In the Mane

by Akim Reinhardt

Image: Shango Keti Drummer by Kalikata Mbula

Once upon a time there was a cat. He was smarter than you, and smarter than me. For want of a thumb he could have ruled the world. But alas, he was encumbered with paws: black pads and sharp claws.

And he knew. His green eyes, like spiraling jade, he saw through the world, and recognized that which held him back. My immigrant grandfather used to say that if he’d been born speaking the language, he’d be a rich man. I believe he was right. And so it was that this cat could not grab the scepter and claim our little blue globe as his rightful domain. Much as my grandfather had to pick up a brush and a can of paint, the cat was resigned to sitting down and licking his coat, instead of having others do it for him while palm fronds waved.

He knew where the food was kept. Behind the door, in the closet beneath the stairs. And he knew that the door opened when the door knob was turned. He would sit there, staring at that infernal knob, the slippery lock that kept him from his treasure. Then he would lurch upward, grab the knob with both paws, and attempt to spin it. Again, and again. But to no avail. Disgusted with the world’s inadequacies, he would slowly walk away, hop up onto the couch, and nap.

His face was long, its central protrusion something akin to a snout. And he understood that curiosity must be matched with courage and confidence. When strangers came to the door, he would not runaway. Nor would he settle for merely holding his ground. He would jog over and smell them, sniffing their shoes and lower legs. He would make a full measure of each visitor, size them up, and decide: this one was a servant who should do my bidding; this one a warrior who would fight for me as I conquer the world; this one a prize for my harem. If only I had a thumb. After making his assessment, he would act appropriately, either meowing out orders, leading you into battle, or sitting in your lap, as your rank warranted.

His range was vast. He smelled the world through his nose like a dog and vocalized like a bird. Soft undulations cooed forth in legato bursts of music, like muzzled, automatic, low caliber fire pinging off of little brass gongs. Come hither! Bring my wine. Cover me with oil and feed me fresh avocados, dried pasta, and raw broccoli. Carry me upon the royal palanquin so that I may rest upon yonder divan beside the fountainous pools and listen to the rustling of leaves in the warm spring breeze. His commands were often irresistible. His agendas plotted paths to salvation. His deep stretch and concavely arching back foretold paradise.

During the summer months he rested amid porcelain and ceramic. But for much of the year, I was the keeper of his bed. It was my solemn responsibility, as the stars cast themselves upon the black sky, to climb beneath the covers and warm the sheets. After I had made the bedding suitable, he would quietly march into his chamber, gently stepping onto the foot of the mattress, and walk atop the cover to the head where I dutifully held the flap open. Without breaking stride, he would reach the pillow and circle around, entering beneath the raised canopy, then hairpin a 180 U-turn so that our bodies faced the same direction, and lay down against my chest, culling warmth from the quilt and me alike. I would gently drape my left arm over him, and we would fade into our slumber. On some occasions I would secure a second bed mate for him. On these instances, he would lay between our bodies and snore lightly.

Befitting his vastness, the cat was tiger striped in brown and black, with a white underbelly and socks. His coat was plush, a rich encapement of majestic fur girdling his indomitable spirit. A lush decree that no feathery plume or tattooed skin could ever hope to equal. An unruffled and permanent banner of war before which all must kneel in obeisance and fealty.

When he passed into legend, a few months after his 8th birthday, he died a noble death, splayed upon his golden throne, blood running from his mouth and nose.

His realm mourned. The people cried. For they shall never see his likes again. And to this day, on the anniversary of his death, they gaze upon their own thumbs and dream of what might have been.

Akim Reinhardt’s website is