On the first warm day in spring, a white cat with pink eyes was sunning herself outside the cafe in the plaza of the Rockefeller Centre.  Crowds of people came and went through the glass doors, but she paid no attention.  Her job was scanning the sidewalk for mice.  If she spotted a mouse, she chased it until it leaped into one of the flower boxes and disappeared among the azaleas.  She was a security guard at shoe-level.  The staff called her Sergeant Pinky.

As a branch of her restaurant job, Pinky ran a lost-and-found operation for children.  She was a self-appointed first-responder.  If a child toddled off while his parents were celebrity-spotting, she would dart after him, cut in front of him, plop herself down on his shoes and howl her head off.  As the boy burst into loud wails, every mother in the crowd would rush up to comfort him, and there would be -- presto – a family reunion.

The rescue operation was its own reward, because nothing, not even a kind word, came from the parents.  Instead of petting Pinky for her timely intervention, they tugged their child away, asking nervously, “That nasty cat didn’t scratch you, did she?”  Or, even worse, “You don’t think the cat had rabies, do you?”  After an episode like that, Pinky would stalk back to her position at the cafe door, thanking God that her children had a more intelligent parent. 

Today, one of Pinky’s children had joined her outside the cafe.  She was a gray kitten, who was eager to learn the business.  Her name was Rockette, because she had been born backstage at Radio City, but she preferred Rocky.  Rocky had a boundless admiration for her mother.  She wanted to grow up just like her. 

Around noon, Pinky decided it was time for their lunch and meowed at one of the waiters.  She could pack a long message into a short meow.  “Gone-hunting, don’t-worry, back-soon,” she said. 

“Message received, Sergeant Pinky,” smiled the waiter. 

With Rocky right behind her, Pinky scurried through the plaza filled with tables and up the stairs to the street.  She was heading toward a tiny park that had a waterfall and birch trees.  Pinky could be pretty sure of finding something running around the park that would taste good.

On her way, she caught up with Matilda, another white cat in midtown, who lived at the Algonquin Hotel.  She was plumper and dreamier than Pinky.  She wrote poems, and some of them had been published in the New Yorker.  Pinky couldn’t make head or tail of poems in the New Yorker, but she had a great respect for the cats who wrote them.  She and Matilda and Rocky trotted on together in a friendly way. 

When they got outside the park, however, Pinky felt a disturbance in the air above her.  Glancing up, she saw a wind blow by – with a smaller wind on his shoulder. The smaller one jumped off, and the bigger one blew on toward the Hudson River.  Sergeant Pinky could see from the little wind’s face – his bright eyes, his wide smile, and his button nose -- that he was only five or six years old.  Had his brother just dropped him in mid-air and run away?

Yes, he had.  Pinky stared at the sky, which was empty now except for a few clouds high overhead, and gave a sniff of disapproval.  This was Dereliction of Duty -- failure to do the right thing.  Pinky had trained her kittens to shun Dereliction of Duty and treat it like mange.  Since the brother had failed, somebody else would have to take care of this child. 

Pinky checked out Matilda to see if she was going to volunteer.  But Matilda was not a take-charge kind of animal.  She was poking her paw into a crack in the sidewalk and pretending to be busy.  She didn’t like any duties that took her away from her art.  The responsibility fell to Sergeant Pinky.  “Meow,” said Pinky to her daughter.  That meow meant, “Boy-too-young, needs-watching, lunch-later.” 

Rocky’s tummy growled.  She looked longingly at the park, but she wheeled around and followed behind her mother.

“Yippee,” shouted the little wind, who seemed to be having a fine time, spinning somersaults as he headed toward Fifth Avenue.  Two squirrels and a Chihuahua stared as he tumbled by overhead, although people paid no attention to him. 

When Pinky and Rocky got to the corner, a policeman bent down to pet them, but he stopped when he saw that Pinky’s tail was held straight up.  She was on duty.  “Good luck, Sarge,” he said, saluting her.  He blew his whistle to make the traffic stop until the two cats had safely crossed the street.

