Saturday, 11 September 2010

Among cats: precedence and a headless frog

Pearl in a Mrs Danvers mood


POWER RELATIONSHIP POSITION 3: Pearl foreground, Lily couchant reversed

Every so often I am minded to write a little about the cats, dominant Pearl and timid Lily. The order of precedence between them was established early, partly because Pearl arrived first - if only by a few weeks - and partly because Lily is a lot smaller, and not only incapable of saying miaow to a goose but likely to be frightened to death by the mere sight of anything as unfamiliar as a goose.

The term scaredy-cat might have been invented for her. Visitors terrify her, sudden noises terrify her, sudden movements terrify her - sometimes even slight movement sends her into immediate alert. Nor does it help that Pearl has a half-Hitler moustache and looks fitted for a starring role in the film of Maus.

Not that Pearl is evil or even particularly bullying, but she has no great store of affection except for the constantly burning flame of cupboard love. It is possible to be fond of Pearl because she is clearly a character, one played by a genuine character actor. I had her down originally as played by Mae West but I can see elements of Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson at her scariest glariest, in Rebecca) in her too. She does have a habit of throwing herself on her back and waving her legs when I look or speak to her, but I put that down to my unremitting sexual magnetism. She is trying to tell me something, anyway. Possibly something like: I'm yours, all yours, for a handful of catfood. I am a veritable Maxim de Winter among cats.

Lily's movement is a matter of circuitous sidesteps. She loves her name and will start purring as soon as she is spoken to, rubbing her face against any object in rubbing distance. Slowly her circuits get closer and closer and eventually she presses her nose against my hand, or C's if she is with C. Only now has she started leaping into our laps, and even then she is clearly noting the slightest tremor or sign of muscle fatigue. The whole trust exercise inevitably results in cramp. Neither C nor I make good statues.

But domestic life has its regularities. At night both cats will start downstairs into their respective rooms. Pearl is in my office which has the back door with the cat-flap. Once or twice aggressive tomcats have made their way in, but Pearl can cope with them. (So what have you brought me, low-life?) Lily is in the blue room with the piano that serves us for an entrance hall. An aggressive tomcat would leave her nerves in tatters. Pearl goes out at night and roams the near neighbourhood. Lily has never even ventured outside our narrow yard. She has clambered up the fence but seems to lack clear ideas how to get down again. She comes down, carefully, awkwardly, backwards, as if the thought of falling four feet awoke yet another dread in her.


The night we came home from the Lauderdale House reading, it was about one in the morning and C immediately noticed a dead frog in the blue room. It looked dead anyway, lying on its back, absolutely still. We prodded it and it turned over. We touched it once and off it sprang. The cats were upstairs hoping for a late night feast, oblivious to all this. The frog took one spring then froze. We moved towards it to put it out and it disappeared, first under the piano, then behind the piano, then behind the bookcase. It was too late to start moving the bookcase so we went to bed. It would probably stay hidden and we could save it in the morning.

The next morning I came down and sat down at my desk. A little later I was off somewhere and C came down and had an unpleasant surprise. She trod on a headless frog. It must have been the same frog. Pearl would have brought it in, Pearl would have found it in the morning when we opened the doors, Pearl must have performed the decapitation. Quite likely she ate the head because we couldn't find it. Nature red in tooth and frog.

In some ways it was like coming across a Mafia murder, or the threat of a gangland reprisal. There should have been a note saying, Al isn't pleased. Let this be a warning!

Life is grim up East.

Lily sat on my lap for twenty minutes this afternoon while I was reading. Then I got cramp, she got suspicious and jumped off.

A live frog.

No comments: