DahliaOn a grey and gloomy day on moderately quiet street in a medium-sized town, a woman of more or less middle age moved from lamp post to lamp post, taping up signs. Each featured a photo of a large marmalade cat and read, “MISSING CAT! Dahlia is lost! She is lonely, cold and scared. Won’t you help me find her?” and gave a phone number to call if the cat was seen. The woman shivered as she worked, and drew her sweater more tightly about her shoulders.
Meanwhile, across town on a rather less quiet street, a large marmalade cat relaxed in a nightclub, enjoying the scene. Word of the notices came by roundabout means. The small furry dog who lived three houses down from Dahlia and the woman saw the notices, and told Tom, the feral cat who stole his kibble, and Tom told the bird known as Shut-up-you-dirty-old-bird. Shut-up lived at the nightclub and came right home to tell Dahlia.
“Awk! Tom says that Killer Instinct says that your human is looking for you.”
“She thinks you’re lost.” Both animals had a good laugh over that, before Dahlia asked for particulars. “Put up signs, that’s how. Killer I. saw them himself.”
When the nightclub finally closed, Dahlia took a nap. The cat got up and went out to see the signs at first light. “You know,” Dahlia growled to Killer Instinct, “Not only am I not lost, cold, lonely or scared, but I’m really not a Dahlia, either, if you know what I mean. I’m more of a James Dean. Or maybe Lord somebody.”
Killer Instinct nodded. It was true. The nice lady, who really was good at opening cans of cat food, and even handed out dog treats if you shook hands or did anything silly like that, wasn’t very observant. She tended to think of all dogs as “he” and cats, like boats, as “she.” She had never noticed that Dahlia was, in fact, a male cat. Before Killer Instinct could offer any suggestions, a door opened nearby, and a voice called into the night.
“Fluffy! Fluffers, you bad dog! Come in now and I’ll give you your treats!”
Killer I. tried not to look at the cat, and trotted off.
“Dogs,” muttered James Dean. “Always thinking with their stomachs.” The cat formerly known as Dahlia stalked back down the street, tail erect. “Anyone who called me ‘Fluffers’ would live to regret it,” was his final take on the matter, though no one was present to hear, Shut Up having stayed at the nightclub to get his beauty sleep.
And yet. As James Dean, Feline Rebel, made his way back across town to the nightclub, he couldn’t help thinking of The Woman. He knew what that poster meant. Sooner or later someone would recognize him. What was she thinking, saying he was scared, anyway? He wasn’t scared of anything!
The Speakeasy wouldn’t open for hours, but the cook at the diner on Main Street always gave him a sausage when he came around, so he hung out there in the mornings, working the breakfast crowd and napping in an empty booth when business was slow. Late morning, he moved to the Café three doors down, and napped in their front window. The staff there thought he added a classy touch.
Mid afternoon, he headed back toward the Nightclub. It wouldn’t open for hours, but he could get in some quality napping before the music started. But when he turned onto a side street, his eye was caught by a poster. One of his posters.
So The Woman had ventured this far from her easy chair and her lace curtains for him! He thought that ought to make him feel something. He remembered, too, that she had a grand way with a can opener. Slowly, he found himself turning toward the old neighborhood.
Shut-up-you-dirty-old-bird found him first. “Awk! So you’re going back? Leaving the high life?”
“I don’t know.” James Dean stopped for a moment. He had a sudden inspiration. He suddenly saw that he wasn’t Dahlia: The Woman was. “’Dahlia is lost, lonely and scared,’” he quoted. “I’m not lost or scared and never lonely. But she is. The Woman.”
“And she has a can opener,” the bird mocked. He and the cat turned at a low growl.
“Nuthin’ wrong with that.” Killer Instinct kept his voice as low and rough as possible for a small dog with—James Dean couldn’t help but notice—very fluffy fur and a diamond-studded collar.
“It's a bit dull there, though,” James Dean said. He thought about the music and dancing at the nightclub. He particularly liked the lights that made spots run all over the floor.
An idea began to form in his feline brain. “Yeah, I’m gong home. But I’m not settling down and I won’t be Dahlia again.”
“You gonna keep running off?” Killer Instinct asked, forgetting to keep his voice low and gruff.
Killer I. and Shut Up pestered James Dean all the way home, but he wouldn’t tell them his plan, and they had to leave when he reached the little house and The Woman with the can opener.
James Dean would have preferred to walk right in, or at the least knock on the door in a confident and domineering manner. But since the door was closed and he was a cat, he settled himself on the doorstep and yowled.
Afterwards, James Dean preferred not to think about the greeting the woman gave him, alternately hugging and scolding him, though she also opened a can of fancy tuna for him, which went a long way toward erasing the offense.
The hard part came later. He kept an eye on the time, and at the right moment—he got a bit of luck here, as The Woman went into the front garden to mess about with her flowers—he made his move. James Dean followed her out, and, making sure she was watching him, trotted out the front gate.
“Oh, stop, you bad cat!” she cried, and trotted after him, dropping her clippers on the walk, but clutching her huge hat to her head as she went. James Dean made sure he went just fast enough to keep ahead of her without losing her.
He could hear the music from half a block away, and they were playing his song. He headed for the front door, where a man seemed to pick who could come in and who couldn’t by looking at little bits of paper. James Dean darted between his legs into the main room.
The lights were spinning over the floor, and he at once forgot his mission in the excitement of dancing with them. Behind him, the woman gasped. For once in her life forgetting to be polite, she pushed past the guard, exclaiming “Good heavens, Dahlia!”
The guard turned. “You mean Johnny?”
“Johnny?” The Woman sounded very confused.
“We call him John Travolta on account of how he likes to dance when the disco ball’s on.”
“He?” The Woman gasped. “John Travolta? But her name is Dahlia.”
“She’s a he, ma’am. Sounds like he’s been living with you under false pretenses.” He seemed to find this very funny, and laughed loud and long, but The Woman did not laugh.
By now the manager had come up and she turned to him. “Does she—he—come here often?” She pointed, and he broke into a grin, seeing Johnny dancing with the sparkles.
“You bet. Every night for the last week.”
“Oh!” she gasped. She stood there in her nondescript slacks and sensible shoes, and the foot inside one of those shoes began to tap. Then the other. Then, with a sudden laugh that made the manager think she wasn’t so old after all, she moved onto the dance floor, matching her moves to the cat’s.
James Dean/Johnny Travolta looked around and spotted the parrot watching them.
“Well, Cat, you did it,” the bird cawed.
“Shut up, you dirty old bird,” someone shouted.
The cat gave a small, satisfied “meow” and went on dancing with sparkles, his Human following obediently.