[Prompt: You poked the cat. ]
Steven always had a strange rule when we were growing up. Whenever I was invited over to his house I was told repeatedly to not touch the cat. Being young at the time, I didn’t question it because my parents were always laying down rules that didn’t make any sense and a lot of those rules also involved me not touching things. So I didn’t think twice about Mr. Bojangles, Steven’s cat, or question the rule about not touching him. The tabby often kept to himself so the temptation to stroke his orange striped fur never called to me. We lived in harmony, and Steven and I were allowed to do just about anything we wanted as long as it didn’t involve Mr. Bojangles.
As the years went on and I became an obstinate teenager, I began to question the bizarre rule Steven’s mom had drilled into my brain since I was a young child. I asked Steven about it once, but he laughed it off and just reminded me not to do it because his mom would ‘wig out’.
“Have you ever touched the cat?” I asked.
“Well yeah, it’s our cat. It’s okay if I do it.” Steven had replied.
“But I can’t pet the cat?”
“No man, just don’t do it,” Steven looked troubled by my interest in the cat so he changed the subject to music and I let the topic slide.
The only logical reason I could think of as to why such a rule existed was that Mr. Bojangles was not a friendly cat. He would probably hiss and claw at me and that would be that. I could accept the warning to stay away from a mean pet as a child because no doubt it would have looked bad if I came home from my friend’s house with my arm a mesh of bright red scratches. I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go back to Steven’s because my mother would fear for my skin. But I was older now, more responsible, and I found it oppressive to be held back by such a ridiculous rule.
My chance to challenge the rule came when I was waiting in Steven’s living room and Steven had gone back to his room to find his missing jacket. From the corner of my eyes I saw the feline. The sun was coming in through the bay windows to blanket the sleeping cat. His orange fur shone like a golden halo around his napping face.
It only took two steps to get to the window seat and there I stood in anticipation of the thrill I would get from defying the silly rule I had obeyed for so long. Mr. Bojangles woke as I stood near him and he stretched out before me, tilting his head up to view me with amber eyes while emitting a curious mew.
With one finger, I poked him in the flank.
Mr. Bojangles didn’t budge, in fact he seemed more confused by my action than I was at his lack of reaction. He meowed again before standing and butting his head against my hand.
I scratched behind his ears as my thoughts wandered through a mire of confusion and disappointment. I gave the cat one last pat on the head and moved back to my original spot. Only as I turned I saw Steven staring at me with widen eyes.
“Did you.. touch the cat?”
I shrugged, “What’s the big deal?”
Steven swore under his breath, grabbed my arm and tried to haul me out the front door.
I jerked my arm out of his grasp, “What the hell? So what if I touched the cat, it’s not like he attacked me.”
“It’s not the cat you have to worry about,” Steven’s grave tone made my heart sink.
“Who do I have to worry about?”
Before Steven could reply, a growl came from the kitchen. I slowly turned to find Gravy, the family’s brown mastiff, staring me down from where he stood on the tiles. The dog had always been a source of awe for me when I was growing up. He had once been taller than me, and I’m sure that if he stood up on his hind legs he still would be taller. He was around 150 pounds of muscle and teeth, the later of which he was flashing at me as he growled. I backed away a step and Gravy followed by moving forward. I didn’t dare take my eyes off him, but I turned my head to address Steven. “What do I do?”
“I don’t know. You shouldn’t have touched his cat.”
“I’m sorry,” I tried to plead to the dog instead of my useless friend. I held my hands, palms out, toward Gravy in hopes he might recognized me after all the years I spent playing in his backyard. “Easy Gravy. Good boy.”
Gravy barked and before I could register what I was doing, I was running out the front door of Steven’s house with the angry mastiff at my heels. He caught my calf and I screamed as I fell, my face meeting roughly with the asphalt. I kicked at Gravy’s big head with my other foot until he let go of my leg and after scrambling I was once again running down the block.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to out run him, so I jumped into the old birch tree Steven and I use to climb as kids. I kept climbing until I was sure that Gravy wouldn’t be able to reach me. My shaking arms hugged the trunk as I looked down to see my pursuer sitting calmly at the base of the tree.
It took two hours before the police and animal control arrived on scene. I wouldn’t budge from my spot up in the branches until I was sure Gravy had been taken away. It took four able-bodies men to even move the sack of relentless muscle. Gravy stared at me the whole time too, his intermittent growls promising me that we weren’t finished. I would not be welcomed back to Steven’s house any time soon.
When my feet finally touched the ground the officer had to steady me with a hand, “What the hell did you do that dog, boy?”
I stared up at the officer’s face, my own expression still a mess of fear and disbelief, “I poked the cat.”