Archive for the ‘On Their Own’ Category

Setting: Inside Stratford Palace, at the large window in the throne room.  Framed by parted curtains, a black-and-white furry head with pointed ears and golden eyes peers out the window.

Offstage whisper: “Who is it?”

“I think it’s her.”

Offstage disdainful snort: “She.”

Buddy whipped his head around and glared at Bear.


“The nominative is the required form for the pronoun following a copula.”

“I can’t believe you’re correcting my grammar at a time like this. She’s been gone for two darks, and one of the snack bowls is empty. You’re such a prig; no wonder she RUNNOFT.” Buddy turned his attention back to the window, but he still couldn’t see who had arrived, only that a big, ugly yellow box with wheels was sitting in the driveway.

Offstage dig: “If she is gone forever, it is not I who will be to blame. The only thing that stands betwixt us and the abyss is the use of proper grammar, yet you insist upon saying ‘darks’ instead of ‘nights,’ and you cannot spell your way out of a paper bag. To top it all, you still have not yet ascertained whether she is in the yellow box.”

“Well, since you’re so smart, come up here and see for yourself,” he said as he leapt down from the back of the couch.

Bear lumbered up to the vantage point Buddy had scoped out, and she began glaring out at the Yellow Cab van like some rabid zombie. The driver caught sight of her and shivered as though someone had walked across his grave.

Offstage hiss: “So, Miss Smartypants, is it her . . . um  . . . she? IS THE CARETAKER HOME???????”

Bear refused to give Buddy the satisfaction of seeing her irritated, so she gave the van her undivided attention; ignoring Buddy was a happy side effect of investing her energies elsewhere. He became impatient and leapt up beside her so closely that they appeared to be conjoined at the cheek. Four eyes—two bright green and two golden—stared relentlessly at the box in the driveway. Meanwhile, the cats did not dare to hope that the snack bowl would soon be full again.

When the yellow box opened and she emerged, it was as though the heavens had parted.

Cue Gilbert and Sullivan-esque music

It is her;  it is she.
She it is and ever shall be.
If you take a look you’ll see
Her return so joyfully.
Sing it high, sing it free,
Sing it once again for me:
It is she, she, she, she, she, she, she, she, she!

They were so glad to see her—to hear the key in the door, to watch the doorknob turning, and finally to feel her hands on their furry little heads—that they didn’t notice she had been laughing at them the entire time. While waiting for the cab driver to process her payment, she had watched their bobbing heads in the window, and she had had quite a joke at their expense.

“Laugh if you will, caretaker. You will still fill the snack bowl and make yourself useful. Your impertinence will be overlooked this time, since you arrived before the third dark . . . um . . . night started.”

The welcome received in a home with cats is less than enthusiastic, but it is always quite genuine. Cats are quite incapable of feigning affection.

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Cats are, for the most part, imminently nonchalant creatures, especially when their routine remains undisturbed. Monday through Friday, at generally the same time in the morning, the caretaker gets up, goes through an inexplicable routine, fills the snack bowl, walks out the door, and then after a reasonable amount of nap-and-snack time, she returns to open a can of fishy goodness. That is, after all, her sole reason for existence, at least as far as they know (or care). On weekends, she is able to spend quality time fluffing pillows, washing blankets, scratching ears, and gathering food for the coming week. As was mentioned in a previous post, “A Suitcase Named Goodbye,” a weekend trip creates a small amount of trauma for the otherwise happy home. But the anathema which the caretaker calls a “bizniss trip,” especially one that lasts for several days, is nothing short of a cat-astrophe.

As the caretaker’s absence lengthens, the cats become increasingly restless. Who is Buddy supposed to annoy at all hours of the night? Who is going to awaken the Box Dragon every morning so that Bear can have a warm nap on the bathroom rug? There must be order in the universe! Sure, naps are always possible, and the caretaker has made certain that substitutes are stopping by to fill the food bowl, but eventually the cats are surprised to find themselves thinking that there is more to life than naps and food. (Gasp! The four horsemen are doubtlessly approaching!)

