As the woman bent down to pick up her scarf, Sergeant Pinky and Rocky leaped into the car as well. The closing doors almost nipped Rocky’s tail.
Instantly, the train pulled out of the station and glided into the tunnel. The lights inside the car stayed on, but everything outside the windows was dark. Looking up, Sergeant Pinky saw that Gusty’s eyes were filled with tears. Right away, she sent up a meow that meant, “I’m-here-you’re-safe-trust-me.”
This was followed by a little mew. The mew seemed to come from a leather bag on the floor, but it was from Rocky. She was wedged in between a businessman’s feet and his briefcase. Her mew was telling Gusty, “I’m Rocky and this is my mother Pinky.”
“Hello, Mrs. Pinky,” said Gusty weakly. “Hello, Rocky.” He peered down between people’s shoulders, trying to find Rocky.
Pinky didn’t answer his greeting. She was thinking of a way to keep Gusty from blowing out the door at the next station, which was much too big and too crowded for a little wind to find his way back up into the fresh air. Finally, she meowed the simple message, “Stay-where-you-are!”
Gusty squirmed. It was obvious to Pinky that he didn’t like the idea of staying put. As the conductor’s voice announced over the loudspeaker, “Fifty-ninth Street,” Gusty coiled himself up and was ready to spring out at the first opportunity. But he was completely unprepared for the stampede of passengers out of the car and for the larger stampede of passengers into it. Even Pinky and Rocky had to hop around smartly to avoid being kicked. Rocky began to look as sick and scared as Gusty.
Through the forest of people’s ankles, Pinky shot her daughter a Strengthening Look, and Rocky, who had begun to tremble, felt herself calming down. Nevertheless, all she wanted was to get off this dratted train. She didn’t care if Gusty never found his way out of the subway system.
Pinky sent another meow up toward the ceiling. This one said, “Next-time-get-off-be-quick.” The switching around of directions – first, Stay, and then, Go! -- was too much for Gusty. He started to cry, as the people under him grumbled, “Where’s that water dripping from?”
Sergeant Pinky recognized a Lost Cause. The three of them would have to stay on, until Gusty could choke back his tears and get strong enough to obey. But when the train pulled in to Sixty-eighth Street, most of the passengers who were standing rushed out. They were going to find a car where the ceiling didn’t leak. Some Hunter College students got on, but there was a lot more breathing space than there had been before. Gusty felt better right away. And even Rocky cheered up when a young man in jeans, balancing a load of textbooks, bent down and petted her.
When the train pulled in to Seventy-seventh Street, Gusty didn’t have to be told what to do. He got himself through the doors and whirled in a groggy but relieved way above the platform. As soon as Pinky and Rocky darted off the train, they headed toward the steps without looking up. They knew Gusty would follow them. In what seemed like no time, the three of them were back out in the fresh air.
Gusty was so happy, he wanted to play. When he spotted a building that had both a dome and steeples, he shouted out, “Look at that!”
“That is St. Jean the Baptist, a French church,” Sergeant Pinky told him. She was a stickler for using proper names. “Otherwise,” she told her kittens, “you’ll end up calling everything ‘this thing here’ or ‘that thing over there.’”
Gusty had made one rotation around the dome of St. Jean’s when he saw a hotel nearby that had a very tall tower. “Wow!” he whistled. “Can I go there?”
“Yes, you may go to the H-O-T-E-L C-A-R-L-Y-L-E,” Sergeant Pinky informed him, enunciating the name clearly. Being fond of history, she added, “Presidents and Princesses have stayed there.” This information was lost on Gusty, although Rocky’s eyes got big. She pictured guests stepping out of long white limousines, and some of them were wearing gold crowns.
Gusty blew around the Carlyle a few times, and then headed back to the church. He was right on top of the steeples when he decided to blow around the Carlyle instead. Rocky could see he didn’t know whether he was coming or going. Sergeant Pinky leaned against a trash can and sighed deeply. She could feel the first hammer strokes of a headache, and she was flat out of ideas.
