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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

And Then There Were Three

Submitted by on March 1, 2011 – 9:17 PM90 Comments

Mabel, formerly “Mei-Mei,” formerly “Betty,” arrived at my house July 4th weekend as a foster cat, tiny, bitter, and silent. At first, she hid on a bathroom shelf, and tried to impersonate a Scrubbing Bubble (…successfully; like I said, tiny). Then she hid under the couch. I could only see tiny, bitter blinking, and the little priest-collar mark she has on her chest. She came out to have snacks and use the box, but only in the dark of night, grudgingly. (And tinily, and silently.)

That went on for two weeks. In the third week, she occasionally consented to “hide” “in” a dining-room chair during daylight hours, and to crunch kibble out loud, but eye contact sent her back under the couch, or into the bookcase, and by that point, I had given up hope of finding a home for her. I couldn’t find her half the time, and the photographs I’d hoped would attract prospective parents largely consisted of a blurry, tiny, bitter, silent tail vanishing out of the frame.

I composed an email to the head of the foster-cat organization to inform her that the foster cat had, thanks to an effective counter-counter-insurgency campaign called Operation Enduring Invisibility, become merely “the cat.” I hadn’t really bargained for a third feline, but at that point, I didn’t really have a third feline; I had two actual felines and half a ghost feline, and the little phantom used her litter like a good girl, so what the hell. I asked for Mabel’s medical records, and hit send. Five minutes later, Mabel materialized and wove a quick figure eight around my ankles. Later that day, she let me pet her…one pat, and then the puff-of-smoke routine, but hey, progress. Maybe all she wanted was to know that she could stay.

Seven months later, matters have improved greatly. She is still tiny; I’ve fattened her up to fighting weight, but that’s still only seven pounds. The bitterness, however, is gone. Well, gone from her. Someone whose name rhymes with “Brittle Foe” had gotten verrry used to being the baby of the family, and is really not all that excited about his little sister, or her habit of running under his chin (…tiny) to get to the fullest food bowl before he does, or how, no matter how tightly he snuggles in against me at night, she can always wedge in even tighter (…tiny), or her ability to hide behind (or in) (tiny) a single shoe and swipe him with her kitten-Ginsu claws (tiny). Joe has conveniently forgotten that he’s pulled that kind of shit on Hobey for years — he rolled out the old “I’ll just flop down right here next to Mom…oh heyyyyy Hobe I didn’t seeeee you there” not ten minutes ago, and Hobey trudged off for the 484,195th time all “‘didn’t see me’ — I AM ORANGE, Louis Braille” — and now he’s ultra-offended that Mabel is getting away with it. But Mabel herself seems quite content.

And never more so than when she’s performing high-decibel home-acoustics tests. The whole silence thing? A distant memory. Of Mabel’s seven pounds, six and a half must consist of lung, because girlfriend likes to yell. God forbid she just come looking for me instead of bellowing from the other end of the house. “MOM, WHERE ARE YOU?” “Right here, Mabel.” “MOM!” “Right here, Mabel.” “MOOOOOOOOOOM.” “Mabel, come here, little g–” “MOM-MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” “OKAY, MABEL, JESUS CHRIST!” “MOM!” “SHUT UP, MABEL.” “MOM.” “SHUT UP, MABEL.” I’ve sort of gotten used to it by now, but she also does it to houseguests, usually by padding right up close to them on her very little fog feet and then meow-tasering them: “OH HI I’M MABEL WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING OH ‘SLEEPING’ CAN I PLAY YEAH IT’S PRETTY LATE HUH HEY HAVE YOU SEEN MY MOM YOU KNOW MAYBE IF I KEEP YELLING IN YOUR FACE SHE’LL COME DOWN AND HANG OUT WITH US. HI. MOM!” What Al Lowe said: “It’s just a-may-zing how much sound can come out of that teeny little body.” What Al Lowe meant: “If that shouty little minnow weren’t so speedy, I’d stomp her flat.” Which…seriously.

