It was tradition each summer for Riley, Blossom’s best feline friend forever, and his family to be invited to dinner on the Hatchers’ patio. In keeping with tradition, Mrs. H decorated the picnic table with checkered cheesecloth, placing little tea candles down its center. Willow stacked up paper plates in wicker holders and filled a mason jar with plastic forks. Mr. H donned his chef’s hat and overcooked everything.
“You could probably take the wieners off a minute or two earlier,” Mrs. H would suggest.
“And don’t put the cheese on the hamburgers until right before they’re done,” said Willow. “You always put the cheese on too early and it all melts off.”
Blossom and Riley shook their heads, watching Mr. H sulk over these insults. Using his special long-handled spatula, he flipped the burgers, tossed on the cheese, and rolled the flaming wieners around so they could burn evenly.
Riley turned to Blossom. “Remember the time we used Mr. H’s barbecue flipper to sling toads across the lawn?”
Blossom and Riley fell over onto the grass, howling over the memory. The previous summer Blossom had held a toad down on the spatula’s handle with her paw. Then quickly letting go, Riley whacked the face-up metal flipper as hard as he could, launching the terrified toad into the air. Their eyes tried to follow as it sailed across the lawn.
At the time, they’d meowed so hard they got the hiccups. However, Blossom remembered feeling their game was maybe a whisker mean-spirited, watching the toad flinch as he was catapulted into space. But then she’d tell herself that she and Riley could have done what most ordinary cats would have done. They would have just eaten him.
This evening, the air was hazy with smoke as Mr. H completed his barbecuing. The burgers had only a thin veil of cheese still clinging to them and the wieners were so black they no longer resembled something edible. As the guests at the picnic table fanned their faces in order to not choke from the smoke, Mr. H, using the same spatula that had once served as Blossom’s and Riley’s toad slinger, shoveled all the burgers and wieners onto a serving platter. All except for one wiener that was blackened even more than the rest. Mr. H surveyed those seated at the table and, seeing that no one was watching him, especially Mrs. H, casually flicked the remaining wiener off the grill where it disappeared into the grass.
Blossom and Riley wide eyed each other.
“Dinner for two!” meowed Blossom, hardly believing their good luck.
After Mr. H seated himself with the others, Blossom and Riley quietly trotted over to the divine dinner awaiting them.
“You take one end and I’ll take the other,” said Blossom, studying the wiener, laying in the grass like one long ugly dog poop.
“I don’t know.” Riley had a worried expression on his furry face. “There’s so many ashes on the outside of it, if you know what I mean. I don’t like ashes, do you?”
Blossom scowled, almost feeling the charred pieces wadding up on her tongue. Leave it to Mr. H to burn a perfectly good cat entree beyond recognition. “Mr. H cooked it so long it doesn’t even look like a wiener anymore,” she grumped. “It looks like a burnt human finger.”
Riley turned his head to the table. “The grill’s still hot. There’s onions and pickles and cheese. I like cheese. You like cheese. Do you think we could grill a cheese slice?”
“No,” Blossom pouted. “This is supposed to be a real barbecue. I want a perfectly toasted pink wiener or grilled shrimp or a filet.”
“Filet of what, Blossom?”
Sitting beneath the ledge-like tabletop attached to the side of the grill, summer breezes fluttering her fur, Blossom donned her imaginary chef’s hat, closed her eyes and sighed. “I want a filet of mouse, seared on the outside, still pink on the inside.”
“Yes!” Riley agreed. “A nice juicy mouse filet, so tender you can cut it with your claws.” Riley turned to Blossom, eyes blazing. “Blossom, when I looked at that barbecue flipper, I had one meower of a thought! If we set the flipper just so. . . ” Here Riley stood on hind legs and curled his paw up onto the attached tabletop. The spatula lay face-up and Riley slowly scraped the utensil toward him, careful not to catch the attention of the Hatchers or their chattering guests. He pawed it into position so that the flipper end was closest to the hot grill and the handle end was farthest away. “Now,” he went on. “We lay a piece of cheese on the end of the handle. The mouse will walk out onto the handle to get the cheese, and then we just hit the flipper like this.” He lightly tapped on the wide metal flipper. It made a small clink! “Only we’ll hit it harder than that so the mouse will fly up and over onto the grill!”
