They Were The New Cats

They were the new cats.  They were Cats of Great Authority.  Driving cars around the coun­try, super­vis­ing lane clo­sures and inter­sec­tion full-stops, chas­ten­ing speed­ing scofflaws.  Why cats?  Because they were expend­able.  Because they were already some kind of cops.  Cats behind bill­boards.  The rea­son they hadn’t liked car trips before was, meow meow.  Who could inter­pret that?  They didn’t steer, they “ini­ti­ated in-car met­rics.”  They were the Bold and New and Brave Cats.  An obser­vant being was required.  A being paid in tuna.  My mother with her chin twisted to one side like Edward Norton in that movie said Jesus Christ on a hot dog bun now she could die, she could die because now she’d seen every­thing.

They rolled down the win­dow and stared at you.  The cat cops, frisky, accus­ing.  Being sirened over by a cat dri­ving a Crown Victoria, let me tell you.  Standing against the green on a curb while the black and white whis­tled through the red.  That cat at the wheel with the radio buzz and grack.  Citizens called for account­abil­ity.  Nobody asked us… (curse, wheeze)  I’m not giv­ing my license to a fuck­ing cat.  You didn’t have to, you fed it in a slot.  The cats didn’t leave the car.  They were welded in and couldn’t even nose a tempt­ing fin­ger.

You had to walk back to the cruiser.  The power win­dow would slide down and there’d be a cat mer­ling at you.  Inside a wire cage, with access to its six but­tons:  win­dow, siren, speed, food, dump, shoot out tires.  As low as you could be, as low as you had ever imag­ined your­self being, with GPS plus bud­gets stretched thin plus two peo­ple in front of a bathrobed Arizona judge at mid­night you could now be lower than and answer­able to a cat.

The auto­mated voice told what you’d done.  The ticket printed.  While the whole time, the fuck­ing cat.

They worked long shifts and pulled over to dump their ejecta.  Piles of sand in the gravel beside fence-bent sideroads and out­side your house.  This Drains To The Ocean but no one told the cats.  A but­ton they clawed and out it went.   It was the Google Map car with atti­tude.  You bet they’d shoot out your tires.  Better not speed with your dog along.  There were Late Night jokes, barely ade­quate as a means of toweling-off the nation’s wet hor­ror.

They said the cars could not crash but I tell you, look­ing in the rear view mir­ror and see­ing a sharp-eared slit-eyed thing bear­ing down on you with the siren going?  They had an option for brak­ing slowly, which the new cats never chose.  They drove full-bore as though they wanted to anni­hi­late you.  The Decisive Cats, the Powerful Cats, over­praised all their lives, think­ing they were bril­liant dri­vers.

The coun­try had out­sourced every­thing else, trimmed the doily edges of munic­i­pal ser­vices, out with adorn­ment in with prac­ti­cal­ity, pri­va­tiz­ing jails, Help Centers, med­ical advice, rape cri­sis.  There at the bot­tom of the slip­pery slope was a set of smil­ing teeth crush­ing a mouse’s skull.  Pushing a but­ton to tell you have a nice day.  Meow.

The world lost def­i­n­i­tion when it hap­pened.  Hot August days were vaguer some­how, browner, time was less easy to under­stand as time.  People my age stayed inside.  What was next?  Owls in banks?

To make the cats new they gave them the dog pill.  The cats got friendly, by itself a strange­ness, but also smart and strict, able to ticket you and not feel remorse.  No more sob sto­ries, no more okay this time I’ll let you go.  A pill that lasted weeks and then they qual­i­fied, the warm body the loop­hole in the law required at first in Tempe then all the other states grandfathered-in.  We howled that we were tricked but who cared.  There is no law that says you can’t be tricked, smiled the cats.  Remember that cone you made me wear?

Everyone had sto­ries.  Their own cats, their adop­tion cats.  I couldn’t have been going sixty.  Pookie you got so big, don’t you remem­ber me?  The I-Don’t Care-Cats, the ticket tongu­ing from the slot like cash beside the roar­ing road, the recorded voice say­ing please move along and the cat face inside the cage inside the car, bored with your anger.

O! how they loved a high-speed chase.  You think you can escape me?  I bring down spar­rows on the wing.  On the pills they slept less and seemed to want some­thing with the leg-rubbing fer­vor of old but the thing they wanted now was your sub­mis­sion.  To see the falling dough of your face as you walked back los­ing equi­lib­rium.

Sometimes on a hot night two cat cop cars drove side-by-side claw­ing at their cages, syn­chro­niz­ing and scream­ing and speed­ing through lights like rut-eyed lovers and we didn’t even have a word, watch­ing in cafes and on side­walks, we had no phrase for the enor­mity of this.  What else was there in the world that we fool­ishly believed we’d domes­ti­cated?  What else was wait­ing with volute tooth and claw to say please step out of the vehi­cle?

Andrew Nicholls has longer fic­tion in the most recent Santa Monica Review, Black Clock and Kugelmass, and online at McSweeneys, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literature For Life and else­where. He is a long­time TV writer for Johnny Carson among oth­ers.