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The cats of Elena Passarello


HOW WE ARE

by Columbo, Spooner, and Q

We are fine. But we are usually fine, because we want for nothing. Our whole lives we have been fine, really—save any time we hear a loud noise or when our food is late or when the door won’t open immediately when we want it to. In those moments, both now and in the Beforeness, we look straight at her and tell her with huge eyes that things have devolved into an ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY! We suppose that this practice has trained us for the peaks and valleys of this new reality.

There are still soft couches and sunny windowsills and places to hide when the big trucks roll down the street to steal our garbage, or when the vacuum rears its head, or when we just want to feel like the only creatures in the universe. We are still worshipped and praised. We still have all the time in the world to nap and purr and lick and luxuriate. Spring is slowly settling in here, replacing the constant rain with dry days ripe for prowling.

For the first week or so, we relished how rarely our people left the house. One of them used to disappear every day of the Beforeness, and we never knew when it would happen or when they would return. Sometimes they both left and then, as the day waned into the night, a stranger would come through the door, sit on all the wrong parts of the couch and refrain from singing the Special Kitties Dinnertime Song that usually is sung before we sup. The unpredictable nature of the Beforeness kept some of us—we won’t say who—on the verge of emotional collapse. That stress was enough to make a cat pee everywhere, which a certain cat among us—again, not naming names here—often did.

All that uncertainty seems to be of the past now. In this new world, we get our food at 7 and 7 without fail. If we want to go through a door, a human body is right there to turn the knob, glad to be roused from its chair for a break. We’ll cross the threshold to the deck, and immediately change our minds and said human body is there again to let us back in, to repeat as we desire. Our muscles relaxed when we first felt this new constancy. We began sinking deeper into her omnipresent lap during Jeopardy!

But be careful what you wish for, because now she won’t leave us alone. Her attention increases at maddening levels, especially since she’s blown through her Netflix queue and Jeopardy! has gone to reruns. Now she makes us run after our treats rather than feeding them to us—as if we were some racetrack hounds. She won’t sneak scraps under the table anymore, because she Read an Article about cat pancreases in her newfound spare time. And we can’t find a quiet corner of the couch to nap where she won't come and plop herself, hogging the sunbeam with her giant human’s body, which seems to grow larger with each sedentary week.

She was once too busy to regularly summon our nemesis, the vacuum, but now? That loud bastard is in such heavy rotation it stays out and plugged into the wall, glowering at us whenever we slink past it. And the Zooms—sweet lord, the Zooms! Like some blowdried show Pomeranians, she parades us before her pixelated friends. A few weeks ago, she filmed herself holding one of us (we won’t say who, to protect his dignity) while air-picking a Fleetwood Mac guitar solo for a video she shot to cheer her students. And she won’t stop asking us questions that we have no clue how to answer:

“Do you have munchies in your fuzzy belly today, you little beep-bop-boopadoo?”

“Why did God make you so adorable, assuming that a god even exists anymore, of course?”

“Is this sentence that I just wrote anything? This paragraph? This page?”

“Is eight episodes of 30 Rock in a row too gluttonous?”

“Will you judge me if I eat this slab of ice cream cake for breakfast?”

“How many squeezies can have I squoze out of that fuzzy belly, Mister Marf-marf?”

“Howsabout I serenade you on this old autoharp I found in the closet?

“Will my job even exist by the time I’m allowed to go outside? My office? My profession?”

“Does this mask work? This expired tube of Purell? This mail-in ballot?”

“What day is it again?”

“Why has the sun already set?”

“Can you please tell me you love me, right now? I know you can’t speak human words, but please try”

“Please let me squeeze that fuzzy belly and also hold you like a baby—pretty please?—just this once, you little weespricket-shoobydooby-squee-squee squeedio?”

Who knew she would suck so much at captivity. She’s become an indoor cat, but has yet to deduce how to make interiority bearable. We have figured this out, of course. We’ve been practicing captivity for nine or ten millennia, depending which report you read. The key is to remove “should” from your vocabulary, for there is no duty when you’re a contained thing. There is no weighing of proper choices, only the irrefutable truth of the choices you’ve made. No wondering if you should have tried to fit your large furry butt in this box; you wanted to sit in this box and then you did and this is your life now forever; time for a nap.

Removing the shoulds saves your energy, which a kept creature must horde so she can swing from the panic of the ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY! to the resign of a long and noisy snooze. To remain “fine”—despite all there is to be done, despite the whisker’s breadth away you remain from your panic center—your body must evolve another level of presence. We try to remind her of this, but then she pulled out that damn autoharp again and we hid under the bed.

Every night, She arranges her side of the bed to make a sliver of space between the edge of the mattress and her body, where one of us can snuggle, making a batch of pinprick biscuits on her forearm before settling. We stay by her side all night long. She tosses and turns much less now, we’ve noticed, and says she’s started dreaming regularly again, which hasn’t happened in nearly a decade. In the purple hours before dawn, she almost wakes fully, but then reaches out her hand to stroke whatever fur is at arm’s length. When we feel her touch, we make sure to purr loud enough to soothe her back to sleep.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020