October 16, 2017

The Boys of Elsinore


Last month I finished the novel I have been intermittently working on since 1997 and predictably went into a slump. I experienced a 53,000-word hole in my psyche, which along with paying too much attention to the news roiled my nervous system. So what did I do to cope? I brought two feral kittens into the house.

Hamlet and Laertes

I knew the definition of feral but I had never experienced the difference between feral and fostered. I tricked myself into visiting Seattle Area Feline Rescue by saying I was only going to see what the facility looked like.

“This will be my fourth set of kittens,” I said as I confidently filled out paperwork.

I wanted two males because Artemis, my 13 year old cat, was used to being with boys and because I already knew I was going to call them Hamlet and Laertes. I met them: one orange tabby and one black, sequestered with a couple of outgoing females. The orange one was slightly less frightened than the black one but neither one of them was eager to be picked up and cuddled.

“Were they fostered?” I asked.

“They were trapped.”

Yikes. The seedy underbelly of homeless cat society.

Their starter home was the loft that serves as my guest room.  They hid in corners and behind the bed when I came bearing gifts of food, water and toys, beaming with goodwill and welcome. My three earlier pairs of kittens had only run from me after they linked the presence of the cat carrier with trips to the vet.

In addition to kittens who were terrified of me, I had to contend with a cat who made it clear I had betrayed a sacred trust. Artemis spent a lot of time in the sun room during the first week the interlopers were in residence. In fairness, she spends a lot of time out there anyway, mostly sleeping, but now she was sleeping in odd positions due to the giant chip on her shoulder.

“Come sleep, thou certain knot of peace.”
Artemis in Denial

I brought the kittens home on a Friday. By Saturday evening I was thinking this wasn’t working out as a life-affirming way to fill the 53,000-word hole in my psyche. Do you know how demoralizing it is to have animals running away from you all the time when all you want to do is love them? By Sunday I was crying at the cash register of All the Best pet care. Thanks to the lovely woman who sold me the feline calming device –though it’s an open question as to who actually needed a calming device–and who gave me a bag of samples along with such encouragement that I decided I wouldn’t run away from home after all.

There was an immediate problem with their names. I had originally named the orange one Hamlet and the black one Laertes. My friend Nancy who has taught line-by-line readings of Hamlet to college students suggested I had them backwards. I only had to look at the photograph to know she spoke truth. There was the dark prince Hamlet, receding as though hiding behind the arras, suspicious of everyone and everything. There was the more out-going, orange Laertes. I could imagine him patiently putting up with his bloviating parent (that would be me, I guess) while snickering privately with his sibling.

By the fifth day, I expanded the kittens’ territory. I opened up the stairway to the loft and blocked off an area on three fronts. Now they had some hallway and the bathroom to play in. I put an old window screen across one of the Pullman bathroom doors so I could see their curiosity pull them into a wider world.

More importantly so could Artemis see them through the screen. Up until that point, Artemis could smell them and hear them and this was her sole basis for lobbing guilt grenades at me. I watched her go through something like the stages of grief, beginning with disassociation. She sashayed through her day as though nothing extraordinary was going on until she saw one of the kittens through the screen. She’d rear up and hiss, the kitten would scamper out of sight and Artemis would immediately go back into her waltz of denial.

Here’s where we are three weeks out: the boys are living up to their namesakes. Laertes is cuddling and purring while Hamlet watches me suspiciously and only runs in terror about 50 per cent of the time. I have pushed their vet check-up forward three times because I have no confidence I can catch Hamlet.

I got tired of having to scale a wall to get into my own bathroom so I opened up the rest of house to the kittens during the day. The boys play in Elsinore Castle and Artemis sulks silently when she isn’t hissing at them. The kittens are curious about her but she’s not having any of it. Even so there’s been some progress: at least Artemis deigns to be in the same room with them and even watches them play.

The Boys of Elsinore

At night I close the kittens up in the loft where, among other things, a cat carrier sits open with a nice wool cushion inside and occasionally a dish of something enticing. The vet appointment is a month off.














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