Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Two Medieval Cats Talking"

Leafing through my scribblings from our recent European excursion, I was reminded of a passage I read in my indispensible historical companion, “The Seven Ages of Paris” (by Alistair Horne) concerning “The Black Death”, wherein the brainiacs of the era determined that the devastating scourge sweeping the continent could be eradicated if they exterminated the malignant carriers of the contagion…

The cats.*

(* Spoiler Alert:  It was actually the rats.)

This leads to this imagined (though we cannot entirely rule out real) conversation between two fourteenth century felines.

Translated from the original Cat.  Dialect:  Middle-European. *  

(* Englished-up for the reader’s convenience.)

Two cats meet in a back alley bordering a favored restaurant trash-dumping area.  One cat is congenitally nervous; the other, easygoing to a fault.

NERVOUS CAT:  We’re in trouble! 

COOLER CAT:  Ah!  “The worrier!”  No salutation of any kind.  Just hit the “angst button” and “Away we go!”  That might be an anachronism, but it’s good to burn those off early.  Which may also be an anachronism.

Silly cat!  We are in serious difficulty! 

When are we not?  There are roaming bowwows.  Packs of predatory hyenas.  And, during food shortages, people who once pampered and petted us, stop being nice, and cook us and eat us.  “C’est la vie” if you’re a cat.  And not only a French cat. 

This is different!  And it’s really, really bad!

Your lucky day.  Something new to get gray cat hairs over.

It’s the plague!

There’s a cat plague?

A “people” plague.  You have you noticed there are less of them lately, haven’t you?

You’re right.  I went over to a house where I, with generally positive results, beg for food, and there was nobody home.  I thought they were just on vacation.  But then, I looked next door, and they were carrying out bodies and dumping them in a cart.  Then they rolled to the next house and said, “Bring out your dead.”  And they did!  The neighborhood’s virtually empty now.  I don’t know what they ate, but I am definitely avoiding their table scraps.

Millions of people!  They’re dropping like flies!

That’s a shame.  Fortunately, we’re not “people.”   We’re cats.

That's who they're blaming for the plague!


The cats!

They’re blaming us for the plague?

They call it “The Black Death.”

“The Black Death.”  You ever wonder who makes up these names?  Like “hell.”  It sounds exactly like what you think it’ll be like.

You don’t seem to get how serious this is!  They’re saying it’s our fault!

Who’s “they”?

The doctors!

Well, those guys are never wrong.  Maybe it is us.

It’s the rats!

The rats.  How ‘bout that?  They missed it by one letter.

It’s not funny!

Okay, Mr. “Everything ends with an exclamation point.”  So we steer clear of the rats…

It’s not the rats.  It’s the fleas on the rats.  “Oriental rat fleas” living on the black rats are regular passengers on merchant ships!  The spread through the Mediterranean and Europe, the plague killing thirty to sixty percent of the population!

Where’d you get that from?

Wikipedia.  Sorry for the anachronism.  But I needed it for exposition.  The point is the fleas infect the rats, and the rats spread “The Black Death.”  

I pick the fleas off, don’t you?  I mean, we are programmed to eat rats.  But fleas – Yikes!  You have to draw the line somewhere. 

Listen closely.  It’s not a question of our not eating the rats… 

Without picking off the fleas first.

…right.  It’s a question of them exterminating every cat, because they believe we’re causing the plague!

That’s not good.  Though, when you think about it, we may be dying because of a typographical error.  They meant to say “rats”, but they accidentally wrote “cats.”  Interesting thing about relativity.  That would be humorous, if I weren’t a cat.  You can learn something, even in adversity.  “Nothing is funny to everyone.”  I have to remember that.

How can you take this so lightly?  We are all going to die!

Good thing a cat has nine lives, huh?

Falling off a building and landing on your feet does not mean you have nine lives; it means you can land on your feet.  They mixed two things together.  Cats have one life.  And above average landing skills.

You are such a sourpuss.  Next, you’ll be telling me one “dog year” isn’t seven “human years.”

It’s a myth.  To cheer up old dogs.  Now back to us.  What are we going to do?  The “Wee-ooo Wagons” will be here any minute!

The what?

One guy drives the wagon, and the guy sitting beside him goes, “Wee-ooo-Wee-ooo” to tell you they’re coming.  This is horrendous!  They’re rounding us all up!  And we didn’t do anything!

Yeah, but you know, eventually, those doctors  are going to realize...

"Eventually" is a well full of drowned cats!

I fear we are veering perilously close to “Allegory Country” – “A hated minority, unjustly accused”?  

They don’t hate us.  They just think we’re killing them. 

Well then, we are dying for a mishandled allegory.  Frankly, I would have preferred a loftier exit. 

I do not see how we’re gonna get out of this.

We could pull the plug on this post.

Like it’s that easy.  “I don’t like where things are heading, so to avoid a tragic resolution, I’ll just pull the pl

(The writer is omnipotent!)

(If not entirely satisfying.)  
A Contest:  With, as my Headmaster Mr. Kinsman used to say when I was teaching at St. John's Church of England Infants and Junior School, a "bucket of tar" for the winner.  

I could not find an ending for this story that was not terminally depressing.  

Got any ideas?

1 comment:

Keith said...


Like it’s that easy. “I don’t like where things are heading, so to avoid a tragic resolution, I’ll just pull the plug."

Shh. They're coming. Let's get out of here.

The cats slink away down the alley. Reveal a crack in the wall with four glowing eyes peeping out. TWO RATS emerge.

See? I told you they were going to blame us.

They just don't have all the facts. Once they learn that bobak marmots from the Ural Mountains are the original reservoir host, they'll see it's not our fault.

I've never seen any marmots at the reservoir. Unless you're talking about the guy with the hurdy-gurdy.

No. The marmots are where the plague comes from. We just share the same fleas.

I wish everyone was as smart as you.

Just give them time.

Shh. They're coming.

Somewhere in the Ural Mountains...

You know they're going to blame us, right?