WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Walking down the cat supplies aisle in Walmart, with two masks on, I noticea bone-thin lady wearing a blue paper mask, a threadbare jacket, and no hat. She looks ancient in a good way, like a prized antique.
Wanting to give her six feet of distance, I stay back, waiting for her to move on, but something is holding her attention. Unable to contain my curiosity, I step closer, so she moves to one side, giving me the new normal distancing required between friends, or between strangers in a store aisle.
Various cat gadgets are displayed: a scratching post that looks like a cardboard box, material glued to the end of thinly coiled wire, plastic wands with a bundle of brightly colored feathers attached to the end (do cats see in color?), cat beds and pouches, and a tunnel cats can run through or hide in.
The tunnel has caught the woman’s attention, and it looks good to me too. I say, “Excuse me,” reach up over her short frame, and grab one of the packages, a safari collapsible tunnel. I toss it in my cart and say, “With COVID, staying home, and for only five bucks, you can’t go wrong. You know, cat entertainment!”
She nods, and I notice her eyes: small, dusty blue, surrounded by deep wrinkles. “I have two cats,” she says.
Being the crazy COVID-enabled Walmart cat-lady I’ve become, I encourage her to be impulsive, live a little, mentioning again the pandemic and her cats’ enjoyment. She points to the top shelf.
Ahhh, it’s a jungle cubethat attaches to thesafari tunnel, for another eight dollars. Now I see what’s happening here. I spy another attachment, a jungle hut housethat includes a fleece pad, for another fourteen dollars. I point it out to the lady, whose fragrance wafts through my masks. It’s pleasant, like home-cooked food.
Now I add the cube to my cart, because suddenly the tunnel alone seems insufficient. I watch to see what she’ll do. With the kind of control I have yet to cultivate, she places only a tunnel in her cart and says, “They’ll like this.”
Once home, I rip open the plastic packaging, and the cat tunnel springs to life like a snake popping out of a can. It’s colorful, crinkly, and about as long as a vacuum cleaner hose. Grabbing the cube package and the tunnel, I go into my office and start to assemble the jungle pieces, which looks like it should be simple but it isn’t. The instructions consist of a picture and the words, “Put the tabs through the loops.” I stare at the photo longer than it would take to boil an egg but cannot identify any loops. I assemble the pieces the best I can, and still the tunnel sits catawampus on the cube.
Salvador, the mischief-making cat, hears the crinkling noise and, assuming I’ve brought home another paper bag for him, runs full-steam into my office. Upon seeing the cockeyed toy, he screeches, jumps, and hightails it out of the room like his tail is on fire.
Leaving the half-assembled tunnel and cube, I unpack my groceries and start making dinner. Soon Lorca, Salvador, and Monkey are all wrestling around in the grocery bag I’ve left on the floor. Little Ivan is gaily sitting next to the door in a cardboard box that needs to be taken downstairs. Shy Maurice is AWOL.
After dinner, I lean over to try to fix the contraption and out hops Salvador, sending my heart rate to an all-time high. It hasn’t taken him long to investigate and approve of the jungle mess.
By now Dane has come over and I question who's being entertained more, us or the cats. Dane chuckles and points out that shy Maurice and little Ivan have joined in on the action. Even one of the dogs, Ruben, sticks his nose inside the tunnel, then does his own jump when Salvador takes a swipe at him.
Dane is unable to piece together the two parts either, making me feel better, but making us both feel like dummies! These are just cat toys, after all, not a rover landing on Mars.
Getting ready for bed, I decide the new cat tunnel and cube need to stay downstairs or there'll never be any sleeping humans, only happy night-owl cats.
As my eyes start to close, I think of the lady who bought the tunnel. How smart she was: no directions needed for setting it up, and only five dollars spent. I’ll bet it’s already provided hours of entertainment for her and her cats.God bless cats, cat people, and the makers of cat toys. But on my next trip to the store, I’ll just bring home a few extra paper bags.