Hell Night

Sage (on left) and Harvey
Peggy and I put our five cats in the laundry room at night so we can sleep. Yesterday morning, they all burst forth in enormous distress, but Scully was in the worst shape, jumping onto her window shelf and yowling nonstop: "Last night was horrible, horrible! No words can describe what I've been through! I can't bear my terror for another moment! For chrissake, DO SOMETHING!!!" 

Aghast, I approached her with an empty show of confidence, empty because she was so overwrought that I feared being bitten. She instead leaned into my body in trembling silence: "The nightmare is over," she whispered, "I know you will protect me."

Within minutes, Scully and three of the boys were ready for breakfast. Only Harvey remained distraught. Instead of lying splayed-out in the middle of whatever room we were in, he spent his day behind the clothes washer. It was the first time he had shown fear.

Harvey was but four months of age when he came to share our home last November. From day one, the long-haired gray kitten with piercing green eyes and a lion's ruff, dominated our household. He playfully ambushed our 15-pound patriarch, Brewsky, and became best buds with Sage, our timid, big-eyed tabby. He treated Scully like the lady she is, but his attempts to play with the grump of the family, Ollie, were met with yowls, hisses, and swats. Harvey's response was to pounce on Ollie in a manner that said, "How dare you flatter yourself that you scare me!" whereupon Ollie would run from the kitten half his size. 

When Harvey would lie on his back in the middle of the kitchen floor, I would stop cooking and rub his belly (Peggy complained that I was not only abandoning my work, I was widening the roadblock). After a few strokes, he would grasp my hand in his mouth and hold it there, making it necessary for me to rub him with my other hand. And so it went with one hand in the mouth of a zoned-out cat, and the other hand caressing his pillowy belly, all while assuring Peggy that petting Harvey was way more important than cooking. I meant it too. Building trust with one's cat depends entirely upon the amenability of said cat, and this is especially true in the case of belly rubs, which represent the ultimate in feline vulnerability. Peggy took a less enlightened view, "He's just using you," she would argue, and I would respond, "You can write on my tombstone:

Here Lies Harvey's Love Slut
He Died Smiling

I think I know what frightened the cats. Our laundry room opens to the outside, and in warm weather, we leave the wooden door open so the cats can watch the night pass through the steel-mess security door. My guess is that something big, smelly, and scary came to that door from the nearby creek. Thankfully, Harvey got over his fear by the next night, but during the hours that we weren't having to step around him, our hearts ached.