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A few months after we made the 900 mile move to North Carolina from Massachusetts, my cat (formerly an indoor/outdoor pet–now  exclusively indoor) decided to begin sleeping in the pedestal sink in our bathroom. Because I’m fairly lax about such things and pick and choose my battles (better to have him in the sink than sleeping on the kitchen counters), I let it slide and even turn the water on for him when he’s thirsty so he can stick his entire fat head under the faucet, letting the water trickle down his neck so that he can lap it up as it pools by the drain. A couple of months back, however, we started to notice streaks of blood in the sink after he’d jump down (shaking the porcelain under his 20 pound bulk and causing me no end of worry that he might tear the sink from its moorings). I checked the areas where he normally slept (the end of my son’s bed, for instance, and the middle of his Lego table) and there was no sign of blood. Nevertheless I grabbed him up and checked him from head to tail-tip. Everything seemed intact but the blood streaks continued, sometimes appearing on the walls around the sink or even on the toilet lid, which he uses as a launching pad. Curiouser and Curiouser…

Several nights ago I decided to Google whatever information I could glean from the Internet. It’s a widely known fact that most of my knowledge is obtained from the digital ether. I determined that the blood streaks were coming from flea dirt. Yep, that would be the bloody feces left behind by a flea infestation. Now lest you think I should be reported for animal cruelty, let me tell you that my cat does not scratch; has only escaped the house three times in the past year and was returned to the house within minutes; I have seen no fleas on him, on our carpets, or anywhere else in the house for that matter (and I’ve had pets my entire life so I KNOW fleas!); in addition, none of the humans in the house have exhibited signs of bites. It’s really the last thing I’d have suspected.

Regardless, I determined to do something about the problem immediately.  A trek to Walmart yielded the motherlode of flea-be-gone products. Shampoo (that’s foreshadowing for you, in case you missed it), a three-month supply of drops, a new flea collar, and two de-foggers for the house. In spite of the fact that I’ve got a lovely case of the flu, my son and I embarked on the first mission. Shampooing the cat to kill any fleas, larvae, and eggs that might be residing in his thick coat of fur. I donned a grimy t-shirt over my capris, took off my sandals and cleared the bathroom of the throw rug and scale. I started running the water and grabbed the cat who immediately grabbed me back. Score one for Simon. (No, I did not think about gloves, long sleeves, or shoes…in retrospect, leather Falconer’s gloves might have been of some help but who knows?) As I used the washcloth to begin to wet him down he began the amazing and instantaneous transformation from housepet to Chupacabra. All gnashing teeth and bottle brush tail. His wailing could be heard for miles.

After escaping the tub once and slamming his head into the bathroom door in an attempt to get as far away from me as possible, I had the brilliant idea to get into the tub with him. Yep. Thus began the epic battle. Like the Frumious Bandersnatch, he extended his evil claws and cleared a runway in the top of my right foot. Blood swirled around us as I tried to manhandle my slippery feline into submission. Realizing I was no match for him either in strength or talons, he sunk two of his back claws into the fleshy part of the underside of my upper arm. Curved and honed into machete-like blades, they caught my veins and the skin around the puncture wounds turned black even before I could disengage myself. Meanwhile he worked away at other parts of the same arm and as I twisted away from him, I threw my back out.

Simon wins by a knockout. I didn’t even get a punch in. I stood panting in the tub, fur mixing with my own blood as it made its way slowly toward the drain. I hurt all over. The cat, meanwhile, sat in the corner, licking his wet fur and gazing balefully at me, daring me to try again. I gave up. I was beaten. My son gathered towels and I washed myself as best I could. Eventually I limped out of the bathroom and lay on the bed, ice on my puncture wounds. My partner, Li, arrived shortly thereafter to administer first aid. Concerned about possible cat scratch fever or blood poisoning she added insult to injury by washing me down in pure rubbing alcohol. I was not stoic about it.

I admitted defeat and mentally licked my own wounds as Li and my son applied the flea drops and encircled Simon’s neck with his new collar. As I write, he sits like a meatloaf, paws tucked under his massive body, grinning at me. The Cheshire Cat. Now you see him. Now you don’t. And nothing left but his victorious smile.