Copyright 2002 by Marc Robinson
Once there was a cat. He was big and he was black and yellow, like a tiger. He looked very brave, but he wasn't brave at all. He was just a scaredy cat. When another cat wanted to fight, he would run away, lickety-split, as fast as he could., and he was fast, too. He was the fastest cat in the neighborhood.
That cat's name was Oscar and he lived in a big house with two children and their mother and father. They took good care of Oscar. The boy and girl liked to pet him, and Oscar liked to lick their hands with his rough, pink tongue, and rub against their legs.
Only one thing made him sad. He didn't like canned food, and that was the only kind of food his family fed him.
Oscar's house was next door to a fish market, and all day Oscar sat in the window of his house and watched the fish market. All day long people came to buy fish at the market. There were all kinds of fish: trout, sole, bass, catfish, flounder. There were big fish and little fish, and round fish and flat fish, brown fish and white fish and even some red fish. There were fish from lakes and fish from rivers and fish from oceans. There were long skinny fish that looked like snakes, and short fat fish that looked almost like frogs. There were fish that were smooth, and fish that were bumpy. There were fish in barrels and fish in baskets and fish in boxes. There were even fish with long, graceful fins, and fish with short, stubby fins. There were beautiful fish that gleamed in the light, with a rainbow of colors in their scales, and ugly fish the color of mud. But Oscar loved the way they smelled much more than the way they looked, and he was sure he would love the way they tasted most of all. His mouth watered when he thought about it.
All day long Oscar sat in the window of his house, watching the fish market. The market's big side doors were open all day, and he could see right into the fish market and watch everything. The floor was concrete and it had drains in it. Mr. Moses was the owner, and every morning he would come in and wash the floor with a hose. After that he took the fish out of the freezers and put them in the display counters. The display counters had glass windows and people could see the fish lying on beds of ice. After he had put the fish in the display counters, Mr. Moses opened the door so people could come in and buy fish from him. All day long he would sell fish to his customers. In the evening, when it was time to close, Mr. Moses would shut the door and wash the floor again and put the fish back in the freezer and let his guard dog into the fish market. Mr. Moses would pet the dog and give him food and water, and then Mr. Moses would go home.
Besides fish, Mr. Moses sold crabs and lobsters and clams and crayfish, and Oscar liked the way they smelled, too. But Oscar liked the smell of fish most of all. He had never eaten fish, but he knew from the way they smelled that they must taste wonderful.
One day Oscar was watching Mr. Moses put the fish in the freezer. When Mr. Moses shut the freezer door, the latch broke and it wouldn't close. Mr. Moses propped a box against the door to keep it shut and went home. Oscar knew that at last he could get some fish. He couldn't open the door by pulling on the handle, but now all he had to do was move the box, and the door would swing open by itself. Oscar decided to get into the fish market that night and steal some fish to eat.
The dog that guarded the fish market at night was big and mean, and Oscar was afraid of him. The dog roamed around the back yard of the fish market, inside the wooden fence. He could go inside the fish market by crawling through a hole in the back door.
Oscar wanted the fish enough that he did something very brave. For once, he wasn't a scaredy cat. He waited until late at night, when his family was asleep, and then he sneaked downstairs to the basement and jumped up to a window ledge and squeezed out through the window that wouldn't shut. It was his secret way in and out of the house, and nobody else knew about it.
Oscar went to the fish market and jumped up on the wooden fence, and sat there on the rail just below the top of the fence. The dog was inside the fish market. It was a very dark night, with no moon, and no stars. Oscar was afraid until he thought about the fish, and how much he wanted them, and then he became brave again. He yowled loudly, so the dog would hear him.
When the dog heard Oscar, he was furious. He didn't want any cats sitting on his back fence. He thought cats were ugly, stupid animals, and he didn't want any prowling around the fish market while he was guarding it. He ran out the hole in the back door and right up to the fence. He stood up with his paws against the fence and barked at Oscar. Oscar leaned down and scratched him. The dog tried to bite Oscar's paw, but Oscar had already stood back up on top of the fence, and the dog couldn't reach him.
