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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Comedy · #2229121
A cantankerous old woman battles generations of feral cats. Newly edited on Dec. 2, 2023.

One Saturday morning, Daddy told me to go down to Taylor's store and buy Grandma two twists of Shoe Peg. The fact is, I was uneducated concerning the winds and turns of an old woman's habits. I didn't know anything about Shoe Peg.

          I went down to Taylor's store, and Mister Taylor handed me what looked like a couple of dried up pretzels, all stretched out and twisted off their axis a little bit. I worried over that stuff all the way home. It smelled like a mixture of cobwebs and licorice sticks.

          When I came in sight of the house, there on the porch sat Grandma in that cane-backed rocking chair of Mama's; she was singing The Old Rugged Cross. She appeared to be having a right enjoyable visit from her home across the street.

          Grandma spied me in another step or two, and hailed me. "Come on over here, Jamie honey. I reckon you got my Shoe Peg tobacco?"

          "I sure did, Grandma."

          "Hurry, boy. I reckon you want this horehound candy I have in my hand, don't you?"

          I put a little extra perk in my step then, and directly I was handing that Shoe Peg to Grandma.

          "Come a little closer, boy," she said.

          I went up against her, and she squeezed my hand as she slipped several pieces of candy into it. I watched as Grandma put a twist of Shoe Peg into her mouth and began to worry it that way and this, till a chunk of it came off into her mouth. Then she said, "Wanna chew, boy?"

          I think my silence informed her of my thoughts on whether I wanted a chew or not. Directly, she put that twist, and the other one into the pocket of her dress. She grinned as she started chewing on that stuff, and I was hoping she wasn't going to repeat her offer.

          I was to learn in a moment that Grandma was a woman who utilized her tobacco in order to get the most satisfaction from it.


Down under the floor of that porch, Mama's one-eared, calico cat was in the midst of serving tea to two gentlemen callers. Grandma frowned on such as that something awful.

         Directly, those two gentlemen began to fight and claw for the affection of Mama's calico cat, sending an unholy rhapsody of yowls wafting up through the cracks in the porch floor. As they did so, Grandma's jaws worked that Shoe Peg faster and faster, and a gleam came into her pretty, blue eyes.

          "Aint nary one of them cats yourn, are they, son?"

          "That calico cat, she's Mama's, the other two, they're strays, grandma."

         "That pack of feral cats has been worrying me for years. They don't belong to anyone. I think Lucifer himself sent those cats to burden me. If he ain't careful, your grandma might take herself a notion to spit a two ounce glob right between his eyes.

         "Those cats come around flaunting their nastiness right in front of me, because they know I am old and can't be chasing them, nor protecting my property from their uncouth dispositions.

         "One morning I was sitting at the table eating some gravy when I heard a noise on the front porch. I got up and ran out to see what I could see, but nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.

         "Perturbed, I went back to the kitchen to finish my breakfast. Nothing untoward happened for a few minutes, but as I was spooning the last bite of gravy toward my mouth, I realized I was fixing to start chewing on a feline hairball. I declared war against those feral cats right at that moment.

         "The reason I came out here on the porch, was to rock a little in this chair, and pray to the Lord a time or two, but those two feral cats have been agitating me ever since I first sat down.

         "I saw them go under the porch. One of them is a big, black cat of no particular persuasion, and that other'n, he's almost white. I ought to know what kind of cat that almost white'n is. I 'xpect it'll come to me eventually."


Those cats I was calling gentlemen just a little while ago . . . At this moment, I can't truthfully say they were. I formed myself a second opinion when they began to claw out little patches of skin and fur from each other.

         They came right out from under that porch and up the steps, twisted up tighter together than those Shoe Peg twists Grandma had in her pocket, interrupting my conversation with Grandma.

         With my mouth open with something akin to wonder, I watched them spit, claw and jump as they fought as if tomorrow was never coming, before settling down on the porch between Grandma's feet, purely to catch hold of their breaths, I reckon.


Grandma looked at me, and I looked at her, both of us were somewhat bewildered and exasperated by the effrontery the combatants had exhibited toward the moment of bonding between a woman and her grandson.

         A single drop of blood welled itself out of the clawed skin on Grandma's knee, and began a slow slide down the ridge of her shin, followed by another.

         I went in the house, got the alcohol and a paper towel, and cleansed Grandma's leg. Upon my return, the black cat was gone. That almost white cat was still sitting on the porch, licking his teeth.

         "Grandma, I'll get a stick, and chase that cat halfway to Geogia!"

         "Don't do that, Jamie. After I recover, I am fixing to put the fear of the Lord into that cat."


We sat there, both of us eyeing that almost white cat. Presently, a grin I would have paid twelve dollars just to see one time came to birth on Grandma's face. She worked herself out of that rocker and stood up, all the while fixing a premeditated glare on that almost white cat.

          "Seems it came to me, son." Grandma said. "I am of a mind that almost white cat is Roscoe. Roscoe lit out of this area about a year ago. There ain't many of those almost white cats around this country anymore because of a series of mysterious baptisms occurring, but I'd recognize Roscoe anywhere."


That almost white cat was almost pure white, 'cept a little, light brown colored pattern right between his eyes. He was down there licking his hurt feelings, staring innocently up at Grandma.

         "Take yourself a good look at that almost white cat, son. It's likely the only one you will see in your lifetime.

         "Those no-account, feral cats can't seem to thrive in my vicinity. I have a suspicion those almost white cats have an aversion to Shoe Peg tobacco, son. That'n is the first one of them I ever saw around these parts. I've seen him twice now.

          "Chloe Creek used to be overran with them, but one after the other'n, every one of those cats received a baptism and skedaddled, a hightailing it for Mingo County, West Virginia.

