Jaguar Pyramid Image.

Ursula Tathiana Thiem

© Copyright 1999 by Ursula Tathiana Thiem

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This is a fictional story inspired by many cats.

Jaguar was a true cat's cat. We called him Jaggie. I'd known him as far back as I could remember. A couple of months after I was born, my parents purchased a tiny grey-and-white-with-black-stripes kitten. Now that I was in the family, we needed a faithful animal companion to watch over me. Jaguar got the job. Most people tend to think that cats don't make very good protectors, but Jaggie was a real killer. If you look through our family photo album, you can still find a picture of a small, dark smudge of a cat clamped triumphantly onto the diaper of a wailing baby. Jaggie and I were instant friends.

Jaggie's kittenhood was very fulfilling for him. The only thing more exciting to explore than our large house was the very large yard surrounding it, and Jaggie made it known immediately that he was lord of all that he surveyed. Whenever he couldn't get anyone to pay attention to him, the bold kitten would spend his time stalking through the untamed wilderness of the backyard. The world must have seemed very large and exciting to such a small explorer; he was content to wriggle through the short grasses of the lawn, nipping at crickets and other delicacies.

Eventually, though, my father's garden became Jaggie's favorite place to lounge. Carefully tended and sculpted, the garden became Jaggie's jungle domain, which pleased my dad to no end. Jaguar would often clash with the local squirrels that gorged themselves on anything in the garden that didn't eat them first. Jaggie found it great fun to chase the fat little rodents back to their trees, then lay in the garden and wash his paws. Jaggie's partnership with my dad lasted until he got caught in one of our squirrel traps. Mom was the one who found him in the cage, mewing piteously. After that, Jaggie still chased squirrels, but we found more than one tomato felled (presumably in vengeance) by his mighty claws.

The other neighborhood pets each had their turn to meet Jaggie, and without exception every one of them fled, fur standing on edge or tail between legs, in the face of his chaotic onslaught. Nobody messed with Jaggie. Not even us. It didn't take long for the little upstart to conquer the household, and he ruled with an iron paw.

Whenever there was something going on, Jaggie wanted to know about it. He always seemed to be underfoot, but he always made sure that he didn't look particularly concerned about what you were doing. Simple chores and daily activities were often managed under the discriminating watch of our feline supervisor. He never told you if you were doing a bad job, but sometimes he didn't look very pleased at all. We all became very familiar with Jaggie's "not pleased at all" look. It was the most foreboding in his arsenal of characteristic expressions. When the king was unhappy, the subjects were in for trouble. Especially dad.

Mom and I have since decided that the squirrel-cage incident must have been very traumatic for Jaggie, and that he never forgave dad for it. But for whatever reason, if he needed to vent some anger, he would always go out of his way to find dad–especially if the target was barefoot.

Jaguar became an expert practitioner of the barefoot hit-and-fade. It consisted of a good hiding place near well-traveled areas of the house, and, of course, bare feet. The choice location for Jaggie was underneath my parents' waterbed. More often than not, if my dad was foolishly strolling through his bedroom without shoes, he could no sooner realize his fatal mistake than a vicious beast would be clamped to his ankle, shaking the prey-foot mercilessly, bloodlust gleaming in his eyes. Mom thought it was cute and defended Jaggie whenever he "crossed the line." Dad swore the cat was trying to kill him. Jaggie only drew blood once, but he was having a bad week at the time.

Jaguar was also a master of deception. On more than one occasion he had been known to jump up onto someone's lap, make himself comfortable, and purr conspicuously. After a few minutes of ear-scratching and whisker-stroking, Jaggie would stand up, stretch luxuriously, sink his teeth into whoever had been accommodating him, and then disappear. Again, dad was a favorite target for Jaggie, and he never seemed to catch on to the pattern.

The only person that Jaggie ever considered a colleague was my grandpa. Grandpa didn't like cats much, but he and Jaggie seemed to understand each other. Whenever grandpa visited, the pair could watch television for hours together–grandpa in an easy chair, Jaguar on his lap having his chin scratched. My mom was especially amazed at this. Her dad had always been a dog-lover, threatening unspeakable horrors onto any cat that dared cross his path. When she confronted him about this, grandpa had just smiled at her and given a mumble in reply. Mom shook her head and left them to their leisure time. Grandpa would smile and scratch Jaggie on the chin. Jaggie would smile too.

The months went by. Jaggie got a little bigger, and so did I. With the new mobility I found in crawling, I proceeded to turn the cat's world into a diapered, squealing nightmare. All of his favorite sunbeams were dangerous territory. His food bowl was off-limits. And there was especially no more loitering around the front door, waiting to be let out. None of these places were safe, and he despised having his tail pulled or his ears yanked or his whiskers tugged by a rambunctious child. And, malicious kid that I was, I was perfectly happy to simply chase the cat around and scream at him. At one point, scrambling in terror to get away from me, he smashed into the clear sliding glass door. Jaggie spent a lot more time outside after that.

