Bob McPhail 9:30 a.m., Sept. 3
- Community Blog
Tundra # 17
I don’t know who in the neighborhood was responsible, but every six weeks or so, Tundra would come home with eyebrows or glasses drawn on him with a black permanent marker. His white fur was the perfect canvas. The glasses were always round granny glasses complete with a nose bridge but sans temple stems. And there was the one time he came home with a monocle. At least, I think it was a monocle. Maybe the drawer had grown bored and hadn’t finished the glasses that I’d grown accustomed to. But, for some reason, it made me feel better to believe it was supposed to be a monocle. April, too, had to admit that Tundra looked more sophisticated with a monocle (we wished we could have found a tiny top hat for him to wear), and it was easy for us to imagine him discussing current economical issues and modern art at cocktail parties with the same polished elegance that Eustace Tilley and Mr. Peanut surely possess.
The eyebrows, however, were as varied as the drawer’s moods must have been. Sometimes Tundra came home appearing very angry. Two diagonal lines beginning at the bridge of his nose and extending at severe upward angles to the bottom of his forehead registered his apparent disapproval of the world. On other occasions the eyebrows expressed sadness, surprise, inquisitiveness, and sometimes neutrality, with the eyebrows themselves, not their positions, being the focal point. I had seen the deadpan monobrow, which was a single line over both eyes. Thin Clara Bow-like arches had made an appearance, as had the thick brows of Joan Crawford.
Tundra didn’t know that the world viewed his temporary eyebrows as gauges of his moods, and he behaved no differently than he ever had. There was something funny about Tundra fighting Mushroom with surprised eyebrows drawn on him, or people in the alley seeing him watch them from his perch on the fence with angry eyebrows that appeared to judge and chastise them with seething hostility. Most people in the alley smiled when they saw Tundra’s angry eyebrows scowling down at them, but others seemed to bow their heads shamefully as they hurried away with the elements of their private guilt.
One day I watched Tundra cautiously approach Josie and Ron’s back door. They didn’t have air conditioning either, and they also left their doors open in the summer to bring fresh air in through the house. Tundra looked this way and then that before he crept up the three stairs to their doorway. Low and stealthily he entered their kitchen to pilfer Mushroom’s food bowl. He vanished from my view but reappeared momentarily. He trotted from the kitchen and down the steps with no sense of urgency as Josie shooed him away with a broom. “Go home, Tundra,” she scolded. The dark blocks drawn on his forehead didn’t faze Josie one bit; Groucho Marx eyebrows on her neighbors’ cat weren’t anything she hadn’t seen before.
At that moment, I wondered if the eyebrows and glasses were forced on Tundra or if it was an experience that he accepted willingly. Perhaps he was bribed with a can of white albacore tuna packaged in spring water. A dollar and ninety-seven cents was a small price to pay when the need to express and amuse was so great. I could picture Tundra happily eating the tuna while the drawer quickly and masterfully drew the eyebrows over Tundra’s eyes. But maybe it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe he was strapped painfully to a table, or perhaps it was a two-man job, one person, with an oven mitt over each hand, held Tundra captive while the other drew maliciously on Tundra’s face. Tundra never seemed traumatized when he came home with the eyebrows. And wherever it was he got them, he kept returning to, so the first scenario was probably the more accurate.
A few minutes later, I heard cats fighting in another neighbor’s yard, and I knew Tundra and Mushroom had found each other.