          "That Roscoe you're looking at son, seems I have seen that same unchristian-like expression on his face before this. I suspect I might have baptized him a time or two, but none of them ever took root and thrived.

          "That almost white cat you're looking at son, has took water from the Lord and has slunk under that porch thinking your grandma would not recognize the fact that he's a backslider named Roscoe."

         Grandma let loose of a spectacular grin about then, as if she was holding a secret weapon behind her back.


I could see the birth pangs of a cackle in her eyes wiggling itself around, trying to get itself out to the light of day, but Grandma was holding it back.

         Grandma's patience was stretched tight and getting ready to snap . . .

         "Son," said Grandma directly, "I know your Mama is a Hellfire Baptist of the Old Regular Baptist affiliation, and I love her like my own daughter, but a boy like you ought to have gotten himself a sense of humor from his grandma. Would you keep it a secret from your Mama if I was to take myself a notion to baptize Roscoe again?"

          Along about then, Grandma reached her hand into her dress pocket as she said, "Have another stick of this horehound candy, son."

          "Grandma," I said, as I started licking on that horehound, "I wouldn't say a word if you baptized every cat on Turkey Creek and half of the ones in Williamson, West Virginia. Cats and I have been allergic to one another ever since God showed them how to hide their leavings in the dirt where a boy like me might be a playing cars and trucks and place his hand in it.

          "Grandma, when an uncalled for event like that happens to a boy, he'll be puking and gagging all day long. The only reason I tolerate that calico cat under the porch is because she belongs to my Mama."

         Grandma looked deep into my eyes and commenced talking. "Let's pray a little bit son, while I'm getting the holy water ready for that almost white cat. Heh, heh."


"Dear Lord, we ask you to forgive us, me and this boy here, for our thoughts, and for what we are fixing to do.

          "Lord, I reckon it is plain to you that neither one of us is particularly partial to feral cats, especially almost white ones. And you know in your heart that I can't tolerate a bunch of almost white cats following me around, burying their poop in my tomato patch, and coughing up their foul hairballs in the seat of my rocking chair."

          Grandma looked as if she was getting ready to have herself a fit there for a minute or two, then she let loose of that laugh she had been holding back before.

         That cackle worked its way out of her eyes and was born again into a full-fledged laugh as it bounced along every curve on Cold Fork Holler, sounding to me sweeter than a dogwood fiddle.

          I waited as Grandma finished apologizing to the Lord and started praying in earnest.

         "I know, Lord, it's not a fitting thing to be asking for forgiveness before the deed is done, then going right along and committing the sin, but Lord, that almost white cat is lying there almost begging to be made a christian. It is my duty to try to convert him.

         "Lord, if it's not in your heart to be laughing with the both of us when the moment comes, I hope you'll find it in your heart to understand why this boy and I are laughing. Amen."


Grandma gave a final chew on that Shoe Peg tobacco and turned so she was facing that almost white cat. Before that moment, the cat was looking unperturbed, but an expression of apprehension was beginning to cast its shadow across its face as it and Grandma stared at each other.

          Grandma made an almost imperceptible sound deep in her throat and I saw her cheeks puff out a little, that almost white cat saw it too, and started getting to its feet.

         A dreadful look became stuck on that almost white cat's face as it was rising from the porch. I think Grandma's cheeks puffing out had jogged its memory, and it realized it was in imminent danger of undergoing a second baptism.


That almost white cat was fast, but Grandma surprised me. While that cat was still thinking of vacating Grandma's church, Grandma jumped straight up in the air, and while she was still airborne, she hawked out a blue ribbon winning gob of Shoe Peg tobacco juice and spat a long string of that foul concoction toward that cat.

         That unholy swill flung itself through the silence in slow motion. Directly though, it affixed itself into a tremendous splat between the eyes of the object of Grandma's affection.

         That almost white cat went into a set of the most peculiar convulsions I had ever seen, and started letting out what sounded to me like a string of glory hallelujahs.

         "Praise the Lord!" Grandma shouted as she jumped up and down. "Roscoe has been converted to Christianity!"

         Roscoe's feet carried him pell-mell away from the proximity of Grandma. To Grandma's dismay, a little dab of Lucifer still clung to Roscoe, because at intervals he would pause in his journey to throw a mouthful of curses over his shoulder at his antagonist. But Grandma was convinced of his purity . . .

          "Grandma," I said. "Thank you, that was the best baptism I ever witnessed."

          Grandma just smiled and said, "I think I was chewing that cheaper Union Workman tobacco when I baptized that cat before. Union Workman won't settle and take root permanently on an almost white cat like Shoe Peg will. I reckon that hateful Roscoe will stay baptized this time."

          "Grandma," I said. "That almost white cat isn't almost white anymore, now he's just mostly white."

          "Reckon so," Grandma said as she handed me a stick of horehound candy.


Later that night, on a lonely hillside far, far away from the grandma's house, a cat's eyes begin to shine in the slowly approaching darkness. If a bystander happens to be within hearing distance, they might hear the words of his prayer.

         "Oh, Great Cat in the Sky, this is Roscoe again. The error of my ways is a path of many wayward forks. Why didn't you give me a warning about the perils of messing around with that cantankerous, old woman?"

         "Heh heh. That kind-hearted, old lady baptized you again, didn't she, Roscoe?

         "Roscoe, my child, regardless of receiving a baptism by way of Shoe Peg tobacco, to get along in this world, a faithful cat must stand before the end of the eighth fork of life and set his feet upon the correct fork which will lead to the ninth. Only then will he enter the presence of the Great Cat in the Sky."

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