May 20, 2019

An Awful Tale of a Cat and a Bowl

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Animals are an integral part of my life but cats rule this house.

My wife was a recent graduate of veterinary college when we met.  You’d imagine that I’d have figured out the part animals were to play way back when we were making plans.  I didn’t.  Apparently I was focused on other things.  In any case, horses, cows, sheep, dogs, geese, ducks, chickens and cats have lived here for the last thirty years.  I gradually figured out that they’re what happens to the spouses of veterinarians.


At present we have two indoor cats.  Jinx and Alfred.

Jinx is gray and black, a short-haired tiger with leonine ideals.   He doesn’t walk.  He parades, each step a sinuous, deliberate placement.  Have no doubt:  This is his house.  He knows it.  Everybody else knows it, too.  When he was a kitten, he played exhaustively with one of Wendy’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers.  Lola was a puppy at the time.  Now they’re both older and Jinx is normally too dignified for such things.  But there are still instances when he’s not above chasing a big, fierce, Chesapeake Bay retriever ― who outweighs him by at least sixty-five pounds ― around the house.  It’s startling.  But Jinx knows who’s boss.  So does Lola.

Like the dogs, Alfred is in awe of Jinx.  He spits and hisses at his approach but deliberately seeks his company.  A younger brother forever imitating his elder, Alfred strives after Jinx but picks fights when they’re together.  Go figure.  He’s grey and white, a long-haired cat focused on being what he’s not.  In charge.

Regardless, Alfred has made a critical, not-to-be-forgotten rule in this house.
It began with the biorhythm peculiar to cats.  Ours sleep all day, waking only to disagree. Who gets the prime spots under the kitchen woodstove or atop the radiator?  Jinx always wins but that isn’t the point.  Where he goes, Alfred follows.  Spats inevitably ensue.

When we turn out the lights and go to bed, the two prowl, looking for trouble.  Cats are the things that go bump in the night.   That used to keep me awake.  But today, after years of exposure, I can’t sleep if change, pens and various loose items aren’t pushed off counter and table tops.  The mouse traps under the kitchen sink are deliberately sprung.  Cabinets rattle.  Kitty litter scrapes.

Over the years, cats have trained me as nothing else could.

For example Jinx used to drink from our toilets.

My wife couldn’t teach me to put the seats down.  She tried.  In fact, I always flushed (still do) but left them open deliberately.  Cats need to drink, too.

Alas!  Alfred never mastered the trick.

Our old-fashioned units are taller than newer models.  They’re high porcelain pedestals dipping far more steeply inside than modern commodes.

Late one night following a nocturnal visit, I carelessly left the top up.  As my wife pointed out ineffectively on innumerable, earlier occasions, that’s a bad idea.  Very.   In fact, I may as well admit right now that she was right ― although not for the reasons provided.

Sometime afterwards I awoke to an unusual sound ― not pens or change landing and rolling or mousetraps springing nor doors rattling, either.  (Any of those noises wouldn’t have woken me.)  “Huh?”  I rolled to my back in bed.

“What was that?”

My wife groaned beside me.  “What was what?”

“You didn’t hear it?”

“Hear what?”

Breathless we waited for repetition.  Our anticipation wasn’t protracted.  The sound of a dry mop hitting a full bucket while frantically struggling to avoid it echoed through the night.  Imagine mop fibers unwilling to absorb their place in life and fighting it for all they’re worth.

“That,” I explained unnecessarily.  “What in heaven’s name?”

“I can’t imagine,” my wife replied in hushed tones.

“It’s a washing machine with a broken agitator.”

Under the covers, both of Wendy’s hands sought mine.  “It’s upstairs, too.”  She paused, shivered and whispered, “Did somebody break in?”

“With all those dogs downstairs?  And not a single woof?  Hardly.”

“Aren’t you going to check it out?”

Okay.  My wife was right.  I should have gotten up.  I should have investigated.  Sleepy analysis is seldom effective.  But who wants to get out of a cozy, warm bed at three twenty-two in the morning?

With the reverberating crash of toilet seat and lid falling together and accompanied by a chorus of suddenly awakened, midnight dogs, a sodden, terrified cat bolted for the only safety he knew.  Us.  Unfortunately, he chose my side of the bed.  I suppose that it is closer to the bathroom.  With a leap rivaling Olympic pole-vaulters in the finals competition, Alfred cleared the blankets, comforters and quilts with inches to spare and landed squarely on my face.  Yuck!  My mouth was open, too.

I forget what I intended to say.

Ever been slapped by a wet towel in a locker room shower?  Use a soaked fur coat instead, add claws, panic and a bad attitude and you’ve got the basic idea.  Throw in an irate wife and a few thousand I-told-you-so-s.  Chase the whole experience down with a post-midnight hour.

I bet that would change you forever, too.  I’m not ashamed of surrendering male prerogative.  Yeah.  Now I put the seat down.  Meekly.  Politely.  Always.

Just don’t imagine that it was my wife who taught me.

Animals are an integral part of my life but cats rule this house.