Chosen by a Cat (Annals of Pard: II)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
In the four months since I wrote about his arrival, Little Pard has grown up. He is now Not Large But Quite Solid Pard. He’s what they call a cobby cat, not a leggy one. When he sits upright, the view from the rear is pleasingly and symmetrically globular, a shining black sphere, plus head and tail. But he isn’t fat. Though not for want of trying. He still loves kibbles, oh kibbles, oh lovely kibbles! Crunch, crunch, crunch to the last crumb, then look up with instant, infinite pathos — I starve, I perish, I have not eaten for weeks…. He would love to be Pardo el Lardo. We are heartless. One half cup of food a day, the vet said, and we have obeyed her. One quarter cup of kibbles at seven, another at five. And, well, yes, there is a sixth-of-a-can of catfood with warm water on it for lunch, to make sure he gets plenty of water. But he often leaves that till five when the kibbles arrive, the One True Food. And then he cleans both bowls, and goes into the living room and maybe flies around a little bit, but mostly just sits and digests in bliss.
He is a vivid little creature. Youth is so dramatic! His tuxedo is utterly black and utterly white. He is utterly sweet and utterly nutty. Wild as a bronco, inert as a sloth. One moment he’s airborne, the next fast asleep. He is unpredictable, yet keeps strict routines — every morning he rushes over to greet Charles coming downstairs, falls over on the hall rug and waves his paws in posture of adoration. He still won’t sit on a lap, though. I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis.
Getting waked up by twenty minutes of strong, steady purring is very nice, plus the nose that investigates the neck, the paw that pats the hair… the increasing intensity of purr, the commencement of pouncing…. By then it’s quite easy to get up. Then he rushes into the bathroom ahead of me and flies around, mostly about waist level, getting into things; and he plays with the water I run for him in the bathtub and then leaps out to make wet flower-paw-prints here and there, or if I dribble him water in the washbasin he closes the stopper, thus creating a water hole where savage panthers may crouch in wait for dikdiks and gazelles, or possibly beetles. Then we go downstairs — one flying, the other not.
Closing the drain is typical. He’s clever at opening cabinets, too, because he likes getting into things, anything that can be got into, cabinets, drawers, boxes, bags, sacks, a quilt in progress, a sleeve. He is ingenious, adventurous, and determined. We call him the good cat with bad paws. The paws get him into trouble and cause loud shouting and scoldings and seizures and removals, which the good cat endures with patient good humor — “What are they carrying on about? I didn’t knock that over. A paw did.”
There used to be a lot of small delicate things on shelves around the house. There aren’t, now.
Charles bought him a little red harness. He is incredibly patient about having it put on — we thought it would be Charles the Bloody-Handed for weeks, but no. He even purrs, somewhat plaintively, during the harnessing. Then the bungee leash is attached, and they go out and down the back steps into the garden for Pard’s Walk. It went quite well twice, then a man running by outside the fence slapping his feet down galumph galumph scared Pard, and he wanted to go back inside at once, and is only beginning to get unscared of all the weirdnesses out there.
I think when it stops raining and we can sit outdoors with him it will be OK. He needs open space to fly around in, that’s for sure. But then of course we fear he may get too bold in his enthusiasm and ignorance and wander into the wild backyards and thickets down the hill or chase a bird out into the street, and so get lost or meet the Enemy. The Enemy comes in so many forms to cats. They are small animals, predators yet very vulnerable, and Pard has neither street smarts nor wilderness wisdom. But he’s bright. He deserves what freedom we can give him. Once it stops raining.
Meanwhile, he usually spends a good part of the day with me in my study, sleeping on the printer, about a foot from my right elbow. He fixated on me to start with and still tends to follow me up and downstairs and keep nearby, though he’s gaining more independence, which is good — if I wanted to be the center of the universe I’d have a dog. My guess is that for the first year of his life, in a small and crowded household, he was never alone; so he needs time to get used to solitude, as well as to silence, boredom, never getting pursued or squashed by a passionate baby, etc.
Not wanting to be the center of the universe doesn’t mean I don’t love having a cat nearby. It seems we got his name right: he’s a pardner, a true companion. I really like it when he sleeps at the top of my head on the pillow like a sort of fur nightcap. The only trouble with his sleeping on the printer is that it’s six inches from my Time Machine, which when it’s saving stuff makes a weird, tiny, humming-clicking noise exactly like beetles. Pard knows that there are beetles in that box. Nothing I can say will change his mind. There are beetles in that box, and one day he will get his his paw into it and get the beetles out and eat them.
30 April 2012
A little background: The character of King Ashthera, with his dog, and his gambling streak, is derived from King Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata, the wonderful and interminable epic of India. When, towards the end of the story, Yudhisthira gets to Heaven, he is outraged to find some of his enemies are there, and some of his friends are not; and he decides not to enter Heaven at all unless they let his dog in with him.
I stole all that.
King Dog is available at the Book View Cafe eBookstore.