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(She is sitting on my lap and drooling as I type this...)

Oh my, where to start...
Well, my cat's name is Smokey. I named her that (when I was eleven, I think) because her fur is of the mottled tortoiseshell variety and she looks as if someone threw her into a fireplace full of ash, cinder, and maybe a few still-burning embers.

Smokey has got problems, the poor dear. She was an orphaned kitten. A old neighbor of my Grampa's found her when she was only a week or so old, the sole survivor in a litter full of dead kitten strays. Her mother was dead as well, and Tony (the neighbor) found Smokey and put her in a cardboard box. This was only a semi-rescue though, for Tony really had no idea about what to do with an orphaned cat after the pick-it-up-and-put-it-in-a-cardboard-box part was all taken care of. I'm sure she would have died had I not spied her one day as my mother, father and I were leaving my Grampa's house after a visit. She was sitting lonely and tiny in the box - flies all around, maggots wriggling about her face, starved nearly to death, looking up at me with little 'get me out of this hellish, godforsaken situation,' pleading eyes.

Tony, who had shuffled outside while we were peering into the box, told us that he wouldn't mind if we took the kitten off of his hands, as he had no idea what to do for it and couldn't afford a veterinarian. My mother was, at first, reluctant to take responsibility for the little creature because we had a houseful of pets already. She was trying to usher me away from the cat and toward the car when from inside the box came a squalling, "MREOOOOW!" It seemed much too big of a noise for such a small, sick animal to make, and we all stood still for a moment, in awe of the strength she must have had to muster up in order to reach that degree of loudness. "Well," said my mother, her face visibly softening as her heart did melt, "She insists." And we took her home.

After a good wash and few weeks of love and supplemental milk, Smokey was feeling quite a bit better. As time went on though, we started to notice that her kittenish belly was growing plumper instead of more lean with age. During a checkup one day, we asked the vet about it and he told us that our dear feline had glandular problems due to her malnourishment as an infant. She was destined to be quite globular about the midriff for the rest of her life. As she grew older, her belly became rounder and eventually her glands started to swell and to distend her tum. Now she is about eight years old and I'd say that her misshapen middle makes up about 20% of her total body mass. What used to be a bit of a swollen tummy is now a hanging pouch of soft flesh. It waddles from side to side when she walks. To watch her running anyplace is just hilarious. When she lays on her side, her feet don't even touch each other because of all the gut that's in the way. Thankfully, her health is not at risk due to this. She sure is damn funny looking though. Also, inexplicably, sometimes her pupils are dilated at different widths. Some days I look at her, and she gazes back at me with mismatching eyeballs. Less often, she goes temporarily cross-eyed.

In addition to being physically affected, Smoke seems to have incurred some mental/emotional damage. She is for the most part pretty well adjusted (if unintelligent), but every now and then, some definite not-quite-normal-cat-behavior emerges. For instance, if upset by the littlest thing; a loud noise; an unfamiliar person getting too close; an incorrect petting, she will go into fits of hysterics. She hollers at the top of her lungs, sounding as if someone were stabbing her to death. She hisses and spits and runs screaming from the room. Her place of refuge is a shelf in the pantry, where her food dish is. To console herself, she crouches above the dish and gobbles down catfood. If anyone comes to close, she begins screaming and spitting again. If you reach out your hand to her, she will growl and try to slap you. Perhaps this behavior stems from issues connected with her early difficulties in life, I don't know. One of my friends was convinced that I must torture my cat for her to react to upsetting stimuli in such a way, but I swear to bejeezus, she has never been abused.

What's odd, too, is that after an hysterical episode has subsided, my cat seems to forget completely what upset her so. She will curse you to the high heavens, shoot you daggers with her eyes, and fifteen minutes later will creep back towards you and asked to be petted as if nothing untoward had happened. If you ask her, "Smokey, are you okay?" she purrs contentedly. This is not a matter of forgive and forget. I think she really retains no memory whatsoever of going ballistic. She lacks the mental capacity, I think, to hold a grudge. Occasionally, she has episodes where she seems to be infuriated and loving at the same time. She'll sit on you and growl angrily if you so much as move your arm to scratch your nose, and yet she won't remove herself from your lap. As long as you sit completely still, she purrs happily. I sometimes wonder if she would be bi-polar or something similiar were she a human being. No doubt she would be riding the short bus to school. She just isn't all there upstairs. She has fallen into the toilet numerous times, walked into walls, gotten lost in closets and been unable to find her way out. Most people describe cats as regal, sneaky, graceful, cunning, or the like. Not my cat. She is lumpy and dim. But I do love her so.

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