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The Place Without a Ceiling

by Vicky Chapman, NSW, Australia


Shmoggleberry was an indoor-only cat. Occasionally he made a run for it through the balcony door and got to the veranda, where he'd pretend he was big tough bird-hunting monster, but mostly he was content to just stare out of the window and take naps in the window sills. If, on the off chance, he did make it through the outside door, he'd be in the lobby anyway, so it was really more like a room that he wasn't allowed into rather than the "outside world". It too had four walls and a ceiling, so he didn't show a lot of interest in it anyway. His input and output areas were within the flat, and I think Shmoggleberry inherently knew which side his bread was buttered. Although a quick romp through the long grass may have been interesting, the important things in life, namely food and adoration, were kept firmly indoors. I also tried to convince him that he real outdoors was a truly awful place by carrying him outside when it was windy and pouring rain. Shmoggleberry got wet and cold, and since cats are telepathically linked to those that they own, he knew that I wasn't too happy being soaked to the skin either. I thought I'd mastered cat psychology. Ha! What a silly idea.

Anyways, for a long time we had the understanding that there was nothing of interest on the other side of the "outside" door and everything was as normal as life can be when being dominated by a furry creature that prefers cold, raw fish heads to chocolate. But life being as it is, I had to move and I chose a cheap two bedroom house. Two stories have been written so far about Shmoglberry and the house – namely Surfing Cat and Circling Cat, because Shmoggleberry took on a personality adjustment after he discovered exactly how much room he had to call his own compared to a pokey flat. However, what he wasn't quite prepared for was the outside.

You see, the toilet was outside, most likely a "dunny" at one time, it was now equipped with plumbing. Plumbing with plenty of personality, but plumbing non-the-less. Being an outside loo, it also had its share of insects, arachnids, other assorted life forms, and an array of whatever stuff the wind blew in. It wasn't a particularly pleasant place to be, particularly in winter. However, when you've gotta go, you'll go! Now all you cat owners are fully aware that a cardinal rule for co-habitating with a superior species is that you must be accompanied when using the bathroom or loo. No one quite knows why, but I've been trained well enough not to even think its kinda odd anymore. Actually, Shmoggleberry will always stare at me when I'm doing any activity that could get me arrested if performed in public, the more embarrassing, the more intent the stare. In humans, we'd consider the voyeur perverted and have them taken away, but with cats we not only accept it, but get eventually get so used to it we get creeped out if they don't stare.

So when it did actually come to using the outside loo for the first time, Shmoggleberry came with me. And didn't he have fun dancing around my cold and goosebumpy legs chasing all those swirling leaves and ack-acking at all those insects. What a great place! And, bonus, the human came and sat in there every day, sometimes for some length. Indeed, the outside toilet was such a great place to be, he even followed me in the rain (it was two steps through rain to get from the cover of the back porch to the cover which the loo was under). What I hadn't realised though, was that Shmoggleberry had so far only accompanied me at night. In the morning he was too occupied by trying to break the record for the quickest time to inhale breakfast, and at other times he was lazing, avoiding the New House Monster, ignoring the mice, and keeping the "just climbed" motif fresh on the curtains.

One day he must have found a break in his busy kitty schedule and accompanied me once again to the Small Room of Great Amusement. But it was daylight this time, in fact a wonderful, sunny, fresh spring day. A great day to be outside, chasing butterflies, annoying lizards and basking in natural sunlight, a great day to be a cat. Not so for Shmoggleberry, however. He took a few steps out and was promptly swooped on by a magpie (for those non-Australians, these are crow-like birds with huge beaks that swoop very low at you when they are in nesting season. Most aren't terribly aggressive and can be scared away, but some will actually hit and peck your head). As if being swooped by a big bad bird was scarey enough, after all Shmoggleberry was the one supposed to be chasing birds, not the other way round, it also meant Shmoggleberry looked up. And up, And further up. There was no ceiling to this new "room". He was in a place without a ceiling. Agh!

He darted quickly to the first place accessible to him that had the safety of a solid layer above his head - he went straight into the one and a half foot gap under the house. And stayed there. And kept staying there. He would come to the edge of the house when I called him, but wouldn't actually come out, no matter how much I coaxed him. I even went out and bought a can of "human" tuna just to tempt him far enough out so I could grab him. Nothing worked. The height, or more like the lack of height, of the gap precluded me from going under there to rescue him, well, that and my arachnophobia, so eventually I figured that basic hunger would win in the end, and that I'd just have to wait. I kept checking on him to make sure he was OK, but nothing would make him come out.

It got dark, and so I went to call him again with food. Out came Shmoggleberry like he'd never even heard of the outside world. He ran straight to the back door and scratched desperately at the screen. As I opened the door he bolted in, so I figured he must have been very, very hungry. I expected him to be doing his regular "I'm but a poor, half starved kitty, take pity on me and feed me extra" act at his food bowl, but to my surprise he was in his litterbox.

Now that he knows there is a place on the other side of the "outside" door, he begs to be let out. When I cave in and let him through the door, he stands on my porch for a long time, because it has a ceiling. He's working up the courage to do the three metre dash to the underneath of the house. While there he gets up to his Secret Kitty Business, which has something to do with cobwebs as judging from the "decorations" that he is coated in later, but he will not return to the door unless it is dark. If I want him in earlier, I've got to call him to the edge of the house, and then grab him and carry him to the front door, because he simply will not go through "The place without a ceiling". He knows where home is, he just can't get there because he is so scared. (as evidenced by how he fluffs up only when he is in open daylight). He also always goes straight to the litter tray and does copious quantities of both varieties, so I figure that he doesn't use the outside to relieve himself. So I have an agoraphobic cat with a fear of strange toilets. My Shmoggleberry is neurotic! What a perfect match for his human.


Editor's note:

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