“They don’t think like us—you know that—don’t you?” The fluffy, white Persian with only one piercing blue eye stretched lazily across the porch floor in a patch of sunlight. Two kittens batted the leaves of a potted plant like players in an obscure Olympic game.
A miniature Panther sat on his haunches and blinked at a passing farm truck. “But they’re highly motivated; that’s what troubles me. Their whole demeanor of desperate devotion hides an unscrupulous plot—a cunning trick—to be sure.
“Unscrupulous? You’ve been listening to the boy at his lessons again, haven’t you?” Persian flicked her tail and eyed her kittens. “You give them too much credit. Most are as stupid as posts, though Clarabelle, now, she may have shepherding in her blood, but notice which critters she chooses to corral. Wouldn’t mind nipping that puppy in the heels, I’d warrant.”
Panther stretched. “You’d think the bipeds would sense the tension, but no, they just pat everyone on the head in the same enthusiastic way. The lady’s the worst, repeating that stupid mantra—My little loves—revolting.
A little boy jogged to the bank by the roadside and watched a tractor rumble nearer. Clarabelle raced by in a blur, weaving close to the huge, revolving tires.
Persian rose. “She’s at it again. One of these days—”
The boy screamed.
Persian scrambled down the wooden steps and raced across the yard with Panther dashing close behind.
The tractor rolled down the road—oblivious. The boy scuttled down the embankment and trotted to the pavement. He lifted a limp, fluffy, little body off the blacktop. Clarabelle barked and raced in circles around him.
Persian yowled. “Darius!”
Panther shivered. “I wondered where he’d gotten to.”
Tears streamed down the boy’s face as he climbed the hill and jogged toward the house. A lady flew out the door and raced down the steps. She stopped and knelt on the freshly mown grass at the boy’s side.
Persian cantered closer and swirled between them, meowing plaintively.
A pitiful cry issued from the limp kitten.
The woman looked from the Persian to the boy, one outstretched finger caressing the kitten’s head. “Look, even his mama’s worried…. I’ll take him inside and see what I can do. You go off to Daddy. He’s in the barn.” She lifted the limp body into her arms.
The boy stared up at her mutely.
“Go on; he needs you. We’ll see—” She turned and climbed the steps.
The boy watched her disappear behind the screen door, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and trudged away toward the barn.
Persian stood, glaring at the door. She trotted forward, scampered up the steps, and clawed at the screen.
Clarabelle sprang onto the porch and nosed her. “It’s no use. They’d just throw you out.” She sat on her haunches. “I tried to get in a few times, but—”
The Persian turned with a snarl and raked Clarabelle across the nose. The collie jumped with a yelp and trotted away with one, baleful, backward glance.
Panther edged closer to Persian, eyeing the retreating figure. “Take it easy. There’s nothing you can do.” He stepped between the mother and the door. “The lady will do what she can. You better get back to the others before something else happens.”
Persian yowled. “He’s my kitten!”
“They think he’s theirs. No point in arguing.”
Persian darted down the steps and hurried away, a warning growl vibrating deep in her chest.
Panther trudged down the steps and headed toward the barn.
Clarabelle stepped in Panther’s way. “I was only trying to help. Darius would already be dead if I hadn’t been there.” Clarabelle lifted her nose to the wind as two other dogs galloped closer. “But I shouldn’t be surprised—Persian never liked me.”
Panther eyed the collie, blinked, and then turned. “Like as not, you pushed Darius under the wheels.”
Clarabelle sneezed and watched Panther amble away before the two puppies pummeled into her. She snapped at them. “There’s been a tragedy, fools! Quit acting like drooling idiots.”
The hound snorted. “You mean that ball of calico fluff? Please, it’s been wandering far afield since the first day Persian let him out of the barn. I always said, coyotes or cars—”
The beagle yawned. “Never did see the use of all these darn cats. Two would do the job just as well. Sides, they’re so narcissistic!”
Clarabelle tackled the beagle and nipped him in the ear. “Awful big word for such a small quadruped.” She cocked her head toward the barn. “I’m going to check on my boy. He’ll be taking it hard. Always does.”
The sun flickered between the tree trunks as it crested the horizon. The lady, the man, and the boy stood with bowed heads near a small mound of freshly dug earth.
The boy raked his sleeve across his tear-streaked face.
The man slapped a cap on his head and shuffled his feet. “It’s just a kitten for heaven’s—”
The woman glared at him.
The man knelt down beside the boy and squeezed his shoulder. “It’s part of life on a farm, son; you gotta accept that.”
The boy leaned forward and buried his face into the man’s chest, his sobs muffled by the man’s plaid shirt.
The man cleared his throat, glanced at the woman, and lifted the boy into his arms. He placed the child high on his shoulder and carried him away.
The woman sighed and picked her way across the dewy grass to the house.
Persian trotted to the small mound, sniffed, and scratched the crumbly surface.
Panther ambled over. “You’ve got two left. Not bad—considering.”
Persian’s one eye pierced him with an icy glare. “You’ll never understand.”
Panther yawned and strolled away. “Not my job—understanding. I’m a hunter. That’s why I’m here.”
Persian closed her one good eye and sat on her haunches.
Clarabelle circled around and plunked herself down out of scratching range. She blinked at the rising sun. “Males don’t think like us. Can’t grasp what it’s like.” She rose and trotted over to another, slightly larger mound, covered in short grass and dandelions. She pawed at the mound and then stared at Persian. “Poison. It was a mistake—the man felt bad—but she died a terrible death just the same.”
Persian’s whiskers twitched. “You think you understand me?” Her yowl was incredulous.
Clarabelle shook her coat and trotted toward a car pulling into the driveway. “Someday, there will be mounds for us all.”
Persian climbed the porch steps and was about to settle down in the sun when the woman came out and scooped her into her arms. She sat on the large, wooden rocking chair and smoothed Persian’s ruffled fur. She tucked a stray lock of her gray hair back into her disheveled bun. “Ah, Lordy. It’s not easy getting old; seeing so much hurt and loss and not able to stop a bit of it.”
Persian couldn’t help herself. She stared across the emerald lawn, over the treacherous road, toward the concealing woods, and her whole body relaxed into the soft folds of the woman’s lap. A vibrating purr began deep within her being. Someone understood.