The Amazing Fluffy
By Anna Sykora
“Tara’s performing,” said plump Clara, serving her son more sauerkraut. The fuzzy, pink-nosed tabby peeked down from a kitchen cabinet.
“Whenever we sit here, she shows off,” Hans said, who was eight.
“Me-ow.” Tara eyed the open door. Reaching her front paws to it, she gracefully shifted her weight and drew up her hind paws one at a time, balancing on the inch-wide door.
Hans and his mother stopped eating as the cat paced back and forth, pointing her feet and rounding her back, fluffy tail erect. Tara’s brother and sister--tabbies with spotted noses-- watched from under the table.
“She belongs in the circus,” said Hans. Placing her paws together like a diver, now Tara slid straight down the wooden door. “Bravo!” he cried and clapped. Tara looked up, gave a little skip and twitched her fluffy tail, and then scampered down the stairs to the basement. The other cats ran after her.
“She’s spoiled.” Clara cleaned her thick eye-glasses with a tissue. “We should ignore her tricks while we’re eating.”
Clara got up and fetched more, steaming sausages. “Speaking of circus, would you like to go? Men with a tractor put up a tent on the field behind the supermarket. I saw seven camels grazing there.”
“Do they have lions?” Hans asked with excitement.
“I saw some tigers on a poster.”
The next day, a man with a moustache came to the door with circus discount coupons. While Clara took two, Tara--hiding under a table--slipped outside.
When she hesitated, near the hedge (she wasn’t allowed to leave the house), the man grabbed her and stowed her in his bag. He’d sell her fur to some old German lady, to warm her aching knees at night...
Weeding the garden, Clara didn’t notice Tara had disappeared. That evening, she brought Hans to Circus Bellini a few minutes late. After they bought tickets, a frizzy-haired girl opened the tent flap as if performing a magic trick. Inside, the tent looked much larger, rising to a shadowy height.
Seven shaggy brown camels already trotted around the ring in spangled blankets. Their pot-bellied trainer wore a long, black gown, a scarlet turban and golden slippers. He shouted at the camels and they halted and hung their heads right over the barrier. Children shrieked with joy, and their parents frowned in the hot, sour stench of the animals’ breath.
“Let’s sit in those chairs right next to the ring,” cried Hans.
“Soon as this act is over,” said Clara.
The young ringmaster, who wore a red cap with a tassel, joked how the smartest people in Pappenheim had gone to the movies instead... Hans and his mom sat through a juggler who broke several plates, and a tightrope walker who didn’t do much. Then a skinny clown chased a poodle around the ring, swatting at him with a butterfly net. The dog darted between his legs or jumped right out of reach. Finally he pulled down the clown’s pants--revealing polka-dot boxer shorts.
Meanwhile Tara chewed her way through the thief’s bag hung up in his trailer. Nobody clapped when she dropped to the floor. Soon she grew bored, rolling a grape in circles--so she ate it. When the trailer’s door opened, out she skipped; she ran through the grass towards the loud music.
The man with the moustache scrambled after her. “Catch me that cat!” he yelled at acrobats waiting outside the tent. Tara scampered around the field, among performers, animals and props. When she caught the smell of huddled cats she wiggled between metal bars.
Seven tigers, drowsing in a pile, opened their bloodshot eyes. One got up and started stalking her, so she scooted back out of the cage. The man with the moustache grabbed at her fluffy tail and missed, but then a poodle in a rhinestone collar yapped at her.
Tara climbed a ladder leaned against the tent. When the man poked her with a stick, off she leaped--right onto the neck of a horse trotting into the ring. Riding backwards, she clung to his mane as he broke stride and plunged. The pot-bellied trainer, Mr. Bellini (now wearing a fur cap and high boots with his black gown) cracked his whip and then pointed at the tabby cat.
At this, the ringmaster announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, making her debut in our show--the Amazing Fluffy!” People applauded.
“I never saw a cat in a circus before,” said Hans.
“Looks like an accident,” Clara scoffed, “like the rest of this fleabag circus.” But she was smiling wide as Hans.
As the horses trotted in patterns and the lighting changed from blue to red to yellow, Tara worked her way down her horse’s neck, turned around and rode like a hero.
As she passed within a yard of her owners, “That looks like Tara!” Hans burst out.
“It can’t be,” said near-sighted Clara.
When her horse left the ring, Tara jumped off and ran away. “Find me that cat!” shouted Mr. Bellini, who owned the circus and trained horses and camels, was married to the woman who trained the dogs, and the father of the girl who hung by her hair. “Find her, and I’ll make an act with her to write circus history!”
