Monday, November 22, 2010

Murdoch is my best friend

Cleo’s round body makes me think of a lumbering armadillo as she picks her way through the jumble of boots and shoes that spill out from the corner of our entryway.

She tiptoes along the wall throwing sideways glances at Murdoch who lies stretched out in his kennel, deceptively despondent. I would think Cleo is trying to sneak past undetected to sit on the low sill of the bay window that looks out into the forest yet is still within the warm glow of the wood stove, except with every other step she utters a plaintive little high-pitched squeak.

I begin to think the sideways glances aren’t so much a safety precaution as Cleo trying to discern whether or not Murdoch is noticing her. She stops mid-stride, her front paw raised to step over the toe of one of Morgan’s shoes, and squeaks again. I hear the familiar rustle and clang of Murdoch moving around in his kennel and know he has pushed himself to a half-sitting position. Cleo’s paw hits the ground and she squeaks again, looking away almost coyly.

There is an explosion of clattering metal and feet skittering across linoleum as Murdoch launches himself from his kennel to stand, tall and stiff-legged over the cat.

“Murdoch,” I say with what I hope is a mildly threatening voice. “You be nice. I’m watching you.” From where I stand in the kitchen I can see his tail curves up rigidly over his back while his neck cranes to almost twice its length, casting a shadow over Cleo. She looks suddenly very small.

Murdoch towers over Cleo in an intimidating pose that calls to mind the Big Bad Wolf leaping out from behind a tree, gleaming teeth sharpened and unsheathed. There was a time when witnessing that would have resulted in me jumping up and down in a panic while rushing to Cleo’s aide. I would awkwardly scoop up her balloon-like body, clamping my arms tightly around her wriggling girth, and whisk her away before Murdoch could turn her into a pre-dinner snack. But I have since learned their relationship is a complicated one; Cleo actually seems to enjoy these, often times violent, little skirmishes.

A peep escapes her throat as she tries to turn around. Murdoch lunges with scrabbling paws and a guttural huff that sounds like a battle cry, then stabs her roughly in the side with his nose.

“Murdoch,” I say sharply. “That’s enough!” He lunges again and clamps his giant jaws down over her neck and shoulders.

“Hey!” I holler in a voice that doesn’t sound at all like mine. “In kennel!” I am halfway down the stairs when I say it and he lets go of the cat. The pressure that began to pile up like a storm cloud in the house and made Murdoch’s body tense with potential mayhem dissipates as though it was never there. Murdoch wanders back to his kennel with a casual fluidity, if he could shrug with the haughty disinterest of a teenager, he would do it now, “Whatever.”

Cleo dashes up the stairs. The hair on her back is stuck out at strange angles, slicked into clumps with dog slobber.

I glare at Murdoch. “That was not nice,” I say. He looks back at me, completely relaxed, not an ounce of malice in his face. Does he think they’re playing? I wonder. Does she think they’re playing?

The problem is Murdoch is by nature a rough-houser. He doesn’t consider it a good day unless blood has been drawn, while Cleo can’t seem to fathom a world in which everyone doesn’t love her, making her instinct for self preservation a little sketchy.

I truly believe if she were to get outside and meet up with a real wolf in the woods she would try and befriend it. “Hey, you’re a dog!” she would say while running eagerly towards the bewildered creature. “So am I!”

It’s understandable the line between species may be a little blurry for Chestnut and Cleo, the pair have mingled with dogs since they were three weeks old and at one time even thought Bear was their mother, much to her mortification. But somewhere along the way Chestnut realized he was a cat and when Murdoch showed up, a wild giant jaw that threatened to eat anything smaller than itself and maim everything else, he developed a healthy fear of him, while Cleo found him fascinating.

I’m not sure she gets it. But then maybe she understands far more than I do. About an hour after Murdoch tried to inhale her, I look over the railing to see Cleo back in the entryway snuggled up on the edge of a blanket in front of the woodstove, her eyes half-closed in utter contentment. Two feet away Murdoch is sprawled languidly on the floor, basking in the heat of the fire.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the "light" activities of these combatants, the movement of the entry coming from the interplay between these two beautiful antagonists: Cleo, a most well-rounded cat, intends to sleep between the big paws of a wolf, Murdoch. At the bottom of the "heart of darkness", there is always a ravenous lupine who can usually be bested by a sly feline. And such is Cleo. You get their world close to the readers and it is quite easy for us to see their "game" unfold. Cleo simply decides to play "Let's pretend I'm a small morsel of food and you're a hungry wolf." You're a brave soul, Heather, for you actually let them play it all out.
    Although there is plenty of amusement, pleasant diversion here, there is also much more. Your entries, such as this one, often reward us; we become, through these animals, more deeply aware of some of the enduring truths of human life: tolerance, the goodness of life, courage, live with gusto, etc.
    As aside I add the following: In Rome, there is a law that makes it illegal to remove cats from places where they've established a home. Every morning, to an excavated Roman temple now also a cat sanctuary, volunteers, "gattera", cat ladies bring buckets of water and food to the stray cats. Some of these cat areas have even become tourist "attractions". I suspect, Heather, that should you ever live in Rome, you would be a gattera, a great gattera.