Prowling with Wojo
The brick walkway intersected the sidewalk on 10th street, and there they took a right, going down the hill a little bit, Wojo in front, his tail high in the air, walking quickly, and Thersites following, looking around at first to see if anyone was watching him follow his neighbors’ cat down the street. Then Wojo took a sharp right and went into the alley.
As Thersites rounded the corner, Wojo had his claws into a fence post on the other side of the alley, raking it, stretching his belly muscles. His eyes were closed and he started off slowly scratching the fence post and then after a bit he pawed it rapidly. Then he withdrew his claws and stood there, looking at Thersites.
“So, how big is your range?” Thersites asked.
“Territory.” Thersites swept his hand to indicate the neighborhood.
Wojo put a paw toward his mouth and began to lick in between his pads but didn’t say anything, and Thersites didn’t ask again, because Wojo pronked and started again down the alley, and Thersites shuffled to keep up.
“Food. There’s always an open food bowl down this way. Through the fence.”
They continued down the alley until they came to the backyard of a small, turquoise house. One story, sort of beat up, but it had a big deck looking out on the alley and the brick wall on the other side of it. The fence surrounding the back yard was missing a few planks and Wojo shot through one of the holes. Thersites looked at the space between the planks and realized he couldn’t fit through, so he just looked over the top as Wojo made his way through the uncut grass and up the stairs to the deck. On it, Thersites could see a couple of stainless steel bowls. One with water, one with kibble of some type.
“I can’t get through,” Thersites whispered, looking around.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be done in a minute. Hold on.”
And Wojo squatted down, put his nose in the bowl, and started to crunch away.
“I thought cat’s didn’t like dry food?” Thersites whispered.
Wojo raised his head, looking back at Thersites, then resumed eating.
“I guess they do.”
Soon Wojo was done and began to lick his lips, then washed for a few seconds, licking his wrists and running his paws over his ears, finally ending by licking his ruff a few times. Then he turned and leaped off the deck into the grass below and Thersites lost sight of him until he appeared at his feet. He came over and rubbed on Thersites’ shin. Thersites squatted down and petted him and heard Wojo’s vibrato.
“Was that good?”
“Yeah. OK. You need variety. Can’t just have the same stuff everyday.”
Thersites kept petting, then asked, “You like living with Liz and Kyle.”
“It’s OK. They need more rugs.”
“Yeah. Hardwood floor is a bitch. Can’t get any traction. Slipping all over like a stupid little puppy on his first day home from the pound.”
“I can see that.”
And Wojo started off again, moving to the right side of the alley, which was decorated with four or five green dumpsters for the shops on 10th street. Thersites’ apartment, Reed Court, faced 10th and was on the corner, then next to it was a little grocery store and then a dry cleaners and then a restaurant called the Rain City Grill. Wojo walked over to the first dumpster and rubbed against it, sniffing. Then he walked around into the little space between the dumpster and the brick wall, finally reappearing on the other side, looking at Thersites, blinking once, and then moving on to the next dumpster.
Around the base of it were some wire coat hangers and strips of plastic and a few small shirt boxes, wet and flattened from the rain. Wojo veered away from that dumpster, went all the way to the other side of the alley, and walked in the clumps of grass next to the cedar fence.
“What is it?” Thersites asked.
“Hazmat. That shit is toxic. Goes right up through your pads. Have you seen Melvin?”
Thersites had seen that cat, a torty. He had a bad habit of sitting in the middle of the road off Harvard Avenue, next to Reed Court. It was only a matter of time until he got it.
“Torties are fucked up anyway. They’re crazy. But Melvin—he ate a jelly doughnut from that dumpster. He’s never been the same.”
Thersites sniffed the air and drew in the smell of dry cleaning fluids, wondered how anyone could work in one of those places for very long without brain damage. The back door of the drycleaners was open and through it he could see the moving conveyer of shirts and hear a press hissing and saw a small Asian man pulling shirts out of someone’s green laundry bag, and then in a few more steps they were at the next dumpster, which Wojo was already on top of.
“This the one for the restaurant?”
“Oh yeah. They have at least one fish dish each night. Or so I’m told. So there’s lots of good stuff. The prep cooks come in around one o’clock, so that’s when you can get some raw. Then if you want day old’s, you come back around now, in the morning, then—”
Wojo’s head turned quickly and he looked down the alley, crouching a little, Thersites thought. Thersites looked where Wojo’s attention was directed and he saw a pare of amber dots, lozenges, in a matrix of black fur. The little black can was sitting just outside the alley, partially hidden by a fence post. It was crouched, too, looking at Wojo.
“What’s up?” Thersites whispered.
“He’s not supposed to be here.”
“We time share. This is my time on this route. He should know that. Probably got into the dry cleaning fluid.”
“So now what happens?”
“Well, we’ll see if he wants to fuck with me. Unlikely. I mean, none of us wants conflict. But you have to know the rules, you know? There’s a system. As long as everyone follows it, everything is fine. But then some newbie will show up, from the shelter or something, or some kitten—some indoor cat will get out, and I have to go through the whole hissing and ears back display thing, which I’m too old for. I just can hardly fake that anymore, you know?”
“How old are you?”
“I’m 12. I’m at the end of the line.”
“You been neutered.”
“How was that?” Thersites looked from Wojo to the little black cat at the end of the alley. It was licking itself.
“See, he’s trying to pretend he doesn’t see me. Punk. Did you say something?”
“How was it being neutered?”
“Well, I mean, it felt weird for a while. But I don’t miss the anger. I had a lot of issues with that, and after the surgery, I was a lot more mellow. But some of that is age, too. So it’s hard to say.”
