|This is a good cat—not the cat in this post.|
There were good reasons I should have turned down the job. For one, I'm allergic to cats. Yep. But if I have minimal exposure, avoid touching them, and wash my hands afterward, I'm OK. Second, Mary lived in Washington, D.C., and didn't have a parking spot and neither of us knew about getting a temporary permit for my car. So I parked at my office and lugged my suitcase and groceries for a long, sweaty four blocks to Mary's.
But the primary reason I should have turned down the job sat before me, mewing, dark and slender, in Mary's living room. In what I perceived as a sweet welcome, Cat wound himself around my feet. "Hi, sweetie," I said. As I loaded groceries into the refrigerator, Cat hugged my ankles and mewed more pitifully. It was too early for dinner. "What is it, sweetie?"
Ramrod stiff, Cat looked up. "Mrrrowwl," he cried more loudly.
Dinner was served.
I sat on the couch with a frozen dinner in my lap. Cat cuddled up next to me. Gently, I stroked his head with my elbow. The minute I stopped Cat placed a paw firmly on my forearm. Half an hour later he jumped down and looked up at me. "Mrrowwl."
"What? You had dinner." I found Mary's instructions. Ah, he wanted a treat. As he chewed I put away my clothes and set out my toiletries in the bathroom. Per Mary's instructions, Cat required a small bowl of kibble be available at night. I filled the bowl and refreshed Cat's water. He was snoozing in the living room. I walked as quietly as I could from the kitchen into the bedroom, hoping he wouldn't hear me.
"Mrrrowwl." Cat stared at me from the bedroom door.
"Good grief," I muttered. "Sweetie, do you want kibble? It's in the kitchen. Look, here it is."
Cat sniffed at the bowl, then dismissed it. At least he was quiet.
"He'll want to sleep with you in bed," Mary had said. I set up the way I like to sleep: lying on my side with a pillow between my knees, a pillow clutched to my chest, and a pillow under my head. I felt Cat jump up on to the bed. His legs plunged silently into the bed along my legs, then my torso. Suddenly, whiskers and a wet nose poked my face. "Ack!" I wiped my nose and turned over.
If this were the New Yorker and I were a better writer, I'd treat you to every detail, but I'll make it short: Cat had to sleep on my chest. No bedspread, no blanket, no sheets. Just me, my nightgown, and a hot, hairy, saliva-and-dander-generating beast less than a foot away from my face.
I got $500, bronchitis, and a week of sick leave. You know how, at the end of your life, people ask if you have any regrets? Yes, I do.