Part of my job entails taking photos of houses.
It’s one of my favorite aspects of my position. I get to be a little artsy, a little creative, but not too much because Lord knows that Real Estate Photography and Artistic Photography have about as much in common as peanut butter and a bag of rocks. This became apparent after my first gig, where I took pictures with ANGLES! and LIGHTING! and SHAPES! and my boss surveyed them with her characteristic grin and politely told me that a weasel with a LiteBrite could have done a better job.
So last Thursday was the third house that I had photographed. It was a rambling one story house with beautiful floors and a broad kitchen, the sort of place that made me wish I had a spare several hundred thousand dollars hidden away in a sock in my closet. I had been there only once before, when I was setting it up for a realtor tour. The occupant was a bright girl who was doing what she could to make the place look nice. She had set up several signs around the premises. Signs that said ‘PLEASE DO NOT LET CAT OUT’.
I looked for said cat.
I found him in the center of a hallway, watching with amusement as the house tenants picked their way around him. He was a sprawling grey tabby with a luxurious coat and those deep jewel-eyes that cats sometimes have.
Oh, I thought. One of those cats.
“Yes, well, he is declawed,”the tenant said, ferrying a vacuum cleaner to a back closet. “If he got out, I just…I just don’t know what would happen.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I told her. “These agents, they are very conscientious. They deal with this sort of thing all the time.”
(NOTE: Not all agents are ‘very conscientious’.)
So I finished preparing for the tour and went back to work.
I didn’t go back until the next day, to take those photographs. By that time I had forgotten about the tabby. I got out of my car, balancing camera equipment around my person, struggled to activate the lockbox that realtors use to get in and out of the houses, and kicked the door open to save my busy arms the effort. Sitting directly in front of the door, his green-jewel eyes cocked in an expression of irritation, was The Cat.
“MRAAAAAOW,” he said imperiously.
“Oh, hi Cat,” I said breathlessly. I set my equipment down as carefully as I could and pushed the door shut with my toe. The Cat surveyed me with interest.
“Fft!” he said suddenly, stalking forward on long, limber legs. “Mrow?”
“Cameras.” I told him. “I’m going to take pictures.” I settled a bulky panoramic lens on our tiny Sony. It looked a little ridiculous.
“Prrt!” The Cat said. He sniffed at the silver carrying-case. “Prrow?”
I gave him a long look. I had been told before, by many jaded agents with haggard faces and flowered shirts, that in Real Estate-ese “I have a pet” means “You have a problem.” That factoid wedged itself into my brain, a nugget of uncertainty.
“Just…try to stay out of the way,” I said, stroking his back. “No cats in these pictures.”
I set up a shot of the living room, including the bay window and the fireplace. I silently congratulated myself. A good shot. Just as I took the picture, I noticed a slight slithering movement in the edge of the frame.
The Cat lay stretched on the rug.
“CAT,” I said. “Cat, these are house pictures. Move.”
“MRAOW.” The Cat said. “MRAAAOW.”
I strode forward, plucked up the cat, and set him in the kitchen. Returning to my beautifully composed photo, I retook the shot and examined it on the playback.
On the lower right, a smooth grey tail waggled like a banner. I looked down. The Cat stared placidly up at me.
“Mrrrrr,” he purred.
I scooted him behind me with my foot and took the shot quickly, holding him in place with the point of my boot. Once I had the living room secured in my little Sony, I glared down at him.
“Mrow?” he asked.
I plucked him up and stomped to a back bedroom. He purred peacefully in the crook of my arm until I gingerly threw him in and shut the door.
I proceeded to take photos of the rest of the house.
The photos went rather quickly when I didn’t have The Problem to deal with. I took shot after shot with laser-like precision. Each bedroom became a boudoir. The garage became a workshop. The wood floor was polished and flawless and the kitchen became ‘airy and spacious’. For about five minutes, I was the Dali of real estate photography. My pictures would make a broker fall to their knees, before the glory of a well-lit bathroom, and weep tears of joy for the perfection of their art. I was, quite clearly, some kind of prodigy.
In the middle of a rather painstakingly angled shot of the laundry room, however, I was jolted back to reality.
I lowered my camera slowly, waiting. He could sense my movement. Better to wait until he stopped listening for me.
Holding my breath, I peered into the viewfinder of the camera, and slowly clicked the button.
“AUGH, CAT,” I shouted. “I’m almost done, okay? A few more rooms.”
I tried to stay calm and finish my work, but with each passing second, the yowls grew in intensity and volume. Somebody was going to pass by and think I was knifing a yodeler. Or worse…the girl who owned the cat would come home and hear her baby screaming for release. That would look bad. I began snapping photos recklessly, picking up images of dark corners and shoddy woodwork. The flawless chapel of real estate I had created was crumbling more with each substandard picture I took.
“I KNOW DAMMIT I KNOW.”
Another bathroom: too bright, too small. A closet: taken shut, shoot, shoot. No time to retake.
I had almost finished, except…augh. The backyard. I didn’t want to risk The Cat running out there. He’d have to stay in the room for now.
“RAO. RAO. RAO. RAO. RAO.”
He had changed tactics. I bolted through the backdoor and began snapping pictures of the yard. It was broad and had lots of corners for landscaping…I’d need to be sure I showed it…
I clicked away madly, suddenly become aware of a series of muted thumps. That bastard was trying to break out. He was going to break his skull. That girl would come home and her newly mopped wood floors would be splattered with cat skull. I continued photographing, uncomfortably aware of the bashing sounds issuing from the house. Something was going to happen, and I was going to get blamed for it. Hurry hurry hurry.
WHUMP. WHUMP. WHUMP. WHU-
And suddenly the thumping stopped.
It was not a comfortable sort of silence.
The next several events took place in slow motion, as my brain sped beyond the movement of my body. With a sudden jolt of fear, I realized the back door was open. The back door was open, and the thumping had stopped. A low bass tremor of terror stabbed my heart and I turned, the camera dangling on its string around my wrist. I saw The Cat padding through the kitchen, towards the open door, head down, eyes intent, moving closer velvet step by velvet step. I saw the sign, like some sort of prophetic herald, taped to the glass, “PLEASE DO NOT LET CAT OUT”, the ‘please’ underlined with the fervor of a mother’s love. I felt myself take a step, then another, then a lunge, and then a dive. I reached for The Cat, just as he noticed my wild-eyed arrival and began to turn, and instead of finding myself with an armful of fur, I got a faceful of cat butt as I belly-flopped onto the kitchen floor, sliding towards the refrigerator. The startled cat, propelled forward by my momentum, endured this moment in silence.
We slowed to a stop. The Cat shifted, and before he could full recover from the indignity of it all, I stumbled to my feet and shut the back door. He watched this peevishly, and jumped onto the kitchen counter.
Rather than stuff The Cat in a blender, as was my first inclination, I packed up my equipment and left.
Epilogue: The next week, after I had loaded my photos onto the necessary websites and put them on the necessary flyers, my boss called me.
“What are these on the websites?”
“Photos?” I suggested.
“Well,” I heard my boss chewing the thought over. “You’ll have to retake them. I don’t know what you were up to, but they’re pretty unusable.”
Cue sad trumpet.