Traces of January snow chilled the pads of his tender feet as he began the long journey to Chautauqua Street. The hunger over Marie’s neglect heightened his senses, and every sight, sound, and smell evoked a keen, distinctly feline survival response. But he stiffened his resolve to journey forward to the house of the smell collector, denying his own hunger, though he did stop once or twice to lap the cleaner bits of snow.
The retreat of the snow brought on a wistfulness in Toonces; a sense of loss. He had seen loss in Marie. This was only a small thing, but he couldn’t help to empathize with her in the loss of her mother. He had really liked the snow.
Toonces froze at the the sound of a car crunching over the freezing slush. He turned and glared back at the headlights. For the moment it was just he and the car. He held his ground as the car approached. The lights brightened. It honked twice and slowed until it eventually stopped just feet from where he was standing. He had won this time. He turned and walked to the side of the rode so the car could pass in what he imagined must have been a bitter defeat for its driver.
He wasn’t sure what he expected to find at the house, and he didn’t know what he would say if he should find himself face to face with the smell collector, but he knew he must do something. Marie’s performance as a pet had become unacceptable.
The light in the front room was on, but the house was quiet. He paused, to consider an entrance plan. He could meow and scratch at the door like a stray, but he was no common stray. Nay, he would not be mistaken for a scoundrel. He would find a better way.
He made his way around the side of the house and squeezed through a gap in the chain-link fence. The back yard, made visible only by moonlight which shown brightly in the clear, black sky, was in a sorry state. Tufts of prairie grass lined the fence and accented the two poles which held a slack clothesline between them. At the center of the yard was a dilapidated shed with a broken window.
He padded to the shed and studied the window, measuring the distance; calculating the precise motion required to leap to the window. He knew there must be something in there that could lead him back to a more comfortable way of life.
He tensed his hind legs and began to shift his balance rapidly from one haunch to the other until he had built up the exact amount of spring and courage to make the jump, and in a burst of muscularity he leapt into the air. He reached the open window with ease, but his right front paw slid over the window sill and he came tumbling down onto the floor. And although he landed on his feet, as he was wont to do, it was not the maneuver he had planned. He did, however, manage to regain his composure.
It was dark, but his eyes adjusted immediately and he began investigating. He started with his nose. It was not one smell, but a million smells. Peppermint, moss, cedar, lilac, dog food, charcoal…every smell imaginable. He looked up and saw shelves full of thousands of brown, one liter glass bottles, and in the middle of the room was a bulky item covered with a canvas tarp. He needn’t uncover it, because he knew in his feline heart precisely what it was. But what could he do about it?