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When the Nat's Away

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1994 Toronto

The other predator occupied the sofa. He turned the pages of the daily paper with one hand while dangling a clump of feathers from a long stick with the other. Now and again, the feathers twitched. Sydney, with the natural dignity of his kind, watched from under the bed in the next room.

The other predator wasn’t a cat, obviously. He also wasn’t a human, dog, rodent, bird, fish or bug, and that’s where Sydney’s zoological knowledge gave out. The other predator didn’t fit. But because Sydney’s human usually reacted to the other predator with half-closed eyes and slow blinks, clearly longing to wrap her non-existent tail around his legs, Sydney had indulged her by graciously granting a truce. As long as the other predator didn’t challenge Sydney for his food or his human, or rub his scent on Sydney’s territory, they could ignore each other — two mighty powers ever aware of the titantic clash that would follow one paw put wrong.

But now, Sydney’s human had failed to return to him for four nights in a row, while the other predator had intruded repeatedly. The other predator had shown sufficient deference at first, filling Sydney’s bowls, cleaning Sydney’s litterbox, and twitching the feathers on the stick. Sydney had stalked and pounced on the feathers a few times to demonstrate that the toy was his, and his alone, but, point made, his interest had faded. It wasn’t the same without his human.

The other predator seemed to have faded without her as well. The first night he had come, he had smelled of her, and had meowed at length to Sydney in the nonsense sounds humans made. He had even shown proper hunterly understanding by bouncing the feather stick only before opening the wet food, not after.

The second night, smelling not at all of Sydney’s human, but a bit like the clothes she would change out of when arriving home, the other predator had expressed undue interest in the cookie jar that Sydney had knocked off the counter, the cookies that he had nibbled, and the vomiting that had followed. Sydney hadn’t been pleased that his human had stocked such inferior treats, either, but what business was it of the other predator?

The third night, smelling quite like a freshly killed mouse, the other predator had stayed for hours. He hadn’t turned on any of the lights, as Sydney’s human would have done, and he’d mostly just stared out the window, even though there were never any birds to watch after sunset. Sydney could have overlooked that foolishness, but, at the same time, the other predator had put away all the plastic that Sydney had painstakingly pulled out from under the sink. His human used the plastic to line the lidded container where she put interesting food bits and then took them away once a week. Sydney had found it just right for ripping holes with fangs and claws, but instead of sensibly joining in the fun, the other predator had barricaded the roll with bottles too heavy to bat out of the way. Sydney felt that this was perilously close to violating their neutrality pact. Still, diplomatically, he let it pass.

Tonight, though, the other predator’s smell made Sydney sneeze. And there hadn’t been any wet food.

Was this what it would be like from now on? Sydney’s rightful dominion curbed at every turn? Sydney hissed.

The other predator didn’t even look up. The feather stick bounced.

It was the final insult.

Sydney hadn’t wanted it to come to this, but he was going to have to take down the other predator. He would have to bite, kick, swat and scream until the other predator rolled over and fled. Sydney’s human would be sad to lose her playmate at first, but she’d get over it. It was for her own good, after all.

Sydney stepped out from under the bed. Slowly, hackles up, he stalked into the room with the couch, the one room with neither bowls nor litterbox to mark his turf to nose-deaf humans. But the other predator wasn’t nose-deaf; he had no excuse. Sydney circled the sofa. Choosing his ground, he stared and stared at the other predator. Sydney puffed up his fur. His hind legs tensed. This was it. If the other predator wanted to live, he had better not meet Sydney’s eyes.

The front door opened.

Sydney, with the natural prudence of his kind, sprang under the desk in the corner. After an entirely decorous rest pressed up against the wall, he stretched out and began licking his paws. His nose and ears told him that his human was back, towing the wheeled box that usually blocked a quarter of his territory under their bed. Mewling away in human sounds with the other predator, she was probably rubbing her cheek against him, or even grooming him. Well! Sydney had more self-respect than to reward a deserter who had evidently forgotten where her loyalties lay. She was going to have to work long and hard to earn her way back into his good graces. Evicting the other predator was the least of Sydney’s demands. He stretched out his paws and admired his claws. Oh yes, and he wanted wet food twice a day, and running water, and those treats that tasted like fish...

The desk chair moved away. His human appeared. Sydney considered. Then, with a sigh, he half-closed his eyes, blinked slowly, and let her scratch behind his ears.

If you’re going to keep a human, you have to make allowances.