Many writers have cats. I see them on Twitter all the time. A writer needs a cat, I decided. It was obvious. What’s cozier than a cat curled up nearby while you sit at your computer and weave stories? A cat gazing at you with sleepy approving eyes, content to just be near its human. Except...cats don’t necessarily cooperate in this regard.
Let’s say I have a cat. And let’s say I got said cat from a deviously cute display in the pet food section of a department store, courtesy of the local animal shelter. And let’s say she was on sale for just ten dollars. I don’t know why she was so cheap, but maybe it was because she was still healing from a C-section and being spayed, and had only recently weaned her kittens. I felt sorry for her, having to give up her offspring. Plus, she allowed me to hold her without trying to get away. And then, of course, there was that wonderful bargain price of ten bucks. Those three points figured strongly into my impulsive decision.
So I filled out the paperwork, paid the money, and they put her in a cardboard pet carrier (which cost me five dollars). Still, fifteen dollars wasn’t a bad price for a relatively mature cat that would require little in the way of maintenance. A gorgeous furry little companion for me. We went home.
I don’t remember now what they had named this cat at the shelter, Tiffany or Buttercup or something, but she did not respond to the name at all. I set about finding a name she would answer to. After many false starts, I finally hit on the right one: Kitty.
“That’s original,” my girlfriend remarked.
“It’s a great name. Direct, descriptive, to the point.” I shrugged and smiled. “Besides, it’s the only one that works.”
On the first day in her new home, Kitty wandered leisurely about, exploring. She was disdainful of my attempts to engage her in play with all the toys I had bought for her (another ten dollars out of my wallet, by the way), and she wasn’t exactly enamored of the expensive cat food (seventeen dollars, not that I’m complaining). In a burst of enthusiasm, I said, “I’m going to prepare food for her myself. If I have chicken, she’ll have chicken. If I have steak, I’ll fix some for her.”
“You don’t even cook for yourself,” my girlfriend reminded me. “Or me, for that matter.”
“Well, I’m going to start.” I was determined to treat my new pet like royalty.
Just one problem. Kitty didn’t want home-cooked food. Trial and error ensued. Turns out, Kitty likes cheap dry food, a brand which I won’t mention, supplemented with a few spoonfuls of canned cat food. So much for my good intentions. (I did find out much later that she doesn’t mind eating my girlfriend’s tacos if she steps away from them for a minute or two, but that’s a story for another time. It was the beginning of an unfortunate silent feud that continues between the two of them to this day.)
As Kitty and I began the process of getting to know each other, I soon realized she had no idea how to cuddle with a human. And she let me know with sharp claws and warning nips that she didn’t exactly appreciate my attempts at affection. I had almost come to the conclusion that she’d been a feral animal before being captured by the animal shelter. Sometimes she even flinched when I reached out to pet her, which made me feel about two inches tall.
“Oh, my lord!” my girlfriend exclaimed. “You have to get her to a vet. Right away.”
Kitty’s surgery incision was inflamed, gaping and oozing in places, and there was a tunnel-shaped wound that went straight through one of her teats and out the other side. Unbelievable as it sounds, it looked for all the world as if someone had tried to give her a piercing. I was horrified.
An emergency trip to the vet revealed that Kitty had a severe infection, though the vet could not explain why her nipple was in such deplorable condition. He speculated that one of her nursing kittens had perforated the skin and then infection had hollowed out the injury. Kitty got a shot, some oral medication which I was instructed to force-feed her for the next week, and a tube of ointment I was to apply several times a day to her sore belly. I got a bill for a hundred dollars.
Within a few days, Kitty was a new animal. And for my nursing efforts, I was rewarded with multiple abrasions on my hands and wrists. But I was elated, thinking we could have a fresh start now that she was getting well. I envisioned Kitty on my lap, snuggling next to me as I watched television, sitting adoringly at my side as I worked on my writing, bounding eagerly toward me when I called her name. This was a fantasy. Though Kitty felt much better, she did not capitulate to my idea of what a cat should be. I had to adjust my expectations.
As time went on, she did start showing me affection in subtle ways. A rub against my leg. Nearly tripping me as she darted ninja-like into my path without warning; I took this to mean she was in a hurry to be near me. Taking over my favorite chair if I got up to refill my glass; I interpreted this as a desire to feel close to me. And she let me hold her. Our relationship was definitely moving right along. She hardly bit me anymore, and only scratched me if I wasn’t careful. She developed a passing interest in some of her toys, as long as I would keep them dancing about in intriguing ways. Yep, we were bonding. I couldn’t help but brag on our progress.
