A leg is missing. Shards of thread hang from the hole like tendons and muscles torn savagely from the appendage that once cheerfully invited a hug. The eyes, frozen in expression, have lost their glint. It lies on its side, near the wall, in dusty solitude. Who, or what, is this little beast of which I write?
Itâ€™s a nameless stuffed hedgehog toy my daughter gave to our cat, Pudgy, after her cat, Melee, snubbed ownership. Actually my daughter gave us two stuffed hedgehogsâ€¦one that squeaks (Pudgyâ€™s toy), and one that grunts (Bookerâ€™s toy). Melee deemed both toy hedgehogs worthy of lesser pets, and dismissed them with a wave of his paw and twitch of his tail. Hence they ended up at our house. (We admittedly have lesser pets with non-discriminating tastes. For example, I could talk about the much-loved â€œtoyâ€ also known as a rug, but thatâ€™s for another day.)
For a long time Pudgyâ€™s position as the only cat in the house invited a certain amount of loneliness. I believe she viewed me as some sort of cat aberration and decided sheâ€™d have to make due. Pudgy attempted to play with me by leaping out of hiding places and attacking my ankles. Sheâ€™d also do the arch the back, poof the tail, and act-menacing thing, but Iâ€™d usually laugh at her. So, crushed, she turned her attention to the hedgehog.
Daily, for the better part of two years, Pudgy attacked the hedgehog. Sheâ€™d pounce, roll her body around its fat body, and kick viciously with her back claws. Pudgy bit and ripped at its fleecy flesh, and then walked away satisfied the creature was dead. Until the next time.
Another game consisted of me placing the hedgehog on the top of the stairs. Pudgyâ€™s eyes would grow dark, and her tail picked up a killer tempo. Slowly, as if suspended in invisible Jell-o, she stalked the unsuspecting hedgehog. Iâ€™d say, â€œDonâ€™t do it, Pudgy, donâ€™t do it!â€ But she would. She would do it.
Grabbing the hedgehog by its upper leg (until she pulled it off in a moment of mock hate), she tossed the hedgehog down the stairs. It would bump and flip and bump some more until it reached the bottom. Pudgy, a mighty Amazon woman of cats, would turn and essentially dare me to do something about it. I would. Iâ€™d bring it back to the top of the stairs. Sheâ€™d toss it back down followed by another â€œlook.â€ Oh the fun. Oh, the good old days.
But then something happened. Giese happened. When our kitten arrived in the house the balance of power shifted in a foundational way. Pudgy was so enmeshed in sorting through her role as â€œolder catâ€ at the doddering age of two, that she forgot about the hedgehog. Whatâ€™s a leg-missing hedgehog when thereâ€™s a juicy and willful kitten as the target of play, of vengeance, of curiosity? Even my ankles were forgotten.
Just as Peter, Paul, and Maryâ€™s Puff the Magic Dragon came to know the loss of Jackie Paper, the little hedgehog amputee lost Pudgy.
Today I walked past the hedgehog, came back, picked it up, and set it on the top of the stairs. I noted Pudgyâ€™s eyes, and there was a flicker of interest. I waggled the hedgehog and even sent it bumping down a stair or two. Pudgy came up, sniffed the toy with half-closed eyes, and then turned to see where Giese was. It made me a little sad in a weird way. Kind of like when your child no longer wants to play with â€œbabyâ€ toys.
I intend to keep the hedgehog around. It has not given a leg in vain! Battered but not broken, it will provide a reminder that I, too, need to find time to play.
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. oh!
ï® Lyrics by Peter, Paul, and Mary