By John Thomas Tuft

He’s a Michelob and Marlboros cat. He hangs out on the porch telling tales of adventures and wild women he’s chased. His tale of a trip to the Amazon is amazing…of course it was in a delivery truck, but who is going to tell him that! He goes to bed at noon and rises at midnight to survey his kingdom, doing the slow amble of a prince secure in his vanity. There is a hint of a limp from the time he either got cut by some barbed wire or, defeated a tom in fierce combat defending the honor of a fair maiden–the stories can change from day to day, depending on whom he is trying to impress. But there is one story Franklin is always reluctant to tell: the story of Jasmine, the puppy, and the river.

Jasmine was a stray Persian, left to fend for herself when her family moved away and could not take her along. Her sole possession was a lavender collar with fake ruby studs, half of which had fallen out. She spent most of her time hiding under an old trailer on the lot across from where our hero lives. Franklin knew she was there but could not be bothered to cross the road to welcome her to the neighborhood. There were plenty of field mice, lazy robins, and even crickets would do in a pinch, he figured. Live and let live. Which was all well and good until the day the puppy showed up.

Franklin was busy banging against the loose screen door, insisting to the old man inside that no, indeed, he had not been fed scraps from last night, when he spotted Jasmine out in the middle of the road, coaxing the saddest looking Beagle puppy to the berm. “Come here,” she called.  Franklin feigned disinterest, but the prospect of a chance to harass a dog got the better of him. “His name is Easter,” Jasmine said as Franklin sauntered over. “We have to get him home, safe across the river.” Maybe it was the flashiness of her collar, or that saying ‘no’ to a Persian cat is nigh on impossible, but against his better judgement, Franklin agreed to help get Easter safely back to where such things belong.

At first, they had to travel through the forest. Franklin got in front and insisted that his way was the right way. Even when he took a wrong turn at the fork in the woods and they headed into the mountains instead of down to the river, Franklin insisted he knew where he was going. Finally, Jasmine suggested they stop and ask some squirrels for directions, but Franklin scoffed and took them on the long scenic route through some cow pastures. At first Easter liked the adventure, rollicking and running as puppies are wont to do. But puppies are puppies and Easter tired out and Jasmine insisted that they stop and let him get a nap.

Franklin hauled himself up tall and straight, then arched his back and told Jasmine, “Oh, okay. I will stand watch and make sure no snakes come for this dumb dog.” Jasmine lay down in the sun and started to arrange her fur just so, next to Easter, while Franklin made big circles around them, on the look-out for danger, feeling pretty full of himself. Only he could carry off this type of mission, a real cat, a ne’er do well, adventurer of a beast. After the nap, they continued on their way. And that’s when things got uneasy. They arrived at the river. Easter needed to get to the other side. But cats… water…cats… water…well, you do the math.

Jasmine found a small ferry that could take them across. It consisted of a stout rope tied across from bank to bank, and a small raft that they could pull themselves across to the other side. After much coaxing, and Jasmine’s quietly reminding him that the youngster was watching, Franklin got on the ferry and he and Jasmine worked together to pull out into the current. Halfway across a terrible storm came sweeping down the valley, tossing the little raft in the waves. Franklin grew terrified, but he kept looking at Jasmine and Easter and hung on for dear life, determined to get safely across the dark, threatening water.

Finally, they reached the other side. Jasmine helped Easter off the craft and turned to thank Franklin. “Wait a second,” cried Franklin. “You’re not going to go on without me. I can’t get back across this river all by myself.” “Yes, you can,” replied Jasmine. “And you must. You are not finished.” Franklin hissed and spit. “What if another storm comes along? I’m all by myself.” Cats can be quite the whiners. Jasmine looked at him, cocked her head to one side and said with a purr, “My dear, you do not need Easter in order to be brave.”

So, if you are driving along an old country road, and out of the corner of your eye catch sight of an old cat drinking a Michelob and smoking a Marlboro, don’t be surprised if he waves. And if you stop, he’s going to tell you a story. If you convince him to tell you the best one, make sure he includes these words: “You don’t need Easter to be brave.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.