There's a cat outside. He lives next door. He's surely the world's fattest cat. Looks like he swallowed a beach ball. He lies around all day on his side, like a sea lion on the rocks. Rolls over every once in a while and makes a sea-lionish croaking noise.
You might wonder how he got so big. It's the neighborhood, all full of possums and moles. And the rats that moved up the hill when they covered the old dump to make the Interbay golf course.
Here's how he works, my fat cat friend, the beachball cat: He lies on his side, eyes half closed, claws on each front paw going in and out, alternating. What my mom calls kneading biscuits. In case you were wondering, it's left over from nursing. It's what kittens do to push the extra milk out of their mother's belly.
Beachball cat sounds like he's purring. That's what you hear. But high above what your ears can pick up, higher than that 18,000 hertz that the TV tubes used to put out, there's a tune. A little melody. You can't hear it, but the rats can.
Rats are susceptible to melody. Remember the guy with the pipe and the multicolored clothes? The rats hear the tune, and their little rat feet start dancing. They do a four-foot, rat-foot shuffle. A soft shoe. The rats come sashaying out in a sideways line, out from under the house, out from under the blackberry bushes, out from the storm drain, up out of your toilet—you know they're down there, right? Just waiting to come up and bite you on the ass. Don't sit there when the butterball cat's outside. And leave the window open unless you want them to take the long way out of the house, through the kitchen.
Beachbutterball sings his high rat song, and the rats come out in a chorus line, step left, step right, spin around, end with a low bow.
The butterball cat rocks sideways a couple of times, gives a couple of heaves to get himself up on his feet. He walks along the line of deeply bowing rats like a general inspecting the troops.
Then, one by one, from right to left, he bites off their heads. Leaves the rest. The heads are really the only part he feels like eating most days. He's too fat. Read it in an article: a good way to limit your food intake is to always leave some on the plate.
He used to feel guilty. Wasting food, the way his mother said. "Now you eat that whole rat, and I mean the tail, too." She made him eat the whole rat every time, then turned around and said he was getting too fat.
She laid some pretty good trips on him that way. Contradictions that would spin his head around. Then one day he thought, She's a cat. Her brain's the size of a walnut. Of course the contradictions don't bother her. And since his brain was the size of a walnut, too, they really didn't bother him either.
Now he gets back at his mother by eating the heads off the rats and leaving the rest. As an extra bonus it's also a way of getting back at the people in the house, when one or another of them comes out in the morning, barefoot, to get the paper.
Possums are different. Possums won't come when he whistles. He has to go out looking for them. They're not too bright, the possums. What you have to do is find one as it ambles along through the blackberries, then just lie down in front of it with your mouth open. It'll walk right down your throat. About the time when it thinks, Hey, there's something not quite right here, you just close your mouth, swallow, and that's dinner.
The cat next door on the other side is a poor bastard. The people in the house have taken it upon themselves, as animals with cantaloupe-sized brains with all those extra lobes and folds, to bring the cat along with them to the morally superior plane of vegetarianism. The poor bastard gets an all-vegetarian diet of rice, beans, evening primrose oil, and some kind of soy amino acids that come in a brown cake that looks like a cow pie.
But, as enlightened, large-brained animals, they also don't believe in restricting the poor bastard cat's ability to roam around the neighborhood. So he spends every spare minute outside the house chasing down animals and eating them.
Butterball shares the headless rats with him. No sense in letting perfectly good rats going to waste. Poor Bastard eats them all, and the tail, too.