Monday, March 14, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 4 Kenmore Station

The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendall, the cat against whom all other cats must be judged; Little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing and Oliver directs his keen powers of observation to finding it; the trail leads to Fenway Park and Oliver and Cool Jay board the bus to Kenmore Station.

From our vantage point under the seat, all we could see were a variety of feet, some in boots, some in sneakers, others in dressier shoes. The possibility of discovery was very real and we hugged the wall of the bus with all our being. If it were possible, I would have willed myself to the size of an ant. But then a woman (as I could tell from her footwear) sat down directly above us and placed a large shopping bag in such a way as to nearly completely hide our presence.

“There’s some luck,” said Cool Jay. “If that bag remains there, it will be a comfortable trip.”

“Let’s hope,” I said, feeling very optimistic that such would be the case.

But then another problem arose, one I never anticipated. Although, as we soon discovered, a city bus can be very jolting and erratic in its movements, the warmth of our little hideaway and the lulling sound of the engine, combined with a constant swaying motion, all acted as a soporific. In a short time the excitement wore off and Cool Jay and I suddenly became very sleepy. This was dangerous. Although the route ended at Kenmore Station, surely the bus wouldn’t simply stay there. It would embark on a fresh route and gather an entirely different set of passengers, and if Cool Jay and I fell asleep and didn’t wake up in time, the trouble that would bring us would be incalculable. I looked at Cool Jay and could see he was already nodding off.

“Cool Jay!” I said.


“Listen to me! We can’t fall asleep!”

“Right,” said Cool Jay, and his head immediately drooped back down.

But what could I do to keep awake? I had no strategy for it, because all my life the only response I had for drowsiness was to deliver myself body and soul into the waiting arms of sleep. I had to think of something to keep myself awake. Mental exercises? Should I work out square roots? Or perhaps it would be better if a composed a poem, there on the spot. Yes, that’s it. A subject, a subject. Ah, “The Cushion.” No! Let’s see . . . “My Sunny Window Ledge.” No again! Maybe something outside my experience, a rousing battle, a battle at sea! Yes! There I am, the captain! It’s growing dusk and my sloop is coming broadside to a Spanish Man of War! I give the order and the guns go off one at a time in quick succession! Boom! Boom! I can feel the spray of sea water and I sense my sails have taken too much wind, the whole ship is swaying too much. I call to the master to keep her on course, but what’s this? It’s Mrs. Swift, she’s the master!. “Ready with the Meow Mix, sir!” she cries. “Not now, Mrs. Swift! Our lives are in peril!” And yet, I think, wouldn’t the fighting go better with a full stomach? A decision needs to be made! Yes, Meow Mix would be the thing! “In the pantry!” she calls. “Down in the hold!” I must find the pantry. Everything depends on it. In the pantry I’ll eat and the food will give me strength. The great Spanish frigate won’t just wait there. By God it won’t — it means business! I must find the pantry quickly! And then, high atop the mizzenmast, the lookout calls, “Kenmore Square! Kenmore Square!” “Where?” I ask. “Mrs. Swift, have we sighted Kenmore Square?”

Kenmore Square . . . Kenmore Square . . .

Great Heavens!

I awoke with a start to find that the shopping bag had been removed and the bus was deserted! Next to me, Cool Jay snored. “Cool Jay!” I cried. “Let’s run for it!”

Cool Jay, to his credit, went from total inertness to action at the flick of a tail. The bus had a rear door and we both made for it at top speed. Cool Jay, by far the better athlete, hit the top step and bounded out of the bus in a wonderful, arching leap, just as the bi-fold doors began to close. Being somewhat bulkier and out of condition, when I reached the top step the doors had already closed to admit only a 10 inch opening. There was no time to think, no hesitation involved. I bunched my hindquarters and made the leap of my life! I could feel the rubber weather-stripping of the doors graze my sides and the panels, as they met, gave the tip of my tail a little pinch as completed my exit. I fell to the ground at a run and came to a halt. I made it! I made it!

“Mr. Grendall!” exclaimed Cool Jay. “Mr. Grendall! Are you all right?”

“Cool Jay!” I said, nearly out of breath. “That was close! Far too close! But yes, I think — I believe I am all right. Yes, quite well. Quite well indeed.” For so I was. I don’t think I ever felt better.

But where were we now? It was a sort of great, open air brick tunnel with a road running through it. It had odd-sized Romanesque archways inserted in several places on one side and a set of stairs that traveled down into a subterranean chamber on the other. The air was very thick with exhaust fumes from the buses and the sound the engines made in the station were amplified to a distressing extent. This was no place for a cat to be sure. It was in our interest to find our way out at once. But which way?