So…she’s an air horn with feet; she won’t let me put her in a carrier (nor will her incisor “let” an oven mitt protect my thumb during the attempt); and I do not approve of her relationship with her pet tent. The pet tent — which, in my defense, came with her; I didn’t buy it — is covered in a cheap-looking blue plaidy sort of fabric with brown teddy bears on it; it’s hideous, and I could sew up a replacement cover for it in like ten minutes if Mabel would permit it. But every time I so much as pick it up to try to measure it, she gets really anxious that I might throw it away and she runs around and around in a…well, a very tiny circle, so a dot, I guess, and wants to climb my boot, howling like the world’s bittiest coyote. It’s…fucked up, which means she fits right into a household where the ancient orange cat will only drink out of the sink and has recently become obsessed with sleeping in my bedside table, and the slightly less ancient but fat cat recently sank a fang into my elbow when I refused to give him a gherkin.

And: she’s really cute, you guys.




  • Jenn says:

    The third paragraph reminds me of my niece, who slept through the night for the first time the night before my brother and sister-in-law finalized her adoption.

    “Meow-tasering” – thank you for finally giving that a name! My cat does it, too.

  • Atlantagirl says:

    Yay!!!! I kept wondering who this Mabel was you kept mentioning, and now you’ve explained! Such a cute bitty thing.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I keep trying to get a shot of her and Joe in the same frame, because it’s all relative; she’s actually just *kind of* tiny, but then she’s next to Joe or the Hobe and she looks *uber*-tiny.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:


    Who’s a little bit? You are! YOU ARE!

    Cute! And tiny! The tiny is for protection–the smaller something is, the more adorable it becomes, so behavior that should lead to scolding and water squirting is instead “aww”ed into forgivness.

    So tiny, and smart, to find such a good home.

  • adam807 says:

    Aaahh! SO CUTE! Can’t take it!

  • Bria says:

    So sweet!

    May I suggest a pair of welding gloves for Mabel v. Carrier episodes? I ordered a pair (elbow length, for good measure) to deal with my tiny but profoundly evil calico who Does Not Like To Be Put In Locales That Are Not Her Idea. My husband deemed them a necessity after a particularly bad experience with her biting the ever-loving shit out of my hand in a motel a few years ago. The welding gloves give you better dexterity and better protection than an oven mitt, as well as giving enough protection that it’s easier to move deftly and decisively without fear of the teeth.

  • Kate says:

    Awwww! Sars, you and your cats and your writing about your cats have brought me glee for years. I’m excited about the newest addition and her meow-tasering antics!

  • MsMolly says:

    “Impersonating a Scrubbing Bubble.” Well written! I have just died from the cuteness. I also may have teared up a bit at the thought that The Hobe is getting old. Your cats are some of the best cats.

  • Bronte says:

    Ooh cute. I can’t wait to see the Little Joe comparison shot.

    My husband and I got kittens in early January, my first kittens since I was about the size of one, and his first ever. Inspired by TN I convinced him to take a pair and we have been laughing ever since. Husband has turned into a cat person and trawls the net for cat information. I have TN.

  • Meredith says:

    Oh! That is so full of fuzzy goodness!

  • Sara says:

    It’s times like these I wish my husband was not allergic to cats. Dogs are just not the same.

  • Fay says:

    Oh my lord, that pet tent is just wrong.

    Hee! Tiny Mabel!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    If by “the same,” you mean “assholes,” you’re right: they’re not. Sigh.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    Awww. I’m so happy for all of you. Sometimes a tiny new cantankerous kitty is just what the family needs.

    @Sara, I feel you. My husband is terribly allergic to cats, even though he adores them. We both miss having one or more meowsers in the house.

  • Alexis says:

    Oh, wonderful. Both cat and writing about said cat.

  • Staci says:

    Sounds like you found a (tiny) soulmate. She’s adorable. :)

  • waverly says:

    I’m a sucker for a funny cat essay! This made me laugh out loud so many, many, many times.

  • Evaberry says:

    Congrats to you and to Mabel! It was nice to read the beginning of this as well, as we are currently “trialling” a new cat and he’s been in hiding for over a week. We’re worried he’ll never come out and we’ll be stuck with one full cat and one ghost… But hopefully he’ll get used to us over time. This is his third home in a short period of time, after all.

  • Amanda says:

    Yay, Mabel! Obnoxiousness is just their way of letting you know they’re happy. And as a dog owner who shares a house with three birds, I can tell you, “they” are “all carbon-based life forms.”

