Monday, July 26, 2010

So... hungry

The quiet of the afternoon is a heavy presence in the kitchen. Lazy sounds fill the space. The mechanical hum of the fridge. Sighs and deep, steady breaths of sleeping dogs. On the wall, the clock ticks out a plodding rhythm. Somewhere, the drip, drip of water.

Then a slow crinkling from the cupboard beneath the counter top.

In one stride I am beside the door, pulling it open. In the gloom of the cupboard I see Chestnut’s beige face, wide-eyed, indignant, peering over the dog food bag, his stripy front legs disappear into it. He’s frozen, looking at me as if standing still will make him invisible. I reach in behind and give him a shove. Soft, silky fur pushes back against my hand, then he starts to move slowly forward, stepping carefully over the bags and onto the kitchen floor. He takes his time as though he is doing nothing wrong. “Well what did you expect me to do?” he says with his shrugging walk. “Clearly you don’t care that my stomach is empty.”

If Chestnut suddenly developed the ability to speak English tomorrow, I’m sure his first words would be, “I’m starving!” yet, when he turns sideways he is the very un-cat-like square shape of a dairy cow. Chestnut is obsessed with food. He believes he is in imminent danger of wasting away.

While his empty dish mocks him, Chestnut takes matters into his own paws, goes directly to the source. Ingenuity fueled by desperation. He found the one cupboard door of the five beneath the counter top that opens differently than the others. With a curled paw underneath the bottom edge, a flick of the toes, it swings easily open.

Behind the doors the cupboard space is one long connected storage area, there are no walls compartmentalizing. I imagine Chestnut picking his way over and around the jumbled bags of potatoes and rice, beans and flour, careful not to make a sound, be found out too soon.

If we remember to chain that door shut, Chestnut spends his waking hours in the kitchen pacing desperately between the food cupboard and whoever happens to be nearby, including Bear. He walks with purpose and great seriousness, like he has something extremely important to tell everyone.

“My dish is empty,” he says with a head-butt under Bear’s chin. He rubs his creamy caramel body against her barrel chest. Bear, ignores him, holds her head high in the air, her mouth pulled tight. She glances furtively down her nose at the cat, careful not to let him see her take notice. Her eyes meet mine for a moment, I see white cat hairs stuck to her black face. “Okay Chestnut,” I say, swatting at him, “That’s enough.”

He rushes away, but stops within a few feet, turns and looks at me, his burnt-amber eyes bug out of his face. His pupils tiny black slits, his lips pursed. The face of panic. Somehow he looks gaunt, I swear I can see bags under his eyes.

“Please,” he begs, “My dish is empty.”

I tell him it’s not time to eat, he has to wait, then go back to what I was doing. Chestnut appears in my periphery, sidling up to the plastic laundry bin. He places the side of his face against its edge, then curls his lip back, teeth scrape against plastic. With a glazed look in his eye he begins to chew with the corner of his mouth on the curved edge of the bin, like he’s biting off the end of a cigar.

“Chestnut,” I hiss loudly. He snaps his head round to look at me, a faint wash of guilt on his face is quickly replaced by an eager and hopeful expression, “My dish is empty.” Then, with a whiney moan in his throat, tail swishing in frustration, he rubs against my leg, looks up at me with his cutest face.

I turn away, ignore him. He jumps onto a seat at the table, looks me in the eye, cranes his neck forward and repeats his side-chewing on the corner of the table. Wood crunches between teeth, I lunge at him. He thumps to the floor, scurries away, but not in remorse, he moves with a fluid confidence that says this is a game.

He finds a cardboard box and begins ripping chunks from it. He chews on the corner of my book that sticks out over the edge of the table. He chews on my toe, he runs between feet, he lies in the way, he trips everyone up.

“But surely,” he protests, “you must know, my dish is empty.”

I finally give in and scoop some food from the bag in the cupboard, he runs as though being chased by Murdoch himself, then hovers over his dish, anxiously awaiting the sweet plinking sound of kibble hitting metal. He takes a few bites, then walks away.

Cleo thumps down the stairs, stretches her back legs behind her like some kind of strange march as she strolls across the kitchen. The sound of food being poured awakened her from her nap. She pulls up close to the dish and settles her round girth about her. Cleo’s face disappears into the bowl and doesn’t come up for air until every last morsel is gone.

Twenty minutes later I am sitting at the kitchen table engrossed in some important thing and I become aware of Chestnut beside me. With one front paw on the seat of my chair, he stretches up with the other and taps me gently on the arm. I turn to look into his huge round eyes staring deeply into mine. “Excuse me,” they say with a hint of desperation, “but my dish is empty.”

1 comment:

  1. I loved it: so whimsical, so pleasurable to read, so engaging in tone and subject, so natural. The prologue image is eye-catching: cat poised, focused stare, sharp shadow, orange running onto the table with its knife edge exposing only his face. The light is beautiful, coming from above and putting his features before our vision. And, where is he sitting? At a dinner table, of course. Rembrandt would smile. It stops the viewer and colourfully points him/her to the article. I envy your artistic use of the camera.
    Yes, you use the soft poetical beauty of the intro paragraph to set the scene and then jar us a little with that "crinkling" noise before letting us see Chestnut himself. This hungry feline balloons, throughout the entry, into full character as you react, Bear reacts, and finally Cleo reacts. Why you even have Chestnut talk to us, as he irritatingly chews plastic, cardboard, and wood. The cat dialogue seems, well, so cat-like: "I'm starving." "My dish is empty." Small cat squeaks and even repetition with the latter line. Cats like to keep at us humans, so insistent. All your chosen details, expressed so artfully, simply pile up and, in the mind's eye, we see this incident as if we are actually there somehow: "shrugging walk" of cocky Chestnut, "white cat hairs stuck to " Bear's black face, Chestnut morphs into a "gaunt" starving animal with "bags under his eyes." I laughed at this image - poor skinny pet just wasting away. The last line from Chestnut himself perfectly closes the beautiful portrait of this cat: "My dish is empty."
    The article takes the right tone and we smile at your descriptive accomplishment here, Heather. Yes, you paint with artful strokes.