I was sitting alone, feeling quite sorry for myself. The issue at hand wasn't all that serious. It was a minor setback - just enough to give me a case of the blues. I was so caught up with trying not to cry that I didn't notice the door of the room had opened slightly and Malcolm, the youngest of my cats, had come in. I felt him first as he rubbed against my legs. Then I heard his throaty purr.
He knew, I thought. He knew I was upset and came to find me. While the thought didn't send me jumping for joy, it did stop me from even thinking of sobbing. I had a cat to pick up and hold.
Once again, Malcolm had won me over. From the moment he appeared, bedraggled and hungry in my back garden, this cat has had me wrapped around his tiger-striped paw. Malcolm is loyal, devoted, and affectionate - the attributes I've always appreciated in dogs. As a lifelong dog fancier, I've found myself in the embarrassing position of being smitten by a cat.
It's not that I don't like cats. I've just never felt so attached to one before. Malcolm is the fifth to come along in the nine years I've been married. Before that, I only had dogs. My husband wanted cats, and that was fine with me. A warm furry pet is a warm furry pet, I figured. Cats could offer me something of the companionship I'd enjoyed from childhood dogs, even though I was sure cats could never be as true and noble friends as Skippy, Sammy, and Winston.
Two of the four cats, Pitou and Kerouac, held to my stereotype. They were independent, aloof, and sometimes spent days away from home. There was no taming them. I wept at their deaths when they passed on, but I couldn't help thinking, "Kits, I hardly knew you."
Alex, who arrived as a companion for Pitou, was a friendlier type who sat on my lap - when he felt like it. Emily, who came to replace Kerouac, similarly showed affection in spurts. It was not enough for me.
The solitary spirit that so many cats exhibit to one degree or another is attractive to some people. They don't like the messy, slobbering dependence of dogs. I suppose I am a bit obtuse because I like the warm, brass-band level of welcome a dog offers me after a long day at work. I like dogs' tail-wagging exuberance, their inexplicable rollovers of joy, and their intense and simple-minded pursuits of mysterious scents. I like knowing where I stand with an animal. Dogs always tell me. Cats usually keep it a secret.
It was inevitable that I would add dogs to our family. I couldn't live without them. I could respect my cats' intelligence, independence, and ingenuity, but I needed a dog's loyalty, devotion, and affection. Two would be even better.
With Baxter and Nelson, the dogs, and Emily and Alex, the cats, I felt quite content. Then Malcolm showed up.
He hung around the garden for a rainy week before I brought him in. I didn't really want another cat, yet I couldn't give this one up.
Right away, I noticed Malcolm was a different kind of cat. He meowed loudly and insistently, and not just when he wanted to eat. He practically screamed as he moved about the house, looking for me. I was flattered by the attention but assumed he'd develop a more cat-like attitude once he felt secure in his new home.
Wrong. He became even chummier as time passed. When I came home from work, Malcolm met me at the door. When I sat down, he sat in my lap. When I took a bath, he sat by the bathtub.
He developed companionable routines. In the morning, he'd follow me downstairs while I watered the seedlings I was growing under fluorescent lights. He came into the kitchen each evening while I fed the dogs, quickly learning that by doing so he earned a tidbit of their food.
When he didn't show up one day, I called him, not really expecting him to come. No self-respecting cat comes when called. But Malcolm did. He nearly always does.
That kind of behavior could get Malcolm banned from all the best cat societies. Funnily enough, it's done just the opposite. Since he arrived two years ago, Alex and Emily have become friendlier. Emily has even done guard duty by the bathtub a few times. They don't like all the attention Malcolm gets, I suppose. Or maybe they were victims of low expectations. I didn't expect them to be lovable, so they never were.
Still, they're not about to start following me around. Even the dogs don't do that. Only Malcolm is my constant companion, my bosom buddy, my little shadow. It's hard, sometimes, for me to remember he's a cat.
At least it was until the night after I was feeling down. My attitude had improved tremendously, and I was sitting in my usual seat in the living room. I happened to look at the clock and thought, "Last night at this exact time, I was feeling sad." At that precise moment, Malcolm walked into the room.
Ever since that night, I have timed him. He's a regular little fellow. He finishes whatever secret routine he has upstairs and then comes down to the living room. There he makes his way to my chair, pushing aside knitting, books, and pillows to reach his rightful place on my lap.
Malcolm is just a cat, after all, dedicated to his own personal feline vision of life. But he is a special cat, a cat who has turned my stereotyped visions of cats inside-out, a cat who has earned the unlikely description of "woman's best friend."