“That’s brilliant, Riley,” said Blossom. But somehow she didn’t like Riley meowing we, because really he was going to do the dirty work, not her. She thought back to their toad slinging days. “Don’t you think that’s maybe a little cruel? I mean, if the mouse lands right on the grill, he’ll be barbecued alive. I think you’re only supposed to cook food that’s already dead. Don’t you think we should kill him first?”
“Well . . . I guess so.” Riley did not at all sound like he guessed so. “Wait, Blossom, I don’t know. Think of it as payback. How many times have we been bamboozled by a mouse?” Riley’s mug turned into a sly grin. “And wouldn’t it be fun to see a mouse hopping around on a sizzling hot grill? You know that would be fun!”
Blossom couldn’t help herself. The excitement bloomed in the pit of her stomach as Riley snaked his paw into the wrapper of cheese slices, sitting on the tabletop. With his claws, he dragged one piece over and onto the spatula’s handle. Now all they had to do was wait for a mouse to show up, but that wouldn’t be a problem. There were more mice in the Hatchers’ back yard than robins roosting all up and down Tulip Drive.
Riley’s family put out more noise than a chicken coop. As Blossom and Riley crouched low in the grass, wondering would a mouse dare appear while one kid kept shrieking. . . twirling turtles. Both cats sat still as sticks as a mouse skittered across the patio bricks. The mouse stopped, sniffed, then darted off in another direction and sniffed again. And before Blossom could meow mouse, it leaped up onto the tabletop, taking mini-mouse steps toward the handle laden with the cheese.
Mr. H was telling one of his corny jokes. The squealing kids were making duck lips with their chips. Riley slunk up to the attached table and smoothly raised a paw. There was so much racket in Blossom’s head, her ears buzzed. Her heart pounded the way it might before a hamster ambush. An odd thought flitted through her brain, had she seen any A1 sauce on the picnic table? The mouse crept out onto the handle’s end. Blossom’s whiskers quivered in anticipation, eyeing Riley’s paw, raised like a cobra, then flashing down. Whap! Up sprung the spatula’s end along with a strangled squeak! The mouse shot straight up, the spatula clattering twice before rolling off the tabletop.
Blossom’s head tipped up, making her ears graze her back. “Riley, I think you hit the spatula too hard.”
Jaw dropped, Riley said, “Where did it go?”
A soft plunk! came from the picnic table, followed by ear-curdling screams. “Mouse!” Mrs. H dropped a plastic bowl, covering the ground with potato salad.
Blossom’s eyeballs were riveted to the mouse’s tiny feet racing down the length of the table, toenails making a soft clickety, clickety, clickety over the cloth, weaving in and out of the tea candles, then flying off the end. One end of the table clunked down as too many big people tried to bolt from that side, hoisting the other end into the air. Paper plates skidded out of their wicker holders, some stopping inches from the table’s edge, others plopping into the grass. Tea candles hopped across the surface before rolling off. An older girl had sprinted clear to the back steps where she curled up like a worm, toes tucked in tight.
Amidst all the commotion, Blossom’s eye caught a movement of parting grass as the mouse dashed along, grabbed the burnt wiener by one end and disappeared altogether. She flattened her ears in outrage. “That was our wiener! The mouse got away with our wiener!”
“Who cares about the wiener? There goes our filet of mouse!” Riley’s mouth scrunched up in dismay.
Eventually all calm returned. The older girl uncurled herself. The kids returned to the table. Willow retrieved the runaway tea candles. Mrs. H snatched up the remaining serving bowls and ran them inside to safety. Mr. H picked up his spatula, brandishing it as a warning to future party crashers.
So much for a night of culinary cat cuisine. “We were bamboozled again,” Blossom felt steam puff from her ears. There was nothing on the planet worse than being outsmarted by a mouse. “I’ll never be nice to a mouse again,” she snarled, even though she’d never been nice to one anyway.
Riley hung his head. “I hate being bamboozled by a mouse.”
Blossom sulked. Somewhere a mouse was sitting down to a dinner that resembled a burnt human finger. Nothing could have added to this un-meowable mouse misfortune until Mr. H, still wielding the spatula, remarked, “You’d think something like this wouldn’t happen with two grown cats in the yard.”