Instructor: Jennifer Seward
Birdsong lay sprawled on the grass, feeling the warmth of the blazing sun shine onto her tawny pelt. The patches of grass around her swayed in the slight breeze. She let in a slow, calm, breath of the summery air as she combed the grass with her claws. Bright red cardinals glided overhead, squeaking back and forth to each other as if they were having a conversation. Small feathers from the birds' radiant plumage drifted down near the cat's claws, which were now plucking the grass from the slightly moist ground.
Even though Birdsong contentedly lay on the ground, an image running through her head caused her to feel a prick of discomfort. The image was of another cat, a gray tabby, that she had encountered that morning. The harnessed cat was leashes by a human who was casually strolling along a nearby path. Disgust clouded Birdsong's mind. Those indoor cats are cooped up inside a house, giving up their liberty, Birdsong mused. Who would give up their freedom like that?
Sitting up, the tortoiseshell drowsily glanced around the meadow. Golden dandelion petals clung to her brindled dark grey and beige fur. Birdsong trudged aimlessly through the long stalks of the heather lining the pond. There were tiny mice and rodents scurrying around near the water, where a perfect meal waited for her to hunt and devour. Her gaze landed on a rabbit who was nibbling at clovers.
Birdsong slowly padded toward the feasting creature. Snap. A dry, withered leaf cracked every so slightly under the cat's hind paw. The rabbit uneasily glanced around.
"Shoot," Birdsong hissed under her breath as she lunged. The rabbit quickly dodged the pounce, terror glinting in its beady black eyes. Nimbly, the animal quickly fled from its hunter, heading toward the towering houses of the humans. Birdsong darted after, determination flaring through every muscle in her body. The feline kept a steady pace as she sprinted, so focused she didn't notice when the soft blades of grass gave way to hard blacktop. Pain shot through her paws as chipped asphalt rocks, sharp as daggers, jutted into her pads. Heart heaving in her chest, her aching paws yearned to stop. She stopped abruptly, immediately licking her pads, where deep red blood formed each time she licked it off.
Suddenly, fear overwhelmed her as acrid fumes stung her nose. Her eyes, which had been rounded in pain, sharpened to slits. The car neared her, but her legs froze in shock. . She pressed herself to the ground, flattened her ears, and squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the impact. A few seconds passed, and the anticipation turned into confusion. Why aren't I run over yet?
Slowly opening her eyes, Birdsong risked a glance toward the vehicle. The growling car loomed over her, its glossy red coat dazzling in the sun. A snap echoed through the air as the door of the car opened and a human emerged. She slowly walked toward the cat, extending her arms. Birdsong's neck fur fluffed up. Her teeth bared in a near-snarl while two arms lifted her up. The blonde human pulled the cat to her chest and started to stroke the cat gently between the ears. Exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed Birdsong. The tawny cat tried to force herself to fight, but after all the shock of the last few moments, she relented. She couldn't resist the need for rest.
Birdsong felt the sensation of warmth hit her pelt. Just like the sun in summer, she drowsily mused. She suddenly jerked awake, eyes widening in horror. The tortoiseshell cat gasped as she looked around. She was indoors. The tall walls were colored with a dull beige paint, and wooden pillars towered above her. The enclosed room had intricate details carved into the wooden objects in the room.
Apprehension filled Birdsong. Heaving herself up from the fluffy blanket wrapped around her, she sniffed her new surroundings, confused. After a few moments, she stamped her paw in frustration, then winced at the pain. Turning her attention to her paw, she realized a bandage was wrapped around her foot.
"Hello?" she called out, her mew echoing through the empty room. An eerie sensation slowly crept on her. She narrowed her eyes as she felt a presence's gaze burning into her pelt. A rattle from the nearby plant sent a shiver of shock up her spine.
"Come out!" Birdsong snarled at the plant, unsheathing her claws.
Lush green leaves gracefully parted as a large tomcat hopped out. His hazel eyes bright with curiosity, the orange-red maine coone landed in front of Birdsong.
"You smell odd," the long-haired cat muttered. "Who let you in here? You certainly didn't get my authorization to come into my house."
"You're talking like I had a choice," Birdsong grumbled, turning away to find an exit. She took a deep breath as she tried to find an opening through which she could escape. Surveying her surroundings, she spotted a small ledge leading to the outside.
Birdsong bunched her muscles, preparing to jump. Paws outstretched, she landed on the ledge to bolt toward the lush garden waiting for her beyond.
Just then, the human walked into the room and yelped in panic.
A sharp bang filled the air as Birdsong slammed into the window. The cat plummeted to the ground, landing squarely on her back. Pain throbbed in her head.
"Can you be any smarter?" the other cat murmured in sarcasm, twitching his whiskers in amusement. "Oh now, why are you trying to leave? It's wonderful here!"
"I'm Rowan by the way. Who are you?"
"Birdsong." she muttered. "And I'd appreciate it if you left me alone, Rowan."
