It is dark these winter mornings, even as the sun rises a little earlier each day. I awake to a dull light at the windows. A row of trees on each side of the room are dark gray rectangles punctuated by the black gnarled fingers of bare branches.
I close my eyes against the cold of the morning and wait for the light. The house is quiet and then Chestnut leaps unceremoniously into the room with a muted thunk and I lie in the melting darkness and listen to the pad, pad of his feet pacing out a semi-circle around the bed.
I picture the pink skin on the bottom of Chestnut’s feet striking the wood floor again and again as he slinks about the room. I imagine him casting glances at the bed, wondering if I have caught on yet, that it is time to get up. And then, when it is clear that I have not, he is beside the bed, stretching his body up the wall, his claws skittering loudly across it, his paw slapping the cord of my bedside lamp against it and I roll away from the noise, pull the blankets up to cover my ear, pretend to sleep.
Whether or not he is fooled by my clever plan he moves away to the other side of the room to find something else. There are papers to rustle through and a box to sink his teeth into, cardboard to tear at loudly. The sound echoes thumpingly inside the empty spaces of the box, amplified by the wooden floor on which it sits.
So I sigh and whisper his name harshly into the shadowless room. There is a quick pad-pad of feet and then the weight of his body is on the bed and he is peering at me over the edge of the covers. I can see his shape, make out in smudges some detail on his face.
“Are you the spokesman?” I ask. “Did the dogs send you up here to get me up?”
What kind of deal have you struck with them, I wonder, because Chestnut always seems to be set upon by the dogs. Just last week Murdoch body-slammed him against the wall as he tried to bolt up the stairs. I saw it the instant before it happened and was on my feet as Murdoch leapt across the floor at the cat. Chestnut squawked and was spun around and left sitting bewildered on the stairs as I yelled at the dog and banished him to the entryway. So I think this early morning visit is entirely self-serving.
But there are some mornings, if he is not too far-gone with hunger, when I can entice him to stay awhile, to pretend to sleep with me. Sometimes if I pull back the covers just a bit, revealing a black cavern, cozy and warm, Chestnut steps over my arm and circles himself into the space I’ve created. He pushes his body into mine and I curl myself around him and feel him breathe and listen to him purr his very loud purr as the light brightens slowly at the windows and the room emerges as shades of gray.