Monday, January 24, 2011

Morning exercise

Outside it is still. Nothing seems to move in the muffled white world except for a few flakes sifting down from the sky. Through the window I watch mini avalanches of snow tumble from the tops of trees and shatter into a million tiny shards like the spray of a great wave crashing over branches so heavily laden they are transformed into white drooping blobs of undefined shape.

On the stove the kettle begins its rush to boil and brings the white noise of a cascading waterfall into the kitchen. Cleo stomps by, stiff-legged and full of purpose as Chestnut watches from the stairs. His amber eyes track Cleo across the room as he sinks into a crouch.

There’s the pick of claws in carpet as Chestnut launches himself off the second step, then a whump and a surprised hiss as he lands on top of Cleo. They tumble across the floor in a jumbled ball of flailing limbs and whipping tails, bony elbows and knees clonk loudly against the wooden floor.

Tufts of creamy white hair flurry around them as though a feather pillow has burst a seam. So much fur settles to the floor in their wake I am surprised later when I don’t find any bald spots on their bodies.

They roll to a stop and leap apart then stand still for a moment poised on their haunches. Each holds a front paw at the ready, ears pinned back, eyes slits, tails swishing. With a jerky fluidity, they begin to circle each other.

“Get him Cleo,” I say. I usually cheer for Cleo, ever since the time Chestnut bit her ear too hard and left a tiny notch along its papery thin edge.

When Chestnut makes his move, he leaps straight up in the air, front paws splayed, claws unsheathed. But Cleo flips on her back and twists to the side as Chestnut lands on her fluffy white stomach and she grabs him around the neck, kicking his face with her back feet, claws rake through fur, catch on skin. I have found tiny scabs on Chestnut’s head more than once.

When he pulls back, Cleo leaps to her feet and scrambles away but Chestnut pounces again. A low growl emerges from Cleo’s throat then becomes a screeching yowl as Chestnut sinks his teeth into her neck.

“Okay. That’s enough,” I say and stomp my foot beside them. They both slink away like shadows.

On the stove the kettle whistles, piercing the air with urgency while the woodstove ticks quietly in the corner.


  1. So I gather that Cleo and Chestnut are not exactly bosom buddies?? That would be kind of nerve-wracking, I would be worrying all the time that one of them was going to get hurt! Fortunately, Linus and Lucy were littermates, so I never had to worry about introducing one to the other. Interestingly, they were never as "close" as I had always imagined littermate cats would be. And when Linus died - rather than being grief stricken as I feared, Lucy turned into this entirely different cat, in a good way. She really "blossomed." I never realized she was living in his shadow until he was gone! It is interesting and complicated, the relationships between cats.

    P.S. Loved your comments on the Lady post. Yes, that is exactly how I feel whenever I read one of your posts about Murdoch! I think we should form a support group - LOL!

  2. Actually Chestnut and Cleo are littermates too and they are quite close, though very different cats. Chestnut is the classic liquid-limbed lap cat with the super-charged purr, while Cleo is more of a conspiracy theorist. I think if she could she would fashion one of those tin-foil hats to keep anyone from getting into her head.

    They are really quite cute together, just sometimes when they play-fight Chestnut gets carried away, his inner gladiator comes out and Cleo gets overwhelmed quickly. More often than not I will find them curled up together in a chair not too long after it looked like they were trying to kill each other. Siblings.

  3. Ahhh, I see! Your descriptions of Chestnut and Cleo are priceless - picturing Cleo with a tin foil hat made me laugh out loud! :D

  4. A fun read, Heather. Your picture of these two feline gladiators is exact, concrete, vibrant; your tone is suitably light-hearted; your language, wonderfully lyrical. Reading can bring pleasure not only in the surface content of the piece but also in the use of language. With reference to the latter, you open with the snow "tumbling like the spray of a great wave" and the kettle a "white noise of a cascading waterfall". Imagist prose. You use both sight and sound - the well-chosen glottal verb "clonk" is preceded by "flailing limbs and whipping tails". Their claws "pick" at the carpet as Chestnut "whumps" and Cleo "hisses". These varied auditory appeals all occur in a mere two sentences. Language pleasure, Heather. As well, your language use is always connotative [rather than denotative] where appropriate. For example,claws are "unsheathed" suggesting knives, sharp blades. The cats do not just leave after the skirmish; they "slink away like shadows." The sibilant sounds and the simile perfectly echo the sound and the quiet movement of cats as well as linking that verb "slink" to their guilt. Nice touch - again, pleasure. In closing the story, the last sentence is beautifully balanced: the "kettle whistles" and the "woodstove ticks quietly". All returns to normalcy? In addition, this final sentence elicits pleasure in its symmetry: the story begins and ends with that kettle. The closing of the entry swings around to its opening and so we realize that the whole narrative occurs during the time it takes the kettle to complete its "rush to boil". The duration of this cat battle is swift and you don't simply tell us that, you creatively imply that. Once more the reader finds enjoyment in your writing, Heather. I smile widely as I read your work.