Now the dog was really angry. His face hurt where Oscar had scratched it. The dog ran around in circles and barked and snapped at the air. The dog backed up until his tail touched the building and he ran as fast as he could at the fence and he jumped up at Oscar. Just when the dog jumped at Oscar, Oscar jumped off the fence and ran part of the way down the alley in back. Oscar stopped and turned around and watched the dog.
The dog was caught on top of the fence like a teeter-totter. His front legs hung over the alley, and his stomach was on the fence. He looked like he was running on air for a minute and then he fell off the fence into the alley. He looked silly lying on his side, but he didn't lie on his side for very long. He got right up and chased Oscar.
The dog was faster than any of the cats that ever chased Oscar. The dog was catching up to Oscar as they ran down the alley. Oscar ran as fast as he could. He ran until the wind roared in his ears, and his fur lay flat, and he was stretched out almost on the ground. He ran like he had never run before, and still the dog was catching up to him.
Up ahead was a street, and Oscar ran straight across it, right in front of a car that almost hit him. The car screeched to a stop. The dog ran into the side of the car. His nose went bump!, right into the side of the car. For a second, the dog was surprised, but then he ran around the car and chased Oscar again.
Oscar ran down the alley on the other side of the street. When he got to the end of the alley, he climbed a tree and jumped onto a garage where the dog couldn't get him. He knew the dog would be able to see him there because there was a street lamp right above the garage, and he was right. When the dog go to the end of the alley, he saw Oscar sitting on top of the garage, giving himself a bath with his rough, pink tongue.
The dog danced around, he was so angry. He barked and barked until he barked himself hoarse, until his slobber flew all around and his eyes bulged out. Lights came on in the houses, and the neighbors called the dog catcher. The dog catcher came and took the dog away, just as Oscar had hoped he would.
When the dog catcher was gone, Oscar climbed down from the garage and walked slowly up the alley. He looked both ways this time, and then he crossed the street and walked back up the alley. He jumped on top of the fence again, and then he jumped down to the yard. He walked through the hole in the back door of the fish market. At last he was inside! When he smelled the fish, he knew his dream had come true.
Oscar walked right over to the freezer and jumped on top of the box Mr. Moses had propped against it. The box was big and heavy. Oscar rocked it back and forth, a little more each time, until it fell over. He jumped away from the box just before it fell. Then he turned and watched the door of the freezer swing open.
Oscar walked into the freezer. There were fish everywhere. He looked into a box of trout and licked his lips. He couldn't decide which one to eat first. He sniffed deeply and then grabbed the nearest trout in his mouth. He took it outside the freezer, where he could eat without being cold.
The trout tasted as delicious as it smelled, and Oscar ate it all. He went back and took a whitefish and ate it, too. Then he ate another trout because he had liked the first one so much.
Oscar ate and ate until he couldn't eat any more and he had a terrible stomach ache. In his whole happy life he had never felt so bad. He would have given anything to feel better. His stomach dragged the ground as he walked.
Eating so much made Oscar sleepy, and he decided to go home. He walked through the hole in the door and into the back yard. He tried to jump over the fence, but now he couldn't do it. He was too heavy. He had eaten too many fish, and he weighed too much to jump over the fence. He was afraid the police would come and catch him. He knew Mr. Moses had a terrible temper, and he was afraid of what would happen if the police turned him over to him. Oscar had to get away. He tried and tried to jump over the fence, but he just couldn't do it, no matter how hard he tried. He looked for a place where the fence was lower, but it was too high everywhere. He finally gave up.
Then he noticed a little hole under the fence, just big enough for a mouse. He couldn't squeeze through the hole, but he dug at it with his paw and made it bigger. Finally it was big enough for him. He crawled under the fence and sneaked back into his own house. He tried to go to sleep, but he couldn't. He had a stomach ache again.
Oscar was a lucky cat. He was lucky the car didn't hit him, and he was lucky the dog didn't catch him, and he was lucky he could get away in time, and he was lucky he was only sick for one day.
After that, he was surprised how good his canned food tasted, and he never stole any more fish.