The Cat Exchange

I looked up from the article I was reading on the computer, drawn out of deep concentration by a metallic sound, like cutting wire. Glancing at the office window, I saw two white paws. Jumping to my feet, I ran to the back door.

Louie, a.k.a. ‘The Cat with can opener claws’, lets me know he wants in by getting up on his hind legs, hooking his powerful claws into the office window screen and doing a chin-up to look in at me. The screen is shredded again, although I had replaced it once already.

Pushing the back door open, my large white and black cat silkily slipped into the entryway like liquid mercury. I heard muffled thuds coming from the basement stairwell. Before I could shut the door, a large dark tabby cat appeared in the doorway. Jonah paused for a moment, then streaked across the room and gracefully slipped out the door into the darkening backyard.

The two cat’s fur coats briefly touched as they passed, but with merely a curious passing sniff, they kept moving. Surprised, I exclaimed, “Is it already time for the 9 p.m. cat exchange?” My wrist watch showed that it was fifteen minutes before 9. I shrugged and murmured, “Close enough.”

My cats lead predictable lives. During the summer this scenario plays itself out every evening. The occasional variation is when Louie realizes that the night smells and sounds are more intriguing than usual and decides to stay outside for the night with Jonah. There is no way to entice them back into the house. I’ve tried.

In the morning, I wake up hearing Louie below my bedroom window, crying to be let in. Jonah seldom returns to the house until sometime in the afternoon. Louie often goes out to look for Jonah, coming back an hour later with her. When Jonah comes into the house, she dives into the food dish. After tanking-up on Meow Mix, she disappears into the basement for a long nap, usually until it is time once again for the 9 p.m. cat exchange.

Jonah and Louie change their routine when the weather gets cold and snow falls. If they beg to go out then, I open the back door and they rush to the opening. They skid to a stop to sniff the air and look at the frost-covered deck boards or falling snow. Comfort-loving creatures that cats are, they wisely back away from the opening. I imagine them thinking, “No way! I don’t want to go out there!” The cats frequently ask to go outside during the winter, but seldom go out. I suspect they think I am opening the wrong door. “Dumb hooman…we want the warm weather door where we can find green grass, crickets and mice.”

For the last forty years I’ve always had at least one kitty living with me. When one cat begins to show its age, I introduce a younger one to the household. Jonah and Louie have both already seen their tenth birthdays.

So last summer I took in a small black and white tuxedo kitten and named it Shadow. In the past 12-months, that small ball of fluff has grown into a large, sleek muscular cat. Unlike the other two resident felines, I don’t let Shadow go outdoors. Surprisingly, he seems to be okay with that. So far.

Jonah won’t have anything to do with Shadow, but Louie likes to play with him. The futon in my office, with its broad seating area, is their favorite nap and play area. I keep it covered with a sheet, which is easier to wash than the mattress, when cat hair accumulates into drifts. The other morning Louie crawled under the sheet. Before I could make him get out, Shadow began to stalk the great, mysterious moving lump.

I spent the next half hour enjoying the show the two cats put on as they played, pouncing, swatting and ultimately affectionately licking each other.  Unlike the swift doorway cat exchange, this one is slow and sweet, filled with memories.


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