Chapter 40

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by Lahea

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by Lahea

Since Hooman #1
is spending too much
time reading about the collapse
of American socioeconomics
on her smartphone,

and Philosopher Jones
is making no efforts
to get his hooman moving
by demanding canned salmon,

I decide to hunt
in the catio
in our backyard.

I like to strut through
the saw-cut passageway
from the second-skin chamber
the hooman's call
the laundry room

onto the tipsy-turvy
bricks-without-mortar
stacked in a line
against the fence
that boxes around
a corner of the yard.

Wooden posts and concrete
hold structural corners
of the ten-by-twenty-by-five
space together,
but it's mostly bricks and dirt.

Whenever the hoomans
plant grass, Greg eats it,
and Commander DeeJAY
doesn't seem to mind,
since it makes it easier
to dig for beetle grubs.

I'm imitating the way
DeeJAY burrows the earth
in search of proteins
when I realize
this is the first time
I've been alone in the catio.

DeeJAY is with Grandpa;
Major Tom and Greg
left with Hooman #A;
and the One and Only Bengal
is cuddling Philosopher Jones,
Hooman #1, and the smartphone.

But where is Buttercup?

I hear a bird land
in the patch of lettuce
on the other side of the fence,
so I lurch low
and widen the breadth
of my slitted hunter vision.

The bird hops around
and pecks at the earthworms
living in the vegetable roots.

For a moment,
I admire how quickly
it thrusts at the floor,
like a swordsman
at war with the planet.

Most Earth-based cat societies
think Proxima Centauri B
visited Earth to capture
the will of hoomanity
by weaponizing
the energy sources
of their homeland
to subdue them;

but I am convinced
the planet itself
is conscious
and aware
of ancient secrets
that our enemies could use
not just against hoomanity;

Earth may contain
the knowledge
and data
that could turn the tides
of the eons old struggle
between all lizards
and all mammals.

The bird flits to the air,
breaking my reverie.

I huff out my nose.
That's going to affect
my tribe's galactic kill rate.
Better not tell
the other tabbies
I spaced out—

Except Buttercup lunges
from the peppers
on the other side
of the backyard,

beyond the barrier
of the catio,

then a poof of feathers
scatters across the hooman's
gardening supplies.

I hurry along
the brick road, back
into the second-skin chamber,
and burst into the kitchen,
yowling for other cats.

Phoebe the One and Only Bengal
peers irritably around
the corner of the doorway
to the living room
filled with computers.

Phoebe
What's your problem?

Lahea
I just saw Buttercup—

Phoebe
And you smacked her?

Lahea
No...!

Phoebe
Unfortunate.

Lahea
You shouldn't hit people...
It's violent...

Phoebe
She took the first swing.
Anyway, why
were you howling?

Lahea
Buttercup's in the yard.

Phoebe
Oh good.

Lahea
Outside the catio.

Phoebe's eyes expand
from pools of green
sliced by a thin line,
into a shallow ringlet
encircling dark saucers,

as she crouches low
and crawls decisively
along the tiled floor,
towards the laundry
onto the bricks
in the catio.

I follow her, marveling
at how her rosettas move
along her silver skin
like liquid hidden in shadows.

I know when Phoebe
spots Buttercup
because her tail poofs
to thrice it's size,
pointing sharp at the tip.
Even her nonverbal displays
feel different
from the rest of us:
harder lines
and smoother movements.

I start to gather up
the courage to speak
when Phoebe bolts past me,
crackling through the house
in a thunderous run.

By the time I make it
back into the house,
her and Buttercup
are already circling
along the diner-white tiles,
backs arched, growls low.

Buttercup
Were you stalking me?

Phoebe
How'd you get out there?

Buttercup
Wouldn't you like to know.

Phoebe
None of us are supposed
to hunt outside the house,
alone. We can't
afford for anyone
to get caught by—

Buttercup
Spare me the lecture.
No one's catching me.

Lahea
Please don't fight.

They turn to me,
scowling. The only thing
they can agree on
is that I shouldn't butt in.

I take a long breath,
renewing my bravery.

Lahea
Philosopher Jones
doesn't feel well, so
if we care about him
and Hooman #1,
we'll do our best
to provide a quiet space.

After a painful stretch
of several minutes of us
staring one another down—
all our ears flat,
each of our predominant
paws poised to counterattack—
Phoebe's the first
to groom, nonchalant.

Phoebe
I suppose my time
is better spent
keeping my coat pristine.

Buttercup
I agree. You aren't
worth the trouble
of a tussle right now.

As Buttercup walks
out of the kitchen, she glances
over her shoulder
several times. Even if
they don't trust each other,
at least I can appeal
to them with a little reason.

Still, I wish I discovered
how Buttercup gets out
of the house.

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