This morning the alarm woke me but I didn’t get up. Unlike at night when it’s a bore and a chore, at this time of day the mask attached to the CPAP and oxygen converter machines has a hypnotic effect. I was warm – the day promised only 9 degrees – and comfortable. Lying in bed I pulled back the curtain and the prospect looked bleak. So why get up?
I lay there, the radio burbling on, I picked up that Spain had beaten Portugal at the soccer and that pilot error was responsible for the Air New Zealoand crash in the Mediterranean. I wondered about today’s blog – the Supreme Court decision to knock out Chicago’s hand-gun laws, national standards in schools, poems – my own or someone else’s - or a further trip down memory’s circuit. Suddenly, Dorothy our sixteen-year old cat arrived to settle on the bed. My heater had been on all night; it was the warmest room in the house.
Long gone are the days when the alarm went off early and I’d get ready for work. In those days Dorothy used to sleep at the foot of our bed. As I staggered half-awake to the kitchen she’d gleefully accompany me. She knew the first thing I’d do was feed her, Weekends, holidays and summer evenings she had her role, assistant gardener and supervisor. For the rest, she was decorative, faithful and part of our life.
Things changed. When we shifted here a few years ago she had spent six weeks in a cattery so she was exhausted. All winter she slept upstairs on my bed, coming down only for her meals and kitty litter. Springtime, she began to venture outside.
New rituals were established. She liked to drink from a scungy old bowl in which leaves and dead bumble bees added flavour to the water – a primal memory of jungle pools. Once when we were away our cat-feeders decided she needed something cleaner. They put down a clean plastic ice-cream container with fresh water and emptied the old pot out. When we got home Dorothy was looking very miserable. I filled her old bowl and she drank and drank – I have never seen a cat so thirsty. That bowl shifted with us, now sits outside our back door, she uses it daily though we do keep a reserve bowl in the laundry for those stormy days when she doesn't go out on patrol.
As my health deteriorated Anne took over the tasks of feeding her and changing the kitty litter. Dorothy switched loyalty. She knew from whom her meals came. She spends the days during the winter on my downstairs bed. As soon as she hears Anne put on the electric blanket at night on her upstairs bed, Dorothy leaves my room for the greater comfort. Other times she has taken to sleeping on Anne’s lap rather than mine. I’m a has-been in cat terms.
In summer she’s an outdoors cat – greeting Anne with the same ecstasy she used to greet me. I don’t go out on my own now – I need help with the walker and the presence of someone else in case I fall. But during the winter she has two excursions, one morning, one late afternoon to wander round the section, drink her water, attend to her toilet and mark her territory. On rainy days she sits at the entrance wailing plaintively – her little cat brain cannot understand we have no say on the weather.
I have one use – door opening. She has a special call for that. She’s trained me to respond to it. So this morning’s visit was only cupboard love, or should I say electric love. Her old bones desire warmth and comfort and who can blame her. As soon as Anne appears Dorothy moves with considerable alacrity off my bed to go clamouring from the room, ‘feed me’. She knows, or thinks she does, who is boss of the place.
As I type this she’s curled up on the red eiderdown on my bed, the sun streaming in. Her capacity to accept the moment is enviable. Choice is decided by comfort. As mine was this morning to lay abed a while longer than usual. It would be untrue to say old age does not bring some benefits. Millions of humans cannot afford the luxury I enjoyed this morning. And thinking of the scrawney cats acres of years ago I saw in Athens and elsewhere Dorothy is indeed a fortunate creature. The difference is, she doesn't know it.