Sawyer's first leading role was as a saloon keeper in a spaghetti Western that no one remembers outside of retrospectives and film festivals, but that didn't matter to her then, and it doesn't matter to her now, because she remembers the feeling of crinolines and button-up boots, the taste of waxy lipstick, and the rush that went through her as she strutted down the bar, tail waving like a flag to all the kittens that would follow in her footsteps, kicking glasses out of her way and singing at the top of her lungs. "You can't live forever if you never live at all, so line 'em up boys, treat me well, before Death comes to call," that was the song, and she sang it on Letterman before he retired, and maybe that was the greatest miracle of all.
Her real break, the big one (the biggest one since Danny, who changed everything in the world, just because he could) came three years later, when she landed the lead in a picture called 'Pussywillow', which was darker, by far, than the light, almost playful name implied. She played a coal-miner's daughter who wanted to grow up to be a singer, and she dared everything, risked everything, to make her dreams come true. She lost six pounds to play that part -- and she hadn't been a large cat to begin with -- and spent six months freezing on location, soaking wet, coughing from the charcoal they rubbed into her fur...and it was worth every minute. Every single second.
She won an Academy Award for the scene where the casting director at the theatre took pity on her, took her home, and let her use his shower. The transformation from grimy black and gray coal-miner's kitten to a stunning white queen was something to behold. "A million tomcats fell in love with you tonight," Danny whispered to her on the night that the movie premiered, and she'd laughed, and twirled into his arms, and said, "Only one of them matters."
Only one of them ever had.
Sawyer was the first Feline-American actress to walk down that red carpet, and the first one to take home the Oscar, and when she asked Danny, almost hesitantly, "So what's next?", it was his turn to laugh, and to answer her.
The wedding was beautiful. She'd been beautiful beyond words in her gown, the palest cream, to offset the impossible white of her fur, and he'd been handsome enough to break her heart, an Indiana tomcat in a black tuxedo, looking totally relaxed as he stood there at the end of the aisle, and it had taken everything she had not to run to him. When did the tables turn? When did he become the calm, confident one, and she the one who ran from moment to moment, eternally eager, eternally ready to see what was waiting for her, up around the bend?
She looked down the aisle, paws full of roses, and supposed that it was at the moment when she understood that his pretty lies about a Hollywood where talent, not species, would be what mattered weren't lies at all. They were the gospel truth, and he gave her the world as a courting gift, before they were anything more than just coming-to-be-friends.
When the priest said that he could kiss the bride, the applause was thunderous. One lucky photographer caught them together, her bouquet held over his head, shedding rose petals all around them like velvet raindrops, her eyes closed as he dipped her low, their tails twined together; that picture was the cover of Life Magazine, and for their first anniversary, Danny bought the negatives, and had a copy framed and mounted in their front hall. He was always doing things like that, always treating her to the best the world had to offer. That was her Danny.
The kittens came like clockwork, one a year, until they had their little choir of four. Mary, who looked just like her father, and who wanted to grow up to be a doctor. Mark, with his funny white and brown stripes and his raccoon's mask around his eyes, who had a natural gift for comedy. Peter, who sang like an angel and had Sawyer's white fur and sleek lines, and finally Becky, with her calico patterns and sweet disposition. They stopped at four, and they were a family, and they were content. Sawyer stayed home with the kittens for the first few years, and Danny cut a swath through Hollywood as one of the most desireable leading men in the industry, and if life could have been any better, she didn't know how.
Life stayed good for so long it was almost a miracle. Mark and Becky went to work for Disney, putting in their time and paying their dues as child actors. Peter took voice lessons and wrote songs, laborously at first, but with more and more grace and freedom, until it became plain that he was eschewing the family business in favour of something similar but entirely different; their little boy was Broadway-bound. And Mary, darling Mary, worked hard at her lessons, and didn't swerve from her goal of going to medical school. To be a doctor, licensed to work with all mammalian species, not just a veterinarian or a nurse.
Sawyer went back to work when Becky was six. The parts came slowly at first, but then faster, and faster; feline females aged more gracefully than their human counterparts, with fur and natural fluidity to mask and forgive the effects of time, and her absence had made her fresh and new once more in the eyes of the public. The parts came fast and marvelous and better than ever, and the children cheered for their mother as she stepped back onto the silver screen, and Danny, wonderful Danny, was always there to applaud for her, more loudly than any other figure in the crowd. The sound of his paws clapping was what lifted her up, above the common cat, above the common actress, above every other actress in the world.
Danny never won an Academy Award. Sawyer won five. Neither of them ever felt that this was less than fair; his work was less subtle than hers, less layered, while hers lacked the gleeful fire of his madcap approach to everything from Shakespeare to horror. Between them, they lit the world on fire, the glamourous actress and the laughing leading man.
They raised four kittens from blind, needy specks of potential to wonderful, fully-realized individuals. Saw Mary graduate from medical school, Mark settled with his own sitcom, Peter take home the Tony, and Becky take the first careful steps towards growing up to be, not her mother's successor, as everyone had always assumed, but her father's, full of fire and naturally razor-sharp timing. They had time together and time apart, they fought and they made good on their fights, and they had, when all was said and done, the world.
Only the world.
When Sawyer appeared on television for the first time after Danny passed away (thirty years together, him constantly surprising her, nothing could be too loud or too flashy, and he'd left silently, while both of them slept, like the best surprise of all would be to exit without kicking up a fuss), she'd smiled at the camera, that famous smile, the smile Danny taught her how to use again, and said, "He always told me life was the show you lived without an encore. That the best you can hope for is a standing ovation at the end."
And all around the world, people stood up, and they applauded. Humans, animals, everyone, together, they stood up, and they clapped.
Cats don't dance?
"Danny, baby," Sawyer whispered, "cats don't
Cats Don't Dance characters © Warner Bros.