Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bearding the Beast

I stopped shaving near the middle of December. It was something that I'd been considering off and on for some time, and whichever day it was that I chose seems to have been the right one.

There are two sorts of pelt in my family. My grandfather Adam, and my brother Jim got the Diack gorilla gene, while my father Alex, my brother Don and I inherited the MacPherson coat, which looks a good deal more like a frozen chicken.

I've thought about doing this before, and have even avoided my razor for a couple of consecutive days, but I've never liked the result...or the itch. This time, however, I thought that I saw possibilities. After all, hair can cover a multitude of chins.

I never considered putting it to a plebiscite - there are only two people whose opinion matters - but for some reason, there were votes on the subject, and for awhile, they seemed evenly divided. My beard was blond, sparse and scruffy. For the first few weeks, it was hellishly uncomfortable. I went to one of my Mood Disorder Association meetings with about fourteen days growth, and managed to alarm the entire group. I had calls from seventeen people that evening, all seeking reassurance that I hadn't taken too many pills or opened a vein.

In time, the itching stopped, the whiskers evened out, and I began to look a little bit less like an abandoned Chia Pet. I still looked into the mirror while holding my neglected double-edge razor and thought maybe just a little trim. One thing, though, has stilled my hand.

Brie, our little, odd cat has come to love my beard, and she will sit for hours on my lap rubbing her hard, flat little head against my chin, eschewing all prior cat-brushes in its preference. Sometimes, I'm hard pressed to say how much of the fur on my chin is hers, and how much is my own. Last Thursday evening, there was another complication.

While I was out, the Tall Lady took a drive to VOKRA Command Central. When I returned, I discovered that our family had yet another addition. Schroeder, the Rafter Kitten is about twelve weeks old, tiny, proud and handsome. We believe that there is some British Short-Hair in his family, and as a consequence, his head occupies about one-third of his total continental mass. The rest of him  resembles a number thirteen billiard ball. In sum, he looks like a tiny snowman with a few orange patches. The picture is completed by two perfect, little triangular ears and a small, stripey toothpick of a tail. When you look for the definition of "cute" in your dictionary, you may find Schroeder's picture there.

He has not yet been accepted into the Inner Circle of the Flying Fellini Sisters and la Bella Bianca. In fact, if he hadn't already had a name when we met him, we were going to call him "Cuffy". He gets thumped a lot. He was lonely. It was just a short time since he'd been trapped, and he missed his mom terribly. On his first night in his new home, Schroeder was thrilled to be invited to share the big bed with us.

At about three o'clock Friday morning, I was awakened by loud cheerful purrs as the new guy wrapped himself around my neck and snuggled into my beard. I was only a little surprised when he started trying to nurse on the whiskers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fostering Communication

After all these months, if my buddy Lemon were to call me from Montreal, there's a chance that I wouldn't recognise his voice immediately. It has probably changed in the year and a half that he's been living with Merripaul. There will be differences in tone and inflection that he's developed with them, and he will have learned new expressions with which I am not familiar...oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that all of the cats who've lived with us can talk?

None of them has actually learned to speak English, but all of them have spoken to the Tall Lady and me, and common courtesy demands that we reply. Some of them are shy or laconic, while others have been chatty - even a bit long-winded. Each of them speaks in his or her own individual voice, from Xena's enthusiastic "good morning" meow, as she leaps to the top of her laundry basket, and raises her right paw for a high five, to her sister Brie's long, mournful train-whistle moan, as she descends deeper into the insane, hormonal, raving babble of her monthly false heat.

Sometimes, I think that they speak to us simply because they enjoy our conversation. Other times, their sounds have a specific purpose. They seem most vocal when I'm holding the can-opener. Brie and the littlest ones run rings around my ankles, Blossom with her impatient accusations of premeditated delay on my part, while Sachi and Shisan sing me songs of praise and celebration. Xena and Bianca wait confidently where they have always seen their dishes alight, quiet, serene and beautiful.

Bianca is not a great talker. She is our big, quiet black shadow. On the occasions that she has something to say, it will come out in a soft, gentle, apologetic kitten's mew. Remember, for all of her regal, impressive stature, at ten months, Bianca is still just a kitten.

We have had three adoptions in the past three weeks, and I have to admit that our little girls have sometimes used impolite language during our exchange procedures. Blossom and Sachi were the first to leave us, and they were adopted by the same people. After fifteen minutes of classic Marx Brothers buffoonery, including stuffing the wrong kitten into two different carriers, to the accompaniment of her sisters' jeers, growls and hisses, the exchange was completed, and our good babies were on their way to their permanent home to meet their new big brother, Chewbacca, and Ella, the Big Bitch Bunny.

Shisan went to the vet on Friday morning. It was nothing serious; she came home that evening with a shaved arm, a bare tummy, a little zipper and a new tattoo. She was horribly, horribly embarrassed, and her crabby aunties did nothing to improve her low mood. Xena growled at her and ran away; Brie hissed and slapped her on the ear. The poor, wounded kitten stretched out on the carpet, solemn and sorrowful as a kitten can be. Bianca walked over, slowly and carefully, lay down beside her, and enfolded her in a consoling big sister hug. Shisan has always been her favourite kitten.

On Saturday morning, Shisan had important visitors. The came to meet her to decide if she would be a good addition to their family. Shisan was not exactly rude to them, but she was still tired, sore and sluggish. She didn't feel very sociable, and she didn't care about making a good impression. Later that evening, we got a message that Shisan had been adopted. They came to pick her up last night.

This time, all went according to plan - kitten into carrier, carrier to adopter, adopter out the door - no more finger puppets...

The Tall Lady and I were both very quiet last night. Our apartment always seems hollow and empty after the last kitten of one of our batches has been adopted, and in spite of knowing that it's for the best, we grieve for awhile. We lay in our bed, not talking, but each knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Xena and Brie may be glad to see the last of each and every one of them, but for Sheral and me, this is the hardest part of being cats' foster parents.

Out in the living room, in the still and silent darkness, a small sound began, and it continued all night long. It was the soft, gentle, apologetic kitten mew of a big, quiet, black shadow searching for her baby sister.