When I was a boy, the cats I knew had jobs, like regular folks. Orange Tom, my father’s favorite, and Tom’s gray-haired female companion worked in our dairy barn keeping mice out of the feed. They earned a splash of fresh cow’s milk twice a day.
It was a beneficial association, legitimate contract labor, and one entirely appropriate to a cat’s inherent dignity.
Things change. I have a cat now. No barn. Only a cat. My cat, Silky the Siamese, has no idea that mice and feed don’t mix. Silky doesn’t work for a living, a thing I thought common in the feline world.
I have Silky, the unemployed cat because I wanted my wife.
After I met this really smart, funny, and sweet-smelling woman, after we had snuggled in movie theaters and held hands across restaurant tables and undertaken other semi-romantic adventures not requiring feline participation, she began to tell me more about herself, about her childhood, and about a female Siamese cat she’d had for more than twenty years. I learned Tammy, the cat’s name, not the woman’s, had recently gone to the Great Cat Heaven in the Sky.
The woman missed her greatly, and as she told me endearing stories of their two decades together, her eyes welled up with tears. Nothing will rearrange your opinion of cats like the smell of a woman’s hair when she sits on your lap and puts her arms around your neck, which is an activity not requiring feline participation. Of course, the woman wasn’t my wife when I first noticed how nice her hair smelled. But I didn’t have a cat then, did I?
You and I know from personal experience that men can be shabby creatures, boastful, given to showing off, especially when trying to impress a woman. You know, too, that a man’s audition for a lead role in any romantic drama tends toward the frenzied and implausible when a woman sheds tears. You’ll not be surprised when I tell you the tears, plus the scent of this woman’s hair, lilacs? roses? lavender?, had me thinking about finding a barn and kidnapping a cat.
I am not ashamed.
I came to my senses the next morning. I knew I’d trip over trouble if I couldn’t distinguish the line between love, cats, and gallantry. Instead of committing a feline felony, I began to search eagerly through the want-ad sections of every newspaper I could find. Finally, I stumbled onto the one thing that gave me hope that I might be able to waft in the fragrance of that soft brunette hair on a permanent basis:
Siamese kittens. No papers. Excellent pet quality. Two females. One male.
The phone number ending the advertisement belonged to a community a mere seventy miles away. “Hold me a kitten,” I said to the woman who answered the telephone. “A female, please. I need that cat.”
Few women can resist a man begging. She promised to keep a kitten until the upcoming weekend. It was simple to make up an excuse for a Saturday drive with the woman whose hair smelled nice. Early that morning we set out on the Great Cat Adventure.
Guess what? The place where the cat lived? It was next to a dynamite factory. An object lesson, an omen, an augury of things to come, I was to learn. The kitten was beautiful, I must admit. Better yet, it looked just like Tammy, the original. The woman was surprised and suitably impressed. More tears. A hug. I was allowed to sniff her hair for several minutes. I think she even purred, but I couldn’t hear her because the kitten was yowling.
As we journeyed home, I discovered a minor flaw in the sequence of happy events I had envisioned unfolding post–cat acquisition. The woman and I were not married then, a celebration my intuition had told me might be delayed until the cat had me housebroken. We set out, kitten on my lap, on the long drive home.
“Ouch! Geez, her little claws are like needles!” I said as we merged from the ramp onto the interstate and the kitten climbed onto my shoulder. “That’s why landlords like mine don’t allow people to have cats. Curtains, drapes, those sorts of things can get shredded,” said the woman, quite casually.
I looked down at the kitten. I licked the blood from the back of my hand. I realized I had no barn. The woman began to like me better and to love the cat dearly, but as the days and months passed, I began to think the cat and I simply shared the apartment like housemates who tolerate one another simply to avoid paying half the rent. The only time Silky appeared to enjoy my company was when I decided to have tuna for lunch. She liked the water from the can better than Orange Tom liked fresh cow’s milk.
The gentle swish when the can opener punctured the top may as well have been a fire alarm. Silky the cat appeared quicker than a volunteer fireman at a 9-1-1 call.
Otherwise, during those early years, I had to be asleep to be within touching distance of the creature. It appeared I had lived my entire life without understanding my feet make a perfect cat bed. If my feet were busy, Silky would agree to sleep on my chest, at least until my incipient asphyxiation. Blood oxygen levels are irrelevant to a Siamese’s idea of a good night’s rest.
This tale stumbled one step further toward its happily-ever-after ending when the woman whose hair smelled nice became my wife. We bought a house, and the three of us moved in together. Silky adored the woman. The woman adored Silky. I, having had the good sense to marry the woman, sometimes found myself acceptable cat furniture. I accepted those random moments in Silky’s company, stroking her fur and speculating on what was transpiring behind her bewitching blue eyes. I knew her presence meant I had been assigned a place in the Siamese universe. So opens the chapter in Silky’s biography where we introduce a new character, Beemer.
I’ve always liked dogs. I had become the owner of a house. Houses have yards. No yard is complete without a dog. I bought a dog. Simple male logic.
It began when the woman whose hair smelled nice decided she disliked her Volkswagen and wanted a new car. “A BMW is nice,” she offered. “So are dogs,” I agreed.
A successful marriage involves compromise. We bought the dog instead of the car. I named the dog Beemer, even though he was neither German nor a shepherd.
One minor problem. Silky the cat hated Beemer the dog. Despised, detested, abhorred him, found him obnoxious to the third power. How do I know that? Because Silky soiled the carpet. In front of me. While looking disparagingly at the dog. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to appear innocent. The soiling continued, leading me to a fundamental discovery relating to cats and discipline. Yelling doesn’t work. Neither does a clean litter box. Neither does escorting them to the door and politely suggesting alternate sites. Buying a tile floor does help, though. I only wish Beemer had told us he didn’t like our company and had moved out before I bought the tile floor. C’est la vie. At least avec des chats.
For years, my primary contact with Silky came only at night, during tuna lunches, and while she sat on my lap to await my wife’s attention. That regular intersection of our two not-quite-parallel lives continued until a few days after she ate forty-two inches of thread and then refused to eat anything at all. Veterinarians extract thread from a cat’s interior at a cost of precisely $15.42 per inch, in case you’re interested.
Upon her return home, I mentioned the expense to Silky, holding the bright blue credit card
in front of her. She rubbed against it with her nose and hopped into my wife’s lap.
Orange Tom, I’m certain, would have offered to get a second job.
For nearly two decades, I, like the graceful blue-point feline, have tuned myself to respond with affection and appreciation for the love the woman creates and shares. Silky continues to sleep on my feet, acknowledging in her own way that I am part of peace and joy in our home, a refuge that comforts the three of us taking rest on our marriage bed. I try now to never disturb the cat, having learned that the serene rhythm of her breathing resonates from the bottom of the bed and into my heart.
I no longer eat meat, but Silky still craves tuna water, and so the cans are hers alone. Other things have changed as well.
The woman we both adore once insisted on driving seventy miles, in the opposite direction this time, presupposing a belief in Siamese yin and yang, to purchase Dickie, a male kitten of the species. She had the quaint idea that if one Siamese did not revere me, one of the opposite sex might hold a different opinion. A faulty hypothesis, and another story altogether. One which would begin with my early recognition that Dickie, too, would never be the sort to understand that cats are supposed to work for a living.
It doesn’t matter. I still don’t have a barn.