Friday, July 9, 2010
Fu Manchu: The Return of Sniffles
I watch the roulette wheel spin with mild disdain. I never approved of Uncle Chuckles’ gambling addiction. If I told him once, I told him a thousand times—the lottery is not a practical retirement plan. Pfft. Men. What can you do? I watched the little ball bounce. I could see my deranged angel chanting, “Black 25, black 25” in his head.
I yawn. I stretch. I hike my leg up and lick myself. What? You would, too, if you could. The ball bounces. I’m tempted to hop down and run off with the damn thing—to teach them all a lesson. But black cats are barely tolerated as it is. Best not push my luck. The ball stops. “Red 23!”
Sigh…if I told him once…I watch his face fall. My beloved Uncle Chuckles—even his orange tufted hair seems sad. He points to his cart full of fresh cans—our livelihood. He wouldn’t! He did. My ears perk up and I sit rigid and focused as he haggles away this week’s money. I yell “Reeer!” as I shoot through the air at him. I love that man, but he can be a royal pain in the ass.
“Sniffles!” He shouts and dodges my attack. I snub him and twitch my tail as I stalk into the shrubbery. He got my point—I’m sure of it. I go search for mice, but find a ground mole instead. Those are quick little suckers, let me tell you! I work up a sweat swatting it to and fro—darting in quick, sure steps as it tries to escape my razor sharp claws.
I forget about the roulette wheel as I swallow its tail. Mmmm…tasty. I stalk back to the gambling hobos and take my rightful spot next to Uncle Chuckles. Peter Pickansquat, stirs the mystery stew—and it smells divine! I lean over and sniff the air. Ah the main course after a yummy appetizer. No wonder I’m getting fat.
Uncle Chuckles reaches down and scratches my ears absently, then tallies up his winnings. It seems his luck had changed while I was hunting. He smiles at me and says, “There’s my good girl, Sniffles. I’ve got a surprise for you.” A surprise? I lick his hand and he chuckles deep in his big belly. “Ah, ah. Wait until it’s time, Sniffles.” He winks at me and my heart overflows with love for him. My beloved, my deranged angel, my heart beats for thee! I’m such a ma-roon.
We sit in relative comfort, supping with fellow bums—outcasts with stories of the “normal” folk. Willy Tinkerton and coughs, “I saw this dame with seams running up the backs of her legs—you know—the sexy stockings? Well she bends over to pick up her wailing brat and I ken see them seams go straight up to her arse. Poetry I tell ya—pure poetry.” Skidmark laughs and says, “Yeah? Did ya get a piece of that action, Willy?”
I laugh to myself—the idea! Sure, Willy’s a good enough bloke, but no “normal” chick would want a piece of that craggy old soul. His good eye frowns—his wayward eye does whatever the heck it wants. I lick my paw and stroke my ears. Willy clears his throat, “Naw. The brat threw up on her. Right pity, too. She had a nice rack to match them stockings.”
Skidmark slugs Willy and passes the tin of cornbread to Uncle Chuckles. My deranged angel thanks him and speaks strong and clear. I stop grooming myself to listen. “I had a wife once…she wore silk stockings with a seam running up the back.” We all stared in shock. Uncle Chuckles was the most antisocial bastard this side of the Mississippi! He shrugged, “I used to love to run my hands over those seams…I left her with our boy…I reckon he’d be close to eighteen by now.”
I sit back to process this revelation. I’m not the only woman in his life? How can that be? I lie down on his knee and purr. He strokes my head and my jealousy subsides. We eat in silence after that. I doubt that anyone knew quite what to say. We break just before dawn. The light from the fire is ebbing—the light from the sky cracking into unfathomable hues of red, yellow, and blue.
Uncle Chuckles packs up his winnings and we walk quietly back to our makeshift tent. “I shouldn’t have told them that, Sniffles.” I gaze at him sympathetically. There isn’t any secret that can phase my love for him. I rub against his legs and he trips over me. I hear him chuckle, “You mental cat!” I smile with satisfaction—whatever it takes to make him smile is what I’ll do.
He unloads his winnings, carefully sorting them and placing them in shoeboxes. And then he pulls a wiggling bundle from his coat. “Sniffles, come here sweet girl.” I saunter up to him—at my own pace. I peek at the bundle, smelling trouble. He opens the cloth and out pops an orange tabby. I sneeze. Uncle Chuckles scratches the tabby’s ears. I see red. “This is Mr. Tibs. Treat him nice Sniffles.”
I glare at the intruder. I glare at Uncle Chuckles. He goes gambling with our meager wages and brings back a…a…a Mr. Tibs! Oh the nerve! The tabby-cat sits on his ass and licks himself. I walk up to him, “Hey round boy,” I say, “You better stay outta my way. You hear me?” He ignores me and turns to scratch his shoulder. Oh great. He’s got fleas. Unclean! I shake with outrage and stalk off to find a critter to kill.
I don’t come back for two whole days. I’m sure that my deranged angel is sick with worry—but no. I catch him outfitting the flea-bitten round boy with a top hat and a bowtie. “There’s a nice boy, Mr. Tibs.” I burn. I seethe. I mean to tell you I’m fit to be tied and I take off again. How dare my beloved pamper that lazy sack of pompous-do-nothing-flea-motel?! Where is my tiara?! Doesn’t he know that I’m the next Queen of Sheba? Men!
I stay gone two more days and this time when I return I see my beloved sleeping soundly. The lazy waste of fur sits grooming himself. I walk up to Uncle Chuckles and twitch my tail in his face. “Hello,” I say. I purr. I pounce. I knead my claws in his chest—nothing. Huh? This isn’t right. I walk up to shit-for-brains and demand, “What’d you do to my beloved?” Mr. Tibs yawns and clicks his claws, one by one. “He’s dead. Found him like that this morning.”
Panic grips me cold and frantic—racing through my blood. Dead? Impossible! I run back to my deranged angel. I jump on his chest. I pound on his heart. I lick his whiskers. I nudge his hand with my head. “Pet me!” I scream and sob and meow for all I’m worth. But nothing brings him back to me. I curl up on his chest and try to offer warmth.
Shit-for-brains scoffs and yells, “Hey, dumbass, he’s dead. Get over it.” He runs into the open field. I yell, “Traitor!” But it sounds more like a squeak. I lay there all day, remembering our adventures. I’d weep, but my eyes are dry. The sun is starting to set. Who will find him, I wonder? Who will lay him to rest with the honor he deserves? It kills me to think of him laying here for days or weeks until someone finds him.
And then I remember the night he talked about his family. I rifle through his pockets and the fabric makes me sneeze. I don’t know what I’m searching for—or why I even care. I mean, he did betray me. But I dig anyway. Sneeze and burrow. Sneeze and burrow. And then I find it.
It’s old and yellowed—slightly frayed. I pull it out with tender teeth, careful not to tear it. A photograph with feather-soft edges drifts onto his chest. A young Uncle Chuckles with a Fu Manchu mustache and Gallagher hair bounces a curly haired child on his knee. An elegant woman smiles as she leans over the back of the chair and watches them. She looks so in love. How could she not be? How could anyone not love him?
I nuzzle his cheek and purr mournfully one last time. Then I take the photograph in my teeth and set off to find them. They have to know he died. They have to mourn him. They have to remember him. I couldn’t stand it if this all there is to his tale. I twitch my tail and stalk off into the tall grass. And I sneeze.
*This is Part Two of The Sniffles Saga. Read Part One here. Also, I dunno who did the painting, but I like it. ;)