I’ve been catsitting for my neighbor’s flock of five cats for the past few days: four Persians and one Maine Coon mix. Starting to dream about those sad-eyed, smashed-in faces, as I did the last time I was given the privilege of looking after them. They all look like they’ve been pondering the writings of Chuang-Tze for the past 1,000 years, with little breaks for hairballs and Fancy Feast.
My favorite is Nigel, the grey tabby, who when you scratch him under the chin, rewards you with a giant yawn and then his orange eyes fill with tears.
They all accept my presence except for Jordan, who stares at me balefully when I open the door and coo my hellos, and then sadly creeps away under the bed or the sofa, only occasionally poking his head out to ascertain whether the trespassing ape has gone away yet.
Lush, the orange one, doesn’t like to be touched but gives me little eye-squinches of acknowledgment, the feline tip of the cap.
Elliot, the Maine Coon mix, is friendly and inquisitive and follows my progress by leaping to the top of whatever surface is nearest to me, like Kiwi does at home. He’s blue-grey like Mr. Blue was, but with a giant leonine mane. Mane Coon. And bears a slight resemblance to Cocteau’s BÃªte, maybe. Something in the eyes.
Noah, white and voluminous as the imagined beard of his namesake, clambers into a large pot in the kitchen — apparently his favorite roost — and presents his upturned face so his own endlessly leaking eyes can be gently dabbed with a tissue. He makes soft croaking noses in his throat, which startled me at first because I thought they were a sort of hiss, but in fact they seem to signify pleasure.
By the way, I know the lists of group names for animals advise you to refer to a group of cats as a clowder or a cluster or a clan, among other things. But I think of these cats as a flock, possibly because of the slow soft gentle drifting way they move around the apartment.
All of them have something of the quality of owls as much as cats. If any of them let out a soft whoo instead of a meow I’m not sure I’d be surprised.
When I’m in their apartment, I definitely feel like a visitor in their world, which has its own customs and rules and perhaps its own magical laws. I try to be careful not to transgress.
And when I return to my own apartment, Kiwi looks strangely minimal and slender and round-eyed, and sniffs me over ferociously, wondering what I’ve been up to and who these others are, and whether he ought to allow these field trips to continue.