My cats wake me up at 5:30 every morning. I suppose that’s partly my fault, but I don’t know how.
They became my alarm clock some years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t turn them off on weekends or use their noses as a snooze button.
It starts with Cindy Crawford, my white and black calico with the beauty mark beside her mouth. She meanders over the contours of my body to then circle and coil herself into the nook between my chin and shoulder. Her hot breath alternating with my own, she revs that engine in her throat and chest that passes for a purr. Then she starts to knead my flesh with her front (un-declawed) paws. Sometimes the tiny pricks of pain are bearable and elicit only a slight groan from my befogged brain and throat. Other times, after she has sharpened them on everything from the backyard fence to the nineteenth-century Amish sideboard, they pierce my epidermis like needles into balloons, causing me to surge to one side of the bed, sleepily flinging her across the room.
But when we synchronize our throaty exhalations and become the ying and yang of pur/snoring, it is a peaceful and lovely world.
About this time, Christabel, the elder of my two cats, tobogans onto the bed (often from the peak of a piece of furniture) and nestles on my back slope, causing me to contort into a question mark. When at last the position is unsustainable and I slip the bonds of their embrace onto my side, then Christabel walks the ridgeline of my slightly bent legs and establishes a campsite at the summit of my hip. There she will sit, staring at me with her laser-like obsidian glare until at last it pierces my brain. If, at length, I roll onto my back, it is slowly so that she can navigate the avalanche of my hip and abdomen to surmount and nestle between the mounds of my breasts. From that valley she continues to peer at me.
If I manage to keep my eyes closed through all this, Christabel extends her paw to just above my chin or nose and ever so delicately pokes me with one claw. After a couple of minutes of this affectionate prodding, my eyes at last come open and I glance toward the clock to see that it is exactly 5:30.
I struggle into a sitting position as they slalom down the hall to lead the parade toward the finish line in the kitchen. Once I’ve stumbled into the den and turned on the kitchen light, both cats take their positions on their respective area rugs and patiently wait to be rewarded. Christabel emitting a sharp and somewhat discordant feline version of “Well?” every two seconds until I have at length rinsed their dishes, paper-toweled them dry, spooned out exactly half a can of fancy moist cat food into each, and bestowed it directly in front of one then the other.
As they begin to delicately partake of their gourmet feast, I stumble once again to my disheveled bed and fling myself onto the mattress and beneath the comforter for two hours of the deepest sleep that I’ve probably gotten all night.
I guess, in a way, their breakfast is the snooze button. Because just about 7:20, we start the whole process all over again, except they don’t get fed and I do end up in the shower.
Christabel was the ugly kitten sibling of Maud, a pale grey ball of fluff that was my one true love. They were the last of a litter and I felt I could not take one without the other. I brought both home the December after I bought my first house.
Maud was asthmatic and like a sickly child became my focus and my favorite. While she lived, she was sole beneficiary of my queen-sized bed. Even when Cindy arrived a year later, a much bigger and more adventurous cat, she deferred to Maud. I still hear her perfectly pitched and harmonious purr in my dreams. She disappeared without a trace in 2012. I cried almost as much and as long over her loss as I did when my mother died two years later.
It was only after she had been gone for some time and Christabel and I had mourned deeply and separately that she and Cindy began to take turns trying to comfort me. It has evolved into a loving communal, almost sensual co-dependence of living beings in a shared space.
We have aged together and settled into our little rituals and loving patterns much as any trio of friends might. They are now sixteen and fifteen years old. The question becomes, what shall I do to fill the hollow formed by their little bodies, when they too are gone.