The Distressed Cat That Wasn’t

This post originally was published more than 10 years ago and might or might not reflect my current views.

From somewhere outside the bookstore came the repeated and incessant cries of what sounded for all the world like a cat in some great deal of distress or discomfort.

It was one of those sounds which seemed to sense that you were trying to track it down, because whenever I got up from the shipping desk to walk out the door and down the ramp to investigate, it would stop. Maddening. And more than a little disconcerting because a cat in distress should probably be found. By someone. Anyone.

Out on the street, a forklift was moving cement barriers off of a flatbed truck. Inside the cab was a small dog, which would intermittently appear in the rolled down window to bark its high yelp.

The cat sound was all the more unsettling because it carried with it the vague sense of the artificial. But also unmistakably was the sound of a cat.

It was time for a cigarette. Outside on the front steps of the bookstore, the sound had stopped again, impossible to locate. But then, just as suddenly, just as randomly, it returned. For all the world it seemed to be coming from the same truck in whose window the tiny dog would appear.

The sound continued its hybrid assault, like some biomechanical creature. Maybe it was the dog’s toy. Or maybe it was a cat trapped somewhere in the monstrous metal bulk of the flatbed truck.

Then came the change. No longer the repeated and incessant cries for help of a trapped cat. Instead, in its place, was the toy recording of a duck speaking a pulverized and unintelligible English.

This new sound stopped. And then cat again began to call out for help. Then it too stopped. And then the duck returned to its attempt at English. Distressed cat. Speech-impedimented duck. Distressed cat. Speech-impedimented duck. The occasional yelping dog. And the droning sounds of a forklift moving cement barriers into the street.