Mouchette sits on my chest and her fur is soft as feathers. Soft as the goose down that drifts out of my pillows and comforter, collecting under the bed where the cats creep and hide. Often she has these curls of white goose stuck to her fur; maybe that’s what’s teaching her fur to be so feathery. Her little head looks like an owl’s head, now that she’s plump, with her round yellow eyes and unblinking stare. I’m glad she can’t fly though. She knocks over enough as it is, though it’s my fault for having a night table crowded with pills and glasses. She likes to prowl near my head. Who can fault her?
Smoothing the black and white feathers—I mean fur—of her shoulders and chest, I think about the claim she has on me, the only claim she has made in her short life. She runs from other people; she puts up with Fitzroy in an irritated sisterly way; she trusts me. This is about as much motherhood as I can handle. She seems to know when I’m feeling defeated: that’s when she sits on my chest. That’s when she looks at me, saying look at me! I am your cat, whom you cannot abandon. It’s only lately that she’s allowed me to stroke her chest down between her front legs—each new intimacy stitching her to my heart.
She’s learned that I adore it when she rolls on her back on the rug, legs splayed like a cooked chicken. So now, when she does it and I utter outrageous compliments, she’ll do more, sliding and twisting, tilting her head back to show her white throat that I love to touch with two fingers, feeling the pulse of her life so near. I named her Mouchette because she was such a waif-like cat, thinner than any cat I’d seen, except on the street, thin as licorice whips. Now she’s roly-poly, a little missus, and that bothered me at first but I’ve grown to like it. I imagine her in a tiny cottage, distilling herbs. I imagine her at the market, selecting petit fours: two pink, two green, two white, one lilac. I imagine her at home with six daughters, wondering who will marry each of them, and will he be good.
And I watch her when Fitzroy, who is neutered, attempts sex: she remains as she was before he climbed on her back, not moving, seemingly unbothered—certainly not as bothered as I am; I ache for him—gazing at me calmly. It’s only when he gets frustrated at his inability and starts obsessively licking her ears that she hisses, swipes at him with her paw, then stalks away. Does she, too, dream of sex, not knowing what it is? If she does, she’ll never tell.