The journey south to the wooded area of the pond and owl was relatively short. By automobile, it was a mile and change. As the crow flies, less. But, for a house cat and squirrel, the journey was considerably, both in distance and time. Under the advice of the squirrel, they took a far greater tack, climbing trees and leaping onto roofs and back onto trees and so on. Through their efforts, no human eyes noticed them for more than what seemed a cat chasing a squirrel; other squirrels and area birds that had lived under the terror of the owl for the past several weeks saw salvation in that sleek orange-patterned body as it—first inexpertly, then effortlessly—moved from here to there. Some even chirped or cheeped words of thanks and praise.
When they reached the park, both travelers needed to rest. They found water near the public drinking fountain, though food was a touch more complicated. The squirrel found food immediately from the bounty of the pecan trees. Cody had to resort to foraging.
The trash cans of the park were typically not emptied but once or twice a week, depending on traffic flow to the park. As Cody’s luck would have it, traffic flow to the park had been heavy that day, but the trash cans had not been emptied.
Following his nose, Cody found food. Dragging out white plastic bags, tied loosely and practically brimming with enough food to satisfy a house cat on his first night away from home, Cody managed to eat well. Even though the seasonings were a shock compared to what he was used to, even though there was crispy breading, Cody enjoyed the adventure of eating out of doors without having to wait for his food to be brought to him; he hunted, he gathered, he ate.
Over the course of the meal, though, the sky grew darker. The sun was still high enough in the sky, but clouds of increasing pitch seemed to fly in from nowhere and covered the sun’s brilliance, casting a sense of gloom over the day. The gusts of wind grew cooler, too, until it was no longer getting chilly but was, in fact, getting downright cold.
All burrows in the park were spoken for and would not allow for outsiders—especially since one was a cat—so the companions dashed down the ravine into the safety of the woods where there were more trees and rocky areas offering shelter to any small and flexible enough to fit. Cody and his squirrel companion met those requirements easily enough for the pile of rocks forming a crude but functional hovel. It would keep them safe, keep them warm until the spontaneous storm had passed.
The squirrel shivered near the entrance to their home for the night. Cody yawned and squinted his eyes.
“Chirp-chirp!” This cold is unusual. Owl must be using magic to make journey tougher for
Eyes still closed, Cody responded to the squirrel. “What is it with you, squirrel, that you always talk about yourself in the third person? I’ve never heard you use your name nor a pronoun.”
“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel.
“Huh. Didn’t realize it would offend you so much. It just makes it tough to know what to call you, especially like back at the park when there were so many squirrels around. How would you know I was talking to or about you?” Cody was genuinely curious.
The squirrel looked back at Cody and took a few cautious steps in.
“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” it said.
“That makes no sense. You don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl? I mean, I’m fixed, and I know I’m still a boy cat. At least that’s what I hear from my person, so…” Cody trailed off pondering that, with his gender stolen from him when he was still a kitten, did that still make him a “he”? Or was he just going along with what his person called him? Was he expected to base his identity on the thoughts or words of others?
He shook his head to clear his mind.
“Look, I just think it would be better if there was a name I could call you. Something other than ‘squirrel'” Cody said at last.
The squirrel sighed.
“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp,” replied the squirrel in an almost acknowledgement of defeat. Squirrels are so plentiful and have such short lives, names never given to squirrels. Squirrels just squirrels. As for gender? Squirrels know ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ All else gets messy.
“OK, then,” Cody said. “So are you mom squirrel or a dad squirrel?”
“Chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel, sounding even sadder than previously. Neither. Squirrel not have other squirrel to make more squirrels.
“Oh.” Cody was not going to let the squirrel’s singular status derail this. “Then, if you were to find another squirrel, what kind would you find—a mom squirrel or a dad squirrel?”
“Chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel.
“Of course it would be a squirrel that would make you happy,” Cody exasperatingly replied. “But, which would you want?”
“Chirp.” Squirrel has never given it much thought. “Chirp-chirp,” it said at last.
“A mom squirrel? So that makes you a boy squirrel?” Cody’s curiosity increased again as he opened his eyes and really looked at the squirrel. “OK, yeah, I see ’em now. You’re a boy squirrel. So that means I can use words like he and his and him when I’m talking about you. But you still need a name.”
“Chirp?” asked the squirrel.
“Yes,” answered Cody, “a name. Like my name is Cody, so your name would be…” and he again broke off.
“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel.
“Look, I’m sure you wouldn’t be the first squirrel ever to have a name, so let’s just give you one. How about…Fenswick?”
“Chirp!” replied the squirrel. Cody had never seen a more excited looking squirrel in all of his days, including the ones on Cat TV.
“OK, then. Fenswick it is. Fenswick the Squirrel,” Cody was pleased with himself and his naming ability, having no clear idea where the name Fenswick had come from, but the squirrel seemed happy and that was good enough for Cody right now. Further, the naming gave him a sense of control over the situation at hand, a situation that was growing darker and more dire as evening had indeed set in, and the temperature continued to drop.
Cody tucked his paws up underneath him and his tail around him. Turning his head, he could see Fenswick curled into a ball at a range close enough they could help warm each other.
Outside, in the darkening woods, the owl had begun an early flight through the torrents of wind, searching for food. What his eyes found first was too large even for him.
A quartet of raccoons had just left the fringes of the pond and were making their way back to their home, unaware of the cat and squirrel already huddled there.