Once they were out of St. Patrick’s, Rocky’s attention was distracted by a mouse.  It was a very tiny one with round ears and a long tail, and it was darting from a narrow strip of garden on one side of the door to a narrow strip of garden on the other. 

In a flash, Rocky pounced and missed, but her mother dashed after her and brought her back before she could pounce a second time.  They had no time for snacks and no responsibility for mice outside Rockefeller Centre. They had to keep their minds on their job.

Thanks to that minute of inattention, the little wind had gotten away again.  Scanning the sky, the cats couldn’t see him, because the great bulk of the church blocked their view.  It was easy to figure out which way he had gone, however.  Midway down Fifty-first street, a hot-dog vendor’s umbrella had been knocked completely sideways, and his customers were standing in a blizzard of napkins that had settled on their heads, the sidewalk and the tops of cars. 

As Pinky and Rocky darted along Fifty-first to Madison, they saw on the next corner an elderly man trying to restrain two Pekinese puppies who had forgotten the dignity of their breed.  They were straining at the end of their leashes and bouncing up and down as if they had springs on their paws.  “They’re trying to fly,” thought Pinky in amazement.  It was clear who had inspired them to try that stunt! 

When Pinky and Rocky got all the way to Park Avenue, they found the little wind blowing above St. Bartholomew’s.  He was chasing himself faster and faster around the dome, until he began to sink a little.  Rocky could see he was wearing down.  “Mew!” she called.  And this time there was a command in her mew.  It said, “You’re dizzy, you’re tired and I want you to stop.” 

“I’m not tired,” shouted the little wind.  “I’m not.”  To prove it, he began to blow in and out of the columns in front of the church, making very raggedy circles. 

Sergeant Pinky jumped onto the church steps.  She opened her mouth to meow an order, when Rocky got in first with a question.  “What’s your name?”  she mewed. 

“Gusty,” answered the little wind.  “I’m Gusty, Gusty, Gusty.”  And he puffed at one of the flags, making it flap around its pole. 

Sergeant Pinky decided they had wasted enough time getting Gusty to obey.  How could she corral him back to Rockefeller Center?  She thought furiously.  There was no point in trying the Burning Glance again.  That could only be deployed in closed spaces.  Out in the open, it lost all its force. 

This situation called for Reverse Psychology.  Since Gusty was so contrary, she would order him to do the wrong thing.  She was sure that would trick him into doing the right thing, which was to blow back where he started.  Staring east toward Lexington, she gave Gusty a short, misleading meow.  It meant, “Follow-me-this-way,” and with a twitch of an ear, she and Rocky marched off together. 

But Gusty didn’t disobey.  He didn’t blow away from them.  He wanted to stay with Rocky.  He liked her!  He followed along above her, and when they got halfway to Lexington, Gusty gave a loud “Whoopee” and turned a backflip.  He was trying to get her attention.  It was the triumph of friendship over Reverse Psychology.

Sergeant Pinky’s plan had failed!  She sat down in disbelief.  For a moment, her customary coolness deserted her, and she allowed herself to get annoyed.  Acting out of annoyance is usually a mistake for animals as well as humans, and this time was no exception.  Taking her eyes off Gusty, Pinky turned around, nudged Rocky to do the same, and began to head home, toward Fifth Avenue.  Her back was stiff as a board.  It sent its own message up to the sky, “I’m-fed-up, do-as-I-say-or-else.”

Her message might have worked, if Gusty hadn’t seen something that made him as curious as a cat.  Looking down at Lexington and 52nd, he watched a line of people hurrying along, practically stepping on one another’s heels.  When they got to a big hole in the sidewalk, they hurried down into it.  They didn’t turn their heads to the left or the right.  They rushed into the hole at top speed.  “I want to see what’s going on down there!” shouted Gusty.  And he plunged after the people.

