We’ve been looking after Missy, my mum’s cat.
She’s getting on in years now — the cat, that is; Mummy’s the same age she’s always been — and her personality has changed since I first petted her tiny cat head.
Missy used to be a tremendously affectionate and cooperative cat, perfectly happy for you to pick her up and carry her around on your shoulder like a parrot.
Time was, you could even pop her on your head like a living fur hat and she’d stay there, content to grow fat on your loving brainwaves.
Now, in her advanced years, she’s developed a certain coolness. Though there are, of course, limits to one’s cool when one looks like a not-particularly-sophisticated glove puppet.
She succeeds, however, in a sort-of serious look. Where, once, you’d catch her eye and she’d come bounding into your lap like a little puppy, she now gives you a look of absolute pity. Its a look-to-kill that sits somewhere between the cultivated indifference of a High School Mean Girl and the icy contempt over half-moon glasses of an out-to-pasture librarian. “Look at you,” she says, “A human being. As if!”
Somehow, the glance reminds you that not so long ago you and your kind were swinging in the trees.
She gives off the impression that she knows that only one of us has ever eaten something out of a bin. As it happens, I have no memory of ever eating anything out of a bin, but one of us must have done and it certainly wasn’t her.
That’s an awful lot of glance language for someone who craps in a plastic tray.
The funniest thing is that she now feels that giving humans the time of day is clearly beneath her, she also still craves our affection. What this means in practice is that she no longer sits on your lap, but merely near to your lap.
Best of all, as I move around the apartment in the course of the day, Missy follows me but tries to give the impression that she’s not interested and doesn’t care. If I go to the kitchen, she’ll follow — but only after waiting an amount of time which she thinks is seemly.
Unfortunately for her, she’s on cat minutes so she impatiently arrives at my feet within a few seconds. She think she’s conveying nonchalance, but her performance is about as convincing as my father-in-law’s poker face.
A paying audience would throw tomatoes.
Of course, this prompts a whole new area of fun to be had. What I like to do now is rise from my chair, go into another room, and wait — stifling the giggles — for her inevitable arrival. I then pretend to change my mind (“no, on second thoughts I was in the right place first time”) and go back to where I was sitting originally.
There’s no way on Earth she can recover from the two-rooms maneuver with any dignity and, sure enough, she comes trotting in to sit near me again, the fuss-hungry fool.
“Oh, I thought you wanted to be in there,” I say, and she gives me one of her looks. I’m never quite sure if she knows she’s been duped, but she falls for it again and again. It’s hard to be clever, I suppose, when the space inside your skull is, like a steak bake, 60% eyes.
I’ve found other ways to have fun with Missy’s dignity act. I’ve long observed, for example, that she likes positive-sounding speech patterns and I’m able to please her with cooing noises and (“yes, that’s right!“) baby talk. She doesn’t seem to recognise words though so I call her a little thicko and my little fathead and things like that. So long as it’s all said in a positive tone, she adores it. This is funnier now that Missy has dignity. The joy is no longer in the pointless evil of insulting a baby who can’t understand and loves you blindly, but more like the insolent pleasure of insulting High Court Judge from the safety of a soundproof booth.
Oh, here she comes now. I can tell from her strut that she thinks she’s Herbie Hancock even though she looks like something you’d fail to win at a coconut shy. I love her completely.