By Larry, California
Whiskers heard the door shut loudly behind him while nonchalantly strolling down the back steps. He had been playing a game of inside-outside with the lady of the house. It's a fun game to Whiskers where he pretends to want to go outside, until someone opens the door. Then he just sits there. I may have taken it a bit too far this time, he judged by the volume of the door slamming behind him and the soreness of his furry butt still smarting from where the lady had kicked him outside.
Nevertheless, Whiskers gave his manliest strut as he approached the nearby lemon tree where his girlfriend, Dirty Face, was waiting. She stretched out and greeted him with a nuzzle to his furry face. "Your pet seems angry tonight," she purred to him.
When Whiskers went to answer, a loud chirping sound came from above, drowning out his response. He looked up to find an elegant looking Blue Jay singing boastfully, "I am beautiful, I am beautiful. Nothing can beat my beauty, I am beautiful!"
Whiskers shouted up to the noisy bird, "Hey! Who are you? And why are you making so much noise?"
"I am Prince Feathers and I'm sure you've never seen anything as beautiful as me!" the Blue Jay sang egotistically.
"What are you doing in my tree?" Whiskers asked pointedly.
"I have decided that this tree is the perfect perch to proclaim my beauty to the world," Prince Feathers announced in a lilting tune.
"Great," Whiskers said, but the rest of his comments were drowned out. It didn't matter anyway, because Dirty Face was already walking away. She might have been Whiskers' girlfriend, but she didn't like conflict. At least where she was concerned directly, that is. On the other paw, she didn't seem to mind urging on Whiskers to defend her honor.
Overlooking Dirty Face's departure, Whiskers shouted up to Prince Feathers, "But why here?"
Prince Feathers sang loudly, "It is a nice tree. From here I can attract a mate with my song, build a nest, and have lots of little me's flying around here!"
Whiskers strolled away from the tree. He meandered down a path between two houses, pondering this problem. That's just wonderful, Whiskers thought to himself. With more of those birds around here, I'll never have any peace and quiet. And Dirty Face will never want to spend time with me. What else could go wrong?
As if right on cue, his rival, The Clone, emerged from around the corner of the house. The Clone was a large orange tabby cat, just like Whiskers - hence his moniker, "The Clone". They had clashed many times in the past, usually ending up in some from of embarrassment to The Clone. Whiskers guarded his territory ferociously; The Clone was not allowed anywhere near the yard, nor the lemon tree.
The Clone, however, was an opportunist, practically leaping at the chance to tweak Whiskers some. He said, "What's this? I hear that you've got a bird problem?" Catching the tones of the Blue Jay boorishly trilling in the distance, The Clone continued, "From the sounds of it, the entire neighborhood can hear you've got a bird problem!" He laughed derisively, thinking his own joke so funny that he fell to the ground guffawing.
"It's nothing I can't handle," Whiskers responded aggravated, "Now just get out of here."
"I tell you what. I'll make you a deal," The Clone said, "If I can get rid of that little bird, you have to stop chasing me from the yard. You have to let me have my share of the lemon tree."
"What? Are you nuts?" Whiskers added, "It's not a little bird, it's a Blue Jay. It's not like those little Sparrows you're so fond of chasing."
"Blue Jay, Schmoo Jay. It's a bird. I'm a cat. And cats eat birds. What are you, a coward? Or worse, are you a dog?" The Clone taunted.
Well, Whiskers may have been a little riled up, but he wasn't a fool. "Okay then," Whiskers stated. "If you can chase that bird away, I'll share the lemon tree area with you." He hesitated a second to let The Clone absorb the words. The Clone even began to strut a little. "However," Whiskers continued, "If you fail, you never bother me again. You never come around the lemon tree. Ever."
The Clone was so confident that any manly cat, any king-of-the-street gato, could win in any battle against any bird, that he barely heard the losing conditions. "Pfft. You best be making room for me in the shade of that tree. And make sure your cute little girlfriend joins us, too!"
* * * * *
Whiskers wasn't a betting cat unless it was a sure thing. He didn't even bother to watch The Clone in his ill-conceived attempt to clear the tree of the Blue Jay; he could hear it from the distance. Sure, the singing stopped for a bit, but only to be replaced by the sounds of a cat hissing followed by loud meowing in pain.
Whiskers could picture the scene in his mind: Prince Feathers swooping down on The Clone before the cat could even climb the tree, pecking at his fur, and flying away again. Repeat this several times and even a cat as dumb as The Clone gets the picture that the battle is unwinnable. For a brief moment, Whiskers almost felt that he might possibly feel a slight twinge of empathy for The Clone. Nope, didn't happen.
He caught a glimpse of The Clone limping home, trying hard to avoid eye contact with Whiskers. As if the injuries weren't enough, the shame was just beginning, for Prince Feathers started singing again, even louder than before. This time his song carried details of how the great and mighty warrior Blue Jay defeated an evil cat.
This was too much for Whiskers. He went to the side window where the younger human, a boy, spent most of his time. He meowed loudly to be let inside and the boy opened the screen window for him. For the boy's quick obedience, Whiskers allowed the boy to pet him. Eventually, he curled up and went to sleep on the boy's pillow.