Sneaking a quick look over her shoulder, Sergeant Pinky was horrified to see Gusty disappear down the steps of a subway station.  Particularly that subway station!  Remembering how Marilyn Monroe had ruined her marriage to Joe DiMaggio by allowing herself to be photographed right there in a pose that Pinky could not approve of, Pinky thought of the station as bad mojo.  Forgetting that Rocky was listening, she muttered a swear word in Feline.  The word, which she couldn’t approve of either, had a certain medicinal value that relieved her feelings.  She signalled to Rocky to do an abrupt about-face, and they sprinted after Gusty like Olympic runners. 

When they reached the station, however, Sergeant Pinky paused and shot a quick look at her daughter.  She had never taken any of her kittens on an official trip into the subway.  Should she leave Rocky on the sidewalk?  Yes and no, said her mind.  Sergeant Pinky shook her head to clear it.  She hated yes and no answers. 

In favour of ‘Yes, leave her,’ was the fact Rocky hadn’t had her first birthday yet.  On the other hand, she would have it next month.  After that, she wouldn’t be a kitten anymore.  Also in favour of “No, take her,” was the fact that two cats are better than one for tackling a difficult situation.  And Gusty had already shown some willingness to follow Rocky.  That could make all the difference. 

As Sergeant Pinky gave her head another vigorous shake, she shook loose an old saying that had been filed away in the back of her mind.  The old saying was, “Needs must when the devil drives.”  This means, do what you have to in a pinch, and don’t worry about what you would do if circumstances weren’t pinching you.  So the answer was clear -- take Rocky. 

Sergeant Pinky and Rocky sped down the stairs neck and neck.  At the bottom, they flattened themselves against the tiled wall until enough passengers were going by to screen them from the ticket-seller in the booth.  Dodging around the shoes that were quick-stepping past, they slipped under the turnstile and darted along the platform.  

They had no trouble finding Gusty.  He was at the other end of the station, crumpled up beneath the ceiling and the wall, as far as he could get from the edge of the platform.  He had screwed up his face like someone trying not to cry.  “He’s scared of the tunnel,” thought Rocky.  She could understand that. 

Although she knew it was strictly forbidden, Rocky had ventured into a subway station one cold day last winter  She had let herself down the stairs cautiously, slow step by slow step, her nose twitching at the stuffy air.  Huddled in a corner by the ticket booth, she listened to the turnstiles go clickety-click as passengers went through them.  And she stared into the darkness beyond the platform. 

When a train came roaring in and screeched to a stop, Rocky turned tail.  She fled back up the stairs at four times the speed she had come down.  Pausing at the top to scratch an ear, she gave serious thought to going back down again but decided that discretion was the better part of valour.  That means it’s OK to run away when you’re too small and scared to face something. 

On the other hand, she felt a little proud of herself for venturing into danger, and the next time her mother wasn’t looking, she tried it again.  She told herself she might have to do it on the job some day, if a mouse she was chasing decided to take a train.  That time she crept all the way out to the edge of the platform, only a few inches from the tunnel, before she turned around at top speed and dashed back into daylight. 

But Rocky could see Gusty wasn’t proud of himself.  She turned to her mother to say, “He can blow upstairs again, if we lead the way.”  But her mother flicked her whiskers in the sign that means, “Cat Up a Tree.”  She was telling Rocky that Gusty was like a cat that scampers up a tall tree for fun and then freezes.  He can’t get back down again, because he’s too scared to move.  In the cat’s case, a fireman comes with a ladder, picks up the poor cat and carries him back down.  But no fireman could pick up Gusty.  How could Pinky and Rocky get him out?

As the two cats stared at Gusty, who was turning greener by the moment, there was a loud rumble, and a train pulled into the station.  The people standing on the platform lined up in front of the train, waiting for the doors to open.  In a second, the doors slid open, some people came out, and others poured inside. 

Before Sergeant Pinky could warn Gusty, “Wait-for-the-train-to-leave-and-follow-us,” he panicked.  In a single burst of energy, he shot himself into the car closest to him, at the same time ruffling people’s hair and blowing a woman’s scarf onto the floor.  He had just made a great mistake! 

 © Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2009

The Very Best Toy for Cats

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