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four times tubbs was a menace and one time he wasn’t

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one.

I fill a dish with Frisky Bitz and set it outside. It’s my first day in this house—city life proved to be too stressful for me, so my friends suggested a move to the suburbs. Rina was especially enthusiastic about this area, saying that her grandma would tell her stories about the neighborhood cats and how they loved to hang out and play.

I’d like that. I paid way too much for not enough space in the city, and they didn’t allow any pets in my apartment complex. I live by myself and it gets lonely sometimes.

But not anymore. I’m excited to meet some fuzzy companions. I press my hands and face to the window, not caring that I’m getting fingerprints all over the glass. I’d wait outside, but I need to keep my distance—at least until the cats get to know me. I don’t want to scare anyone away.

The minutes creep by. I frown. Where are the cats that Rina promised me? But I should be patient. I’ll make myself a cup of tea and read a few pages of a book; then I’ll check back.

Half an hour later, I peer out the window again. I was expecting to see a cute little cat, but this one’s quite the opposite. A huge, white tomcat lounges by the empty food dish, one paw across his belly as he smiles contentedly. I clutch my face. Those Frisky Bitz were supposed to last for a whole day!

I stomp back to the kitchen and get another cup of tea. Hrmph. I’ll just have to refill the bowl and hope it lasts longer this time.

I name the tomcat Tubbs.

two.

For whatever reason, the pet store here only takes payment in fish. I could change my yen to fish, but I’ve got to save my yen for everything else I need: food for myself, bills, rent… I want to get the cats some fancier food, but I also want to save my gold fish for one of the more expensive toys.

So the first thing I do every morning is collect the coupon from the daily paper. Turkey. December. Eggnog. Once I collect five coupons, I can exchange them for a can of Ritzy Bitz, which normally costs three gold fish.

Let me tell you, the cats love Ritzy Bitz. All I have to do is tug on the pull-tab; the sound of the lid peeling back attracts cats from all over. Their little glowing eyes peer out from the bushes lining my yard. The pâté smells kind of gross—it’s made of tuna, bonito, and sardines—but I guess the pungent odor is meant to travel far. The Ritzy Bitz slide out of the can and land in the dish with a plop.

Maybe it’s silly, but I feel really proud of myself. Coupon clipping isn’t hard work per se, but this free can of Ritzy Bitz reminds me that if I keep to it and be diligent, I can accomplish things and earn things. Life lessons can come from anywhere.

I go back inside and wash the dishes, all the while humming a little tune to myself. I’ve already met Snowball and Socks; surely I’ll meet some new faces today.

But when I go out to the yard again, I only see one familiar face.

Tubbs.

three.

Rina says I can’t just stay cooped up in the house all the time. If I’m lonely, she says, I should go out and try to make friends. Sure, it won’t be as easy as high school or university, where you’re always interacting with classmates, but there are still other ways to meet people.

I sign up for a class on how to make sashimi. It’s kind of a bust, at least on the social front: a lot of people come in groups, and I’m so focused on getting the techniques right that I forget to talk to anyone but the instructor.

Practice makes perfect, but it’s hard to practice when the materials you need are costly. I can spare a little out of this week’s paycheck to get a nice cut of tuna to slice up, though. I make neat cuts, the instructor’s words echoing in my mind. I plate the fish and take a step back to admire my handiwork. It’s not restaurant quality, but the pieces still look lovely. When the sunlight touches the tuna, each ruby-red slice glows with a soft translucence.

I eat a couple pieces and leave the rest for the cats. Sashimi’s always best when it’s fresh; I can’t finish this much by myself today. The cats can have a treat.

Of course, as soon as I turn my back, I hear a cat chomping away with gusto, every sound squishy and slick. These aren’t delicate nibbles, but great big devouring bites. I whirl around.

Tubbs has already cleared the plate. He’s lounging now with that self-satisfied smile.

I don’t buy sashimi again for a long time.

four.

Cat toys litter the first floor of my house. To get in, I have to squeeze my way around the giant cat metropolis. It’s blocking the door a little bit, but that was the only place where it would fit. I don’t mind though. It makes the cats happy, and seeing the cats happy makes me happy.

Rina’s worried about me. She says I’m spending too much time focusing on the cats and not enough time on focusing on me. But just because I can’t really use my living room anymore doesn’t mean that the cats have taken over.

I put Rina out of mind and take out a can of Deluxe Tuna Bitz. It feels kind of ridiculous spending twelve gold fish on one can of food when the same amount can buy you an adorable cushion that will last for ages. But I’ve never gotten Deluxe Tuna Bitz before, and it’s nice to know that I’m finally at a point where I can splurge a little bit.

It smells even worse than Ritzy Bitz.

Right on cue, the bushes start rustling. Out walks Tubbs, all swagger in his step, his tummy swaying to and fro as he comes over.

Oh no, no no no. I did not buy this can of Deluxe Tuna Bitz for Tubbs to just gulp it down and leave nothing for the other cats. I try to shoo him away, but he’s completely oblivious and walks right past me. Before I can move the dish to somewhere where he can’t reach, he’s already on it, slurping up every last bit of fish.

He leaves me fifty-five silver fish, but that doesn’t put a dent into the cost of the Deluxe Tuna Bitz, and now I have to refill the bowl again.

Ugh.

five.

Rina has this saying: If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, let it go.

I’d been focusing so much on things I couldn’t control. Back when I was still living in the city and working my high-stress job, I’d keep fussing about what others thought about me, whether they felt I was competent or not. But in the end, you can’t control what other people think of you. You can only control how you interact with others.

I’m applying what I’ve learned to the cats, too. Cats are just cats, you know? They do what they do. If I bought food for the cats, I can’t really control who eats what. Regardless of if Tubbs comes by and eats everything in five minutes, or if ten cats come by over the course of the day and eat everything, the food has fulfilled its purpose.

I got a couple cans of Bonito Bitz at the store today; I open one now and lay the dish in the yard. I retreat to the porch and watch as the clouds float by. The breeze swirls into the living room, freshening the air within. I rearranged the furniture earlier so that the space is more open—no more squeezing around the cat metropolis to get inside. I love these cats, but my space needs to be for me, too.

Soft fur brushes against my arm. Tubbs is sitting beside me, a piece of fish jerky in his mouth. When he sees that he has my attention, he lays the jerky in my lap. I pick up his gift. It has claw marks all over it and has been well-loved; I know it must mean a lot for him to willingly part with this item. I bow to him, showing my appreciation. I swear he nods back in return.

Tubbs waddles over to the Bonito Bitz. I smile as he eats it all.