Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:

“Chicken never gets up on the furniture in your house?” Nicole asked Marcus. She was sitting on the floor of the living room petting our cat Chicken since Marcus is too old to be shown affection any more. Not that Chicken wanted to be shown affection either. She likes power, but not necessarily affection.

He shook his head.

    “Maybe she doesn’t like the texture,” Nicole said.

    “She loves the texture of my house,” Marcus said defensively. “My mom won’t let her sit on it.” He feels pretty much the same way Chicken does about affection and he could sense Nicole was trying to get some in at him.

    Meanwhile, the moment Nicole turned away, Chicken ate something off the floor. “I’ve always said if you can sniff it, you can eat it. Who says plastic isn’t edible?”

    But Nicole didn’t notice; she’s not interested in cats. Only Tim was obsessed with them, as usual.  

    “I’m worried about Chicken,” he said. “Her fur looks different to me.”

    “What do you mean? What does it look like?”

    “You know those old furs in second-hand stores?”

    I couldn’t see it. The one that looked different to me was Morsel, the cat Tim used to share with Milagros and Lourdes. Like maybe he was sad he’d lost his family, his house and his money and had to live on charity in a 9-year old boy’s room. He’d gone way downhill economically in the last six months, not to mention socially.

    “Do you still walk him?” Nicole asked.

    Tim shook his head. “I can’t take him out anymore because he started chewing cigarette butts. I told him it’s just as bad as smoking but he won’t stop.”

    He picked him up. “Anyway, all he ever wanted to do when we took walks is sniff our next door neighbor’s.”

    “They must have a pussy cat,” Nicole said.

    “Either that or they have a waterbug.”

    Morsel jerked out of Tim’s arms and slunk off angrily. “Inside I’m not cute but they can’t see that part.”

    “So what does he do now?” Nicole asked. She really meant Tim but it’s an awkward question.

Marcus answered for him. “He sits around on the cable box.”

Apparently Morsel had been looking for some warmth in this cold world. In the dead of winter Tim even asked the cable company if they had a larger box they could give us.

“Well, you know, size doesn’t matter for bringing in the Internet,” the guy told Tim.

“Size matters,” Tim said. “I need a really big one.” But he wasn’t even able to score a bigger cable box.

Meanwhile our other cat had the best seat in the house.

“Where’s Barbados?” Nicole asked.

“Don’t worry, he’s profoundly present,” Tim said. “He’s sitting by the radiator.” He gestured toward the corner with his chin. “He’s getting irradiated.”

But since it had warmed up, both Morsel and Barbados spent more time underfoot, annoying Chicken. She walked through the living room looking daggers at them. “Get out of my way, you cats.”

Nicole turned back to Marcus. “It’s fun having a new cat, right?” She was trying to ignore the fact that he’d been rendered homeless by having to give up his room to Tim and Morsel.

Marcus made a face. “He’s okay. A lot better than Chicken.”

He liked Barbados best and apparently so did Morsel.

“I don’t know what it is,” Tim said. “Chicken’s really smart, she’s great at catching mice and bugs, but she’s really hard to warm up to. I never liked her, I’m not even sure why. Maybe partly because she’s been around so long. I find her to be too establishment.”

He thought a moment. “Barbados never does anything except strut around acting important and lash out at everybody else, but I just like him better, I don’t know why. He’s more real. Morsel likes him better too.”

Meanwhile the cats had all gone into the kitchen to check on the food situation and a few minutes later we heard a cry.

“They must be fighting,” Nicole said. “Should we see what’s going on?”

Tim shrugged. “They do that all day long. ‘You bit me, I’m going to hit you. If you don’t get off of me, I’ll scream.’”

“Who are you siding with?” Nicole asked.

Tim shook his head. “I’m not siding with anybody. I’m a reporter. The story goes like this: For the 384th time since Tuesday, Barbados grabbed Chicken by the paws and leveled multiple bicycle kicks to her head. Chicken got him back by biting his ass. City officials say this kind of hijinks can’t continue. Chicken, with the $1.5 million planning grant”

Marcus interrupted him.

“Why do you always talk about the cats? Is this going to be another boring day?”

Tim nodded. “You know the saying: Always a dull moment.”

On cue the cats left the kitchen and walked through the living room listlessly like nothing had happened. Naturally I fussed over them on their way by to try to make up for Marcus’ remarks.

Chicken wasn’t impressed. “God, she’s so neurotic about cats.”  

    Nicole was doing the same thing as me. “So Barbados isn’t as good a hunter as Chicken?” she asked Tim, trying to show interest.

    Tim shook his head again. “Plus if he does catch a waterbug he always leaves the outer parts. He doesn’t eat the crust.”

    He was really pleased to see someone was interested. “I used to have a tuxedo like Barbados when I was a kid. Mittens. She had 59 kittens and lived to be 21. It was so sad when she died.”

    It didn’t seem that tragic to me. But maybe it helped explain Tim’s affection for Barbados a little, which otherwise was hard to explain. Aside from being nasty and aggressive, Barbados wasn’t a good-looking tuxedo; he had little beady eyes, a squashed up, nasty-looking face and matted hair. I personally thought his fur looked a lot worse than Chicken’s, whatever Tim might say.

    “It’s true he does have some bald patches,” Tim said, “but I brush the fur across them to give him a kind of comb over.”

    That’s when I realized Tim wasn’t even really talking about the cats. They obviously represented other things for him, I think you know who I mean.

    In the meantime, Marcus had taken off. He was even less interested in politics than cats.

    “I wonder if small children get as much pleasure out of cats as we do,” Nicole said sadly, watching him go.   

    Tim shook his head again. “Small children have more distractions. We have nothing.”

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