Monday, May 2, 2011

Fearless hunters

Our house was made for cats; three stories, tall and skinny, straight up into the trees, with lots of windows. Chestnut and Cleo spend their time between naps dashing from window to window, clattering up and down stairs, chattering at birds and squirrels.

Deer render them silent, but fascination and curiosity always get the better of them and they peer over the lips of window sills, resting their paws gently on the wood, ready to duck down and slink away at a moments notice.

Of course we’ve had our share of mice scrabbling in the walls and the few that have ventured into the house have not been long for the world, but the thing that probably occupies the cats’ time the most is moths and other doomed flitting things that find their way inside.

In the summertime hordes of moths plaster the front of our house, drawn to the outside light. Some of the moths are the size of small birds. The cats know this and wait by the door. Well, Cleo waits by the door, Chestnut sits on the bottom step of the short flight up to the kitchen ready for a quick getaway if Murdoch decides to lunge in his direction.

Inevitably moths get in, no matter how much we flap our hands and turn off lights and fumble around in the dark to let the dogs out. So we spend many summer evenings racing the cats to capture the papery fluttering creatures, and set them free again.

They’ve already started to appear, and as I lay in bed reading one evening I became aware of the cats sitting pin-straight, side by side, almost pressed right up against the wall, staring bug eyed at the ceiling. Our bedroom is the top floor of our house, the ceiling follows the line of the roof, peaked in the center and sloping down to three-foot walls on either side of the room. The bed, pushed up against one of those walls, sits directly on the floor, as does my reading lamp, which is often the last light on in the house and is a beacon for wayward moths.

I put down my book with a deep sigh and followed their gazes up the slope of the ceiling. The brown moth rested just out of their reach, the most enticing place it could be. The cats stretched up the wall, their claws clicking against wood. I tried turning off the light for a while, but when I turned it back on the moth hadn’t moved and the cats were still sitting, rapt, eyes like marbles, the tips of their tails flicking back and forth.

Great. Either I was going to have to get up and catch the moth or listen to the two of them dance about for half the night, then feel guilty for letting the poor thing get eaten.

Cleo began to pace restlessly then stood poised to jump onto the dresser that stood against the joining wall and would put her within reach of the moth.

“Cleo!” I said sharply, slapping my hand on the wooden floor to try and break her concentration. She ignored me and launched herself onto the dresser, landing on the clock radio. It blared to statically crashing life. This she also ignored as she tiptoed around in a circle to get her balance, never once taking her eyes from the moth. I flung back the covers, leapt across the floor and gave Cleo a hefty shove. She landed with a loud thump that managed to sound annoyed.

I turned off the radio and then reached for the moth. I caught it on my first try, folding the fingers of my right hand gently over my palm, closing the moth inside, where its wings whispered against my skin.

I opened the window just enough, as the cats looked on in wide-eyed disbelief, and pushed my arm out into the black night before opening my hand. I pulled it back quickly and closed the window so nothing else would fly in. As I gave the window a final crank closed, I felt something crawling on the back of my hand and I shook it without thinking. The moth fluttered into the shadows of the room.

I didn’t see where it went, neither did the cats, but they knew it was somewhere. I joined them on the edge of the bed and the three of us, sitting tall and straining to hear the dry patter of moth wings on wood, scanned the ceiling in silence.

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