    And as an owner of dogs (not assholes, thank you), I can also tell you that baby-of-the-family thing is oh too familiar. My Great Pyrenees for years was the baby and so was obnoxious and pushy toward the mutt and the Akita, within the boundaries we set for him (he was and is an extremely dominant personality, but, and therefore, we won’t permit him to be the dominant dog). The mutt passed in January ’09 and the Akita in January ’10, so a couple of weeks after putting the Akita down, we got a puppy. She? Is obnoxious and pushy. Sits on the Great Pyrenees, bites his ears, throws her tennis ball at him (I shit you not the dog can THROW THINGS), walks under him outside when it’s raining (because: tiny; he’s 115 pounds, she’s barely 30), paws him in the face. And the Great Pyrenees, who is the master of facial expressions, gives us these horribly wounded looks like, “Why did you have to let it in the house? Now it won’t leeeeeeave,” and we’re like, hey, buster, the other two weren’t happy when you blew into town, so deal with it.

    Here is a photo of them on the couch so you can see the size comparison. Not that you can see her, particularly, because she blends in. This picture is old, she’s bigger now, but still. Y’all get the idea.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    Reminds me of my little girl. She never topped 7 pounds, even though I free-fed her, was grey, could hide in the most improbable spots (and would whenever her schedule got disrupted one tiny bit) and could make a noise approximating the most annoying car alarm ever. The dog, who is half greyhound and prone to chasing anything small and furry with murderous intent, was completely in love with her and would trap her and lick her all over whenever possible. She still looks for her every morning and won’t pee near or even walk on her grave.

  • Robin says:

    Sweet sweet kitty. They’re always cute when they’re little, then they grow up to be…DUN Dun dun…CATS! …we found that the only safe way to handle the Incedible Mr. Duzy Batz when he was still being very cantankerous was by putting on heavy-duty leather gloves, the kind used for doing rough gardening. They’re made of some kind of very thick rawhide, and have long cuffs. I think they were meant for trimming rose thickets or something. John puts them on, and picks up Duzy, who just sort of goes boneless and pops into his carrier without any problem.
    Several years have gone by, and now I can handle him alone and barehanded if I’m careful. Now, anyone have advice for how to protect my toes when all the Bad Barn Cats are racing across my feet with their hind claws out? They always seem to do it when I’m in open-toed bedroom slippers.

  • Jenn says:

    “Louis Braille”, ROFL.

  • EB says:

    She looks like she could be the miniature twin of our former-street cat Willie from West Philly aka Will Feral.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Eva: He probably will. Mabel had been in and out of Animal Control’s shelter system and foster placements for a couple of months, and I think she just wanted some quiet time. And then she wanted to…be an opera singer.

    @Robin, she’s about 2 years old, so the current cuteness should persist. Heh.

  • Eb says:

    So tinily cute! I look forward to many more Little Joe/Hobey/Mabel stories :-)

  • LynzM says:

    Zomg, Teh Cute! Congrats on the new addition… and thanks, as always, for the excellent and highly entertaining writing. :D

  • Sarahnova says:

    “‘didn’t see me’ — I AM ORANGE, Louis Braille”

    Hee hee!

    Amanda, your doggies are SO cute! I’ve never seen a Great Pyrenees before, but they look, uh, big.

  • Krissa says:

    Oh! She looks just like one of my cats, Ash – same tiny, same coloring. Ash has the tiniest little chirrupy meow, though. (My tortie makes up for it by barking at me.)

  • HollyH says:

    Aww! Yay Mabel, and yay for a return of cat essays! (Anyone who is relatively new to the Vine should definitely go look up past tales of Hobey and Little Joe. Some of them have made me laugh so hard I cried.)

    The pictures really make it look like she is a near-twin of my Emily, only 1/3rd the size. But Emily is that same lightish-grey tabby with the stripes that break up into spots along the back; she’s just built like a small cougar, not all that fat, but with thick, long legs and giant polydactyl paws.

    And! Oh. My. God. Does she do that yowling-from-afar thing. I live in a 3-room apt (plus bathroom), it is not very far from the back of the house to the front, and yet we go through this every night. I will be in the front living-room, and the yowls will start from far, far by the back door. “Moooooom!” “Yeeeeeees, Emileeeeee?” “Moooooom!” “Yesssss?” “MOOOM!” “Come here, Em!”

    Then she’ll come and get scritched a bit, and then she’ll wander away, and we’ll do this all over again. The only way I’ve found to prevent her from making this a nightly ritual call-and-response ritual once I’ve gone to bed is to preemptively grab her and dump her on the bed and get her to start settling in.

