Cleo the Cat

            It’s the longest night of the year and it’s pitch black outside at 6am.  Ax is still sleeping, for the moment, despite our cat Cleo’s loud morning ministrations.  The scratching, the meowing, the kneading of the chest and face, the demands for fresh kibble, petting, door opening and re-opening.  Come on, Cleo!
            She’s gotten worse.  Meaning more demanding, more manic.  I think maybe she is getting senile.  She curls up on the bed so sweetly, the picture of placidity, and then suddenly runs like a fire engine through the house before leaping to a chair and fervently mauling the back of it until an invisible attacker or prey interrupts her. 
            And then she’ll gallop back through the house and start meowing loudly for one of the sliding glass doors to be opened for her.  Once it’s opened she may or may not decide to go out, and if she does go out, the meowing to be let back in begins shortly thereafter.  Ax has dubbed her “an in out cat.”  When she is in, she wants to be out, and when she is out, she wants to be in. 
            We love her.  I’d love her a bit more if she hadn’t woken me up at 4am today, as she seems to be doing with alarmingly increasing frequency.  I’ll know I’ve really come a long way when I can be grateful for the opportunity to practice forgiveness.  Right now I’m mostly just pissed.  
            When Cleo first came to us, she belonged to our behind-the-fence neighbors.  She had a tag and like good citizens we called the number on it and let them know their cat seemed to be hanging out with us quite a lot and not to worry.  Cleo’s human mother let me know that was Cleo’s way, that she liked to spread her love around and she had no worries about that. 
            I thought it was a bit callous, the way she implied that we meant nothing to Cleo, but I figured that’s what she needed to tell herself, since her cat was over at our place every day, and sometimes overnight!  Clearly Cleo liked us better than her original owners, not that I’d tell them that, or even think about stealing someone else’s cat.
            In those days Ax was not even two years old.  He loved to chase Cleo around, and she’d let him catch her from time to time.  He’d pat her and say “soft,” with a big wild smile and call after her and throw things at her to try to get her to play with him. 
            Ax and his weird wobbly toddler friends could carry her, hug her, pet her fur the wrong way and she’d never scratch or nip.  She’d humor them for a bit, and when it got too much she’d just remove herself.  Scurry off to one of the shelves of my bedroom closet and curl up on something soft, preferably cashmere.  She was almost our cat.
            Then one day the neighbors called.  They had to move away and they were taking Cleo.  We had her ready when they came to pick her up and put her in her pink carrying case.  We said goodbye to Cleo, Ax with some confusion and a matchbox car farewell gift.
            For a year Ax asked about when Cleo was coming back, and I’d tell him she wasn’t, she had moved to another neighborhood with her family.  “Oh,” he’d say.  And then a few days or weeks later he’d mention her again, “Where’s Cleo?  When is she coming back?”  It was odd.  At three-years-old he should have been able to understand that she was not coming back. 
            I told Ax we could get a new pet when he was old enough to help take care of a dog.  Mike and I both like Golden Retrievers, though a sandy, wet Golden is not my idea of fun.  If it were up to me, we’d get something beach-friendlier and passenger-cabin compatible, a purse dog like a teacup poodle.  I said we could name our little poodle Jerry Garcia but even so Mike said no way.  He'd prefer a Burmese Mountain dog or some other humongous and hairy if it were all up to him.

            And then the phone rang.  It was Cleo’s mom.  She was marrying a man who was allergic to Cleo and though she knew it was odd she thought she’d just call to see if….  “We’ll take her.” I said.  And that’s how Cleo came to live with us for real.  Ax says she is the best pet ever.  He’s right.