Thursday, August 23, 2012

The cat that hates thunder

It's looking like the Keys will be hit by Hurricane Isaac, or at least get a lot of rain and wind.
The blustery wetness is not a concern for me but my cat Joie (pronounced "Joey") is of another mind on this subject.
She's a rescue cat, found with her siblings in a southern Maryland tobacco barn after a redneck blew her mother away with a shotgun blast. The assailant is unknown to everyone, but I think we all understand where the resulting karma will lead him.

Was that thunder?
Joie's ears are erect and her countenance 
wary and resolute as her brain
processes sound data.

That seminal moment in her kittenhood means Joie does not brook loud noises.
To her, every sudden, sharp sound could be a shotgun blast.
I learned quickly not to pop plastic bags within her hearing range when putting my groceries away. The one time I did that, she leaped into the air faster than my brain could register the movement. She can transition from contended, sleepy recline to missile in a nanosecond. Her tail expands to the thickness of a cruise ship dock line by the time she lands. She then dashes under something, anything--the couch, a book case, even a loose floor tile if it's close by.
When she's asleep in the deep of night, she can register the flicker of lightning from as far away as Delaware with her eyes closed.
When she does hear quiet thunder in the distance, her rear end lowers to the floor and she stares intently at the ceiling. She then circles the carpet with her butt low and her tail horizontal to the floor and slinks into a closet or other hiding place.
God forbid if a rogue lightning bolt smacks the ground up the street. If you live in Key West, you know about those dark clouds that silently float over your house and let loose a bolt without warning. Those sneaky hits create a flash/explosion that makes everyone jump. Joie simply beams herself elsewhere and no strobe light can ever record her flight. Not a chance.
Rain is another early warning technology for her; if she hears pelting rain on the roof, she assumes lightning is outside, to be followed quickly by shotgun blasts (thunder). Why take a chance? This cat won't. She knows the combination to the safe and, hoping to hide there, will work the tumblers like mad, too panicked to remember the sequence.
As I write, it's Friday night and a strong wind--not associated with Isaac--begins to blow through the windows. These powerful but short-lived blasts have been intermittent all day, but Joie just dashed past my desk and under the couch. If she only knew what could be on the way by Monday.
If Isaac hits us, there will be thunder, lightning, and lashing rain--for her, a Trifecta of Terror that guarantees I won't see her for a few days.
So I am not going to say the word S-T-O-R-M out loud. Even now she may have caught the tapping of keys and figured out I've spelled it out. I don't dare leave the tropical cyclone map up on my computer monitor, either. That would be out of the question. She would simply leap onto the desk and study the map to learn how many days until shotgun blasts arrive.
I tested her reaction time once and regret it still.
She was curled on the couch with the bliss on her face that only cats can achieve. I snuck up on her on my hands and knees, making sure not to alarm her. She knew I was approaching--she made a slight adjustment to her ears without moving her head. She expected me to gently scratch her behind the ears, but instead I put my lips to her ear and whispered, "Boom." I said it softly, but the emergency room doctor said I must have yelled.
My stitches come out next week.

-John Guerra

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