With Rocky in the lead, they darted toward the steps of St. Patrick’s, where the little wind was racing around between the steeples, making all sizes of figure-eights in the air.  Parking herself on the bottom step, Pinky stared upward, trying to catch his eye.  But he was making faces at his reflection in the glass-fronted building opposite the cathedral. He had no interest in anything on the sidewalk.  She had to take action. 

“Meow,” ordered Pinky sternly.  She was saying, “Calm-down, pay-attention, I’m-talking.”  It seemed impossible that he could hear her, over the noise of buses clashing their gears and taxis honking.  But he jumped on his brakes and blew himself down until he was right over the heads of the two cats. 

Feeling bold, Rocky leaped to the step above her mother.  “Mew,” she said.  It was a nice loud mew for a kitten, although it was a little too friendly for the purpose, and she had forgotten to put in any commands. 

The little wind chuckled.  He was thrilled to have a playmate.  “Catch me,” he called to Rocky.  Fish-tailing around, he blew himself up to the door of the cathedral, just as somebody opened it.  Whoosh!  He was in and out of sight.  Here was a challenge for the cats!  To find him, they would have to get through the door right beneath the sign that said, “No animals allowed.”

Sergeant Pinky never gave up without trying.  She dashed to the top step, dropped on her side, and began to lick her paws.  Without a moment’s delay, Rocky joined her mother.  She dropped down on her side and let her tail sweep lazily back and forth.  She recognized her mother’s tactic.  It was called Playing Possum.  It sent the message, “These cats don’t have a care in the world or a plan in their heads.”

An elderly woman coming out of the cathedral said to her grandsons, “Look at the kitties.  Aren’t they sweet?”  But the boys had seen a man on the corner selling T-shirts and ran off in his direction.  The grandmother let the door go in a hurry to chase after them, and just before it closed, Pinky and Rocky jumped to their paws and slipped inside. 

The air was dim and fragrant with incense, and the space was crowded.  But the cats had no trouble finding the little wind.  On the left side of the church, people had gathered in front of a rack of yellow glass candle-holders.  They were asking one another, “What’s blowing the candles out?  I felt a breeze, didn’t you?  It must be a draft from the air-conditioning!”

Pinky led her daughter in and around the pews that separated them from the little wind.  Like an experienced trapper, she avoided jumping on the seats.  She didn’t want a tourist to fuss over them or an usher to spot them, grab them and toss them out a side door.  Instead, she stuck to the floor or to the kneelers that were far down in darkness. 

When they got right across the aisle from the blown-out candles, Pinky calculated that they were far enough away from any ushers to take a chance.  She flicked a warning glance at her daughter, who understood that she was to stay hidden.  But Pinky positioned herself in a clear space on the floor where she couldn’t be missed by anybody up in the air. 

The little wind had been romping around above the pews in the main aisle.  As he swirled back toward the left, he caught sight of Pinky.  Not willing to risk the softest meow, Pinky fixed him with a Burning Glance.  It was a glance she had perfected for just such situations, where only silence was safe.  She had licked into shape a whole platoon of kittens with her Burning Glance.

It proved to be just as effective with children who weren’t kittens.  The little wind gulped and slowed down.  He was waiting to be told what to do, and Sergeant Pinky told him.  Keeping her eyes fixed on his eyes, she flicked an ear toward the nearest exit.  The flick of the ear meant “Out!” 

Turning around, she headed toward the exit with the little wind in tow.  Rocky stepped out of hiding to join her and marched along behind her mother.  She was not afraid of ushers now, even though there was a sour-faced one standing between them and the door.  Her mother had taught her that if you plan carefully, you will have success even in ways you don’t expect.  And sure enough, once they reached the door, it opened to admit a long line of school children, and the three of them slipped through unnoticed.  Mistakenly, Rocky thought their job was done!

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2009

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

Sponsored Advert