Monday, October 18, 2010

Hidden agenda

Cleo stomps into the bedroom and marches stiff-legged towards a pile of clothes on the floor. I barely notice her, my attention focused on the book I’m reading, but something in Morgan snaps in that moment and in one motion he props himself up on an elbow, extends his other arm like a whip and points a rigid, angry finger at her.

“Cleo, don’t you even start.” The words tumble from his mouth so fast they trip over each other in their haste to reach the closest ear.

“Go,” he says, dramatically sweeping his pointing finger towards the door.

Cleo doesn’t even look at him, but turns abruptly and heads towards the door with a couple of quick steps as though gearing up for a run, then slows to a saunter that ends with her sinking to the floor as though she’s suddenly run out of energy. I look up to see Cleo stretch out her voluminous body right at the top of the stairs, which at the best of times are rather treacherous. The stairway from our bedroom plummets to the floor below at such a steep angle, at first glance you wonder where the repelling lines are.

“Great. That’s how we’re going to die you know,” says Morgan in all seriousness. “Tripping over a cat in the dark”

I burst out laughing. Even though it rings with truth, the idea seems so ridiculous. I immediately imagine the cats sitting around their food dish plotting our demise. But then I look at Cleo’s gray and beige-splotched back, her head held at such a defiantly straight angle, her ears standing tall on her head and I realize Cleo has been a lot more mysterious lately. Her loopyness is legendary, but looking at her now, I realize I don’t really know anything about her.

Cleo has always marched to the beat of a different drum, but it was usually a very loud drum that banged out its rhythm just inches from your face. She has a needy streak a mile wide that turns off and on with the flick of a switch. One minute she’s perfectly happy gazing out the window, the next she’s urgently throwing herself in the path of anything with a pulse, manically winding herself around legs, or loudly sharpening her claws on wooden railings and corners of walls. In the quiet of an evening her shrill voice pierces the peace with a mournful, lost meow. “Cleo!” I yell in frustration; the yowling stops. I hear the thump, thump, thump of running feet. She appears with a distinct look of relief in her green eyes as if to say, “There you are, I thought I was all alone.”

Everything she does, it seems is designed to get a rise out of us. She makes herself as annoying as she can possibly be until everyone is yelling at her or chasing her or generally focusing their anger in her direction. She loves that stuff. But lately she’s been conspicuously quiet, almost purposely staying out of the way.

When I think about it, I can’t remember when I last spent any time with her. She’s big and round and not terribly stealthy, but in the last month she’s somehow managed to flit along just below the radar.

She used to barge her way onto my lap every morning and just about knock my mug of tea out of my hand in her desperation to get some attention. Cleo was the one who regularly stormed into the bedroom at some ungodly hour to find just the right type of rustling noise to shatter the silence and break into a sound sleep. But she doesn’t do that anymore, forcing Chestnut to take over. In fact she’s let Chestnut do all the bad stuff lately while she slinks off to a corner for a nap, after opening the baby gate just enough so Murdoch can “find his way” into the kitchen. It’s like she’s setting up distractions.

I watch her one morning while I’m eating breakfast. She stomps past me with great purpose on a beeline from the baby gate to the bathroom, her shoulder blades rhythmically counting off each stride. A few minutes later she returns on the same path, stomp, stomp, stomp. She seems to be pacing off times and distances.

“Cleo, what are you doing?” I ask, as she thumps past again. She ignores me completely as though her head is full of calculations and she can’t possibly stop now, especially not for frivolous back scratches or loving headbutts.

There was a time I thought she was in cahoots with Murdoch. Cleo does spend an inordinate amount of time in his space, sitting in his window, sleeping on top of his kennel, parading around in front of him. But no, when I really think about it, Cleo strikes me as more the type to work alone and as I follow her progress across the kitchen, yet again, I wonder what diabolical plans are swirling around in that head I always thought was full of air.

1 comment:

  1. I love the way you can turn your world into an art form, into art anchored to mere words. Yes, just words. Our culture has been so televisualized, so Utubed; the pleasure with the eye is ubiquitous and quick and can often occur in the company of others. Reading, on the other hand, is a solitary and complex activity, something we must do alone and it takes time and effort to understand our interaction with it. It always asks for some active effort. I love word art that is working on me - delivers a "pop" in my head. Your art usually works on me and your portrayal of Cleo is no exception.
    Most of us would just see a fat and dull cat lazing her way through her soft life whereas you step vividly inside your cat and tease out her "loppyness". You state that you "really don't know anything about her" and then proceed, with quick wit, to unveil many observed details of her eccentricities both in appearance and action. You see much, far more than the average, and you bring us close to your vision: she "stoops", she "angles her head defiantly", she seeks revenge against a scowling Morgan, she even plots your "demise", she mischievously frees that roughneck Murdoch, she obsessively "paces off time and distances". And, yes, we quickly agree: this large cat is really crazy. We laugh at her feline scheming. As usual, your writing is fluid and eloquent, clearly and solidly placing her "voluminous body" and her world into our laps: stairs that do not just fall but "plummet" [Yikes], "her shoulder blades rhythmically count off each stride", she cries with a "mournful, lost meow".
    And, you do all this with words - no streaming videos or pop-ups pushing pulsing visuals at us. Thanks, Heather.