Andrew Nicholls

 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.