When the Bellybob town council announced the Most Outrageous Cat contest Tania’s friends knew that Slicker-Down was a shoe-in for the $1,000 prize. Tania, however, was adamant that her cat would not compete.
“I don’t want Slicker-Down exploited,” she said. “If his antics are on the Internet he might get kidnapped.” Her friend Dolly erupted with laughter, “Good luck for you. If he’s kidnapped, refuse to pay and they’ll be stuck with him.”
The contest was a first for the Bellybob and was intended to put the town on the map. Three years earlier, Lillyworth, five miles down the highway, had hosted a competition for the most adventurous dog, and followed up with a dog show at the country fair. Local businesses hooked their wagons to the marketing ploy. Now Lillyworth had annual Dog Days and been shortlisted as Dog Town, an annual honor sponsored by Doggie Yummies, two years running.
Always one to look for the main chance, Bellybob’s mayor wanted to do something equally successful. “A contest for prettiest cat would be boring,” he insisted and challenged the council to come up with a more creative idea. The suggestion by gun totting Whig Wanderbee to have a Cat With the Most Kills contest didn’t fly because Councilor Betsy Witherspoon abhorred the idea of “profiting from murder.” Finally, the thinking-outside-the- box-communication guru convinced the council to focus the prize on the most rascally cat.
Those who knew Slicker-Down’s reputation assumed there could be no contest. He ran his owner’s life to shreds. When anyone dropped by, he had to be incarcerated in the basement, which had been soundproofed on his behalf. When Tania’s friends or relatives from out of town visited, she was forced to put S-D, as she called him, at a cat retreat for the weekend.
“Who knows what he might do?” Tania wailed. “He’d pounce at you from the stairs. Leap on the table and lap up your tea. He’d snatch the soother out of a baby’s mouth.”
Slicker-Down was particularly naughty when Tania was on the phone. “Just like my daughter,” Dolly said. “She’ll play quietly when I am working in the kitchen but the minute I’m on the phone, she’ll bellow. If I take her up, she screams into the receiver. They seem to know.”
Slicker-Down sure knew and he had a short fuse. Five minutes into any phone call just when Dolly, Maria or another friend were explaining in detail the operation they had for varicose veins, or a sales item they’d returned twice, Slicker-Down started up.
“Oh my god,” Tania would cry. “He’s climbing up the curtains. I’ve got to go.”
“My orchid,” she’d shout. “He’s eating the flowers. Talk to you soon.”
Tania never had to say who “he” was. She lived alone, except for Slicker-Down: any damages were his.
Most cats mellow with age, Slicker-Down lived well past the expected date for cats and only got wilder. (A friend had suggested she should enter him in the Guinness Book of Records for long life.)
When Tania stayed firm on her contest decision, her friends, acknowledging that she was as stubborn as her cat, stopped pestering her.
All went well until three day before the contest deadline when Lucille, an old acquaintance, hoping to find a career-launching story, appeared at Tania’s door.
“Surprise,” the journalist cried, surprised at the horrified face that greeted her. “I’m in town doing a feature on the Contest and I want to write about the notorious Slicker-Down.” Pointing to her photographer colleague, she pushed forward. “We’re ready to roll.”
“Sorry,” Tania cried, clutching her mouth and holding off the marauders. “I had something for lunch that won’t stay down,” she said as she slammed the door shut. Her friend Lucille called through the mail slot, “Drink some water and baking soda. I’ll be back at six.”
Tania hurried out the back door and headed down the alley determined to find a cat sniffing around a garbage can or skulking in someone’s garden. She spotted a ragged old scoundrel, scooped him up, squeezed his squawking figure close and ran home. Shoving the struggling feline in the hall cupboard, Tania hurried out to the cat store. Once there, she scooped up a few cans of high-end cat food and a supply of catnip. (A friend had told her that catnip drove cats wild.) Once safely home, Tania sprinkled catnip around the house.
When she opened the cupboard door, the cat shot out, leapt in the air, its hair as if on fire, twirled around in frenzy and slid across the floor.
“Good boy,” said Tania.
The trial demonstration was not a moment too soon. The local paparazzi were at the door. Tania headed for the hallway, ready to face the world. She welcomed the twosome into the kitchen and pointed to the cat, which after its frenzied spin around the house, leapt unto the kitchen table and licked the butter dish. “I apologize that he looks so ratty,” Tania said to her visitors. “He fights like hell if I try to wash him.”
“Typical scoundrel,” said the photographer, an admirer of feisty cats and women.
Stretched like a lion errant on the kitchen table, the afternoon sun golden against his shabby coat, the cat’s purr stopped them cold.
“I knew it,” cried the reporter.
“Knew what?” Tania asked.
“I hate cats but they love me. No way could I get one to act up.”
“It’s not that,” said the photographer.
“No, I’m sure she’s right,” Tania said.
“No. Cats are clever. You want him to be a scoundrel and so he’s acting like a lamb.”
Tania sighed. “I should have tried that years ago.”
The three of them rolled their eyes and laughed indulgently. No way would wily Slicker-Down oblige by winning a bad cat contest.
Slicker-Down rose, head high, tail swishing and sauntered from the room. His first meal of the morning had been a scrawny mouse but now his future was assured.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Published in Contrary Cats, Indigo Mosaic, Dec.2013.