I opened the front door wide that not-so-cold day in January after the papers I threw into the woodstove tumbled out again, edged in orange and sending currents of smoke up to the ceiling. I thought about the smoke alarm overhead and braced myself for the piercing screech as I stamped out what little flame there was with the metal ash shovel and jostled around the dogs to open the door for fresh air and to shoo them outside.
The alarm blared as I scooped up as much of the smoking mass that I could, which crumbled in to smaller and smaller pieces, and tossed it back into the woodstove. And then I dashed up the stairs to silence the smoke alarm.
Amidst all this action sat Cleo, ensconced in the big black bean bag chair which I plunked down in front of the fire this past fall, looking forward to curling up with a good book in the warmest spot of the house on some of those more brutally cold winter days. Of course the cats also thought that was an excellent idea and always managed to beat me to it. That day Cleo had spent the entire morning snoozing in her little nest and as smoke curled towards the ceiling and the dogs were ushered outside to the accompaniment of the smoke alarm, Cleo sat up and watched with some interest.
When the door wasn’t immediately closed again, and the cold air coming in wasn’t laced with ice like it had been throughout December, Cleo uncurled herself and stretched slowly, arching her back with her eyes fixed on the open door, and then made her way carefully across the floor to the great, white, outdoors.
I watched her do this while I finished cleaning up the mess and wondered briefly about Molly getting excited to see Cleo outside, a new take on this whole cat thing, and using the opportunity to chase her, which would of course incite Murdoch to do the same. I imagined Cleo disappearing in the deep snow beside the deck or dashing off up the trail into the woods with the dogs hot on her tail and me trailing behind trying to stop the impending train wreck. But when I peered around the door, the three of them were innocently milling about, Murdoch and Molly craning to see what was happening in the house and Cleo staring at the snow beneath her feet as she minced about on the cold surface.
“Okay you guys, back inside,” I said and they all filed across the threshold.
That went well, I thought. Good old Cleo, mixing it up with a couple of dogs who have not been above trying to eat her on occasion.
It was within the first week Molly lived with us that she and Cleo came face-to-face for the first time and Cleo explained a couple of things to her about cats.
I returned that day with the dogs from a walk, bustling them inside and closing the door before I noticed Cleo had been lounging on the back side of the bean bag chair and had not yet made her escape.
Oh crap, I thought, then quickly said, “Who wants treats?” before the dogs became aware of her presence. They whipped around to face me where I stood at the door and turned their backs to Cleo. They sat politely as I pulled a couple of treats from the bag I carried in my pocket.
“Now’s your chance Cleo,” I said. “Go!”
But instead of making a beeline for the stairs, Cleo emerged over the top of the bean bag chair sort of like a sea creature might emerge out of the ocean. There was the sound of a million tiny Styrofoam beads shifting beneath her weight as the black faux leather molded to her shape before she stopped, her front legs draped over the voluminous material and stared, bright eyed and eager, at the bag of treats in my hand.
So I gave the dogs another treat, and another as I waited for Cleo to clue in that this might be a good time to leave the area. After another couple of treats, I gave up. “You’re on your own then,” I said with a shrug.
Molly saw her immediately upon realizing I was no longer dispensing treats and she lunged. I shouted her name but she took no notice. Cleo ran towards the stairs, Molly pounced, Cleo turned and ran the other way, Molly pounced. Cleo tried the stairs again and Molly was there, standing over her, eyes piercing, ears very much forward, nose poking aggressively at the small furry creature. Cleo turned and ran back the other way again and sought refuge inside the large blue Rubbermaid bin that we use as a laundry basket. It was lying on its short side so it stood tall and gaping and it wasn’t much of a hiding place, as Molly could fit her front half in as well if she really tried, but it was where Cleo finally made her stand. She was cornered and really had no other options than to hiss angrily and swipe a paw full of unsheathed claws across Molly’s nose. Molly jumped back, and then approached again, much more slowly, but this time when I said her name, she listened and turned and that was that.
So, very quickly, Cleo resumed her life as though nothing much had changed, sprawling out by the fire beside the dogs as she always has and meowing at them for attention, even though it’s not really the right kind of attention, while Chestnut continued living on the second floor of the house, keeping just out of sight and appearing silently on the stairs to cast evil glares from the shadows over all who fraternized with ‘that dog’.