Several years ago on a flight from Salt Lake City to San Jose, I sat next to a young man who had his pet cat, Grommet, in a duffle bag at his feet. It was a kitty duffle, specially equipped with water and mesh air vents. He had medicated the cat, and we joked about giving the same thing to the kid in the row in front of us. As it turned out, the kid stayed quieter than Grommet did.
The young man made the mistake of unfastening a snap on the duffle to reach in and stroke the kitty to calm him. The cat immediately poked its head out the opening and kept squirming until he was in the young man’s arms. I was in the middle seat, and Grommet decided he’d like to come sit with me. He was a beautiful, gray cat with white paws and a partly white face and chest. And he was ticked.
The more his owner tried to settle the cat on his lap, the more Grommet fought to escape. He made a valiant lunge toward the seat in front of us, and it almost worked. From the safety of his aisle seat, my husband commented stoically, “That cat’s looking for a place to go to the bathroom.”
Grommet bit his master soundly enough to draw blood and that earned kitty another sedative. But still it took fifteen minutes of struggle before the guy could wad up the cat and stick him back through the small opening in the zippered bag. I found the whole incident amusing – until a horribly foul odor began to emanate from the bag.
As any frequent flyer knows, not much happens in the stuffy confines of an airplane that doesn’t waft throughout the cabin. We had half an hour left in the flight and I don’t know who was sickest. The poor kitty began to yowl and cry, softly, which made it even more pitiful. The young man told me miserably that he was moving across country and he’d thought the flight would be easier on his cat than a long car trip.
I got one last glimpse of Grommet and his owner at the baggage carousel. The young man’s eyes were wide and glazed, his hair literally standing on end as he carried his suitcase and the kitty duffle across the airport floor. Liquid dripped from the duffle. I’m going to say the kitty’s water dish had spilled.
I did what any writer would do; as soon as we hit our hotel room, I wrote the whole episode down. Later, when I was working on a scene in which the heroine was fighting not to be put through a body-sized opening into an old cistern, I thought of Grommet’s all-out desperation not to be put back in that bag. I could feel the no-holds-barred determination of both captor and captive, and I think the scene worked.
What’s that quote from Philip Roth? Nothing truly bad ever happens to a writer; it’s all material.