Bolo and Snag
Bolo has been moved into a special cage during the night. It is much smaller than his usual one. And that’s not all: he’s alone. At first it feels good not to have to share, compete, or snuggle. But Bolo’s relief doesn’t last long. He feels ill-at-ease. He crouches in the corner of the cage, lonely and afraid.
The light is too bright and there is nothing to do. Then the man returns. The cage has a handle on the top that Bolo hadn’t noticed before. The man takes the handle and lifts the cage. Bolo’s stomach falls and he lurches from side to side. He struggles to get his claws around the wires but it’s no use. He is disoriented and slightly nauseous. The light dims. A door opens and shuts and then he’s dazzled again. He hears the man’s footsteps below, his breathing above.
The cage is set down on the floor and Bolo feels a little better. At least he is stable. The man goes away, whistling. Bolo tries to whistle too but all he can manage is a high squeak. The room is all white. One wall is covered with empty metal shelves. Beside his cage looms a steel table.
The door swings open and the man returns, still whistling. He opens Bolo’s cage and then his hands — warm and soft — reach in. Bolo doesn’t resist. In fact, he is so lonesome that he would gladly curl up in these big hands.
Bolo is lifted, not over-gently, above the top of the table. There is a large oblong box on it with little rooms inside. The man drops him at one end then just looks down at him. He is wearing a beautiful coat — even whiter than the walls — and eyeglasses that reflect the overhead lights.
Clearly something is expected of me, Bolo thinks. What is it he wants me to do?
The eyeglasses glint and watch. The man’s breath is steady.
Then Bolo’s nose catches the scent of meat with blood in it and at once he begins to salivate. He has missed the morning meal with the others. The enticing aroma is coming from somewhere at the far end of the box. But how is he to get at it with all these walls?
Then he notices that there are only three walls before him and he dashes through the opening to the next room. There are only two walls this time and the scent is stronger. He is making progress. The man must be pleased.
If there were others in here, he would smell them, but there is only the wonderful smell meat meant just for him. He concentrates on that. The man breathes a little more quickly. He is still looking down but not at Bolo. He studies the thing on his wrist. The man must know where the food is because he can see down into all the rooms. Yet he does nothing to help.
Bolo scurries from empty room to empty room, following his nose. There are many false starts. It is exasperated to be baffled. His jaws are dripping. His stomach is throbbing. At each wall he feels he is trapped; but, by backtracking, he always finds a way forward.
At last he reaches the food, a little bolus of raw ground beef. Bolo gobbles up every bit. How glorious to have it all to himself!
As soon as Bolo to finishes off the meat, the man picks him up again and drops him back into the cage on the floor, the one with the handle. Then once again Bolo is lifted into the air and loses his footing. The man takes him through two doors into a new room with another steel table. There is a cage on it. This cage is large and empty except for a little cup of water. The man drops Bolo into it, closes the lid, then lifts it and sets it on a high shelf. Bolo feels a little frightening to be so far off the ground. Also, he is still alone. However, when he looks around the room, he sees that the shelves are stacked with more cages and several of them hold others of his kind. Most are asleep but even their warm, mousy scent is comforting. The nearest of the cages is just a few feet away. Its occupant jerks awake, looks at Bolo but says nothing. He has unusually big dark eyes. Bolo would like it if they could touch noses.
“I’m called Bolo,” he says in a friendly way.
“Snag,” growls the other without interest.
“Have you been in that place — the one with all the little rooms and the meat?”
“We all have. I’ve been three times.”
“I just came back,” Bolo says not without pride.
“Good for you.”
Bolo is eager to keep up the conversation. If Snag has been three times, he must be an expert; he must know what’s up.
“What do you think?” he asks.
“Well, the man in the coat, for instance. He has nice hands. He gives us the food.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking. Do you suppose it’s some kind of test? You know, to see if we’ll figure out what he wants so he can give us the food?”
“Correction. He just watches us. What he wants is whatever we do.”
Bolo is puzzled by this remark. “You mean he doesn’t care what we do, if we get the food?”
“Not in the least. It’s only my opinion, of course.”
“But that would be pointless.”
“It is pointless. Again, just my opinion.”
Snag’s superior tone annoys Bolo, though he himself was eager to ascribe expertise to him. Snag is large than Bolo. Bolo reckons that he must be at least a week older than himself.
“But there has to be a point,” he insists. “It’s just that the man knows what it is and we don’t.”
“Because he’s a man?”
Bolo is pleased to have scored a point. “Exactly,” he says.
Snag scoffs with disgust the way Bolo had once heard somebody do over a morsel of very old fish.
“Why do you think we go there? You know, into the box with all the rooms in it.”
“We’re always there. Again, my opinion.”
“What do you mean? We’re not there now, obviously.”
Snag swivels his head looking around the room. “These cages. Our lives. It’s a conspiracy.”
“A conspiracy? But then there is a point. A conspiracy means there’s a… a structure. You’ve got to admit that.”
“Of course there’s a structure, but it doesn’t have a point. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Bolo is at a loss.
“Have you considered,” Snag says pompously, “that he knows as little as we do?”
Bolo is shocked. “But that’s a terrible idea,” he says.
“I agree. It is terrible. But it’s realistic. It’s practical. What does it matter to him if we go right or left or just stand still? You think he cares if we get the food or starve? He just watches and looks at the thing on his wrist and writes something down.”
“But he was happy when I got to the meat.”
“Yes, because I made the right choices and won a reward. This must have been his intention all along.”
“Then why not just give you the food in the first place?”
Bolo considers. “Well, I had to earn it, didn’t I?”
“Earn the food. And it was good, too. Didn’t you like it?”
“I didn’t eat any — and not because I couldn’t have found my way, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just wouldn’t play his game.”
“So… what? You just sat there?”
“No. I tried to jump out.”
“I failed. But at least I did what I wanted, not what he wanted.”
“Well then, you admit he did want you to earn the food. See?”
“No. He wanted me to do whatever I was going to do — but within the limits he set which don’t include jumping out. I refused to accept those limits. What I want is to bite him. Bite him hard.”
Bolo is horrified. “Bite him?”
Snag’s big eyes narrow. “It really is pointless, whether you accept it or not.”
“This life. Everything. The way I see it, there’s nothing left to us but to bite.”
“No, I can’t accept that. It has to mean something. It must matter. We matter.”
“To ourselves, certainly.”
“Yes, of course. But to him too.”
“We matter to him? That’s a laugh,” mocks Snag, then withdraws to the far end of his cage, curls up, and with a hiss shuts his eyes.
Though the room isn’t cold, Bolo begins to shiver.
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