Friday, September 26, 2008

Opossum vs. cat.

A stretch of cinder-block wall was on the opossum’s nightly prowl. The cat on the windowsill noticed it first, and engaged the odd mammal in a staring competition.

The human noticed the cat’s rigid posture and looked past, into the circle cast by the porch light. He saw the opossum, and was pleasantly surprised. The cat, notoriously pea-brained, usually unaware of anything except food dish, litter box, and human, in about that order, was actually interacting with a being from the outside world. Perhaps there was hope -- it wasn’t the planet's dumbest cat after all. But there was no denying it wasn’t a typical feline. Other cats would have been hissing, arching and growling, but such fury was not in this cat's tampered genes. It merely stared at the opossum, which, frozen on the wall, stared back.

The human studied the juxtaposed creatures. One, a marsupial, was pretty much an evolutionary dead end. The Virginia Opossum was one of few remaining examples of a speciose group that had flourished in the southern hemisphere, but fell victim relatively quickly to an influx of distant relatives from the north. The doughy, slow-moving, feeble-minded marsupials were no match for the fast, tough placentals flooding south across the Isthmus of Panama. Marsupials were the particle-board members of the Mammalia, built hastily for short, unglamorous lives.

The cat, an irresponsibly inbred Himalayan, seemed a perverse attempt to reinvent the opossum (let outside, would be a road-pizza within fifteen minutes.) Of distant white Persian and Siamese ancestry, the cat was much the same color and pelage as the opossum — pale, wispy silver fur on the body, dark grey legs and tail. The differences were at the extremities: the cat’s tail was lushly fluffy; the opossum's was naked, scaly, rat-like. Whereas the cat had soft paws containing little curved daggers, which it had little knowledge how to use, the opossum had crooked, rubbery fingers emerging from fuzzy black gloves and a peculiar pink thumb on each hind foot. The cat's face was flattened and appealing in a diminished cranial capacity kind of way; the opossum's was long and tapered with a gaping mouth that lent it a freakish, leering profile. Although both were small-brained, the cat's amiable witlessness was expressed in unpredictable head-bonks and purring fits, what might be interpreted as affection, while the opossum's thimbly intelligence left it unable to appreciate any sort of kindness. It had vinegar in its blood; it disliked and distrusted everything. Perhaps its only defense. No one likes a grouch.

After a few minutes, the cat’s head lowered. The human was in the kitchen when he heard the sleeping cat fall from the windowsill into the space behind the sofa.

The opossum continued on its way.


Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Great comparison contrast post. To bad about the cat's brain. We have had a couple of really retarded dogs.

Hugh said...

Thanks Aunt D, you made me smile and laugh, as usual. Did your dogs ever fall off things? It's always endearing when pets are klutzy.

pookie said...

I had always thought possums were practically blind -- at least the ones I fed in NY were. I'd open the front door to dump more kitty kibbles into their feeding dish, and they'd raise their heads confusedly and peer vacantly around, as if they needed bifocals, and I was right in front of them, as large as Godzilla, relatively speaking.

Barbee' said...

That is hilarious! Thanks for the laugh.

tully monster said...

Your post made me think immediately of this, and while it may or may not be fake, it still gives me a good laugh every time I see it somewhere.

We have a young oppossum poking around in our back yard every night around sunset. He lives in a neighbor's bushes, but an evening without a visit from him is a bit of a disappointment. We'll be sitting out on our back deck, drinking wine and watching the dusk fall, and he'll appear, and if we're very, very still he'll go about his business as if we're not even there.

Everyone I know thinks opossums are ugly, unpleasant, and ratlike, but I love their silvery-grey fur and waddling gait and the dumb but insolent way they stare at you when you're bringing your car into the driveway at night and have to wait for them to cross in front of you before you can pull all the way in.