The cat and the gift bag

by Les

It started, I suppose, when Oliver adopted us. Oliver is a big orange marmalade cat with white feet, white belly, and a little bit of white around his nose. For a twenty-pound animal armed with the usual set of razor-sharp claws and impressive teeth he is surprisingly peaceful. If the doorbell rings, he disappears. If a strange cat approaches him, he gives one hiss just to show his teeth, and disappears. If a visitor tries to stroke his soft fur he disappears. He loves finding boxes, cabinets, and corners to hide in. About the only thing that is almost guaranteed to bring him out of hiding is food. He was a tiny, starving, kitten when he showed up on out doorstep a few years ago, and has never forgotten what being hungry feels like.


Binks is the other actor in this story. He is also an orange cat, but of more average size than Oliver, and with larger white patches: his left front and right rear legs are half or more white, and his belly and neck are nearly all white. His darker orange stripes are closer to dotted lines than solid stripes. But from a distance he looks much the same as Oliver. He is no coward. He showed up on our doorstep last year badly injured from a fight with another cat. We had him patched up, and kept him as an indoor cat because he was obviously not smart enough to pick fights he could win.

Binks does not run from danger. He has the curiosity that killed the proverbial cat. If he meets another cat, his first instinct is to befriend it by offering a hug. Most other cats do not appreciate that, and Oliver despises it: he hisses at Binks, then runs for cover. When a stranger rings the doorbell, Binks runs to the door to see who it is at the same instant Oliver is running for cover. Binks eats his share of food, but is not obsessed with it the way Oliver is. He might show up when the food bowl is filled, or he might not. It depends on what else is happening. If Oliver doesn’t show up we know he has been locked in a room or closet somewhere.

A few weeks ago the wife and I were quietly spending a Saturday afternoon at home. I was in the study doing some writing and she was in the living room reading the newspaper. Suddenly we heard the sound of furniture being overturned in our bathroom, and seconds later an orange cat raced through the study, in one door and out the other, with something red wrapped around it. A second later it came through again in the same direction. And again. And again. I tried to grab the animal on its way through, but it was too fast.

“Is that Binks,” my wife called, “or Oliver?”

“I can’t tell,” I said, grabbing at the fleeing feline again, “he’s too fast.”

Finally, the cat came to a stop under the coffee table, mewing plaintively. I grabbed it, and found it was Oliver, wrapped in the bottom half of a large Christmas gift bag made of paper, with his head and front feet sticking out a hole in the bottom. I tore it off him and he fled upstairs. A noise in the kitchen attracted the wife’s attention.

“Binks is under the table,” she said, “and I think he’s hurt.”

She always worries about a cat being hurt, especially when I trip over one. I got down on my hands and knees to look. Binks was there, with the top half of the same gift bag. He was gasping for breathe, with his tongue hanging out. Both handles of the gift bag were tightly around his chest, so tightly I could not move them. I quickly found a pair of scissors and cut them. He shook himself, walked out from under the table, and started grooming his paws as if nothing had happened.

Back in the bathroom we found the stainless steel food and water bowls had been upended and thrown around the room. The water bowl holds half a gallon, and the food bowl is nearly as large. It was a mess. And the door to Lisa’s closet was open. We concluded that Oliver had found the open door, and in his exploring of the closet had worked his way into a gift bag we were saving for reuse. He often does that sort of thing. Then Binks, attracted by the sounds, had found Oliver and tried to join him in the bag; Oliver had panicked, and tried to escape, trapping Binks in the handles of the bag. The food and water bowls had been sent flying while Oliver tried to get away, and when the bag finally tore into two parts Binks had chased Oliver around in circles through the house until they both ran out of breath.

Oliver still hisses at Binks.