‘I think the cat’s plotting something,’ R said.
This was so supremely obvious I didn’t even deign to respond. Of course the cat was plotting something- that is what cats do. It is the nature of the universe: men sow, women weep, and cats plot.
(I tend to be rather obsessive on this topic and am viewed as something of an authority on it by those in my immediate circle. ‘What is the plot of cats?’ a close friend once asked me.
‘One can only speculate. To destroy the human race? Start World War III? Wipe every dog off the planet? God only knows what it is they’re aiming for!’ I threw up my hands dramatically to suggest the infinite array of dastardly possibilities. It turned out she actually wanted to know what the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was about.)
R tried again. ‘No, I really think she’s plotting something.’
I sighed. ‘Alright, then, what’s she plotting?’
‘The Miaow-Miaow uprising!’ he said triumphantly.
Actually, this was pretty good for him. ‘Not bad,’ I said. ‘Take you long to come up with that one?’
‘Not too long,’ he said modestly. At least I finally knew what all those late night sessions in his study, chewing on a pencil, leafing through the dictionary, and frantically scratching out and rewriting were about.
Cats do indubitably plot though, and it was good that someone else had finally recognised this. (Note that they also scheme, connive, conspire, strategise, calculate and sleep – but mostly they just plot.) Our cat, Fina, is pretty small fry as far as plotting goes. Generally, her plots tend to be as transparent as glass – or underwear that has gone through the wash too many times. Mostly, they consist of waylaying me in the hall. She flattens herself ‘inconspicuously’ against the wall, or if she’s really feeling devious, hides behind a door or disguises herself with a fedora and fake moustache. Then, when I walk to the bedroom or the kitchen, she leaps out and tackles me, wrapping her front limbs about my legs. I actually find this extraordinarily cute – like being mugged by a teddybear – and encourage it as much as possible, wearing fluttery ankle-length skirts which she finds irresistible and carrying live mice in my handbag. I don’t let on that I find her ambushes endearing of course, because then they would stop.
Fina’s other plot is to silently position herself beneath her chosen victim when they’re about to sit down, only to unleash a squall of outraged miaows and flailing claws when their backside inevitably makes contact with her. They immediately spring up, alarmed, and she makes herself look as crumpled and hurt as possible, artfully flattening her ears against her skull and breathing heavily as if a lung has perhaps been punctured. ‘Oh, Fina, I’m so sorry, I almost squashed you!’ they exclaim guiltily, and at the sound of their voice, she scoots behind the couch with an urgency that implies a deep trauma only years of counselling will ever allow her to recover from. This little bit of playacting gives her no end of emotional leverage with those not clued in to her strategy. After extensive coaxing and pleading, she will warily emerge from behind the couch, and much relieved, they will spend the next few hours atoning for their misdeeds by stroking her, feeding her liver treats, and murmuring endearments in a humiliating baby voice. If they neglect to turn on the heater, she’ll look at it pointedly until they do this too. (Actually, the more I think of it, the more I realise that she’s actually quite a good plotter indeed. Perhaps I’ve underestimated her.)
Because of Fina’s innate propensity to plot, I have never to this day let her sleep in our bedroom, although I always feel terribly guilty when it comes time to turn out the lights and we snuggle down beneath the quilt while she gets ejected into the hallway.
‘A very sensible thing too,’ my friend M said approvingly when I told him this. ‘It’s a well-known fact that cats lie on their owner’s faces and smother them while they’re asleep.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous’, I snorted. ‘A cat is not going to smother you while you’re asleep. It’s far more likely to claw out your eyes.’ I have a tremendous fear of this – always have.
(Actually, it turns out this smothering idea of his is not so stupid. I mentioned it to a counsellor friend and she said it was a very common male fear, citing some unbelievable statistic about 1 in 3 male cat-owners worrying about it. Rather dubious about this, I rang up my brother who lives in Laos and asked if he ever worried about being smothered by his cat, Splinter, while he slept.
‘Of course I do,’ he responded tetchily. ‘Any other stupid questions – like what the time is over here?’ (It was 3 am, I later learnt, which may have accounted for some of the tetchiness.) However, it seemed that there was something in this smothering phobia after all.)
But back to the question of plotting…. I lived with a true feline mastermind once, a cat called Cosmo. He belonged to a flatmate of mine who had found him starving in an alley and spent thousands of dollars nursing him back to health. Now there’s a cat that was really good at plotting. When he ate breakfast, he was plotting. When he sat on your lap purring, he was plotting. When he leafed through gun catalogues, he was plotting.
Cosmo was always receiving strange packages in the mail which we were never allowed to see. He would sign for them himself and then open them privately. Whenever he offered to make me a cup of tea it had a funny almond-like smell and I invariably felt sick after I drank it. Once or twice I found the breadknife beside me on the pillow when I awoke in the morning, and had a mysterious conviction that a cat had just been in the room. And I didn’t like the way he watched me. I started locking my bedroom door at night.
The great genius of Cosmo was that he seemed innocent, and he traded on this mercilessly. He was plump and pad-footed with a soft gray and white coat and big blue eyes – a beautiful cat, I admit. He had a purr so loud that if he was near you while you were talking on the phone, people thought a low-flying aircraft was passing overhead. He also – and this was a masterstroke on his part – had had all of his teeth removed. Ostensibly, this was because they had rotted away when he was living on the streets and were draining the calcium from his bones. This lack of teeth put him at a disadvantage when it came to hunting lizards and cockroaches – he had to gum them to death, which was a slow, saliva-soaked process, unpleasant for all concerned… Yes, he was a real cunning one, that one.
One of the most terrifying nights of my life was when my flatmate went away for the weekend, leaving me to look after Cosmo. It was not so bad during the day: he was out gumming lizards most of the time and only came in to be fed. But then night fell. It started with an insistent clawing on my bedroom door. ‘Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.’ It was regular and methodical, as if he were working to a metronome. He kept it up for nearly three hours, but I managed to block it out. Then came the piteous miaowing. ‘I’m not going to fall for that one, Cosmo,’ I called out gamely through the keyhole. ‘I know what’ll happen if I open that door.’ (I didn’t know, of course. I could only guess what horrors were lurking in his black heart.) Then the door started rattling and the miaowing became more threatening in tone. The terrifying cannonball runs began next, up and down the hallway for hours, his paws thundering on the wooden floor. ‘I won’t give in,’ I muttered through gritted teeth. I was not dead yet. Occasionally Cosmo would hurl the bulk of his body against my door and the whole house would shake. Other times I would hear a dragging noise as if he were moving items of furniture about, preparing for an assault on the doorknob. I spent the rest of the night quailing in the corner of the bedroom, quilt clutched to my chest, listening to the terrible noises outside. I was reduced to a tearful, shuddering wreck by the end. ‘Just leave me alone,’ I sobbed, ‘leave me alone!’ I didn’t sleep at all and was almost dead with exhaustion when dawn finally broke and the last frail star trembled in the sky. But I had survived.
I told my flatmate about it the next day. ‘Don’t be silly,’ she said. ‘The poor little thing, he just wanted to sleep in your bed. He hates sleeping by himself – he’s afraid of the dark.’
Poor deluded woman, he had fooled her completely.
Disclaimer: this post may not be an accurate reflection of reality in the sense that others understand the word. Cosmo is actually a very nice cat and his attempts to kill the author have never been borne out in a court of law. R is also very clever and sharp-witted and it is thanks to him that the author has finally managed to alter the font on this site.