If you’ve been following the past few posts, I’ve trapped and found homes for four feral felines. Wild kittens, to be exact. But wait, there’s more, in this final installment of Four Feral Felines.
Yes, they were gone, but they left me with more than I’d ever given them. They left me with little creatures, called Ctenocephalides felis, officially described in The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders as having “distinctive, laterally flattened abdomens with many spines and bristles” and “mouthparts with 3 piercing stylets to suck blood.” They’re also described as having “enlarged coxae,” something God never saw fit to bestow on me.
It began with morning itching, usually on my ankles. I didn’t think much of it at first. Then one morning I was at work in a meeting with about 20 other people, sitting on a couch between two coworkers. I saw this dark brown bug a little smaller than a match head crawling up my pant leg. When I reached down to flick it, it disappeared. Kind of like a PING, or a spring, which is what those enlarged coxae are really for. This was great. I was about to spread plague to me office mates. Would the young lady in the office next door ever sleep with me after I’d given her my fleas?
I’d wake up every morning with a bunch of tiny welts decorating my calves like red anklets. Then they decided to move on up in the world and attack other parts of me, including the area around my coxae. As my social life was put on hold, I figured out what to do. My first reaction was to go out and buy enough defogger to deflea the People’s Liberation Army I set all these spray grenades off and then left the house for several hours, as instructed. I also bought flea spray and fumigated under my bed, the couch, the carpeting, the lawn, everywhere I lay down a lot. Whew! No more fleas. Thank God that’s over with.
A few days later I feel a minute stab on my thigh and see one of the pleasant little suckers scaling my blue jeans again. Did I mention to you that, unlike lice, fleas will attack hosts other than their preferred chump species? I know all there is to know about fleas now. For example, the kittens never exhibited symptoms of infestation because fleas have a reproductive cycle of several weeks. They were pupating when I had the kittens. Just call me if you have queries.
Then the exterminator had to come. I had to convince him that, yes, people really do get fleas. Lemme tell you, no offense against the Orkin man or anything, but these guys who spray poison for a living? They don’t opt for exterminating as an alternative career choice to experimental particle physics. I think the nerve agents they use affect their own CNS’s after a few months. So this isn’t the kind of guy you’d want on your debate team. But really— he was a nice guy. And he wasn’t stupid enough to have fleas.
The exterminator recommended I get my carpet cleaned with “deep steam cleaning,” to make sure you get the eggs. He’d have to be back in a month for renewed spraying. Meantime I had to wash all my clothes, including everything in the dresser drawers which I routinely leave open as an alternative to getting up with enough time in the morning to open and close my dresser drawers. I also had to scald all of my bedding, afghans, pillows (I found out which pillows really were washable and which weren’t after I washed them). I had to wash everything textile. I had to take apart my bed and vacuum the undercarriage. I’m writing this whole thing a year after the fact. And you’ve got to know that as I was writing this, my ankles started to itch and I was seized with the involuntary thought that the next generation of vermin had been waiting all this time to spring to life, hiding in the little slots between my floor boards. That tendency to scratch was especially pronounced the first few weeks after extermination. Left to the imagination, any itch means a flea orgy’s about to start. Tiny imperfections in the skin are flea hickies.
A few weeks after the incident, there hadn’t been any recrudescence of symptoms. Recrudescence. Isn’t that a cool word? I learned it in the graduate program I never finished. Anyway, I’m taking a bath when I see this flea float like flotsam in the soapy pond scum that coalesces at the end of a summer bath. I took the specimen out of the water, which had bloated its body. I looked at it under a magnifying glass, but it was too wet and twisted to positively identify with my Audubon field guide. But I knew it was a flea. I knew they were back, just like friends indeed when I had weed. The extermination hadn’t worked. I spied and studied and inspected and scrutinized the tiny thorax and abdomen of my specimen. I even got entomological and mounted it on the head of a pin so I could behold its little self. Yeah, it had the powerful hind legs, at least it had one of them. There were the whisker-like spines. Eccch! They were back. They’d won. My exterminator really was a moron after all.
The specimen dried, and it turned out to be a big brown piece of lint. There is no Audubon field guide for lint specimens, so how was I to know? Maybe fleas have an atypical metamorphosis that transforms them into cotton during the larval stage. All I know is, I haven’t seen a flea since. I often wonder what I was supposed to learn out of this flea circus. At the time, I thought it was that no good deed goes unpunished. But maybe it’s just that when we reach to something, we gotta do it fleas and all.
Needless to say, I was required to contact all the people I’d sent the kittens to and advise them that I’d visited upon them one of the plagues of Egypt. Didn’t the ancient Egyptians get fleas? They worshiped cats, after all. But no one eI’d given the kittens to had the fleas. So, for whatever reason, my little freeloaders decided to bestow their little freeloaders on me and my house alone. Maybe it was payback for breaking up their nuclear unit. Or a biological defense mechanism against stupid humans such as myself.
I wish I could say my story ends here, and that everyone was happy and lived long and prospered. But it doesn’t end that way. A few weeks after the last flea stopped making my life suck, I got a call. It was from one of the coeds who took Inspector Gadget and his sister off my hands. Inspector Gadget had died. His owners, who were the coeds’ friend and his girlfriend, couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But IG couldn’t keep his food down. And he got sicker, they said. The owners took him to the vet and had every conceivable test performed on him, but nothing came up. Inspector Gadget finally passed on. They even did an autopsy and couldn’t figure out what he’d died from. The best the vets could figure was that he suffered from a genetic ailment that prevented his immune system from functioning normally. And the reason the coed was calling me was because his little sister, the kitten they’d taken, was going through the same thing now. She wanted to know if there were any problems with her mother or with Clio or Black & White. I asked her to keep me informed, but she never called back. I don’t blame her. She was a very sweet person, and if the kitten had died, there probably wasn’t much sense in letting me know. I didn’t get her number, so I never found out what happened to the last gray, the only one of the bunch who never had a name, a name that I knew her by anyway.
I called the other two owners, and let them know what was happening. My neighbor said that Black & White was fine. Clio never had any problems either. In fact, Clio, the runt of the litter, is very large and prosperous now. Maria, Clio’s owner, is the kind of person who won’t stop talking about how ooooh she’s so cuuute, the way she wolls up into a wittle baww when she’s sweeping. So it looks like two out of four made it. Plus mom.
At first, the fact that Inspector Gadget died, and that his sister probably did too, let me think I made the “right” decision by giving them up. I would’ve just become attached and hurt like hell when they died. Today, I believe that by giving away the grays, I missed an opportunity.
Keeping those grays would have been an opportunity for me to learn the lessons that grief teaches. I would’ve held them while they were sick, and maybe even while they passed on. That’s a chance I didn’t really have with my first cat, an old, stray tom who never even had a name. I could’ve comforted them, made their last days and hours as free from pain and fear as is humanly, if not divinely or felinely, possible. I could’ve learned how not to be afraid to say goodbye, to love. Love and fear are indeed opposed. And to fail to love for fear of losing that love is the only tragedy this life knows. To refuse to love is the greatest loss, the only loss we can truly know. Maybe one of these days or lifetimes, I’ll learn that lesson. And I’ll bet when I do, it’s a cat that teaches me.
© 2021 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+dirt+journey+of+a+mystic+cowboy&crid=1S40Q4BXSUWJ6&sprefix=the+dirt%3A+journey+of+a+m%2Caps%2C180&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_23
Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002
Two of his short stories have recently been published online. The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW
I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October