Sweet Dreams

The deck looks less lush without the resident spider plant I delivered to Amy's office on Friday. Rose noticed, and lay forlornly near where the spider has sat. The cats are not yet resigned to apartment living. They still shake their little fists at whatever gods got them here, and seem to remember lounging in the shadows beneath endless expanses of plant shadow and yard. Rose munches on the cat grass occasionally, and spends every night when it's not thunder-storming holding watch on the beige artificial carpeting on the balcony. Outside, sniffing the breeze, neither purring nor sleeping. Watching. Listening. Perhaps seething.

Crash is mostly sociable. He seems pleased whenever either one of us returns, but also crying plaintively as if mourning. I've taken to offering a few kitty treats when I return, which, I know!, encourages infantile behavior. I scratch heads and switch out their water bowl for some cold water from the filter pitcher from the fridge. I don't expect them to drink the musty tap water here either.

Part of every afternoon involves the changing of the cat box ritual. The cat box, which I secreted in the bottom of the six-foot tall television cabinet in the corner of the living room next to the glass wall onto the balcony, lies behind two doors. The cats pass through the open back to do their business in private, but I swing open the front doors to sort out their leavings. I carry the kitchen garbage can into the living room and filter the bad stuff into it before adding the bathroom trash then tying off the liner and stepping out the door, down the hall one door to the right to the garbage chute room, and dropping the bag in for its six floor drop to the basement.

Easy ritual. The cats want more treats when I return. Hey, I was technically gone, if only for a half minute. ... No dice, guys.

I might pull the vacuum out and quickly de-fur the place. Both cats are shedding like Llamas, with Crash even making daily deposits of partially ingested fur around the place, punctuated with that emphatic retching  that sounds like the end of the world coming up, but doesn't seem to bother him a bit.

Rose huddles under the too-big bed whenever thunder strikes, but she and Crash have no lingering fear of fire truck noises, which are far more fearsome to me. We try to keep the sliding glass door to the balcony open, so Rose has her perch, but the outside noise makes it next to impossible to watch TV (well, actually to hear the television) or even talk. The airplanes do not land between midnight and six am, but promptly at six, a steady line of them pass over, one every couple of minutes, so low I can read the lettering on their sides and so loud I can't hear myself stink. Several times each day, the fire brigade rushes out to blaring sirens and a startling kind of quacking. Deafening, but Rose just sits there placidly, twitching her ears. The first time they heard the fire trucks, they panicked and Rose wouldn't come out from under the bed for a day.

Rose is still that way with the thunder, shivering beneath the bed even the morning after. Crash has claimed the sole desk chair, which is so uncomfortable we rarely use it. It's upholstered in a thick mat of Crash hair, no matter how often we brush it clean.

Each evening, I pull out my ball of string with the feathery thingy attached to the end and play cat fishing. It's rather like fly fishing. I swing out an adequate length of line, then lazily pass the birdy in the direction of the cat, sharply pulling the string back to mimic a startled bird. Rose seems genuinely disinterested, groggy. And so does Crash until he just can't help respond to the killer inside. Suddenly, he'll sweep out a paw and tap the birdy, eyes gleaming. Further snaps bring more aggressive responses. He stands, crouches, moves to a more invisible position, batting, swatting, sometimes snagging his prey. When he does snag it, he chews briefly before letting loose, which prompts me to snap again and him to, instinctively I guess, swat and bat. He sometimes goes completely airborne in response, hungrily pawing the air.

Rose will play grace notes behind Crash's full concerto, slipping in the odd bat, the disinterested swat. I will sometimes land the bird on the glass-topped coffee table, where the cats can see it preening from the floor. They will slip into grooming or idle purring, disinterestedly eying the offender. Then, quite suddenly, one or the other or both will perform some gravity-defying pounce, moving from lounging to lunging without a clue that they had been winding up. Then the birdy gets chewed, and chewed good, before it mysteriously snaps back into frustrating flight. Swinging back into range, we get another couple of good leaps and catches before they relax and regain their distant disregard.

This can go on for quite a while, and they need the exercise. It's reassuring to see that they still have their reflexes, that apartment living hasn't eroded their instinct to kill feathery things. They mostly ignore the cat toys in favor of a good nap. Crash either on the chair by the desk or in the corner under the plastic tree, Rose on the balcony, on our side of the partition or on the neighbor's side. She slips between the two just as if she owned the place.

And maybe she does. She still pounces on Crash's head. Crash is still a ninny in response. Amy brushes the couch and Crash's chair as part of her morning ritual. I service their cat box and feed them the little kitty treat bribes they insist upon as the price of my every absence. Crash is restless in his long napping, jumping onto and back off of the too-big bed several times each night. He'll cosy in for a while, even manage some limited scream purring, but he paces through the night and dozes through the day, pacing in yowling frustration every morning (mourning?) around five. Rose refuses to be petted in the night, taking her accustomed corner at the bottom of Amy's side of the too-big bed, out of reach. Beyond consolation.

I try to explain that we've found them a wonderful new territory, even counting down the days remaining, but my promises can't bridge the present chasm. The tall glass wall between them and the outside world and the screaming noise of this strange place could convince anyone that they've moved to somewhere altogether too settled for any wild thing to thrive. The catnip banana is small consolidation, and seems like a kid's toy offered to console a thoroughly discouraged adult.

The world turns in fitful bursts, slowing terribly through the most difficult times and slipping almost silently through the sweet ones. This is a bitter time for these cats accustomed to sweetness. Their little crying pleads, which I try to mollify with soft smelly treats, might cease when they have some wild territory to roam again. Until then, they have only the silent dance of two inept apartment dwellers who speak in indecipherable dialect, dispose of the stuff they've already buried out of sight, and tap on the covers, calling them to come dream in a way too-big bed. 

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