Anyone who knows me is forced into a love/hate relationship with my cat, Yoni (Full name Yin-Yang Yoni, but don’t let’s stand on ceremony.) He is very clear about who is in charge around here, and I have learned to know my place (preferably on pouch-opening and kibble serving duty by the food bowls.) I used to spend my reclining hours in a room which I jokingly referred to as the Mistress Bedroom, slightly dominated by a conveniently Queen sized bed. That’s his room, now. I have conceded defeat. He tends to leave the room in a huff rather than move over if I ever attempt to reclaim the territory. Fortunately there is more than one bedroom in my house – although as all cat slaves will know, every room in a house is a potential bedroom for a cat. He also favours my chair in the room I use to see my therapy clients, and I must admit looks quite at home there, his inscrutable gaze and Buddha-like composure well suited to the role. Would it make much difference to clients if instead of shoving him out of the way to sit there I simply left him comfortably in situ to listen to them? It’s an experiment I haven’t so far dared to make.
I get the feeling he mostly tolerates me, and have asked myself a few times why I picked such an obvious loner from the litter of mostly friendly purring kittens. He was the one squealing with aggrieved insecurity as his mother showed clear preference for his cuddlier siblings. Perhaps we simply understand one another. He refuses to do anything as girlie as sit on my lap (I did think he was a girl initially until nature proved me wrong, and by then I was already committed and a bit in love with him.) However, when I’m sitting in an armchair with a furry rug at my feet, he will settle himself on the rug, paddle his feet a couple of times in the fur to get that mother cat buzz, and then look at me pointedly until I get down on the floor and provide a space between my legs for him to snuggle inside. It’s not the most comfortable position in which to relax. Not for me, anyway, with my bad back. However, I willingly trade-off one kind of comfort for another, as there is something infinitely consoling about the mutual appreciation between one barely tamed creature and another. They never could entirely domesticate me, I’m happy to say.
One morning a few months ago I got up at 6 a.m. for no better reason than that I was bored, having been awake since 4:30 contending with the continuing effects of a bout of pleurisy. “A nice cup of tea,” I thought optimistically. “That will help. And maybe then I can drift off again for a while.” But no, it wasn’t to be. I’d no sooner opened the kitchen door when Yoni came bounding in through the cat flap with a mouse dangling from his jaws – a very sweet, very alive and wriggly field mouse. “Put it down!” I yelled, as I invariably do. I had my mouse rescue kit ready. This comprises a large plastic tub originally containing soup and a piece of thin cardboard. With enough speed and dexterity it works. There was a time when I used to pick up the dear little creatures in my cupped hands and ferry them back outside again, as far away from Yoni’s grasp as possible, until the day when one ungrateful sod bit me and I spent the next seven hours in A&E waiting for a tetanus jab. Oh, how the nurses laughed. I still don’t understand what was quite so funny about being assaulted while in the throes of a compassionate mouse rescue operation. “That’s the third mouse bite today!” one of them said to another. “Strange how they go in threes.” Strange, indeed… I was distracted from my musings about a possible mouse revolution and an army of rodents plotting world domination by the jab of the needle. “You’ll need antibiotics, too,” the nurse said. At least we were ready for them.
However, back to my narrative… At the sound of my voice Yoni looked at me in disbelief. He never gets why I’m not as enthusiastic as he is about the mouse capturing game. He opened his mouth, possibly to make a sarcastic comment in cat speak, and the mouse saw his moment and made a valiant bid for freedom. I had to admire his chutzpah and his technique. He zipped across to one side of the kitchen, and by the time Yoni had figured out what had happened and followed him, the mouse had changed tack and sped back towards the opposite corner. There he squeezed himself through a hole at the side of the units you wouldn’t have thought you could get a paper clip through (but somehow mice manage it.) I sighed as I watched Yoni still sniffing at the place the mouse wasn’t. I knew this meant we were in for the long haul. We have been here before.
Eventually he followed the scent trail back to where the mouse had last been seen, but let’s face it, the mouse was by now in that vast hinterland beneath the kitchen units where he could survive for days if necessary. Did I mention that Yoni has a touch of OCD? Perhaps all cats do. His capacity to focus on the fine detail is astonishing. If there is a speck of the last rejected meal left in his food bowl, for instance, he will turn his nose up at anything fresh put on top of it and walk away in disdain. When it comes to escaped prisoners, his bent for obsessive attention is unleashed to the full. The last time this happened he sat in front of the freezer for 24 hours, with only the occasional comfort break, barely moving, staring intently, waiting for the escapee to emerge again out of hiding at the exact spot where he could still catch a lingering whiff of it. As if.
This day was no different. I knew, the mouse knew, and probably you as you read this know, that Yoni’s vigil by the kitchen cupboard was like waiting for Godot, an utterly futile exercise. I hate to say it, but the most likely exit point for the mouse – given my wealth of experience on this subject now – is going to be mouse heaven. Cats seem to be very good at demonstrating the power of hope over experience, however, and nothing was going to make him give up. I left him to it. He did get bored a few times during the day, or was possibly distracted by the thought of food (not really what he wanted, as usual – he has a bit of an eating disorder, too.) But each time he remembered the mouse he was back there on duty.
When I went to bed that night, he looked at me reluctantly, and if I could interpret cat speak I’m sure he would have been saying something like: “It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.” The next morning he looked like a cat who has not slept a wink (an unusual sight, given that they spend most of the day doing it.) He also seemed slightly depressed, as anyone who has invested too much energy and attention into a project that just hasn’t worked out is wont to look. Or am I projecting too much into what, let’s be real about it, is a blatantly expressionless expression on a cat’s face? In any event, he had given up. I felt sure that evidence of the escapee now being in mouse heaven was likely to soon follow, and would linger in the miasmic air of the kitchen for quite a while. As I said, we had been here before. However, that wasn’t quite what happened next, as I will reveal in my next post.
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… and there is a rather interesting cat called Morpheus in my novel ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ who bears more than a passing resemblance to Yoni.