Monday, March 8, 2010

Cleofatra vs. the baby gate

On a sunny day, warm rays filter through the forest of trees that march right up to our house, and spill through filmy windows of late winter. Great puddles of golden light temporarily stain the dark wooden floor with a swath of bright yellow before moving on to the couch, then the wall.

The cats are always the first to notice this warm light, indeed they find a way to appreciate the thin comfort the winter sun provides, spending their days following the little golden pools from place to place, including the extra wide step that marks the corner of our stairs at the spot where they turn and descend from the living room to the kitchen. Many a day we have found a cat sprawled out in that most hazardous location, lethargic in the yellow warmth, a sleepy, drunken look on their face. The moment is shattered in an instant with a grunt of discontentment as they are nudged forcefully from the spot by a foot looking to actually use the stairs for their intended purpose.

But I envy the cats those days. What must it be like to just collapse in a heap in any spot you want at any time because you’re tired and the sun hits you just right and the house is quiet and the melting snow beats out a sleepy rhythm as it drips from the edge of the roof; like at the end of a heavy spring shower where giant conglomerates of raindrops patter down from the trees.

It is on one such day I find Cleo stretched out on the floor asleep, glowing, inside a square of sun. The light glints off her whiskers and fur so she looks like she’s been dusted with sparkles and I know she’ll be warm and seem extra-soft to the touch if I reach down and pet her.

I disturb the air as I walk by and Cleo glances up at me through half-closed eyes of utter contentment, I think I can see a dopey smile on her face and I wonder, as I watch her head return to the sunny warmth of the floor, are cats supposed to have double chins?

I’m not really sure how Cleo got so fat. She was the second smallest kitten in the litter but when I think about it I don’t remember her ever being particularly sleek. One minute she was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and the next she had ballooned into a very round cat with a tiny head. She seems to have an obsession with food that has not been solved by feeding the cats specifically measured amounts of kibble at the same time the dogs eat their meals.

Cleo benefits greatly from her brother Chestnut being a grazer. Her tendency to be more of a hoover sees her face disappear into her dish and not come up for air until every last scrap of food is gone, then she moves on to anything Chestnut left behind.

Sprawled out in the sun, her white belly is a giant mound on the floor, her profile becomes like that of a beached whale. Cleo’s girth may allow her to trap more sun, but it also has proven a tad hazardous in day-to-day life, such as that time she got stuck trying to squeeze herself through a hole in the baby gate.

The gate sits at the top of the six steps that lead from the entryway into our kitchen. We put it there to stop Murdoch from taking over the entire house. When he proved himself capable of being trusted to stay out of his kennel unattended, we still wanted to contain him in an area where we could control the amount of damage he inflicted on our things. The baby gate served the purpose perfectly.

It’s one of those very basic old wooden-framed ones with two plastic panels full of holes the size of Loonies and a couple of wooden arms that fold over each other. One of the arms has notches in it and the other sports a metal hinge that drops into the appropriate notch so the panels can slide past each other and adjust to the width of the door.

After tripping over the gate and just about falling down the stairs in a tangle with the thing for the umpteenth time, Morgan finally fastened it to the wall with a hinge so we could use it like a door. He then cut a normal-cat-sized square hole in one bottom corner so Cleo, who likes to jump down between the spindles of the banister that overlooks the entryway from the kitchen and spend time with Murdoch, can escape when he gets too rough.

As I knelt before the dog food cupboard filling bowls for supper one evening, I found myself directly in line with the hole in the baby gate. Cleo, hearing the sound of food being dished, clamboured up the stairs and began to climb through the hole in her casual queen-of-the-universe kind of way. She reached through with her dainty front paws, followed by her head, then her shoulders, before coming to an abrupt halt. I watched as neck fat bunched at the back of her head and she reached forward with her front paws and tried to pull herself through while at the same time shoving with her back feet on the first step down.

She rocked back slightly then gave a couple of good full-body shoves forward before the momentum of her efforts caused the gate to begin to swing slowly open. Her green eyes widened as her front paws scrambled to hold on to the kitchen floor and pull herself forward again, but she pushed herself further away instead. When her back feet slipped off the top step, her front legs were extended as far as they could go, her toes strained to hold on and I could see the concentration on her face.

I was already near hysterics by the time her front paws finally lost contact with the kitchen floor as the gate continued its slow swing away from solid ground. Cleo hung for a moment about a foot above the second step down as the gate came to a stop. She was folded completely in half, her front end on one side of the gate, her back on the other. It looked like she was straining to touch her toes before she managed to slither through, front first, and drop down to the stairs with a gentle thud. As casually as though she was a seasoned celebrity who’d just pulled up to the curb in a limo and was greeting a mob of over-exuberant fans, Cleo hopped up the last couple of steps to the kitchen and sauntered towards her food dish with an air of having everything completely under control.

She hasn’t used the hole in the gate since.


  1. I like the way the entry moves from the general to the specific in the first five paragraphs, from the overall setting to fat Cleo herself. Your introductory, clear, and poetic description of the weak winter sun slipping into the house ["golden pools from place to place", for example], not only eloquently paints the initial scene but also, like the establishing shot in a film, prepares the reader-viewer for the thrust of the narrative - place, significant detail, tone, atmosphere, target, etc. I can see and feel this opening image;I can see a film artist at work here slowly panning the lens, in soft focus, over the interior of the house. It's as if you bring the setting to focus, to life not with "mere" words but with a video camera. Once you concisely write, "I'm not sure how Cleo got so fat", the cat story begins its journey. All so wonderfully accomplished, Heather.

  2. Marine Land called with a job offer and Cleo turned them down...Not enough money I guess