But Rocky had an idea. “Mew,” she said. Her mew meant, “Mom, I want to play.” Pinky hesitated. Could she get Gusty back to Rockefeller Center on her own? Rocky mewed again. The second mew meant, “Gusty and I could play in Central Park.”
Before Pinky could answer, Gusty was blowing over their heads. “I’m thirsty,” he cried. “I’m thirsty.” Where could Gusty get a drink? Pinky didn’t want him drinking from the dirty puddles in the gutter. She couldn’t figure out what to do, but Rocky knew. She began to dance around, and suddenly her mother got it! “The Angel Fountain,” Pinky thought. That was the perfect solution.
On Seventy-second Street, right inside Central Park, was a big fountain with the statue of an angel on top of it. Pinky had often used the basin for a Discipline Parade. When her kittens were six months old, she would take them to the fountain and march them around the rim, training them in obedience. “Obedience” meant, “You put your paws exactly where Mom does and in exactly the same way.” Only once had a kitten slipped and fallen in, but Pinky was so quick in grabbing him that he was out before he knew he was wet.
There was no better place for Gusty to get a drink. The basin was so wide that the little wind could gulp water to his heart’s content. And the water was clean. “Meow,” said Pinky. That meant, “OK,” but it wasn’t a whole-hearted OK. She didn’t want these children to go off on their own. On the other hand, she had to be back at work. She comforted herself with the thought that at least there were two of them, and one of them had her head screwed on straight. Rocky would stay with Gusty until his brother showed up again.
Suddenly, like a gift from God, Pinky saw a sight that relieved all her concerns. An orange tabby was standing between two parked cars, waiting to cross the street. The tabby was Winslow, a grown-up cat from the Whitney Museum. He patrolled the galleries at night, after the visitors had gone. He didn’t have to clock in until evening, so his afternoons were free. Winslow was the answer!
Pinky caught his eye and gave him the secret sign that meant, Kittens to protect! Winslow nodded. He crossed the street and caught up with Rocky, who was scampering toward Central Park with Gusty blowing himself into pretzel shapes above the gingko trees.
In another minute a third cat joined them. It was Pom-Pom, a young and elegant Siamese from one of the dress shops on Madison, and right behind her, Catnip dashed out of a doorway. Catnip was a yellow kitten with white paws who lived in Bemelmans, the piano bar of the Carlyle Hotel. Bemelmans Bar was famous among the cats of New York because of the paintings on its walls, showing animals dressed in their party clothes, stuffing themselves at picnic tables in Central Park. Thanks to the bar’s generous staff, Catnip was already plump and living the life of Riley, even though he was no older than Rocky.
Just as Pinky thought, “Those little guys are going to have a ball,” she noticed that Rocky was way out in front of the other cats. There was no doubt about it. Rocky was a leader, just like her mother!
With her responsibility discharged, Sergeant Pinky turned around. She darted back toward the subway station and trotted down the stairs on the opposite side. Taking the train wasn’t the healthiest way home but it was the fastest. And the easiest. Pinky opened her mouth in an enormous yawn. She had never been so tired in her life.
But slipping under the turnstile, she had a thought that lifted her whiskers. Maybe she could find Matilda tomorrow. Maybe she could make Matilda understand how great Rocky was. As Sergeant Pinky told her children, “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything,” and Rocky did even wrong things the right way. Such as her little “holidays-from-obedience” last winter when she disappeared for a while, only to come home reeking of subway smells. She was preparing herself for her future vocation, and what mother could complain about that?
As Pinky leaped aboard a southbound local, she wondered if she could get Matilda to write something every day about Rocky’s development. Then Pinky could post it on the Feline Internet. Combining the gritty investigative drama of the New York sidewalks with Rocky’s wholesome, old-fashioned charm, it would beat the living daylights out of all the other blogs!
© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2009