My gabby landlord Jerry lived in the back house on the two-house lot we shared and he used to bend my ear for hours on end — all of it utterly forgettable except for the following tale.
Jerry used to have an old tomcat that kept the local vermin population under control, or at least in a reliable state of unease. The cat spent most of its time sleeping under the rose bushes up near the house I rented or in the sun on the deck of the hot tub back beside Jerry’s kitchen door. In between was Jerry’s beautiful lawn through which ran a concrete path that connected his house to the driveway and the street. One day while the cat ambled along the path from the hot tub deck to the rose bushes a crow swooped down from the powerlines above and delivered a vicious peck to the crown of the tomcat’s head and then beat wings, whuph-whuph-whuph, back up to its perch on the wires. The tomcat fled into the shadows beyond the hot tub and didn’t re-appear until dusk.
In Jerry’s telling, he makes the sound of the bird’s climb to safety with pursed lips while flapping his arms like chicken-wings, his thumbs tucked into the armpits of his work-stained t-shirt. Whuph-whuph-whuph.
The following day the tomcat again strode from hot tub to rose bushes and just as before, down came the crow to deliver a terrific peck, and away scurried the tomcat into the shadows beyond the hot tub as the bird beat wings up to its perch, whuph-whuph-whuph. And so on for the third day and every day thereafter.
What a stupid cat, thought Jerry. Why not find a new place to nap? Why not find a new way to the bushes? That bird has beaten your brains out!
The cat already bore the familiar marks of the tomcat’s life: cheeks bulbous for fighting, bridge of nose creased with clawscars, an ear missing its tip. To that history of privation and discord the bird had added scabby sores and a growing bald patch where the cat had received so many daily pecks. All through the spring the daily dance of dive, peck, and retreat went on.
For Memorial Day Jerry had invited over his boss and several of his coworkers from the Los Angeles Unified School District for a barbecue. The first guest to arrive was his boss and as Jerry stepped out to greet the man with a bottle of beer — to set the right tone for the afternoon — the old tomcat again left its spot on the rim of the hot tub and began its daily amble out to be humiliated by the crow perched on the wires above.
Oh no, thought Jerry. That cat is going to humiliate me, now, too.
Jerry’s boss smiled and waved and the bird slipped from its perch to begin its daily Stuka diverun. The cat seemed as unaware as ever, the bird’s shadow on Jerry’s green and inviting lawn bending over the garden statues and the garden bench in a race to meet the figure of the bird itself at the point of the cat’s head, nearer and nearer over shrub and path, when suddenly the cat leapt straight off the concrete path, flipped itself claws skyward and spread its limbs wide. The bird began to furiously beat its wings in retreat, whpff-whpff-whpff, to abort the attack, but it was no use. The momentum of the dive drove the falling bird into the outstretched claws of the tomcat. Both bird and cat entwined into a mass of lustrous black feather and scabby orange fur and crashed down onto the concrete with a whoomph. There was a fluttering, and a flap, and then it was over. The cat turned out from under the broken bird, its face and chops bloodied, took hold of its kill by a wing, and pulled it back into the shadows beyond the hot tub.
“Jesus Christ!” said Jerry’s boss.
“Oh, that?” said Jerry. “You should see what he does with the possums.”