* * * * *
A week passed. The Blue Jay seemed to take up permanent residence in the tree. His singing went on all day, every day. On each retelling of the brief but glorious battle - Prince Feathers' words, not Whiskers' - his valor and bravery grew. Oh, why did I even encourage The Clone to fight him? Whiskers thought. The momentary pleasure at seeing The Clone humiliated has long since passed.
The reality was that the shame was now shared by Whiskers. He overheard his human pets talking about the "pretty bird" in the tree. They even liked the bird's singing. The worst of it was when he caught wind of them making plans to buy a bird feeder. Even my loyal pets are against me, he thought, and demanded to be let outside.
Sitting on the back steps in the afternoon sun, not even bothering to go near the lemon tree, Whiskers preened himself. Dirty Face sauntered on up, making a rare appearance.
"Where have you been these days?" Whiskers asked.
"I've been around - away from that noisy thing!" Dirty Face said.
"You haven't even eaten the food that my pets leave out for you every night."
"I know. George's humans leave food for me now. It's much quieter over there," Dirty Face said matter-of-factly. George was a black and white neighborhood cat, so named because of his "bushy" tail.
"George Bushytail?" Whiskers was incensed. "That no-good smelly dog-breathed alley cat! He's trying to steal my girlfriend!"
"Don't be jealous; it's just while that noisy bird is here," Dirty Face said.
This was the last straw. Whiskers could almost tolerate the songs about battling cats, or even his humans feeding the bird - so long as it wasn't from his own food supply - but, he couldn't tolerate another cat moving in on his own kitty!
* * * * *
That night Whiskers barely slept. How was he to rid this yard of that noisy intruder? How was he going to win back his finicky girlfriend's affection? He couldn't directly attack the bird; The Clone was an example of how well that plan would work. He began having nightmares of whole flocks of bluebirds singing out how each one was prettier than the other. This was a real poser of a problem.
By morning, though, he was up as soon as the lady of the house opened the door. He shot out of the house like a bullet fired from a rifle, down the back stairs and straight to the tree.
"Hey, Prince Feathers!" Whiskers shouted up to the Blue Jay, interrupting his singing.
"You again? Must I chase you off like I did your friend?" Prince Feathers taunted.
"No, you are obviously too indomitable a foe. I would be no match for one as valiant and brave as you," Whiskers said to the Blue Jay.
With those ego-boosting words Prince Feathers actually began preening himself. "I'm surprised at you. I thought you were my enemy."
Whiskers answered flatteringly, "No, my friend. I immediately recognize your beauty and your amazing singing talent! There are few that could match you."
"Few?" Prince Feathers said indignantly. "There are none!"
"I am sorry, I may have misspoke," Whiskers said. "With such lovely plumage and such a wondrous song, you must attract many mates. Pardon me for asking, but have you decided on a choice of mate yet?"
"I am quite choosy," Prince Feathers said hesitatingly. "But ... Hey! What are you implying?"
"I'm no expert on beauty, like you. I am only a lowly cat. For matters of aesthetics, I need your opinion. You see, I've seen another bird around here who also claims to be the most beautiful. You may not have heard him because your song is so loud, but he seems to attract quite a few interested mates."
"Who is this pretender and where can I find him?" Prince Feathers was extremely piqued now.
"Let me introduce you, he lives next door." Whiskers jumped over the fence and pointed to a workbench in the yard.
"I've never seen any bird here before," Prince Feathers said.
"Look closely," Whiskers said.
Prince Feathers flew down to the workbench and looked to the side where he suddenly saw the most beautiful bird he had ever seen before. Unknowingly he was looking at his own reflection in a mirror. "Hey! What are you doing there!" he sang angrily at his own image. But the bird he saw didn't answer. Instead, to him, the bird appeared to mock his own movements. This only infuriated Prince Feathers even more.
"Who is this rude bird?" Prince Feathers asked Whiskers.
"I don't know; he showed up just yesterday. But in the short time he's been here, I've seen many female Blue Jays seemingly going out of their way to fly past here. That is why I must ask you about the one subject you know better than most. Is he a prettier bird than you?"
"He won't be when I'm done with him! He's no warrior, like me!" Prince Feathers then charged the mirror, slamming his blue-crested head into it, and knocking himself out cold.
Whiskers shook his head, "What a bird brain." He leapt onto the workbench, gathered the Blue Jay in his mouth, and strutted past the neighbor's window where The Clone was resting. When he saw Whiskers with the bird, The Clone hung his head even further in shame.
Whiskers took Prince Feathers back to the lemon tree, spat him out, dropping him to the ground. The shock of it woke Prince Feathers. Groggily he asked, "What happened? Where am I?"
"I rescued you," Whiskers lied. "He was savage, but I got you out of there."
Prince Feathers thought for a moment, then said, "You? You saved my life? But why would you do that? You're a cat!"
"Because were friends," Whiskers lied again.
"Really? How can I ever repay you?" Prince Feathers asked.
"Well there is one small favor ..."
* * * * *
That evening, Whiskers was laying out underneath the lemon tree when Dirty Face made her way over to him. She nuzzled him in greeting, then curled up next to him.
"So you decided to return?" Whiskers asked slyly.
"Yes, it seems to be much quieter here now. George's humans have gone gaga over this Blue Jay that suddenly appeared in their yard. Perhaps later you could tell me how you accomplished that little trick," Dirty Face purred.
Whiskers laughed, "Sure. It'd be fun to reflect on it sometime."