“Cool Jay, I don’t like the look of those stairs. There is an opening to either end of this station. Let’s see where each way leads.”

We walked to one end of the structure to witness a broad road swarming with cars, more cars than I had ever seen in my life, all flowing from a seemingly inexhaustible source. Some several hundred feet away I could see that three smaller roads had united into this larger one like tributaries to a river, and when one those roads had nearly emptied its load of automobiles, a neighbor road would in turn discharge it’s burden, and so the current was kept constant. Some cars moved slowly, while others aggressively overtook the slower ones and roared on at an alarming speed, often while sounding their horns, which particularly unnerved Cool Jay and myself. There was a palpable atmosphere of menace that hung over the whole scene.

“There is no observable passage across,” I remarked to my companion. “I fear that if the other end of the station is like this, we will have to try our fortunes underground.”

But then we encountered a bit of luck. From one of the smaller roads a bus like the one Cool Jay and I rode in sailed toward us and on into the station’s enclosure. The brakes made a horrible, screeching, metallic sound and, on the instant of stopping, the doors sprang open. As I watched the people stepping out, I noticed a characteristic among many of them that at once gratified me.

“Cool Jay,” I said, “we’re saved. I recognize the emblems you see on their clothing from the Red Sox website. Do you see that ‘B’ with the many points coming out of it? That is the team’s logo. These people are on their way to the game.”

“You have to be right, Mr. Grendall,” Cool Jay replied. “And surely someone in that crowd must know how to get across the street!”

The crowd broke off, with some heading down the stairs while the rest walked on to the other end of the station. Naturally, Cool Jay and I followed the ones who chose the surface. They formed up at a spot immediately where the station walls ended and I saw some of them gazing intently at a pole across the way which had, at its top, a device with three vertically aligned lenses of different colors, which were red, yellow and green with the red one lit up. Directly underneath was a pictograph showing a red hand indicating “Halt!”

“How clever!” I thought, and I waited to see what it would do next. My patience was rewarded by the the sight of the pole shutting off the red light and shining its green light, and the figure below changed to very recognizable character of a man walking. At this, the crowd began to move across the street, generally keeping between two thick, white lines painted on the road. The cars, which had all stopped, sat with their engines running showing no intention of molesting us, and yet at any time they could have made hash of every living creature crossing the street.

“What a marvelous system!” I remarked. “And the restraint shown by the automobiles bespeaks an admirable respect for the law!”

We made the sidewalk on the other side and stayed with the crowd. We passed by several vendors selling hats and pennants that had the Red Sox logo on them as well as those of other teams. There were others selling prepared foods, and the different aromas they gave out instantly threw my mind back to my beloved food bowl in Mrs. Swift’s kitchen. And there were some in the great throng asking for tickets and offering them to sell at the same time — speculators, I surmised, no doubt honest people forced to do this to feed their families. I must confess that Cool Jay and I were all eyes at that moment, bemused by the sheer force of the myriad and varied stimuli, and we might have forgotten for a time why we were there. The sidewalk was teeming with people and we had to use great care not to have our tails stepped on. The din of the people talking and laughing and the vendors shouting, combined with the incessant roar of traffic, created a perfect wall of sound. It was chaos, but one that had surprisingly little fear in it.

The more we walked, the greater the crowd swelled, until the sidewalk could contain them no longer and many pedestrians took to the street, retarding the progress of the cars. We crossed a bridge and there Cool Jay and I beheld the outer walls of Fenway Park. Immediately there were more hawkers and more carts sending forth the most appetizing smells, and policemen began appearing here and there with greater frequency. I could discern, amidst all the people, subdivisions of friends and families, all caught up in the carnival atmosphere. And soon they all began to split up as they sorted themselves out to the different gates. Randomly, Cool Jay and I chose one such collection of people and trailed along with them.

As we approached one of the openings leading into the park, I spied two cats of uncertain heritage situated near a refuse container. I indicated them to Cool Jay.

“Perhaps these two can help us,” I said.

Cool Jay peered at them and replied, “I don’t know Mr. Grendall. I don’t like the looks of them. Maybe we’re better off working things out for ourselves.”

“Nonsense!” I said. “Who are we to look askance at opportunity?” And then, at my urging, Cool Jay and I approached the pair.


Next chapter: A Fine Mess


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