After a few days on their own, the cats find themselves watching out the window for any reason to believe that their lives will return to normal. Buddy’s first sighting of the caretaker invokes a deafening volley of mroowing and a fair amount of running about randomly. Having heard the unmistakable footsteps on the porch, he nudges his head under the door curtain and mroows impatiently while the caretaker fumbles for her keys. Dodging the luggage that is being tossed into the doorway, he rushes forward, forgetting that cats should remain calm and unconcerned. Bear, on the other hand, retains her composure, prefering a passive-aggressive response to the prodigal’s return. She meows once softly (“Oh, it’s you . . .”), sits aloof, and alternates between an accusing stare and a head turned away, as though uninterested in the proceedings. It is not until the caretaker sits down to catch up on email that Bear allows her true feelings to show. Inching forward in slow motion, she overtakes the caretaker’s lap and suddenly flops down to warm herself at the laptop vent. Though not fooled by Bear’s clumsy ninja routine, the caretaker feigns surprise because it means so much to Bear to believe that she is stealth incarnate.

Eventually, after a hearty meal, a few snacks, lots of attention, and a luxurious nap, both of the cats begin to feel in control again, not only of their own behavior, but also of the caretaker. But nobody is completely at ease until the suitcases are unpacked and put out of sight.

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The cats are not certain what the word “goodbye” means, but they hear it frequently and are well aware of the results. When it is uttered, the caretaker breaks open the side of the house, steps through the opening, and shuts it behind her. It is a most disconcerting event. When she also has in her possession the big box on wheels that she calls a “suitcase,” there is a fair amount of panic in the otherwise happy little home. The presence of the box means that the sunlight will disappear and return at least once before she returns, and that is not a good thing. The cats don’t sleep well unless the caretaker is there, ready to be rudely awakened at their slightest whim.

The caretaker usually waits until the very last minute to pack, in order to save Bear at least a small amount of grief. As soon as Bear sees the suitcase being rolled out, she falls into a fit of depression that cannot be cured with even the very finest treats. Well, at least not at first.

The presence of a suitcase invokes several passive-aggressive tactics, a particular specialty of the cats. For one, when the suitcase is lying down, Buddy and Bear take turns planting themselves on top of it, preventing the addition of clothes, and therefore, trying to thwart the caretaker’s evil plans to leave. The tactic never works, but Bear is persistent. When the suitcase is left open, Bear enjoys the opportunity to nap in the growing stack of clothes. Apparently, this is good therapy because one cannot completely hate that which one is able to use as a bed.

Alas, goodbye comes eventually, and then the house is peopled only once a day for a brief time when the substitute caretaker stops by to make sure there are enough snacks and water for the following day. The presence of a substitute is tolerated, but if The Boy is part of the equation, Buddy comes alive. Buddy and The Boy go way back, and they are always glad to see each other. Bear, on the other hand, has no interest in The Boy, unless he is holding snacks in his hand. There is something to be said for single-mindedness.

But eventually when the side of the house opens again, it will be the caretaker. Here is where the cats are able to execute the passive-aggressive pièce de résistance. At the end of the workday, the cats display a moderate amount of happiness that the caretaker is home: “Oh, you’re home. Well, since you’re already standing up, you might as well feed us. And do attend to the litter box by all means.” A very touching display of affection, all in all.

Yet when the caretaker returns from a weekend trip, the cats barely look up from their nap. They raise their heads slightly, blinking in a very annoyed manner, and seem to be saying, “Oh, it’s you. Keep it down, and whatever you do, don’t turn on the light!” With cats, it is not true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, at least when it comes to the caretaker. She will be punished by their collective cold shoulder for at least 30 minutes, or as soon as the snacks are brought out, whichever comes first. By the time everyone has eaten and ears have been thoroughly scratched, all is forgiven and the napping can resume.

Look carefully! There's a cat in that suitcase.

Bear Hides in the Suitcase

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