    Honestly, a couple of months ago I really started to wonder if she was starting to go senile. Like… does she actually wander away and forget that I am home? She’s 10 or 11, so… But my friend (who’s the one who actually found her outside and brought her in, and from whom I adopted her) said, “No, she’s just a fruitcake.” Which is true, she’s always been talky and demanding. So I’m not going to worry about it for now.

    I’m glad to hear that other cats do it too.

  • Erin in SLC says:

    In my experience, the youngest cat gets super-attached to “being the baby,” and when a new youngest cat arrives, all hell breaks loose. All CUTE hell, though.

    Photos make it hard to tell, but is Mabel a grey tabby or a brown tabby? Every brown tabby we’ve ever had (all of them with white markings) has been a leeeeetle beeeeet bipolar — manic purring and nuzzling one minute, attempting to install a third nostril on you the next, etc.

  • Tina says:

    Replace “Mabel” with “Berdine” and this:

    “MOM, WHERE ARE YOU?” “Right here, Mabel.” “MOM!” “Right here, Mabel.” “MOOOOOOOOOOM.” “Mabel, come here, little g–” “MOM-MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” “OKAY, MABEL, JESUS CHRIST!” “MOM!” “SHUT UP, MABEL.” “MOM.” “SHUT UP, MABEL.”

    …is how I spend most afternoons. My cat also “sings” us to sleep at night. Mostly songs about her little pink mouse, but sometimes she is calling our other cat (her brother) to come and play. At 2am.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    She’s a grey tabby. Joe is grey and brown. Hobey, in spite of being orange, is apparently extremely difficult to detect, even when spread out over most of a sofa cushion. Sigh.

  • Nina A says:

    Awww. My cat does the meow thing too-if we’re upstairs and she’s down, end-of-the-world yowling will commence.

  • Judi says:

    She’s SO CUTE!!!

  • meltina says:

    I had guessed that Mabel was another feline, despite very fleeting mentions of her. And awwwww, she sounds adorable and a little like my Gracie cat, except for the ghostly beginning. Gracie always knew she wanted to live with us. She picked us out at the shelter, not viceversa, and being a small fluffy grey kitten all she wanted to do was to be picked up and held while being told how adorable she was. At all times! Loudly, just in case! She has relaxed about it a little since she’s been taken out of cat isolation (which she escaped often anyway, causing the other cat to have conniptions about her).

    I adored the whole “MOOOOOM!” exchange, both my cats do that sort of thing, except that since there’s 2 cats and 2 humans here, each cat has picked a favorite human they call for, and when the other one answers, they totally give you a “Not you! The other one!” look and walk away disdainfully. They both also call for one another by doing the whole plaintive and yet annoying cry in the middle of the night.

  • Amanda says:

    @Sarahnova: They are cute, thanks! And yes, Dryfuss is big. I’m about average height (5’5″-ish) and if he’s standing on all fours, his back is about level with my hip. But he ain’t the biggest boy on the block. There’s a mastiff who lives down the street who weighs 240 pounds. He is a big dude. Sweet as can be, but: big dude.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    Amanda: I had a friend with an awesome Pyrenees who had been the baby for years. You want to really aggravate him? Bring a pregnant stray cat home. As soon as they’re mobile, those kittens will attach themselves to the Pyrenees like they’re made of superglue. It’s even better if the cats are of a contrasting color. The dog walks in the room . . . with five dots of kitten riding on his back. The dog goes to sleep . . . with five dots of kitten nesting in his fur. The dog goes to eat dinner . . . with five dots of kitten taking turns running down his head to try and get a taste of dog food. And they’re too small and fast and know to perch just along the spine, so there is no reaching them.

    No price can be put on that level of entertainment.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Photos now please.

  • Elisa says:

    She’s so cute Sars!! I’m so glad you posted about the cats, these essays always make me laugh. I had cats growing up although mostly they belonged to my younger siblings. Don’t have any cats now, but I miss them!

    Last year I did something crazy, I got a dog for the first time ever! They are so different from cats, it’s amazing. They actually WANT to be around me all the time! But they are also so much more work, I have never walked so much in my entire life. Now I’m a cat person AND a dog person. But not at the same time, as my two terriers think cats like to play-wrestle, whereas my Mom’s cats just wants to kill them.

