Cat’s ears are very strange things. They’re flimsy, cold, the front side is like the bark of bamboo sprouts with soft hair that sticks out while the back side is shiny. Cat ears are of a special class of things that one can neither call hard nor soft. Since my childhood, I’ve wanted to just once take a ticket puncher and punch a hole in a cat’s ear, but I was unable to bring myself to do it. Perhaps this is my cruel imagination?
No, it just has to be a type of mysterious suggestive power that cat ears possess. I can never forget the sight of a serious looking guest who came to my house and while making conversation continuously pinched a kitten’s ear he had lying in his lap.
These kinds of suspicions are more tenacious than one expects. Childlike games resembling imagination, such as taking a ticket puncher and punching a hole in a cat’s ear, will exist far longer in our idle minds than in the appearance of how we actually look—as long as one doesn’t dare move these imaginary thoughts into actual acts. Even for adults who are able to have good judgments fervently think of thoughts like, “What if I tried with all my strength to cut a cat’s ear placed in-between cardboard resembling a sandwich?” Anyway, recently from something that happened accidentally, I discovered a fatal miscalculation in my imaginary thought.
Fundamentally speaking, even if a cat’s ears hung down like a rabbit’s, the cat shouldn’t show any signs of pain; whereas, when pulled, cat’s ears possess a peculiar structure. This means that every cat has some indication that its ears have been pulled or torn in some way. At the place where there’s indication of a tear, there is an ingenious complementary piece of the cat ear. This part of the cat’s ear, to believers of creation and evolution, would remain a mysterious, comical aspect. Undoubtedly, when the complementary piece of the ear is pulled it becomes loose and relaxes. Because of this, when one pulls on a cat’s ear, the cat is calm and collected. Thus, if pressure is applied, even if you use your fingers and pinch a cat’s ear, no matter how hard it won’t hurt the cat. Just like the one guest that I watched pinch the cat’s ear before, it’s only in rare cases that the cat will start to scream. The skepticism of the cat ear’s seemingly insensitivity to pain exposes the cat to the dangers of the “ticket puncher.” One day in the middle of playing with my cat, I wound up biting the cat’s ear and this is what I discovered. No sooner than I bit the cat’s ear, the good for nothing thing immediately screamed. My old imagination at that point was shattered. Biting a cat’s ear brings it the most pain. The scream started from a very faint interval and then the harder the bite, the louder the scream became. I felt maybe, it was like a woodwind instrument that produced a decent crescendo.
My long held imaginary thought had disappeared. However, this type of thinking seems to have no end. During this time, I began to think about another imaginary thought which was cutting off all the nails of a cat. What would happen to it? The fellow would probably die right? Almost every time it would think, “Let’s climb a tree”—it’s not able to. When it aims and jumps for a person’s coat tails—it feels different. When it thinks to sharpen its nails—there’s nothing there. I’d expect it to try and do these things a number of times and every time, it will gradually realize that it’s different from its former self. It will gradually lose its self-confidence. It can’t help but tremble in fear at the fact that it’s at a certain height. That’s because the nails that continually protected it from “falling” aren’t there. It will waddle when it walks and become a different animal. Ultimately, it will not even be able to waddle. Such despair! Then, while seeming to continuously be in a frightening dream, it will even lose the will to eat anything and finally, it will die.
A cat with no nails! Such an undependable, pitiful thing it is. It’s similar to a poet who’s lost his imagination or a genius who is reduced to premature dementia. This imagery always makes me sad. To me however, it’s not a problem of whether the entirety of this sadness is correct or not. Even so, what would happen to a cat that had its nails pulled off? Even if its eye was pulled out, or its whiskers pulled off, there’s no doubt the cat will live. However, hidden within the sheath of the soft foot pad, bent like a hook and as sharp as a dagger—the cat’s nails! This is this animal’s vitality, its wisdom, its spirit, and all of this I believe without question.
One day I had a peculiar dream.
It was in a lady named X’s private room. The lady usually owned a cute cat and whenever I went, she would always let the cat that she was holding to her breast come toward me. I usually winced at that. When taking it up in my arms, this kitten always had a faint scent of perfume to it. The woman in my dream was putting on makeup in front of a mirror. I was reading a newspaper or something like that, and I was trying to catch glimpses of her when I let out a small surprised voice. What was she doing! With a cat’s paw, she was applying white powder to her face. I was appalled at the sight. However, getting a closer look, I realized, she was using the makeup brush, much like a cat does with its paws. However, it was way too strange, so I couldn’t help but to ask her from behind.
“What is that? Something you use to rub your face?”
With a smile, the lady turned her face toward me. Then she tossed it in my direction. When I picked it up, just as I thought, it was a cat’s paw.
“What the…what happened to this!”
While I was questioning her, I thought about the kitten that was always here, which wasn’t here today and how that paw looked awfully similar to the cat’s and like a flash of understanding I got it.
“You don’t understand? That’s my cat Mule’s paw.”
The woman’s answer was nonchalant and she said that nowadays, that type of thing was in fashion overseas so she tried to make it out of Mule’s paw. While thinking to myself how astonished I was at her cruelty, I tried to ask her if she had made it herself. She said that a custodian at a medical school gave it to her. The custodian, after the dissections, took the heads of the animals and buried them in the soil for a little while to make skulls of them. Because I heard that this was some kind of secret deal between the custodian and the students, I started to have an unpleasant feeling. In any case, isn’t it better to not ask favors from guys like that? Even though she is a woman, from the callousness and cruelty of such a thing, it dawned on me that I began to detest her. Also about having animal paws for makeup tools being popular overseas, I feel I also read something like that in some women’s magazine or newspaper.
A cat’s paw as a makeup tool! Always laughing alone, I pull on my cat’s front paws and stroke its fur. Cats have thick grown, short pile carpet like hairs on the side of their fronts paws used to wash their face, so no wonder their paws can possibly become human make up tools. But for me, what use could that be? As I was sprawled on the bed lying on my back, I brought my cat to my face. Grabbing the two front paws, one by one I hold its soft paws on my eyelids—the comfortable pleasant weight of the cat—its foot pads are warm. My tired eyes express a deep nostalgia that this relaxation is not of this world. Kitten! I beg you, for a little while don’t lose your footing. Because you will instantly bring your claws out.
By Kajii Motojirō
translated, from the Japanese, by Asheli Mosley
Asheli Mosley is an undergraduate majoring in Japanese at Georgetown University. Kajii Motojirō (1901-1932) was a Japanese writer mainly of short stories beginning his career in the Showa era (1925) of Japan. Kajii created vivid, imaginary descriptive prose which defines his writing style, and was one of the founders of the magazine “Aozora” (Blue Sky). With only 20 published works, this author had a very short life, dying at age 31 of tuberculosis.