Monday, October 19, 2009

Webbing and Nails

Saturday night was the new moon, and, as I often do, I spent much of the late evening outside on the patio, enjoying the refreshing breeze of the desert night. I was smoking at the small table while Erica ingested catnip in the rectangular, carpeted, box that served as the crown to her cat tower. Levi lay next to me on the tile, determinedly cleaning his front paws.

Cats use catnip in a few different ways. Some sniff it and have a reaction reminiscent of Blue Boy on L.S.D. from a particularly memorable episode of Dragnet.

They go wild and move at enormous speed in unpredictable directions. Others, like Erica, eat the dried leaves and enjoy a response more akin to a human on narcotics. If Erica had been a human girl, it would have been as if she had taken three or four Vicoden, 10s, the big ones.

The lack of a moon meant that there wasn’t enough light for me to see her well, but I knew that her eyes were half-closed and that her racing mind was momentarily governed by a narcotic-like calm. Because of the moonless night, I couldn’t see her or Levi’s faces, but there was no doubt that it was her voice calling lazily from the dark tower.

“You’ve been cleaning your feet for half an hour, Levi. I think they’re clean already. Now you use them to wash your face, like this.” Here I could hazily see her demonstrate the face cleaning method she had perfected.

Levi’s tags clinked softly as he looked up at her.

“My paws are clean. My webbings hurt, so I’m licking them,” Levi said in a quiet voice.

“Webbings?” I said, not having a clue as to what he meant.

“You do not have webbings,” Erica said, a touch contemptuously. “You’re a desert dog, and you have feet. You’re not a duck.”

You’re a duck,” Levi shot back, seemingly satisfied that he’d gotten the last word in.

I heard Erica jump from her tower. For a second her eyes reflected back at me, and I saw she’d come over to Levi’s feet to have a look for herself. She examined them, sniffed them, and gave a tentative lick somewhere on his foot.

“See, I told you! What do you call this?” Levi demanded.

Suddenly Erica leapt on the table in front of me.

"It’s not webbing,” Erica said, more to me than to Levi. “Vinnie was a Labrador, he had webbing. A Newfoundland has webbing, but you’re a shepherd and shepherd’s do not have…”

“I’m just mainly shepherd,” Levi protested. “I’m not inbred like stupid purebreds. I am a finely blended American dog, and I bear the genetic diversity of the continent. In a sense, I represent the melting pot that makes this country great. I might look like a shepherd, but these feet reflect my great water dog heritage.”

“If you’re such a water dog, why don’t I ever see you swim,” Erica asked, cattily, swishing her tail toward the pool.

“In the pond of death?” Levi asked incredulously. “No one goes in the pond of death and comes out alive.”

I was a little irritated now. “Everyone who goes into the pond of death...the pool, I mean, comes out alive. You see Grandma go in there every day. I’ve tried to get you to swim in it.”

“The time you threw me in, you mean?”

“I’d hoped that would make you understand that it’s a place for swimming. I’m sorry that I…”

“That you tried to drown me? I should hope so.” Levi returned to licking his feet.

The pool incident was the main sore spot between Levi and me. It had happened more than six years ago, and since then Levi made sure to give the pool a wide berth, and me, too, if I was anywhere near that pond of death.

Levi continued. “Anyway, cat…”

Erica hissed. “The name’s Erica.”

“Please call her Erica,” I implored. “You know how she gets when you call her cat like that.”

“Anyway, Erica,” he pronounced her name carefully, enunciating each syllable, “Water dogs swim in lakes and rivers and fjords! Not stupid pools!”

“Where did you learn the word fjord?” I asked.

“That movie, My Life as a Dog. Not so much about dogs, but there were fjords, remember?” He continued licking his feet.

“Alright,” I said, getting up and moving to Levi. “Let’s see this webbing.”

He allowed me to examine his foot with no complaint, confident that when I saw his sore webbing, I would put Erica in her place.

“That’s not any sort of webbing,” I told Levi, as Erica, back in her tower, chuckled quietly.

“But it hurts between my toes and tastes all irony,” Levi protested.

“I have skin between my fingers, too, but it's not webbing. Your nails are insanely long. When you have nails like that and run around like you do, it pulls your toes apart, and makes the skin sore. "”

“The web.”

“No, Levi. The skin. And if you’d let me, or the groomer, or the vet, even, just clip your nails, your feet would feel better and not hurt as often,” I explained.

“And if you cut my head off, my nose would never itch,” Levi pronounced.

“It’s not the same thing at all,” I protested. “Nails don’t have nerve endings so they don’t hurt when they’re cut, and they grow back. Look at yours, Levi. They’re starting to curl under. They have to be bothering you.”

“Not as much, or as deeply, as having my bodily integrity invaded with clippers. Anyway, I think I have made it abundantly clear that I will hurt anyone who touches my feet with intent to mutilate. I will bite them and kill them, and they will be sorry they messed with this webbed footed, finely blended, American dog!”

“Alright,” I said, “Forget it. I’m going in.” I didn’t have the heart to remind him of the simple but effective procedure used to clip his nails. A soft muzzle would be strapped on Levi’s face, and he would immediately lose all his will to resist. Not a believer in futile causes, Levi would submit, because without the use of his mouth he was as harmless as a prizefighter with his hands tied behind his back.

As I was walking into the house, I could hear Erica saying, “It isn’t webbing, Levi.” I heard her jump off the tower and presumed she had approached her dog brother. “But I have to say, I do admire your stance on the nail clipping thing. If anyone ever tried to clip my nails, I would certainly scratch and bite and kill them, too!”

“You can't kill anyone, Erica. You're too small, because you are a cat. No offense, I mean, it’s just true. You’re a cat.” Levi sounded like he genuinely felt bad for Erica.

“Stupid dog,” Erica said, just before running off into the night, “I can’t kill them on the spot. But the infection will get them sooner than later. Read up on it. I have a filthy mouth.”

And though I’ve never heard her use profanity, and I share water with her from the same glass daily, I knew she spoke the truth.

For further discussion between Erica and Levi, please see Dreams of Dogs and Cats.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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tashabud said...

Reading this post was like me watching everything being played out in a Stageplay.


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