    And yes, new puppy constantly cute-stretches-his-body between me and one year old puppy Dexter. Also randomly picks fights with me that consist of him half barking/half howling until I respond. “Woooof-rooooowoooo!”

  • rayvyn2k says:

    This sweet, funny essay was just what I needed today. Thanks for the giggles.

  • JenK says:

    Aw, I love the cat essays! That’s how a friend turned me on to TN nearly ten (!) years ago–she assumed that the presence of five cats in my house meant that I might enjoy reading about Hobey and Little Joe. (And she was right, of course.)

    We have a grey tabby with a priest collar, too. I started calling her Father Emily. And she’s also sort of fat, so she doesn’t have much of a neck, so she became Father Emily the Wrestler.

    (Also? I love that I can openly say here that I have five cats and call one of them Father Emily without worrying that people will think I’m loopy.)

    (Also also? I’m having a really rough day today with the loss of an uncle, and this essay made me smile and laugh. Thanks, Sars.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You’re welcome! I’m sorry about your uncle.

    I’m even sorrier I didn’t manage to get video of Mabel FREAKING OUT at a rubber band this morning (and Joe, sleeping in a sunbeam several feet away, opening one eye all, “…Really?”).

  • JenK says:

    Hee! I love it when kitties have fits over everyday objects.

    And in related news: There is a new Simon’s Cat video:

  • Tracey says:

    Aw, Mabel is adorable! She’s just a little smaller than our Lizzie (who’s around 8 lbs), and Lizzie is also very vocal. You just can’t believe the amount of noise that can come out of a creature that small.

    @c8h10n4o2, your story about the Pyrenees and the kittens is hilarious.

  • Girl Tuesday says:

    I love your cat stories! Thanks for sharing about Mabel – she sounds adorable :)

    My former cat Bing was a tiny, bossy little black cat who used to come calling at 5:30am to let me know it was time to get up, and the time for getting up was NOW.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    I’ll check and see if I have a photo I can scan and email to Sars once I can kneel down. I just had mega-huge injections in both knees about an hour ago and, of course, I keep my old photo albums underneath my bed, and this perverse canine-feline relationship occurred pre-digital camera.

    The best was when I stayed on the futon in the living room and woke up to see a giant white lump with little black dots covering it at the foot of the bed. They looked like little dark chocolate chips.

  • Kim says:

    Leetle gray graybutt!!1! LOVE.

    Also, my senior orange crankster still has his shelter blankie that he won’t let me toss. One side is Sesame Street flannel, and the other is teddy bears playing baseball, in pinstriped uniforms. (Should we…trade?)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Hee hee, cat stories coming out of the walls!

    My cats are brothers from the same litter (Harvey and Peanut) and while the don’t look much alike (same body and face shape with gold eyes, but completely different markings) they share a lot of the same crazinesses.

    Peanut is a tabby on top/white down below boy with georgous guyliner and adorable chinstrap. His specialties are standing on your boob while concentrating his weight on one paw, than making frantic biscuits, copious drooling, walking past you over and over while quivering his tail, smashing his face into your abdomen and just standing there while you pet him, and the Peanut Plop, where he gets so enraptured by your attentions he falls over sideways and squirms onto his back, than tries to claw your hand off.

    Harvey–black and white splotches, white belly, adorable black nose–focuses on heartbroken yowling while my husband is in the shower, waiting until you are settled on the couch with a heavy book and then insisting on lots of pacing up and down your body until he settles onto your neck and shoulder, forcing you to try to read Mark Twain’s Autobiography with one hand, climbing up on the top of the kitchen cabinets and proclaiming his rulership, FREAKING THE FUCK OUT for no apparent reason and racing around like a demon, pausing occasionally to climb the doorjambs, and the Harvey Hula, where he works his claws into the top of the scratch post and sways his hips like an island girl.

    Both of them (ironically, considering how noisy they are) don’t purr much at all. Harvey will once he’s wedged his way between my husband and me in our bed and snuggled down, but Peanut doesn’t really purr at all. Instead he makes a funny, wheezy hoot sound with his sinuses. We call it his Nose Owl.

  • Alan Swann says:

    Great essay, as always, The next time one of our cats lets loose at 4am, I know the phrase “air horn with feet” will be going through my head (along with, y’know, the piercing screeches).

  • Sarahnova says:

    Okay, the Pyrenees-riding kittens are killing me. Photos pleeeeeaaase.

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