Mouchette is spread across the top of the couch like an oil spill: shiny and undulant. When I stroke her, she elongates in that peculiar way cats have, as if they’ve read all the werewolf novels and are practicing their bone-liquifying tricks. Her little black and white patchwork head tilts up, nose poking at my hand, and I feel overwhelming love for this little oddity, who’s affectionate but never needy, unlike Fitzroy who checks in like a neurotic lover several times a day.
But I can’t help loving Fitz more because he stares at me in reproof if I don’t. Because he makes that Prrup noise when he jumps. Because he thanks me for meals. Because he loves being brushed and endures being cradled (white paws pushing at my crooning lips, face turned away with that mom-don’t-embarrass-me expression, but still purring) and rouses me when I sink into depressive torpor. He seems to know exactly when I’m thinking that life is just too much to bother with. He jumps on the bed and makes a racket, a very specific angry-anxious meow, repeated as necessary. I have no choice but to get up, make tea and find something useful to do, like changing the kitty litter or working.
Mouchette slinks in my room when I’m on the bed reading, waits for permission to ascend, then uses my bent legs as a tunnel, going through and back again in a way that reminds me of being a child, riding my bike through the flesh-colored porte-cochere of our house in New Jersey.* The fit is tighter for Mouchette than it was for me on my bike but that’s what makes it fun, her hard little skull getting its pleasure from squeezing through the crook of my knees, her body following like a greased licorice stick. I watch her and feel deliciously idle and female, girl-talking as she makes the circuit, admiring her sleek shininess. Fitz watches balefully from the floor, waiting to bite one or both of us.
For weeks, the only sounds Mouchette made were when Fitzroy attacked her. She’d scream or squeal or make a low, plaintive growling noise. I thought she was the silent type, human-wise. But lately she’s been practicing her meows. I’ll hear her and yell at Fitz to stop beating up his sister, only to go in the other room and find her sitting by herself on the arm of the couch, squeaking like a nest of baby mice (and believe me, I know just what a nest of baby mice sounds like). “What is that supposed to mean?” I ask and she just looks at me with those big, innocent yellow eyes. Soon she’ll have all the basic cat tricks down. Only yesterday as I walked past her, sprawled on the top of the couch, she swiped at me with her paw, claws extended, for no reason but that she could. She looked so languidly pleased after.
Now she’s in the other room, playing with her new Perrier bottle cap. Fitz has a catnip mouse the sweet young pet store guy threw in as a freebie. No other catnip toy has interested him much, but this mouse, a featureless lump with a tail, the very epitome of why-would-I-spend-good-money-on-that-crap has him completely charmed. He’s running in circles, flipping it into the air, carrying it around in his mouth. I’m a sucker for the way cats look when they’re carrying something in their mouths, especially when it’s neither dead nor alive. They don’t look officious or manic the way dogs do. They look sexy, like French movie stars with cigarettes hanging from their lower lip.
* No Jersey jokes please. I grew up in a green and verdant land. So did Frank Sinatra, Philip Roth, Savion Glover and Meryl Streep. My mother-in-law knew Meryl when she was a teenager, working a summer job. Yogi Berra lived a few blocks away from my family. There were fireflies, ice cream, good sidewalks and woods for the cats to have their secret rituals far from human eyes.
There was a crooked man, and he went a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
- A cat is a lion in a jungle of small bushes.
- Indian Proverb
- Those that dislike cats will be carried to the cemetery in the rain.
- Dutch Proverb