As any Jeanketeer worth his or her salt (or chocolate!) knows, my two sweet kitties, Priscilla and Garfield, mean more to me than just about anything. (I guess hubby Rick would have to top the list, but between you, me, and the lamp post, sometimes I wish Rick would magically turn into a cuddly kitty himself!)

The best thing about being unemployed is all the time I get to spend with my fuzz-fuzzes. But Rick has really been on my tail (pun intended!) to find a job, so last Thursday, I went out and spent the morning filling out job applications at the local Kinko's and the Pamida and places like that, and submitting them to would-be bosses half my age. (Aack!)

I got home around 2 p.m. and noticed that Rick's pickup truck was still in the driveway. I knew he had the afternoon off, but he usually fritters away his free time at Tacky's Tavern or down at Swinton's Creek fishing and drinking with his buddies. As I walked through the door, Rick practically sprinted up to me. (It was the most movement I've seen out of him since he warmed benches on the high-school wrestling team!)

"Jean, you won't believe what I just saw," Rick said. "You know that fat orange cat of yours who farts a lot? Turns out he's a cold-blooded killing machine."

At first, I thought all those video games and chop-socky movies had finally softened Rick's brain. But he led me to the kitchen and pointed to a small, grayish thing lying on a dishtowel on the counter. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be a mouse, lifeless and still.

Rick said that about 20 minutes before I got home, he heard a loud clatter in the bedroom.

"I went for my hunting knife, just in case I'd have to take out some punk," he said. "But then I see your dumb cat, what's-its-name, Heathcliff (he knows perfectly well it's Garfield and that "its" gender is male!), running into the bathroom with this mouse in its jaws."

And that's where things got really horrifying.

"I stuck my head around the doorway, and your cat was playing hacky-sack with the mouse, batting it around with its paws," Rick said. "The cat would drop the mouse for a second, but before it could get away, Heathcliff would smack it silly."

"But the cat wasn't done yet," Rick continued. "It grabbed the mouse in its jaws again, jumped into the open shower stall, and started the same crap over again. It's like the shower stall became an arena of death. I even saw the mouse fly in the air a couple times. Finally, he must of finished it off, 'cause it ain't moved for a while."

Well, I must have looked about as stunned as that poor little mouse. (And it wasn't because I'd just had my longest conversation of the year with Rick!) I remember staring down at it. Aside from a little blood, it didn't look all that battered. In fact, it looked like it was sleeping peacefully. Even though it was just a tiny dead mouse, it appeared, well, almost beautiful. Its little feet and ears were very delicate, and its whiskers looked like they could come alive with a twitch. There must be a God, I thought, because who would put such tender care into creating something so small? I felt myself tearing up a little. I almost didn't care that Rick had put the mouse on my very best dishtowel, the one with the geese on it.

I noticed Garfield perched on the back of the couch, calmly washing his paws, but it was like looking at a stranger. Was this the cat I had known and loved for so long? Was he not actually the sensitive, caring pet I knew and loved, but rather a cruel, remorseless murderer? Was this the same critter who chased spots of dancing light on the carpet, and who almost toppled over every time he tried to lick his big, fat tummy? (File this one in the "You Think You Know Someone" department...)

Suddenly, I couldn't bring myself to pet Garfield. I couldn't even look at him. The catnip toys that litter the floor all looked like little dead mice to me. I imagined helpless, adorable mice floating belly-up in his water dish. Later, as I watched TV, little Priscilla tried to jump on my lap. I nudged her off. Even though she hadn't taken part in the atrocity, she was a cat, and therefore capable of the same grotesque acts.

It didn't seem right to call Priscilla and Garfield kitties anymore. They were cats. How could Garfield be so cruel to that dear little mouse? How could he give in so easily to his animal instincts? He had plenty to eat, lots of toys to amuse himself with, large windows to look out of, and comfy places to sleep. Then I began rethinking his past behavior. When he stalked and pounced on his toys, was he actually pretending to stalk prey, and not playing a fun, innocent game of kitty soccer? When he watched the birds through the window, perhaps he wasn't merely having secret telepathic conversations with his feathered friends, but instead sizing them up as potential prey. Then I thought about our relationship. Was I not "Mommy Jean" at all, but merely a two-legged food provider? Was his seemingly affectionate behavior nothing more than a clever ploy to get more food out of me?

It's like discovering that your best friend stole money from your purse to buy drugs.

After a sleepless night—I kept the door closed so the cats couldn't sleep on the bed with me, so I was kept awake with their scratching and mewling—I called Sandy, our apartment manager, and told her about Garfield catching a mouse in our apartment. Sandy said other tenants had complained of mice, too, and that an exterminator had been sent to the building. She said tenants had already found some dead mice, probably killed by the exterminator's poison.

Dead mice had been found! What if the mouse Garfield caught was already dead before he found it? Maybe my precious kitty wasn't a cold-blooded killer, after all!

Heaven knows, Rick is not the most reliable witness in the world. (This is a guy who swears up and down that he saw Cindy Crawford at the local mall's food court, and that she winked at him. I know that can't be true, because, judging from her looks, Cindy Crawford has never eaten a thing in her entire life!) How did he know that the mouse was alive when Garfield toyed with it in the bathroom? Did he take its pulse?

What most likely happened was that Garfield found the dead mouse somewhere in our bedroom, mistook it for a toy, picked it up, and went to the bathroom so he'd have some space to bop it around. Often, I find toys on the bathroom floor and the bottom of that very same shower stall Rick called "an arena of death."

It all made such perfect sense, and I felt sooo much better! Suddenly, Garfield wasn't just a "cat" anymore. His full kitty privileges were restored! I made sure to give him a few liver treats as an apology for locking him out of the bedroom the previous night. (And, don't worry, I didn't ignore my Prissy!)

In a way, I'm glad my love for Garfield was put to the test, because it emerged stronger than ever. A lot of people think kitties are cold and aloof animals, but I'm convinced that it's all a bunch of nonsense perpetuated by a bunch of Kathy Killjoys. When Priscilla is curled up purring on her Mommy Jean's lap, or when Garfield rubs against my leg and plops himself down at my feet for a belly rub, I feel sorry for the kitty-haters of the world, because they're missing out on a lot of joy. With kitties, it's nothing but unconditional love. After all, Prissy and Garfy have never mocked or judged me because of my frequent joblessness, or because of the way my inner thighs rub together as I walk, or because of my recurring yeast infections. (Unlike certain hubbies I can name!)