For the past year Jack and I have tiptoed around our CEO. Our oldest cat ValKyttie is Scottish, 17, and senile; since our opening she has ruled the roost with an iron paw, demanding wet cat food, specially purchased Catsip milk, and obsequious obedience from the foster cats.
She, who used to jump from six-foot bookshelves, now rubs my ankles to be picked up and nestled in my lap. Dr. Beth says her hips are “delicate.”
In her senility, she chases Beulah–her sister for the past eight years–from the shop with hisses, flattened ears, and extended claws. She swipes at any dog silly enough to get within range. She tolerates young Owen, the newest staff kitten, because he does obeisance before approaching, and cuddles her as he takes nips from whatever delicacy she’s getting that the others are not.
It’s good to have a boy toy. Owen has great muscle structure.
When she wants to be held, I stop writing. The other day I was sitting in the wing chair working on a laptop balanced on my knees, and she rubbed my ankles. I explained the geometry to her, and she rubbed my ankles again. With one hand, I gently scooped her around the middle and swung her into the chair next to me, warning her away from my fully-occupied lap. She put out one delicate paw and with surprising strength shoved the laptop sideways, sauntered into the space, and sat, her head resting just under my chin, leaning against my chest and purring.
What could I say, except, “Well-played, Madam.”
Jack got it before I did. As we chased her down one evening, snatching her up just before she slashed Beulah through the cat flap into the snowstorm outside, Jack said, “She’s Great-aunt Ada.”
Those of you who saw my essay in December on NPR Books (3 Great Small Town Reads) will recall that Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favorites. In it, Great-aunt Ada lives a life of reclusive luxury upstairs, waited on hand and foot because, as a child, she “saw something nasty in the woodshed.”
“ValKyttie’s not senile at all,” Jack persisted. “And she’s not delicate. See how fast she moves when she’s chasing Beulah. Look at that jump she just made to the dresser. If this cat’s confused, I’m a Marx Brother.”
“Cut it out, Harpo,” I said, scooping ValKyttie against my shoulder, where she snuggled down and purred. “You know she’s 17 and fragile.”
“And getting her every whim catered to,” he said. “You hold her if she so much as mews. She gets a heating pad to sleep on, carried everywhere she wants to go. Look,” he said suddenly, turning me toward the bedroom vanity’s three-sided mirror so I could see ValKyttie’s face over my shoulder.
Gosh darn it, she was smirking.