High in the Maine countryside a cat stalked silently along, her gray-blue coat washed to a sleek shine. Powerful lines curved from rounded head to rangy back and switching tail, her form sharp from tufted ear tips to lethal toenails. She was to her prey a formidable beast, an unanswerable death machine. Her alert green eyes scanned the territory, which was a large place of twilight days and black nights. High above rose a wood roof intense with man smells she ignored. She had little interest in the hind leg walking ones. They were too big to eat.
In the middle of the space, fifty feet from either end, rose a large plywood bin. The cat sometimes heard the heavy whoosh of mash emptying down a chute and the sudden click of metal stopping the slush. After each such slush new lines of mash sifted through several cracks in the bin onto the beams and boards around the bin—all as if deliberately to bring out the mice and even to grow more mice for her cat purposes.
The cat didn’t remember how she had gotten into the long henhouse attic. She only knew she would stay. Not that she liked the dusty smell of spilled mash. But the mice here ran thicker than in the barn or lower grain rooms, more plentiful than she had seen anywhere.
She walked along a two inch beam between rows of insulating sawdust. The cat could walk in the shifting sawdust but preferred the solid beam. Presently she came to the wide boards people used on the rare occasion they came into the attic. People should stay away. They scared the mice. In the murky daylight let in by the only windows, one at each end of the attic, she studied the open places, the area around the bin, and the long corners where the attic floor met the eaves, seeing with night eyes, listening, sniffing.
The cat paused. Slowly she lowered herself into a crouch, her muscles coiled for the pounce. Quiet. Eyes slitted. Ears pricked forward. Suddenly she launched herself into the space under the eaves and turned back with a squeaking mouse in her jaws. She smelled the rest of the mice, knew they watched her, and was comforted by their quivering presence. They were her pantry.
Walking daintily along the beam, she brought the mouse to the boards and set it free. It was bleeding and some of the blood had run onto her chin. Lifting a paw to her face, the cat began to wash, stroking along the jaw, licking the paw with her tongue, stroking and licking rhythmically.
The mouse, not yet mortally injured, recovered from fright and ran a little way along the boards. The cat reached out her paw and gently pinned the mouse. The mouse squealed pitifully, but no other mice came to save it. The cat let up the pressure of her paw, studying the mouse as intently as if she’d never seen a mouse before. When the mouse moved, the cat stopped it, pulling it toward her and letting it go again. More bored than hungry, she continued to play with the mouse, letting it go a little further each time before catching it. When it leapt off the boards and into the sawdust, the cat pounced in a dusty swirl and brought the mouse back to the boards. At last she settled with dinner between her outstretched paws, cracked the tiny skull, and began pulling away bits of mouse. With a dainty etiquette that would have suited a human table, she gulped the bits down—fur, flesh, organs, and bones.
After dinner she finished washing, then trotted along the boards to the far end of the attic and jumped onto a narrow window sill. From the window she could see the lambs in the pasture below. Too big to eat. Satisfied with the familiar view, she curled her tail over soft paws, lowered her head and slept. Sunlight deserted the attic leaving thick shadows.
When she stood and stretched, her long hair parted in blue-gray rows between flank and belly. Her mouth opened in an enormous yawn that revealed white pointy teeth, a long tongue, and pink roof—the mouth of a cat in her prime. Shoulders down and rump up, she stretched her body to its limits and lifted her fluffy blue-gray tail as if in salute to her own magnificence. She leapt from the sill and walked softly along the middle boards, ears pointing alertly up and moving independently forward, side, forward.
She seemed to make no sound, yet suddenly there was a scurrying and scattering. By the time the cat reached the grain silo in the middle of the attic, there were no mice, only footprints and droppings in the mash siftings. The cat sniffed these, gathering information, the prints and scat a bulletin full of news. At length she sat. Her right ear twitched and moved, gathering more news. She rose and turned, then sat again on her haunches, still as a statue. It was one of her finer abilities, this alert, patient, confident stillness. She could smell the mice in their hiding places under the eaves. When she had been still long enough, they would forget her and come out. Her oval green eyes were windows of concentration.
Slowly a small mouse sniffed along under the bin. Possibly it wondered why the others had not come out again. The coast was clear.
All at once the cat’s scramble and pounce broke the stillness. The young mouse possessed a sudden, clear wisdom it would never use. It squealed its complaint, calling for help that would not come. Afterwards, ritual game and meal complete, the cat clawed the posts around the grain silo sending into the eaves a triumphant message. I am Cat. All this belongs to me. Satisfied with the sharpness of her tools, she stretched out on her side on the boards, flat as a pancake except for the round of her happy belly. Fearing no dangers, she snoozed until dawn, stretched, and went back to sleep.
A grating sound and sudden light woke her. When a person’s head poked into the attic, the cat scampered under the eaves.
“Oh, so you don’t want to come down, you silly cat!”
The girl crawled under the eaves and pulled her out. The cat did not resist.
“You are heavy, Blue. You must weigh ten pounds. I guess you’ve had your fill of mice, huh? Good kitty!”
Crawling out from under the eaves and straightening up, the girl cradled the cat in her arms, turning her on her back to cuddle and pet her. The cat purred.
“All right. Down we go,” the girl said. She put the cat on her shoulder and stepped down the ladder, using her free hand to close the hatch above her head. Still holding the cat, she stepped down onto the pen floor where white chickens shook their feathers, ringed the feeders, and spoke polite, “buk, buk, buks,” into the mash. Blue was not allowed chickens and, anyway, was too well fed to take much interest in them.
“Daddy says three days at a time is enough to keep the mice down and plenty of mice for you, Blue, or you’ll make yourself sick. But I promise to bring you back again.”
Purring steadily, the cat put a soft gray paw on the girl’s chin.