Our neighbors have a cat. It’s a tiny calico thing who makes the most pitiful mews and last year when it first started showing up, she would run to wherever you were and ram her head against your hand, demanding to be pet. And even though it would drive Cal absolutely nuts on the other side of the window, we would often pet this cat when we were on the phone (there’s no cell service in my house, so to talk on my cell phone I have to go outside. Yes, Los Angeles, home of the cell phone, has the crappiest service in the world. I’ve had friends visit from Texas, New York, and Georgia, and all of them get better service in my living room, and even in the hills above my neighborhood, on their phones from New York than I can get calling my friends down the street on my cell phone. It’s maddening.).
Over the past year, however, the kitten has grown into cathood, and the cat now enjoys “playing” constantly. So when you approach the kitty with your hand outstretched, instead of bopping her head into your hand lovingly, she now raises one paw and tries to swat your hand. It’s a hesitant swat, like a cat playing with string, but there’s no way around the death claws at the end of her paw. The only thing that is the same is that tiny little cry, one that in my cat-to-English skills says, “Please pet me! I am so lonely and neglected over here!”
The afternoon of Halloween, when I was taking out the garbage, the little cat ran up to me and mewed from the other side of the wire fence. She couldn’t figure out how to get around the fence through the bushes, but instead pushed her head up to the edge of the fence, begging once again to be pet.
I looked over at stee, who was sweeping. “This cat is always playing now, have you noticed?”
“You mean how she always tries to scratch you?”
“Yeah. She’s playing, I guess, but I miss when she was more into getting pet. This cat wants to scratch me.”
I try not to pet stray dogs. I’ve been snapped at enough to learn that some dogs just aren’t friendly, no matter how pure of heart you may be. And I’ve got enough fear of dogs that I respect them and I don’t put my hand out to them. But I haven’t learned that about cats yet. I haven’t tangled with a wild cat, and most of my cat experiences have been either: cat bolts in total terror from the step of my approach, or cat turns into most adorable lap-loving pussycat from the first stroke.
The cat reached her paw out and before I knew what was happening she had hooked one of her claws into the middle finger of my right hand. Deep into the flesh of my finger. And the cat pulled my hand back through the fence over to her yard. On her property! I made my hand go limp — I knew if I yanked it back I’d rip open my fingertip. I tried to move my hand with her paw, to disengage the curved dagger that was deeply implanted in the flesh of the finger formerly known as Tall Man.
“Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow, she’s got my finger, she’s got my finger,” I said to stee, who is supposed to pay attention when I say words like that in that order.
It felt like a very long time before I finally got my finger detached from the cat, by waiting until the cat was confused by my lack of struggle. I had my finger play dead, and the cat released it.
And then came the blood. I ran back into the house and headed straight for the hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and neosporin. “Cat Scratch Fever” was playing in my head. I remembered the bite from Cal (which has finally healed after months of ugly bruising), and another scratch from Taylor that took weeks to heal.
“Are you okay?” stee yelled from outside.
“No!” I shouted back, alternating between encouraging the bleeding to get rid of cat germs and drowing my finger in anti-bacterial fluids. It didn’t hurt too much, which made me nervous. There was a dull throbbing from deep in my finger, and I was too worried about getting it infected to think about the pain.
The bleeding did stop eventually, and my finger looked, to the untrained eye, completely fine.
stee finally came back inside. “Okay?” he asked, barely taking a moment from cleaning for his precious party.
“No thanks to you,” I hissed.
He went back to cleaning. And I, like any other girlfriend who doesn’t understand why she just fixed a boo-boo by herself, set immediately to nagging.
“I was really bleeding!” I whined, my voice screeching in a way I didn’t know was possible.
“Aw,” he said, leaning over and kissing the band-aid while unraveling the vacuum cleaner cord.
“I could have died.”
Okay, yes. Right here I became a girl I hate. And I don’t know how it happened. I couldn’t stop it. What made me want him to drop everything and focus only on me and my bandaged finger? What was it that made me angry that he didn’t?
“I’m sorry,” was all he said as he fixed the bathroom mat and started putting away all of the first-aid equipment I had pulled out.
“Why don’t you care?”
Now I’m just being a bit of an asshole. My finger is fine, and he’s busy cleaning and now I want the world to stop because of a cat scratch. But I’ve twisted what has happened to mean that he doesn’t care about me. I could lose all of my fingers in a fire and he wouldn’t care. I could get my fingers stolen in a dark alley and he’d be like, “Could you hand me that bottle of Windex?”
He did stop cleaning. And he did turn around. He leaned against the bathroom counter and stared at me. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I reluctantly grumped.
“I do care. But you seem fine.”
“I am.” (Note sing-song Eeyore voice)
“I’m sorry you got scratched. But what did you say right before that cat scratched you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You said, ‘This cat wants to scratch me.’”
“Oh, so it’s my fault, then. I was asking for it?”
That’s when I gave him my bandaged middle finger.