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Tormenting Fantails

by Beverley, Napier, New Zealand


In the autumn the fantails arrive. They are acrobats and pranksters, the Ollies of the bird world. They swoop and dance after insects and around them the poplar leaves flutter, resplendent in browns and golds. Ollie is tormented by the birds. They fling themselves in tight, darting circles around his head sometimes missing his whiskers by centimetres. He hurls threats at them in a sort of low, chattering cat lingo. It goes something like this in human terms - "I'll get ya, I'll get ya, aaaakkkkkk. One crunch that's all it'll take, one crunnnnch, aaaaakkk."

Fantails thrive on this sort of behaviour. They chatter back in their sharp little voices. The white in their tails flicks tantalisingly as they sashay above Ollie's head. They are sociable birds. When we lived on a farm they came in the windows and chattered to themselves in the bedroom mirrors. To Ollie, however, this behaviour bordered on sacrilege, birds do not torment cats, it's the other way round.

One bird was being particularly annoying. It led Ollie down the back path, circling and fluttering. Ollie was like an elephant who had accidentally blundered into the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. He lunged and missed, again and again and again. The bird regarded the whole thing as enormous sport. It turned a couple of somersaults and landed on the back fence in front of the poplars. It was too much for Ollie. He let out a howl of rage and flung himself at the top of the fence. Have you ever seen a bird smirk! I reckon this bird out-smirked Ollie. It gave a provocative flutter and landed in the poplar tree. I have never seen a cat so fixated; he was gibbering with fury. Ollie fell over the fence and began speeding up the poplar tree. The fantail danced in front as he climbed, higher and higher, it was a tantalizing morsel.

I began to feel alarmed. The poplars are enormous. "Ollie," I shouted. "Ollieeee, come back." It was no use. That cat had lost track of reality. Half-way up the tree, which was easily higher than our house, the fantail fluttered away to the nearby walnut tree, and perched there to watch the fun.

I could see sanity was coming back to Ollie. He clutched the tree with both front paws and turned to look at the ground. It must have given him quite a shock because he clutched the tree even harder and let out an anguished bellow. I knew our ladder wouldn't reach him. As I stared helplessly I began to think of the fire brigade, a couple of blocks away. I was sure Ollie would break every bone in his body if he fell from that height.

I'd forgotten about the fantail. It swooped across from the walnut tree and flew in tight, insulting circles around Ollie's head. It was all too much. Ollie forgot his fear and lunged. He dropped like a brick and bounced - once.

I couldn't look. Was it the end of Ollie? Had he finally used the last of his nine lives? I needn't have worried. Ollie had landed in the long soft grass the right way up. He got up, shook himself and shouted a couple of obscenities at the fantail. The bird made a couple of hopeful passes at Ollie as he stalked back up the garden path. But it was no use. The fun was over.


Editor's note:

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