“You are silly over that animal,” my girlfriend noted, still stewing about her lost tacos, which she had refused to eat after they had a few cat germs on them. I guess I can’t blame her. But really, what cat could forego delicious-smelling tacos fresh from a great restaurant? To make matters worse, Kitty hadn’t even had the decency to look guilty at the time. Anyway, like I said, that’s a story for another day. I only bring it up to illustrate that my girlfriend was losing patience with my devotion to my new pet. “When was the last time we had a conversation that didn’t involve Kitty?”
“Oh, come on,” I cajoled. “You’re exaggerating.” But actually, she wasn’t. I could expound at length about the shifting gold-green color of Kitty’s eyes, how cute it was when she ignored me, how smart she was, how I thought she was starting to adjust to her new environment.
Anyway, I made a spot for Kitty’s pet pillow ($14.00) on my desk, still unable to abandon the idea of having a cat by my side as I worked on my novels. Ha! It was at that point I inadvertently discovered the one thing that makes me irresistible to my cat. Never is she more desirous of affection and interaction than when I am trying to write. And this is the point of my entire article, though it has taken me awhile to get here.
From repeatedly tossing her toy mouse in the air to rolling on her back all over the floor to marching across my keyboard, Kitty does her level best to distract me from my purpose. She might as well be screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m so cute. Pet me. Pet me now."
I pluck her from my laptop and place her on her pillow, get her settled, delete the gibberish she has inserted into my document, and five minutes later she’s back. If I shut her out of the room, she scratches at the door and cries. It’s too pitiful to bear. (And rather flattering to my ego, I must admit.) So I carry her around a little while, get her interested in looking out the window (a dangerous proposition should my landlady happen by), and return to my work. And it starts over again.
“You are spoiling that animal, you know. You’re just reinforcing her bad behavior.”
She’s right but I won’t admit it. “She loves me, that’s all. I think she gets a little jealous of the computer.”
“Really? I don’t buy it. She doesn’t get jealous of the TV. Or your Kindle. Or your phone. Or...”
I hold up a hand, and put forth an alternative theory. “Maybe it’s you who is jealous. Of Kitty.”
The look on her face told me I had crossed a line. After a heartbeat or two of ominous silence, I masterfully backpedaled and diverted her with a bit of well-timed and self-effacing humor. It was relationship wizardry, if I do say so myself.
At this point, I must come to the defense of the woman I’m dating, who is normally a very patient person. A nurse, in fact. But, her nylons have been ruined by playful claws (the hemline of her skirt swished alluringly as she walked by, an overwhelming temptation for any cat). Her hairstyle, some fancy bun-thing, attacked from behind when she sat on the sofa (I’m sure it looked to feline eyes like small furry prey clinging to the nape of her neck). Her food stolen when she turned her back (who knew the cat had a weakness for spicy tacos?). Her favorite TV show interrupted by Kitty scrambling around the room to catch a flashlight beam (directed by yours truly). Drinks knocked over in her lap, her open purse rifled through by curious paws, her attempts at friendship snootily rebuffed. Kitty has tripped her (an accident), shed on her good clothes (also an accident), and frequently glares at her (intentional, I think).
I tend to cut Kitty a lot of slack, though, because I suspect she was abused in her former life. Maybe by a woman. In a swishy dress. With a curly bun. This explanation causes my girlfriend to roll her eyes, a gesture that for some inexplicable reason, I really like. But, back to the subject: my ten-dollar cat.
Kitty seems to perceive my writing intentions before I even enter my home office. I’ll often go in and find her already there, possessively occupying the chair in front of my desk or sprawled across the keyboard. After I move her, she sits at my feet and taps my leg with a paw. Each tap feels like a word. Hey. Hey, you. Hey. Evan, hey!
I then had the brilliant idea that Kitty just needed a computer of her own. It wasn’t me she was obsessed with, I surmised, it was the laptop. So, I powered up my other PC, found a Youtube video of fish swimming in an aquarium, and sat her in front of the screen. This actually worked a total of three times. Three blissful uninterrupted times.
Then it suddenly ceased to amuse her and she was back like a circling mosquito, looking for an opportunity to pounce. A cat doesn’t really make a good co-author. At least, mine doesn’t.
Kitty has mellowed, appears more comfortable here, and seems to realize this place is her home. Her ways intrigue me. She’ll ignore expensive cat toys in favor of an ordinary shoelace. She loves to inspect sacks from the store, rifling through them as if searching for treasure. She has yet to meet a box that, in her estimation, is too small for her to fit inside. Repeated failures do not divest her of this belief. She and my girlfriend have entered into a truce of sorts, the terms negotiated by me, which include Kitty going to the basement whenever we have take-out or if my girlfriend is dressed up for a night on the town. The cat still won’t curl up beside me on the sofa when I watch television or sleep at the foot of my bed. But certain things really get her attention, like opening a can of cat food. Or powering up my laptop. All in all, she’s pretty spiffy for a ten-dollar cat.
Of course, this is all conjecture. My lease agreement doesn’t allow pets, remember? (wink)