Ellory’s developed a habit of swatting our ankles. “Have you noticed how often she tries to scratch us when we pass?” Taylor stared at the cat. The little animal stretched across the floor like a guilty bit of licorice taffy, paw still extended, eyes betraying knowledge of her transgression.
“Let her catch you one time.”
I’m home now during the day. I used to work from 9:00 to 5:00 every weekday, basically on the same schedule as Taylor, and only saw the cat after long days with no one else in the apartment. I walked through the door and she wove, serpentine, between my legs as I tried to walk to the kitchen table to put my things down. I stumbled over her as she trotted under my feet meowing. Next she scrambled to the closet where we keep her dry food, jumped up on two legs and pawed at the door knob, singing a mournful blues and hoping with round olive eyes that I wouldn’t ask Taylor if she’d been fed already. After being spurned, she tore through the apartment like a bug caught in a jar, from the living room window sill, down the hall to the bedroom closet, jumping against the walls and kicking up the carpet.
She’s an indoor cat in a large New York apartment – relative to any other living space, still bump-your-elbows small. She oscillates wildly between contentment with her little domain and wild bursts of energy, climbing the walls and running frantically from one window to the other searching for any bit of new territory. Claustrophobia is an infuriating feeling, of being the bug in the jar. I get that feeling on the subways. I’ve always thought of it as something resembling agoraphobia, and “a fear of crowds or too many people” is included its definition. But also included is a “fear of open spaces.” I don’t get anxious when I’m on a crowded beach with a thousand other people, nor when I’m alone in an elevator. I do, however, when the elevator is filled with people, or when those thousand people are in an auditorium. It’s more like a body-odor induced claustrophobia than a proper agoraphobia.
Either way, Taylor looked up why cats will go on sudden tears about their living space and discovered that particular breeds are more prone to such fits because of a chronic itching of their skin. I still like to think that her little imagination realizes there’s space outside her own and she decides to go after it every day or two. We call those moments “witching hours.” Oh lord, she’s witching again. One of Taylor’s school friends calls it “demons, demons, demons.” No matter the cause or the name, eventually the excitement wears off and she curls up to sleep somewhere near me or Taylor – close enough to satisfy her, but not so close that we get any cozy ideas about her affection for us.
Now I work 3:00 to 11:00 every day but Tuesday and Sunday. Taylor gets home an hour or so after I leave, so the cat is rarely alone for entire days. I’m home for long stretches during the day to observe the eccentric patterns of our hirsute tennant. I watch with fascination each of her routines. From where she sleeps and when, to how she lies when she naps in particular locations (most of her routines involve napping, relocating for new naps, eating, and sitting quietly while I cook). There’s also a bit of a feline uncertainty principle. She does things when I’m home that she wouldn’t do otherwise.
She sits on the kitchen window sill, which we usually wall off while we’re both gone to protect her from the gas stove (the stove from her, the apartment from both her and the stove). She climbs up onto the bookcase by the kitchen door and watches attentively only while I’m working at the counter or sink. I often sit at my desk, scratching my head, idly pecking away at the keyboard on some idea for another. She walks laps from the living room radiator, over my keyboard and desk, onto the bookshelf at my right, down to the floor, and back up onto the radiator to repeat. The least charming of these breaks from motif is that she now solicits constantly for food.
She gets wet food in the morning (which she hates) and dry food in the evening (which she loves) and will rarely eat even a bite of the wet if there’s so much as a chance that she’ll get a refill of the dry. Only after two hours of a completely empty dry food dish and unsuccessful begging, will she nibble at the wet. She cajoles in her high-pitched twittery voice and drags her claws along the closet door almost every time I walk past it. If I stand up and walk toward the hallway, she jumps from what she is doing and runs ahead of me to argue her case.
In recent weeks, after I decline to fill her dish a half dozen times, she quits the rigors of her schedule and plants herself in the hallway floor. As I approach, she rolls over on her back, stretches her paws, and exposes her matty, white ursine belly. We take this to mean “please.” But as I walk by her, she flips over and swats my ankles. We take this to mean “so be it.” For the first few days, I scolded her and kept walking and she rolled over to continue swiping as I left. Eventually, I decided to just stop where I stood when her paw struck my foot. Her claws glanced lazily off my skin and her paw stopped halfway to my toes. The other, no claws at all, came around to grip the back of my foot at my achilles tendon. She stopped and looked at me, unsure of what to do next. The whole demonstration was rather pitiful; the great tigress of middle Queens Boulevard, reduced to a pauper unsure of what to do when a passerby turns to listen.
I can relate.
To indulge for a moment the small heresy of a dog reference, I think often of Heath Ledger’s Joker goading Harvey “Two-Face” in Gotham General. I’m a dog chasing cars – I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one.