Asturias Days

The Scream

By Clellan Coe | August 17, 2022

Screams are what you would have heard on that mild cloudy morning in late June. Unabated screams. Maybe two minutes’ worth, maybe less. I heard them myself, and on hearing them, thought they would stop. They were, after all, issuing from my mouth, and I understood that they did not help my cause. So wouldn’t I stop, now that I knew it was I who was doing it? I did not. The reason for the screams, I decided later, was partly to shock the dogs into stillness, and partly to relieve the terrible stress and anxiety I was feeling for the effort I was making. The dogs paid absolutely no attention. As far as the stress, I’ll never know whether screaming helped.

I had dropped the dog leash and was on my hands and knees on the dirt road, wrestling with both dogs, trying to hold one away and trying to get the other to open its mouth. No sooner had I forced Oso’s mouth open, however, than Toby’s muzzle was closing over the creature I was trying, amid grunts and screams, to save. It was absurd—to free the creature from one set of jaws only to see it absorbed into another. But we kept at it—Oso the black Lab, Toby the German shepherd, and I, fighting over a smidgeon of a cat, a wee orange body looking limp, wet, and tattered. It wouldn’t be a prize worth having when we were through, I had time to think, but on we went, not in deadly silence but amid the screams.

Until I was the victor, getting the kitten’s head in my hand to protect it from the teeth all around. I bent over to shield it, then staggered to my feet, clutching the kitten close. There was blood, and as I shooed the dogs away and saw that the kitten was alive and not full of holes as I’d feared, I realized there was pain too, and both blood and pain were mine. This was funny. Screams mine, blood mine, pain mine. But I was not the victim. The poor little kitten was.

Walking home, clutching the kitten to me while the dogs danced expectantly around, I replayed the incident in my memory. I saw Oso and Toby trotting ahead of me on their leash, saw Oso suddenly make a sharp lunge into the bushes at the right, and saw in his mouth a small orange kitten. Then the tussle, the kitten’s teeth sinking into my finger, the blood I wiped on my sweatshirt. The kitten quickly becoming calm when pressed against me. And that was the end of the kitten’s arrival in my life, the beginning of all the rest.

I’ve looked for a new owner, but no one wants a wee orange kitten. I thought about turning it over to the animal protection service, but that didn’t seem right. I’ve fervently wished I’d taken a different route that morning, but that regret does not solve the problem, either, of what to do about another animal under my wing. A problem especially since I would soon be away for a month. In the end, I farmed the kitten out to some friends for the time I would be away, but they may give him back.

As days went by, my own two cats hissed less, and the carefully monitored dogs were learning to leave the kitten alone. The kitten, what did he contribute? No time for it! Too busy pouncing, playing, eating, sleeping. The kitten a victim? Look at him—from destitute in the woods to this creature stretched across my lap after an hour of play and a subsequent snack, his belly full, purring louder than you can imagine. He had hardly a want in the world. But I did. I wanted an answer. How do I get myself into these fixes? It’s hard enough to save yourself in this world, but saving all the others, why, that’s not really going to work out. No wonder I screamed.

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