Once upon a time, I became a published writer. But the first few pieces I had published were printed in journals that didn't pay anything.
And then I had my breakthrough. It was 1998. I wrote a story about how a cat joined our family. It took me about 20 minutes to write it. I sent it off to a cat lovers' magazine, it was accepted, and I received $125 and five copies of the magazine.
Writing is addictive. I love to write.
But I admit, I really love writing and getting paid for it.
Anyhow, I thought you might enjoy reading the very first story for which I was paid. It's called "the mice, the cat, and me."
I hated cats. I had been raised to hate cats. My mother had taught me that cats were slimy and disgusting and that they had lizard eyes. She didn't understand how anyone could love a cat, and neither did I.
Consequently, no cat ever entered my house. But mice did. First, a few parachuted in to conduct reconnaissance missions. They held inspections and sent word to the troops that mine was a safe house. Their army invaded, marching and counter-marching as their drillmaster squeaked out orders. They conducted maneuvers under the refrigerator.
My husband suggested a cat. He loved cats. Now, he saw his opportunity, and he took it. "A cat could defeat the mice," he whispered in my ear, fearing their spies might be listening. "A cat could break their ranks and force a retreat. Why, one cat alone could stop an entire division of mice."
His fervent praise left me wondering if he might be working with the mice. Maybe he had invited them in. Maybe he had even led the first strike, all so that he might obtain a cat.
"No cats," I cried. I thought I heard the mice huzzah, a chilling sound, but it couldn't change my mind -- yet.
I fought valiantly with glue boards and with traps. Just when I thought I had them licked, the mice call in their reserves and struck greater blows with their never-ending supply of droppings. My pantry became their mess hall, my entire kitchen their beachhead. I was surrounded. I considered "For Sale" signs. Maybe we could just unload the house on some unsuspecting buyer . . . .
However, our children learned of their father's plan to acquire a cat. They took up his battle cry. "Yes," they trumpeted, "a cat could rout the mice. We don't want to move. And cats are so cute and cuddly."
Cute and cuddly? Slimy and disgusting. But I really didn't want to move either. Combat fatigue combined with the thought of packing all those boxes made me wave a white flag. My family had defeated me with the help of a battalion of mice. We would look for a cat.
We decided to adopt and found an ad in the newspaper. A woman who worked for the pound took cats into her home, and, yes, we could see them the next day.
I approached the woman's house with fear and loathing in my heart. The place crawled with cats. We looked them over and chose a little male tabby that seemed bold and daring; he had asked our four-year-old daughter to pet him. The woman told us he had been thrown in the garbage with his mother and his sister. Someone had rescued them and brought them to the pound. My heart quivered. Not even a cat deserved such treatment.
On our way home, my husband suggested we name the cat Milhous because it was Richard Nixon's middle name. "No doubt this cat will be as tricky in handling mice as President Nixon was in dealing with his enemies," my husband promised. I had to admit I liked the name.
Milhous entered his new home and ran behind the couch. So much for bold and daring. Unfortunately, we soon realized that the warrior on whom our hopes rested was sick. His breathing sounded labored. His nose ran. Something dripped from his eyes. I took him to the vet. "I don't think he'll make it through the night," she told me. "You should take him back where you got him."
Milhous looked up at me and meowed pitifully. Strangely enough, he didn't have lizard eyes. His eyes were large and green and, though I hardly dared think it, sweet. He seemed tiny and helpless. I felt something strange and new: sympathy for a cat.
"No," I said to the vet, surprising myself. "He's my cat now, and I'll take care of him." We left her office with a large bill, medicine and feeding instructions.
The vet had warned me Milhous wouldn't want to eat while he was ill, but that he needed to do so. She recommended baby food, given to him on my fingers. So there I sat in what had once been my kitchen, mice in camouflage conducting drills at my feet, and a sick cat on my lap -- a sick, soft cat, that is. He wasn't slimy, after all. He licked some food from my finger. The sensation of his rough little tongue wasn't at all disgusting. Milhous himself wasn't at all disgusting. My mother had been wrong. I cuddled him closer. Milhous had won my heart without killing a single mouse.
Milhous lived through the night, and when he had recovered completely, the mice met their Waterloo. Their ground forces went AWOL; their navy gave up the sink; their air force couldn't even get to their planes. In short, Milhous mopped up the kitchen. The mice never returned.
Milhous achieved more victories than William the Conqueror at Hastings. He prevailed over my prejudice, he defeated the mice, and he even won over my mother when she came for a visit. Although she never developed a desire to own a cat, she did go home saying that he was the prettiest, funniest cat she had ever seen. Milhous has been with us for eight years now. Our cute, cuddly gladiator guards the kitchen by day and guards our daughter by night. He sleeps on her pillow, curled around her head. He also paved the way for two other cats that joined our family -- but that's another story.
Please be with us tomorrow for the Thursday post in which our guest, Charlotte A. Martin, answers my questions: What is love? What is intimacy?