Robert Bush 6:31 p.m., May 18
Over the next few weeks we repeated the Mushroom demonstration for Tundra five more times. And then a change came over him. Instead of sitting in the window of our bedroom and looking miserably down to watch the pedestrian traffic passing in the alley, Tundra scratched at the front door to be let out into the yard where he would actively seek Mushroom out.
Who can really say what caused the change in Tundra. Was it April’s theory that had done it? Or was it simply Tundra’s own resolve to no longer be Mushroom’s personal scratching post? I suppose the reason why wasn’t important. What was important was that Tundra was no longer going to allow Mushroom to bully him, at least not without a genuine effort on Tundra’s part to defend himself. I was as proud of Tundra as the father of a star Little League player would have been. Nobody wants his son or daughter to be a coward, and, as I learned, that went for pet owners as well. When Tundra hid in the house all day, I have to admit, I was a little ashamed of him. But Tundra’s new found bravery had caused the dark cloud in my sky to move away from the sun.
Even Mushroom seemed slightly taken aback by Tundra’s courage. But this didn’t stop Mushroom from attacking him. After Mushroom had gotten over his astonishment, I think he viewed Tundra’s decision to come to him as a sort of preferred customer service provided to frequent patrons: “That’s right, fight enthusiasts, no more looking fruitlessly from yard to yard for a fight—the fight now comes to ‘you!’”
Tundra took his lickings every day. He fought Mushroom, and he lost. But he refused to run. And Mushroom never held back. He gave Tundra everything he had, no holds barred. After weeks and weeks of this Tundra became a battle-scarred veteran of alley and front yard fighting. Tundra’s face and head now bore deep, permanent grooves where scar tissue would never allow fur to grow back. He even had a small notch missing from the tip of his left ear, a cat status symbol as distinguished as a broken nose or a cauliflower ear is to a Golden Gloves boxer. I noticed that Mushroom had a bigger notch missing from the base of his right ear. I wasn’t sure if it had always been there and I had never noticed it or if Tundra was responsible for the missing tissue.
Every fight Tundra had with Mushroom, he was Mushroom’s rival but his pupil as well. He was an apt student, and it didn’t take long for Tundra to begin using Mushroom’s own fighting techniques on the master himself. There was the neck embrace while simultaneously applying the eyebrow bite. The cat-boxing match was always dramatic. One cat stood on his rear legs while swatting down on his opponent; this caused the other cat to also stand on his rear legs until they were both in a clinching, hissing, biting, clawing, Tango free-for-all. And who could forget the ever-popular ground grapple evisceration? This consisted of Tundra and Mushroom rolling across the earth, both of them trying to get a grip around the other’s neck or upper body with their front legs, and then, with their unsheathed back claws, kicking furiously at the other’s stomach. Each cat’s goal was to disembowel his opponent. While patting Tundra as he lay next to me, he would sometimes allow me pat his stomach. If I pushed some of his fur back I could see the streaks of scar tissue that lined his stomach. I was sure that Mushroom had similar scars on his stomach. Fortunately neither cat was ever gutted on the lawn.