Friday, August 17, 2007

The sphinx position

Boy-cat lopes into the room like he's in a hurry. His body language says agenda. But after the large vertical leap to the surface of the bed, he merely settles down into the sphinx position next to my hip.

He is large. He looks like any other cat, provided said cat wearing several specially-tailored fur coats. His friendliness carries a weight of its own, crossing sometimes into neediness. He would make an excellent George in an all-cat production of Of Mice and Men.

"Ask me a riddle," I say. He looks uncertain, cocks his head and begins purring loudly. Somewhere in his cat mind he seems to have forgotten the order of things, and now the purring is what causes the human to pet him.

"No, a riddle," I point at him sternly, and he looks at my finger. I retract it before he can begin to nuzzle against it. He'll never learn if I keep reinforcing him simply for being alive.

"Rid-dle," I say again, stretching it out in the hope that he will understand English, if only it is spoken slower.

Two rooms away, near one of his sleeping places, a book of riddles lies open for him. I have not read the riddles. Why train a cat to ask riddles you already know? He has licked the side of the book many times, riffling the pages with his tongue, but so far has not moved on to study a second page.

For my part, I only ask for a riddle when he is sitting in the sphinx position. I have placed images of the Sphinx in Egypt, and some drawings of them I clipped from a mythology text above his food bowl. He sees them when he feels hungry, which is always, and it is my hope that he learns to sit like this more often. Sometimes my eyes mist up when I think of us passing the hours on a winter's afternoon, he stumping me again and again with tricky riddles.

He is still purring at my hip, closing his eyes. Is he recalling one of the riddles from the book? I am breathless with anticipation.

"What walks on four legs at..." I stop him before he can go any further. I am crestfallen. I know he is trying, but I am starting to lose hope. I have no way of ascertaining if this is something he simply cannot learn, or if he just refuses in order to punish me for some imagined crime.

"A man," I sigh. "Don't you remember? I taught you that one myself."

I reach out and give him what he wants, stroking the chin of my stupid beast. His purring grows even louder. Big and friendly and hopelessly stupid.

I wonder how is sister is coming along with the jokes I have left for her in the hallway, culled from the wrappers of Laffy Taffy.


Rachel Green said...

I loved this and had to read it out to my partners. Thank you.

Chris said...

Oh the joys of having a cat. Lovely.

Unknown said...

Cats are rather good at cliches as well - did you know?

Pallav said...

cats remind me of anubis, but he was a jackal i think, ask him a riddle! ;)


Unknown said...

That's because they all descend from Bast, the Egyptian goddess, Nothingman.

The Moon Topples said...

Leatherdyke: Thanks. I can't tell you how much fun this was to write.

Chris: Yes, even having such a slow-learning animal has its perks.

Minx: Cats learn what they can from their surroundings. Give them clichés and they learn clichés. Perhaps you should examine the mental diet of your own felines...

Nothingman: I do not riddle Anubis, as he controls death. I give him a wide berth.

Taffiny said...

We can never figure out, if our cat is incredibly stupid, or brilliant ( and playing us).

I think cats like to keep their people guessing. They are always playing their own games with us, and have no interest in taking up the games we have set out to play with them.

I find their ability to make us pet them using some sort of mind control, quite amazing. If only I could get my husband to rub my neck, merely by staring at him and humming, how fine life would be.

Pants said...

Mr Moon Topples

You are SO great at these short pieces. I am in awe.



Wanderlust Scarlett said...

You could ask your pet if he might enlist the help of the Cheshire Cat... it could only get better from that.

Scarlett & V.

The Moon Topples said...

Taffiny Have you at least tried the humming thing? It may very well work.

Pants: Thank you very much. You are very kind.

Scarlett: My cat does not like the Cheshire one. I think it's the creepy grin.

Taffiny said...

Now that you mention it, no, I don't believe I have.

I am trying to imagine myself doing it, it seems both an incredibly optimistic thing to do (therefore out of character), and also just incredibly crazy. (a different form of crazy than the one I usually practice)

What loony things cats get away with, staring intensely into your eyes and purring purring purring, till you do what they want. No, I am quite certain I can't pull it off, without being sent away somewhere padded. Clearly being covered with fur, and wondrously cute, is a requisite for such behaviour.

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