“So you know how old you are?”
“Do you know how long you’ll live?”
“Sure. About. I’m about three-quarters through. “Then—POOF. I’m gone.”
“You think so?”
‘I know so.”
“And you’re OK with that?”
“There’s nothing to not be OK with. I mean, what can I do about it? Look.”
Thersites looked toward the end of the alley and the little black cat was crossing the alleyway, walking slowly, and then he disappeared behind the brick wall. As soon as he did so, Wojo jumpud down into the dumpster and Thersites could hear movement in there, rustling, crunching, and then Wojo appeared back on top of the dumpster with a broiled hunk of fish in his mouth.
“What is that—Ahi?”
“What’s you favorite?” Thersites asked, as Wojo dropped the hunk of fish.
“It’s all good.”
“You like fish better than beef?”
Thersites watched at Wojo slowly devoured the fish, which didn’t smell too good, but Wojo didn’t mind. He tore off little pieces of it, dragged them a short distance from the main chunk, and then gulped them down, chewing with his mouth open, chewing loudly, his mouth making wet, smacking sounds from time to time. After a while, he was done and began to clean himself, and after all his hairs were in place, he looked at Thersites. Then he jumped off the dumpster and went on down the alley, toward where the black cat had been.
Thersites followed Wojo, who was weaving back and forth between the sides of the alley, pausing every so often to sniff something, sometimes opening his mouth a little and doing the flehmen thing, smell-tasting, and then toward the end of the alley, where it spilled out onto Yale Avenue, he went over to the fence on the left side and plopped over and began to lick a paw.
Thersites reached him, stopped, put a hand on the fence. “What’s up?”
Thersites looked around. The block was still fairly quite, though he could hear out on 10th Street the buses and cars taking people to work. After a few minutes of listening, Wojo jumped up, cameled his back, and walked out of the alley, turning right.
Thersites followed, asking, “Now what?”
And as Thersites followed he wondered where in that neighborhood Wojo would actually hunt. And what. There were no parks close by, no vacant lots, no big yards, really, and as Thersites continued to think about this he watched Wojo walk up to the corner of Yale and 10th and take a right, heading back toward the apartment.
They walked up past the Rain City Grill and Thersites could see inside some dim shapes through the glare of the sun on the windows, and then they passed in front of the drycleaners, the front door of which was open and more of that smell was coming out, and then they passed the little market, in front of which a bunch of kids were standing, waiting for the bus. Finally they got to the courtyard of Reed Court, the overgrown grass rectangle with the malfunctioning fountain. That’s where Wojo was going.
When the got into the courtyard, Wojo crouched down, moving to the right side of the open space, into some taller grass. And Thersites followed him, actually getting down on his hands and knees, not worrying for the moment if people thought he was crazy. He got close to Wojo’s position.
“What are we hunting?”
“What are you hunting?”
Wojo turned his head, squinted at Thersites.
“I mean, I just thought you’d be hunting mice or… gophers.”
“Sometimes I do. But flies are actually more challenging. And I can pretend they’re mice. Mice that fly and that move in these random patterns. I mean, this is way, way more challenging than any mouse. After you’ve killed, like, a thousand mice and shrews and moles and stuff like that, it’s not that big a deal any more.
“So you pretend.”
And then Wojo became suddenly still, crouched down in the grass, and Thersites could see his back feet were preparing to spring. His claws were out and he looked like a projectile in the pocket of a slingshot, ready to be released, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then—BOOM. He shot across the grass, at something Thersites didn’t quite see. But he jumped up in the air, put his paws together, pads facing pads, and tried to sandwich something.
But it was too fast, the little flying dot moving in a circular pattern, and so Wojo had to jump again, and again, and again, and that last time his body sort of twisted in the air, like an Olypmic diver, went sideways a little, and almost before he hit the ground he was jumping again, but the fly slipped away, moving over to his right, toward the building.
Thersites, still on his hands and knees, followed, moving through the grass, pretending he was a cat, too, and the snake spit on the long blades wetted his knees and his hands and one of his Birkenstocks fell off, but he kept moving over to Wojo’s position, then hunkered down into the grass, looking through it like he thought a tiger might, like this little tiger might.
Silence. Wojo was still, staring at the windowsill just above him, and Thersites could see a little black dot there. And Wojo had it in his sight. Was was just waiting for the right moment. There was a buzz of wings and Wojo was up there, on the sill, pushing his right paw down hard onto the brick sill. And there was no buzzing. Then Wojo carefully lifted the paw. There was a buzz, and the paw came back down.
Thersites slithered over to the sill, watching Wojo, who either didn’t know he was there or didn’t care. He was just staring at his right paw. Then he lifted it again, looking down at the fly. It’s wings were barely moving. And so Wojo put his nose down to it, sniffed a couple times, then opened his mouth and ate it. He started to chew, and there was a crunching. Then he swallowed and looked over at Thersites, who was smiling, still crouched down in the grass.
Then from behind Wojo the curtain was moved back and he saw Liz’s face looking at Wojo. And then she noticed an adult male, about six feet tall with black, loosely curly hair, wearing a now dirty T-shirt and shorts and one shoe, crouching down in the unmown grass in the courtyard of her apartment, staring at her cat. She opened the window, reached out, and petted Wojo.
“Hey, Liz,” Thersites said.
“Hey, Thersites. What’re you doing?”
“Oh, just following Wojo.”
“Cool,” she said, stepping back from the window, and through the gauzy curtain he could see her smile at him before she walked back into the darkness.