Thursday, December 3, 2009
Cleo is one of those cats that make you realize why some people don’t like cats. She’s destructive, she pees in strange places when she’s mad - or if the wind blows out of the west - she’s flighty, demanding, completely self-centered and seems to enjoy hearing her name yelled so loudly it leaves an echo bouncing around in the shouter’s throat; only then will she come running.
It does sometimes seem as though she’s not from around here. And by around here, I mean Earth.
Cleo lives in an almost constant state of desperation. Everything is urgent and alarming. She’s not exactly cuddly, but she loves affection, as long as it’s on her terms. Mostly she molests people, and the dogs. Bear can hardly take one step without tripping over her voluminous body as it weaves around her legs. Cleo is static cling personified.
Her eyes point in opposite directions when she’s in a certain state of mind - or personality, if you get my meaning. She’s not walleyed per se, but her eyes sit slightly off-kilter sometimes and she kind of looks through you. It’s as though something has rattled loose in her brain. On most days her grey matter ticks along quite nicely but it cycles round in such a way the loose bit gets knocked askew and for a while she becomes someone else.
It can be traced back to the day when she was a kitten and tumbled from her perch on my shoulder. Without even thinking, my hand was beneath her as she plummeted past my knees and I caught her, splayed out on her back, perhaps causing her mild whiplash, before she had the chance to do that flippy-around-in-the-air-thing cats do. But she may have been too young even to know about that yet. She’s never been the same since.
Perhaps that was the cause of all her idiosyncracies, the most annoying of which has become her need to sink her pointy little claws into anything and everything that gets a violent reaction from us.
The couch was doomed the day Cleo gave up on the scratching post. For a few months at least Chestnut and Cleo dutifully sharpened their claws on the carpeted pedestal that sat in our living room. But one day that changed. Maybe Cleo decided she liked the feel of the taut, yet spongy fabric of the arm of the couch beneath her paws, or the particular pick and tear sound of her claws ripping through threads. Whatever it was, she was hooked.
She was at least discreet about it at first. We just noticed one day the left arm of the couch had taken on a particularly worn appearance. But after a while, as she settled into life as a rotund diva who thought everything was put there expressly for her amusement, she would stare directly at Morgan or I and massage her claws carefully into the couch then tear them out again in a slightly savage gesture. It was as though she wanted us to yell at her, get up and chase her across the living room. She delighted in our anger, dashing away at first, before slowing to a trot, then turning abruptly to quick-step back to where we stood, shaking with frustration. She would rub up against our legs, throw herself at us, purring and meowing.
It is this apparent need for destructive energy that probably attracted her to Murdoch in the first place. Murdoch - the hell hound disguised as a poor abandoned puppy sitting patiently on the side of the road.
Chestnut spent that first week after I brought the puppy home under the couch. If there had been enough room under there, Morgan, Bear, Max and I all would have joined him to get away from the swirling black vortex of shaggy hair and gleaming white teeth that was the overgrown puppy.
Cleo was the only one whose fascination got the better of her. While the rest of us tore out our hair, or curled into fetal positions in the face of his onslaughts, Cleo couldn’t get enough of him. She would lie in front of his kennel and watch him. The more excited he got, barking and shaking the metal cage, the more interested she became.
When we moved to our new house and the couch was relegated to the entryway with Murdoch, Cleo spent a lot more time underneath it. She must have fancied herself a scientist, obscured by her cleverly camouflaged blind where she could sit and make her observations.
One day I sat on the floor with my back against the couch, Murdoch sprawled at my side, his body stretched the length of my legs. He had just recently become manageable enough that I could sit with him for short periods of time without being mauled.
I tried to embody calm and spoke quietly to him while he writhed around on the floor as though trying to keep the demons from taking possession of his body again. I rubbed his chest and his ears, letting his manic energy bounce off of me and began to enjoy a few quiet moments with this problem dog. It didn’t last long.
I heard a loud scrabble under the couch. A split second later, I looked down and there was Cleo. She lay on her back, her claws sunk into the front of the couch where she had grabbed it and slid along the floor, propelling herself out from under her safe haven well past her shoulders. Everybody froze. Cleo stared at me as though she had no idea how she got there, then glanced at Murdoch whose head whipped around on his shoulders to look at her, though he still lay on his back. Not even the air particles moved around us for that moment when no one dared to breathe.
I had just a flicker of thought to get out of the way before the scene exploded. I made a hasty retreat as Murdoch dove under the couch where Cleo had just disappeared again. He was too big to fit right under it, so Cleo sat against the wall at the back of the couch and taunted him. It entertained her for hours.