The outdoors weren't much kinder to Jaggie. He wasn't humbled for long by the toddler experience. He was still the bigshot of the neighborhood, and none of the other animals dared to get on his bad side. None of them except the catbirds, that is. Jaggie went through a rather difficult period in which the "toughness" tables were turned on him. One morning, grandpa called me over to the window and pointed outside. There was Jaggie, slinking over the front lawn in search of crickets (for which he developed a taste in his younger days) or other prey. It was Jaggie, however, who was being stalked this time. Suddenly a feathered streak came from nowhere, shot over his back, and zoomed back into the sky. Jaggie was none the worse for wear other than a slightly hysterical expression, a puffed tail, and a perfect stripe of ruffled fur running down his back. He began creeping deliberately once more across the lawn. Again a lightning-quick blur screamed across Jaggie's path. He snapped, and sped like a rocket into the safety of some shrubbery. Grandpa and I laughed. So did the catbirds.

The birds never really went away for good. Jaggie, though, learned to put up with them. Sometimes as he was strutting across the lawn, if a catbird happened to take a potshot at him, Jaggie wouldn't even flinch. It was almost as entertaining as watching him attack my dad. The birds didn't phase the cat, but he would always get a good ribbing from grandpa when he was let into the house and had another telltale stripe of ruffled fur running down his back.

Things never got too terrible for Jaggie. He was still the king, despite the little annoyances of life. We both got a little older, and I learned to play nicer with kitty. I treated him more like a playmate and less like a toy. Jaggie, in turn, tended to oblige the whims of the family a little more. (Except, of course, for dad, who never got a break from Jaguar. For some reason beyond me, dad always enjoyed telling us the story of the time a turtle wandered into his garden. Jaggie was nearby, and dad called to him to "Get that turtle, Jaggie!." Jaggie ignored him.) He was a little more wary with me, but he got to be a little more tolerant as our differences were forgotten. Sometimes he even seemed to genuinely enjoy the games I made for him.

Once, for example, I took him on the grand tour of our very own house. I assembled all the necessary materials for the outing, stole Jaggie from his midday slumber, and stood him at attention so he could get ready for his trip.

As Jaggie waited drowsily, I flopped a couple of pillows into a box, smoothed a blanket over the pillows, and then set the sleepy cat inside the box. He was more than happy to rest on the pillows, and settled in for the completion of his nap. I thought this extremely lazy of him, and shook the box a little until he sat up and yawned. Satisfied that he was paying attention, I made little engine-noises through my lips, and the touring bus began its circuit. Of course none of the scenery was new to Jaguar, but he seemed absolutely enthralled by the experience. Now wide-eyed, he watched the sights pass by as if they were the most amazing things he'd ever seen. The wonderfully colossal lamp stand and the magnificently spectacular living room sofa and the astoundingly extraordinary sleeping grandpa were Jaggie's favorites. When the box finally came to a stop, the contented tourist stepped out and went on his way.

He came to be a source of comfort and familiarity to me, bizarre as he was. We would play together sometimes, with a string or a newspaper. He became very fond of the foot of my bed, and spent nights keeping my toes warm. He trusted me to slip him a piece of meat from the dinner table, and I trusted him to listen to me and play with me when I was alone. But, as congenial and sociable as he was, he was not without his quirks. One cold night I came out from inside the house to the back porch, and called for Jaggie to come inside. Sure enough, from the shrubby, tangly expanse beyond the back yard, I saw the bushes rustling in answer. The rustling was moving toward the house, winding back and forth as it made its way closer. I called to Jaggie again to encourage him. The rustling got closer until the grey-and-white-with-black-stripes cat broke from the vegetation and loped across the lawn. I knelt down and held my arms out to him. He jumped to me and I scooped him up.

He instantly chomped my arm as hard as he could and then fled.

For the most part though, Jaguar was a good cat. As good as could be expected.

School started for me, and I was away from the house much more often. I began to lose track of the comings and goings of Jaggie, and other things began to take more of my attention. In fact, though I'm ashamed to admit it, I paid very little attention to him for a few years. He was still around though. He became quite an accomplished mouser, as most cats are. We would sometimes find severed mouse heads on our doorstep. Sometimes we would find nothing but a liver or a kidney. Sometimes some other unidentifiable piece of mousey anatomy. But at any rate, Jaggie was still around. The squirrels hated him. The catbirds loved him.

I remember catching up with Jaguar a few years later, when I was in my mid teens. Jaggie was an old cat then, and he wasn't much of an outdoorscat anymore. I'd sometimes paid some attention to him over the years, but it wasn't ever really like it used to be until he wasn't looking very healthy anymore. I started to spend more time with him for one reason or another. We started watching television together, talked about our problems and those of the world, and sometimes I could even coax him into playing with a string or newspaper. It was more like it used to be.

Jaggie died of feline leukemia a few weeks later.

We all were very sad to see him go. I'd known him all my life. He was part of our family, and we felt like we'd lost a part of ourselves. We took his body out to our back yard, and dug a little grave for him there. My mom planted some flowers, and my dad carved an inscription on a beveled log that we placed there. It read simply "Jaguar. A true cat's cat."

The author is currently a student of the University of Ottawa, Canada, majoring in English. She loves to write, read, and listen to and/or play music. This is her first contest submission, and hopes that all the cat lovers who read it will enjoy it.

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