Herding cats

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Neko batted playfully at the USB drives dangling from my fingers as I
chatted on the phone. A little too playfully, in fact, as she launched
herself into my hand and bit down hard. I half-jokingly threatened to
bite her back, and she persisted in attacking my hand. Quickly
excusing myself from the phone call with the ominous announcement that
someone was going to get a bath today, I chased Neko, scooped her up,
stalked off to the bathroom and dumped her into the sink. She turned
angelic eyes on me, all innocence, but I told her she wasn’t getting
off that easily – and turned the faucet on full blast. (Warm water,
though; I don’t like cold showers and I doubt she would appreciate
them either!) It was difficult dealing with a wriggling, pointy-toed
cat, but I’d had the foresight to close the bathroom door, and I just
chased her and scooped her up every time she tried to escape.

I splashed her with water and shampooed briskly over her loud
complaints, but she was more docile than the books would have had me
believe – no fury of claws, no tantrums or fiery tempers. The bath
over, I rubbed her down with a towel – or tried to, as she kept
escaping my grasp, electing to diffidently wash herself as if the
indignities I’d put her through were completely uncalled for. Her
twitching tail a metronome of annoyance, she smoothed her fur down
into some semblance of order and proceeded to give me the cold

I decided to head back to the Internet room in order to check on my
students’ progress and get some work done. With no desire to leave an
annoyed cat in the darkness of the house, I picked Neko up and brought
her to the room as well. She proceeded to ignore me and calmly
continue licking herself off – that is, until sleepiness got the
better of her. I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar nose
poking around my computer, glad to feel the dainty feline jump into my
lap, and content to hear the sleepy rumblings of a somnolent, purring

It was not too long ago that Neko was just a kitten who nestled in my
lap while I checked my mail or added to my webpage. She had neither
the skill at jumping nor the confidence she enjoys now, and due to her
small size and lack of strength she could not gracefully jump into
people’s laps. No, she scaled people’s legs, digging in with her claws
and hanging on for dear life. A few instances of this and I learned to
carry a heavy towel with me to the Internet room so that at least no
blood would be drawn; her claws would find purchase in the fabric and
the soft, thick towel would cushion the impact of claws designed to
rend flesh. (Cats are clearly no vegetarians.)

There was no keeping Neko on the ground. She preferred hiding behind
the monitor, playing with the printer cables, gnawing on the edges of
my computer – at least until I could spare a hand to shoo her off.
She’d bound from the shelves to the desk in one fluid motion,
springing from floor to chair to floor again with the enviable agility
of a creature that lives in a fully three-dimensional world. Even we
humans do not enjoy that appreciation of different surfaces. Most of
our lives are spent on the ground, walking around. Dogs are like that
as well. We obey the laws of gravity; cats flout it.

Earlier she chased the mouse pointer as I moved it around the screen.
She was confused by the fact that it could always slip out of her
grasp. Now she sits on my lap, awake but resting, half-lidded
almond-shaped eyes staring sleepily at the bookshelves. I feel her
breathing on my lap. The cat hair sticks to the velvet dress I wear.
It is the end of the day and I do not have to brush cat hair off
before going out. The bell around her neck is silent, and she is a
picture of calm and contemplation. Perhaps we should go to bed before
she remembers that she is a nocturnal animal.

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