During the intermission, Hans and his mom strolled around the field. The circus folk were hooking metal gates together to build the tiger cage. Tara groomed herself and took a nap behind the acrobats’ teeter-totter. Shaggy camels grazed in their paddock as the sun set in a golden blaze.
Hans and his mother stopped in front of the tigers, who prowled their trailer as if they’d lost something.
“Maybe they know they’re next,” he said.
“It’s time to go back for the rest of the show.”
Now the tigers came running into the cage through a passage of small ones fitted together. Their pink-cheeked trainer, who looked l7, wore shiny black overalls and yelled at them in Polish. A middle-aged blonde stood watching closely, just outside the bars.
“I bet that’s his mother,” Clara said. “She sells the tickets too. Everybody does everything; they just keep changing costumes.”
The young trainer got five tigers to sit up on their stands, rewarding each with a treat of meat. Two bad cats roared when they didn’t get any.
Suddenly Tara, chased by the poodle, scampered into the ring. Children shrieked as she slipped through the bars of the cage. Kicking over their stands, two tigers ran after her, and the others bounded after them. The trainer held up a hula hoop and Tara jumped through it, followed by the tigers. The audience cheered and applauded wildly.
“Ladies and Gentleman, the amazing Fluffy!” cried the ringmaster, now wearing a too-large tuxedo. “And you’ll never see another act like this if you live 100 years. So remember the Circus Bellini, and tell your friends and neighbors about us. We may be small, we may be poor, but we train the most wonderful animals.”
When Tara raced past on top of the barrier Hans cried: “Mom, that’s really Tara! I recognize her pink nose.” The tabby fled the tent.
“Tara should be safe at home,” said Clara uneasily.
Two tigers were wrestling in their cage, a third rolled her stand around like a toy, and a fourth roared at the trainer while the blonde woman poked her in the back with a whip. The clown attached the passage to the cage, and pushing and prodding, the circus folk helped drive the flustered tigers back into their trailer. Then, to the sound of exciting music, they hurried to break down the big cage. (The music ran out before they finished.)
Hans fidgeted while Mr. Bellini made a big white horse trot in place. “Mom, I tell you it’s Tara. Please believe me, mom.”
“This afternoon a circus man brought us the coupons...”
“Maybe he stole her, mom!”
Now, the Great Rocco (they recognized the juggler who broke plates) rolled the crocodile out in a trunk, let him out to crawl for about two yards, and then packed him back inside...
Finally, in a swirl of dry ice fog and to the sound of dreamy music, Flying Bettina stepped into the tent, trailing a white scarf 30 feet long. Tenderly Mr. Bellini helped his daughter fasten her hair to the cable that would tug her aloft. As the music swelled and Bettina soared, Tara chased the scarf across the ring.
“Tara!” shouted Hans. The audience roared as she pounced, sank her teeth into the flimsy scarf and flew upwards, clamped on like a bulldog. High in the air Bettina frowned.
“Please, don’t drop our cat!” Clara yelled, waving. People laughed: was this part of the act?
The ringmaster hurried into the ring, waving the clown’s butterfly net. Bettina dangled Tara on the scarf about 5 yards above the net. The clown improvised a drum roll on a metal garbage can...
“Hans, wait right here!” Clara climbed over the barrier as Bettina dropped the scarf and the cat into the net. The ringmaster carried Tara away, Clara at his heels.
At the close of Bettina’s sailings and flailings--while Hans wondered what had happened to his mom and the cat--the entire troupe of 13 performers came prancing back out in their shiniest costumes, to take their bows.
Last of all strode the ringmaster, holding the Amazing Fluffy tight, who wore the poodle’s rhinestone collar. He held her up to the north, south, east and west, to the evening’s best applause.
“If people could train cats,” Clara said, “they’d be in every circus.” She was sitting with Hans at their kitchen table, eating limp sauerkraut with onions and apples. “The problem is cats only do what they want.”
From upstairs came an amazing crash. “Where’s Tara?” cried Hans. They heard a loud thumping and stood up as their wicker laundry hamper came bumping down the stairs, all by itself. When it got to the bottom, the lid flew open--and out jumped Tara.
“Tadaaa!” cried Hans and applauded. This time Clara joined in:
“Guess she just wanted a toboggan ride. No harm done: a few more dents in our wooden stairs.”
Tara twitched her fluffy tail, gave a little skip and scampered down the stairs to the basement. Her brother and sister followed her. What would she do next?