You would think, given my secret-superhero nickname of Miss Kitty (as in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking), that I would be the very epitome, the avatar, of the Crazy Cat Lady. Crazy, yes; I’m happy to admit to that achievement. But I’ve never owned, been owned by, or lived for any length of time with, a cat. Let alone multiple cats. I really like cats. They seem to like me, too. But I’ve never had the space, time, cash, and commitment required to be a good housemate for cats, so they have remained as exotic as their wild and king-of-the-jungle cousins all are to me.
Right now, though, I am one of a cadre of stepmothers to the next door duo. I get a great kick out of anthropomorphizing and observing them, not to mention, being fawned over when I am granted that privilege. Sophia, half the size of her housemate Jackson, is twice the social character. She almost invariably greets me (or any other visitor to the house, as far as I can tell) right at the front door with a cat-style howdy-do and the perfectly evident expectation that she will be thoroughly admired and, very probably, will soon allow the appropriately worshipful visitor to pet her at least a little. Jackson would rather maintain his air of gentlemanly reserve and either disappear at the very sound of movement in the house or repair to a shadowy corner under some furniture, from whence he can observe and assess the goings-on and the potential dangers of the visiting party. He is large and fit enough to hold his own in an encounter, but would rather keep his savoir-faire intact with a proper feline aloofness and fine manners than to be so crass as to interact with anyone he didn’t himself invite for a visit.
But their human companion’s lengthy absence brings about gradual, inevitable variations on their routines, and adds many layers to the interactions with us substitute companions.
Let’s be right up front about the least appealing of the interactions, which of course is the cleaning and maintenance of the Feline Facilities, a.k.a. the litter box. While we all process our food into waste products that must be disposed of properly, I will readily admit that fecal cleanup duty (She said DOODY!) is a factor in my choice not to have cat companions in my home full-time, just as it plays, however infinitesimal, a part in why I opted not to have children. Assuming I was ever physiologically capable of the latter. I would be fairly happy if excrement played as little a part in my physical life as I want it to in my emotional and metaphorical existence. I do, however, consider that any creatures existing at my mercy as much as house cats do deserve cleanliness and fresh air and the like, so I doody-fully manage the litter box contents.
Then I can enjoy the pleasanter aspects of cat companionship with a clear conscience.
Sophia, as Social Director of the household activities, oversees my subsequent ceremonial washing of the hands, cleaning and refilling the water dish, and topping up the food bowl. She will make herself more closely available for intermittent petting by placing her royal magnificence between me and any houseplants I attempt to water or mail I put in the basket, but is content to let me fill water and food dishes without intervention, lest I get behind in those more important tasks. I am careful, meanwhile, to wash hands not only after the litter box endeavors but also after handling food, wiping a little spot of post-wet-food spit-up from the floor, or clipping a dead leaf off of the houseplants; this serves both to keep me from contaminating anything the Kids eat or play with and to scent my hands with something that seems more familiar and less off-putting to Jackson.
Because, though he is reticent and even shy at times, Jackson is also secretly interested in having a social life. He just prefers it to be at his own more leisurely pace and with a small degree of built-in comfort. He came out of his shadowy corner to inspect my perimeter and check my vitals, even on my first visit as Assistant Cat Admirer. But I had to earn the privilege first. I ignored him, politely. After my ablutions with his hu-mom’s soap, I sat in the middle of the living room floor, quietly looking out the window. Sophia made a beeline for me and wreathed herself sinuously around my parked personage, magnanimously letting me scratch her behind the ears and stroke her silky pelt, and giving me tender little love-nips whenever I strayed from the intended spot for too long. Jackson, I could feel through my back, sat back and observed.
Once I’d stayed lounging on the floor long enough to assure him of my low-key intentions, Jackson gave a couple of interrogatory meows, paced over to my back, rubbed himself up against my spine in a testing-while-marking sort of embrace, and made a slow circuit of my cross-legged figure. When he paused in front of me, I didn’t even offer a hand, not just yet. I gave him that little How-ya-doin’ nod that I see cats give each other, and the slow blink that told him I wasn’t just baiting him for a pounce. After a couple more loops and meow announcements, he stopped long enough for a head bunt and a hand check. I was admitted to the club.
Every day since, Sophia has remained the primary greeter, supervisor, and fearless leader of the operation, though only a couple of times being quite energetic enough to attempt to squirt by me through an open door. I suspect her of liking the capture and return to indoor attention just as much as she likes the quick sprint and leap, but I’ll let her think that I don’t know it. I know they both have their little exercise sessions when left to their own devices, if nothing else because various small objects move from place to place overnight and the living room area rug is always repositioned and has new hills and valleys in it in the morning. But they both like to keep a fairly leisurely pace and attitude while I’m around. Sometimes, one or both will consent to a brushing, along with the required massage and stroking—yesterday, Jackson completely forgot his sang-froid and insisted on a vigorous combing and petting session for about five minutes before strolling back to the shade.
Tomorrow? Who knows. I may find that they have forgotten to hide the evidence of an all-neighborhood-all-night catnip party. But I’ll bet that they’ll still maintain their air of calm self-assurance in my service and admiration. And that’s quite all right with me.