Talk to the paw

By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 26, 2012

Last week, about this time, I was sitting right here at the computer writing about unplugging my bathroom drain.

While this was a somewhat modest composition, I believe I deserve some credit for having completed it at all, given the amount of interference I had to deal with. I should first explain that I was working out of my home "office," which consists of a case or hutch that sits across from the foot of my bed. My actual office was retired years ago and converted into a bedroom for a little girl.

My computer exists within, on a desk that can be folded up and completely concealed from view when the cabinet doors are closed. This was important to my wife, who felt the actual sight of a computer might detract from the rest of our bedroom decor, which includes piles of laundry, boxes of disorganized photos, my paperback manual for surviving the eventual zombie apocalypse and the preternaturally unmade bed. Not to mention the box labeled "Yahtzee: 80 Score Cards" which has rested near my feet for months despite the fact that I cannot remember anyone in this house ever playing Yahtzee. We apparently received the game for Christmas and have not yet found the time to put it away.

Not that it matters, but since I've started I might as well add, the top shelf of my "office" is guarded by my collection of Ray Harryhausen movie monsters including a griffin, a cycloptic ape centaur and a shell-dwelling squid that is in the midst of attacking aquanauts from the Nautilus (the squid is my favorite).

When the doors to the cabinet are open, there's a little sliver of space between the hinges. So, while I was writing away last week, my fingers tapping melodically like rain on a tin roof, I suddenly noticed a sharp pain.

A little black paw had come darting out of the crack in the cabinet door and was batting at my hand.

"Ow, quit it!" I said.

The paw belonged to our black cat, Cleo (Call sign: Spazzy McSpazzitron). It still has claws because I was too cheap (not sentimental) to have them removed.

This is the same cat that ignores me when I call its name from the couch, hoping for a companion to sit with. "I don't feel like sitting with you," she says. "I feel like checking out what's going on in the kitchen. Oh look, nothing, just like five minutes ago."

Now, when I would rather be left alone, she has become fascinated with my fingers on the keyboard. She is seated on the printer, concealed by the door, attacking me and then quickly withdrawing through the protective opening, much like a castle dweller in medieval times shooting arrows through a narrow window at the approaching siege engine.

When she realizes that despite this effort, I'm still managing to put a few words into the computer, she hops up onto the desk in front of me and lies down, completely obscuring the computer screen. She purrs. Mission accomplished.

Craning to see around the cat, I start typing again. She puts a black paw on one finger and then another. Soon my sentences are riddled with typos. Still not satisfied, she actually tries to lie down on the keyboard.

"What is your deal?" I ask her.

She blinks at me. These conversations are just exhausting, apparently, because she can't keep her eyes open.

I do what every cat owner in the history of the world has always done in moments like these. I pick her up and chuck her off the desk to the floor. For a moment I find myself contemplating the fact that I don't have any large creatures of a separate species picking me up on a daily basis, carrying me around, shooing me off the furniture or just throwing me onto the floor when I get underfoot. What kind of creatures would be my master? Aliens? Could humans be conditioned to be good pets? I was well on my way to writing a Twilight Zone episode, but my column wasn't any closer to being done.

Cats don't take hints. Cleo jumped up onto the keyboard. I shoved her off and she jumped up again. I locked her out of the room. She pushed at the door, which of course doesn't close right. There's that black paw again, exploring around the molding just inside the door.

"Keep it up," I said to the paw. "I'll get a dog. Don't think I won't."


"I don't speak cat. You learn English."


"Yeah, yeah."

Finally, my work was done. "No thanks to you, fuzzball."

I get these childish urges to add pets. I'll talk about it to Christine. "We should get rabbits and put them in a cage. I could have one named Hazel and one named Bigwig and maybe a grumpy one named General Woundwort."

On another day, I figure we could have fresh eggs if we added a few chickens.

The six-year-old is always asking for a guinea pig. I've wanted a pug ever since I took a picture of a twin set of them for the paper, a little bug-faced pug.

Christine always says the same thing. "You have a cat and that's enough." I probably wouldn't ask if I really thought she'd say yes.

Cats are aloof. They are moody. Some days they greet you at the door. Some days they won't so much as blink in your direction.

This week, these same fingers are tapping on the same keys, but they no longer hold any fascination for Cleo. Tonight, she's curled in a ball on the bed, unaware she's just another black cat in The Courier-Gazette.

For now, that's enough.

Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and his black cat.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Carolyn Flanagan | May 01, 2012 09:07

Could this be a hint that "The Black Cat" column might be resurrected?


Posted by: Jean LaCroix | Apr 28, 2012 11:24

It would appear that I own Cleo's twin; in looks and action!

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