The Grand Escape
Yearling BooksCopyright © 1994 Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780440409687
During the icy blue days of winter and the spongy green mornings of spring, Marco had not especially wanted the steamy white heat of a summer afternoon. But now that September was here, the air was dry and the sun still bright as it poured through the picture window, Marco wanted. It began as mild discomfort within his chest, settled into a faint flutter somewhere back in his throat, and emerged at last, an acute longing to be out.
"I'm going," he said from the velveteen basket.
"You say that every night," Polo complained, "and here we are, same as always."
"I used to mean someday; now I mean soon," Marco told him.
It never occurred to Mr. and Mrs. Neal that their cats could talk. Not only could they talk, but they spoke the English language. What other language would they know, Marco wondered, having been with the Neals since they were ten weeks old?
At first Marco thought his name was "Awww!" That's what people said when they picked him up as a kitten. It was later, when Mr. Neal began saying, "Marco, no!" or "Stop it, Polo!" that Marco figured out which name was whose. By the time they were fifteen weeks old, Marco and Polo had also learned the meaning of "Want a yummy?" "Let's have supper," and "Baaaad kitty!" Now that he was going on four years, Marco decided he had as good a vocabulary as any child in the neighborhood. Not only that, but he could read.
"I don't know how you learned reading," Polo would say with envy, when Marco jumped up on the counter to see if Mrs. Neal had added cat food to her shopping list.
"I simply paid attention," said Marco, meaning that all the time he was using the litter box with newspaper there at the bottom, he was studying the letters and words. He was bound to learn a little something. Polo simply did his business and climbed out.
The reason Mr. and Mrs. Neal did not know their pets could talk was that, when Marco and Polo conversed, it sounded like meowing. They could meow in hundreds of different ways that the Neals could not distinguish at all: soft and loud; short and long; wavy meows; sharp meows; meows that started out high and got low; meows that started out low and got high. Plus seventy-six different kinds of purrs.
"If we did escape, how would we do it?" Polo asked. "Windows," Marco told him.
"Well, I was thinking of chimneys," Polo said.
"You could only climb up the chimney if the fireplace was open, and that only happens when there's a fire."
"But you could only get out a window if it was up, and then the screen is locked."
"So much for chimneys," Marco said. "So much for windows. "
Marco was fatter and smarter than his brother. Polo was sleek and somewhat stupid, but he was quick. Very quick. Polo could jump from the mantel to the couch to the bookcase to the table, then run up and down stairs seven times without panting. Marco ran up and down stairs once and had to lie down. Both were gray-striped tabbies with yellow eyes.
They used to be content there in the Neal household, it's true, with no thought at all of leaving. Marco could still remember their first trip to the clinic for shots, and the vet telling the Neals that if they wanted happy, healthy cats, they should never, ever let them out.
"Hogwash," said an old orange cat in one corner, but of course, the vet hadn't heard.
"If they never go outside," the vet had continued, "you will never have cats meowing for you to open the door; you won't have to worry about their getting lost or run over; they will never get in a fight with other cats or bitten by dogs; they'll never get ear mites, fleas, or ticks. Keep them house cats, and they will be happy all their lives. "
"Hogwash," came the voice again, but the Neals were already heading for the door, Marco and Polo with them.
So the Neals had made them house cats. But one day,
Marco and Polo were surprised to find the front door open wide.
Marco had thrust his nose out first, catching a whiff of trees and grass. just as he and Polo set one paw on the doorstep, however — splat! — a gigantic waterfall descended from nowhere.
Terrified and dripping, the cats leaped backward and dashed behind the sofa where they sat shivering, licking their fur.
A few days later, however, the back door stood open.
"What do you think?" asked Polo. "I'm thinking I don't see any water out there today."
"But we didn't see any before," Marco reminded him. "It seemed as sunny and dry as it does right now."
They sat looking toward the door. For a moment or two, neither moved. It was Marco, however, who took the first step once again.
Slowly, slowly, with belly slung low to the floor, neck thrust out before him, and whiskers quivering, he crept stealthily forward, Polo only an inch behind. When the two cats got to the doorstep, they paused, sniffing the air. And finally, both together, each put out a paw.
The waterfall came again. Marco and Polo rose up in fright and this time hid beneath the dining room table, wet and bedraggled.
"What do you think?" Polo asked.
"I'm thinking that every time we step outside, it rains," said Marco.
And so, when a few more days had passed, and the door stood open once again, neither of them budged.
Mrs. Neal walked about from room to room, straightening magazines and sofa pillows, humming and even turning her back, but Marco and Polo did not move. Finally, Mr. Neal came in from outside carrying a water pitcher, and Marco was actually relieved to see him close the door behind him.