Rowan glanced at the feline, who was trying to regain her balance while his owner crowded over her. Sensing Birdsong's aggression, he padded away and up to the window ledge above her.
Birdsong hissed at the owner, who was checking her bandages and her head. The cat swiped her at the woman's face and watched as she jerked away. The human stared at the cat, brow furrowed. She left, leaving Birdsong alone in the room with Rowan. Birdsong glanced at the door, anger flaring throughout her body.
She clawed at it, eyes burning with rage. "Stupid barrier, just give way! I will get out, and nothing will stop me," she growled. Before long, skinny strips of paint were curled on the floor, and the wooden trim of the door had large gashes scarred into it. After minutes of clawing at the door, exhausted, she collapsed onto the glossy wood panelled floor.
"Birdie, that barrier is impossible to claw out," Rowan murmured, friendliness glinting in his rounded hazel eyes. The maine coon jumped down from the ledge, his long ginger fur flowing behind him. "Also, it's called a 'door,'" he corrected.
"I don't care!" she wheezed out. "Also I told you my name is Birdsong. Not Birdie. Just Birdsong." Rowan simply shrugged and returned to his hiding spot behind the lush green houseplant.
An hour had passed, and the area all around Birdsong was now covered with shredded paint and rags of ripped velvet from the curtains. Desperation and fury had driven her into a state of clawing up everything she could. White bits of cotton were scattered around the room. The leather sofa was pierced with narrow claw marks. Every part of Birdsong wanted to leave this place and the walls that entrapped her.
She pricked her ears as the rhythmic footsteps of the human grew louder and louder. The woman abruptly stopped and gasped in alarm, staring in horror at the chaotic mess in front of her. The owner stormed out of the room for a few moments, returning with a large cage grasped in her hands. Resentment rang in the human's voice as she started to ramble in a language Birdsong didn't understand. The woman unlocked the crate, and grabbed Birdsong by the scruff. Panic gripped Birdsong as she attempted to kick her legs and escape the clutches of Rowan's owner, but she couldn't. The cat was thrown into the cage, hitting the back of the crate's wall. The feline watched as the human clicked it shut. After some time, she laid her head on her paws, waiting for someone to let her out. The silence was deafening. Nothing in the room moved. Birdsong slowly closed her eyes, drifting into sleep.
Pain prickled in Birdsong's paws. She slightly moved them, feeling a sharp pain in her toes. The last thing she had remembered was these strange humans, not Rowan's human, holding a long needle and sticking it in her. As soon as it dug into her fur, she felt overwhelmed by tiredness. Now, her sleepiness ebbed away, and her forepaws seemed oddly empty.
She had been moved into a spacious metal cage in Rowan's house. She slowly opened her eyes as bright sunlight filtered through the windows outside. The warm sunshine reminded her of the tranquil meadow. Birdsong pictured herself there, the grassy smell wafting to her nose. She slowly stretched to let her claws unsheathe, then gazed at her burning, bandaged paws in horror. No claws came out. Instead, an agonized yowl escaped her throat as an intense sensation of pain washed over her.
"Birdsong?" Rowan padded over, concern filling his mew. "What's wrong?" He stared at her and her bandaged feet. "And why are both your feet still wrapped in bandages? What happened to you? You left early in the morning, and came back at night."
"Rowan." Birdsong tried to stand and walk toward the other cat, but the pain was too excruciating. "My claws. I can't feel them," she whispered.
"Nonsense. Let me see," he insisted, examining her claws from outside of the cage. "Try unsheathing them."
Birdsong stretched her toes, waiting for long pointy claws to emerge. The same sensation returned to her pads. Rowan watched in silence, his hazel eyes rounded in sorrow for her.
"It seems as if your claws have been extracted," he breathed. "I've heard of this before. The cat next door has gotten his claws removed."
"What? What do you mean?" Birdsong gasped, tail anxiously swaying back and forth behind her.
"Unfortunately, the only times I see him is when my human takes me to their house. He says he isn't let outside without his owner," Rowan said somberly. "It's too dangerous for him to go outside without his claws to protect him. The dogs in the neighborhood are vicious. If they saw him without his human to protect him…" Rowan trailed off, the usual joyfulness in the tom had turned into pity. "That means, Birdsong, you won't be able to go back outside. You can't escape anymore. You wouldn't survive."
Speechless, Birdsong stared at her paws. The aggression left her. Slumping down, she let out a low-pitched mournful yowl as she leaned her head against the cage. The agony overcame her, but not from her aching, clawless paws; it was a deeper pain. She wanted to sleep and not wake for more than hundreds of moons. She wanted revenge on the humans who did this to her, but her hopelessness anchored her to the spot inside the cage. The pain wasn't like any wound she had felt before. The thought of never seeing the meadow again crushed her. No more sun warming her pelt, no more counting cardinals. Those were now mere memories to be left behind in the meadow. Rowan tried to console her, but Birdsong turned away. For the rest of my life, she realized with sorrow, I'll be declawed.