she heard, but when she pulled the towel away and looked at the cat...
"Fooled ya!" said Jasper.
"AHHHH!" she screamed. It was like a bowling ball was tossed in her gut, as her reaction threw her back hard against the sink and curio shelf. Small ceramic cats of every size and shape went flying and smashed into the tub and onto the floor.
Jasper raised his head and cackled loudly, his little cat lips articulating like some special effect in a movie. Except this was no movie. This was Harriet's bathroom and this was happening now.
There was a loud rap on the bathroom door. "Harriet? What's going on in there? You all right? Wud you do to the cat this time? Or wud the cat do to you? Ha -ha" Sy chuckled at himself from the other side.
"That guy is the biggest asshole I've ever seen." Jasper said from his toilet seat perch.
"Shhhh." Harriet put her finger to her lips.
"Harriet? What was that? Is there someone else in there?"
"Uh, no Sy. It's uh, just the radio," she quickly turned and flicked the switch on the white sitting cat radio. A talk station blared out.
"I'll be out in a minute, Sy."
"I hope so, it's almost dinner time an' I'm starved. You've spent long enough coddling that damn stupid beast."
Jasper's head turned and scowled at the door. "You're one to talk about stupid beasts. Neanderthal putz." he said in a lower hushed tone.
Harriet sat on the edge of the tub. "La Toy..."
Jasper swung his head around and glared at her.
"I'm sorry, I mean Jasper. Can you explain to me how it is that I'm sitting here speaking in the English language with a cat?"
"What do I look like, an Abysinian?" Jasper said, "I can't explain it except to say that sometimes through certain combinations of circumstances some cats are allowed to converse with humans on the same level. Been that way throughout time. Remember the Cheshire Cat? He was my cousin. Twice removed."
"But wasn't the Cheshire Cat fictional, from Alice in Wonderland?" Harriet queried Jasper.
"What? You think Lewis Carrol didn't have help from real life experiences? You think he just made up all that crap? No, Chester, that was his real name, dictated it to him word for word."
Harriet put her hands to her cheeks. "This is amazing. I can't believe it. Do you know how much I love cats?"
"From the looks of it," Jasper looked around the room surveying the collection Harriet had amassed, "I'd say you went a little overboard. You might want to think about bringing in a decorator or perhaps a psychiatrist for a second opinion."
"Is there anything I can get for you?" Harriet asked.
"Yeah, a can of those Tender Vittles would be real nice. The ocean fish flavor. Not that crappy chicken garbage you got in there," he licked his lips.
"I'll be right back then," she stood up and walked to the door.
"And Harriet..." Jasper called as she reached for the knob.
"Yes?" she answered.
"A little bowl of milk with a shot of brandy if you wouldn't mind."
"Really? A shot of brandy?"
"What, I'm speakin' English ain't I? The Napoleon kind if you got it. Okay?"
Harriet exited the bathroom, just as Sy was about to go in. She closed the door behind her and stood holding onto the knob behind her back, blocking his way.
"Harriet, what's the matter with you? Get out of the way. I got a bladder full of Krutchman's I gotta piss out."
"You can't. The uhh... toilet's not working," she feigned.
"That's ridiculous," scoffed Sy, "The toilet's fine. Now get outa' my way," He tried to push her aside, but she refused to move.
"Jasper's not feeling well and uh... wants to be left alone."
"Jasper? Who's that? The cat? I thought the stupid thing's name was La Toya."
"It was, but I uh... decided to change it." She continued to block his way.
"Whatever, Harriet. Now will you please get outa' my way?" Sy gruffly shoved her aside, opened the door and entered the bathroom. He slammed it behind him before she could do anything. She clenched her teeth in worry, put her hands to her cheeks and shuffled off to the kitchen to get Jasper's food. "Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god." she mumbled to herself as she retrieved the can of Tender Vittles from the cupboard. When she saw she had the chicken flavor, she threw it in the garbage and got the ocean fish flavor Jasper had requested. Her mind raced with the predicament she faced. A talking cat. What was she going to do with it? Would anybody believe her? Would it talk for anyone else but her? These questions and dozens more piled on top of her brain as she tried to make sense of it. She poured a splash of brandy into the small bowl of milk, picked it and the Tender Vittles up and started back into the other room.
On her way back to the bathroom, Sy was plopping back into his lounge chair. Harriet stopped short and waited for a second to see if Sy would say anything. She moved next to the chair. "Did uh Jasper say anything to you?" she asked nervously.
"Why, yes as a matter of fact he did." Sy gestured in the air aristocratically with his hand and in a mock British accent, "He said, 'I hope you have the grandest piss of all. And I thanked him," then in his usual voice, "It's a friggen cat, Harriet, wud you expect it to do? Give me the weather?"
Harriet sighed with relief and walked to the bathroom knocking the door open with her hip. Jasper was standing on the sink, looking in the mirror grooming himself. She closed the door and locked it.
"Did you say anything to Sy?" she asked placing the two bowls on the orange shag cat shaped rug.
"Harriet, would you mind?" He pointed his paw at the rug. "I feel kinda weird eating on a fuzzy effigy of my own kind."
"I'm sorry." She picked up the bowls and put them on the tile floor.
Jasper began eating the Vittles and alternately lapping up the milk/brandy. Harriet looked at him with awe, then retraced her previous thought-path and asked again.
"What did you say to Sy? Did he say anything to you?" she nervously wound a white handkerchief around her hand.