Kate picks her way toward me carefully amid the hillocks of the comforter on our bed. She always stops just beyond the reach of my hand, so that I have to pull my bare arm out from under the covers to stroke her head. Two can play at that game: I rub her head in a way I know she find irresistible, then withdraw my hand tantalizingly, to a slight distance away. Kate moves a little closer to get another rub, and I've got her. I bring her under the comforter with me and begin to rub her head in earnest. She switches on her loudest purr; they know we like that.
This is such new behavior for Kate. She was the cat of Q's bachelor days -- his first cat, as a matter of fact, acquired at his age of 57, late in the game to get your first cat. They lived here without benefit of clergy before I came. Kate opposed the match from the beginning. The bed was a special sore point: she had slept with Q when they were alone together. After our marriage, she only slept with him when I was away. Once, I recall, we felt the plunk of a cat landing on a bed: Kate surveyed the pillows, saw our two heads, and leapt back down in disgust.
But now she loves me. I nursed her during an illness and something melted within her. Now she comes to me for head rubs in bed, sleeps with me there even when Q is absent. I want her to gain weight and get stronger. I am her official thyroid pill nurse. I am up early enough to feed her when she cries for breakfast at an hour anybody else would call ungodly. I care about her arthritis, being a fellow sufferer myself.
I bury my head in her fur and quickly lift it out again. You smell like a fish, Kate. I sniff again. It's true: I gave her fish oil the other day, in the belief that it would help her aching joints. I gave it to her by rubbing it on her chops a few drops at a time. That was five or six days ago, and she still smells like a fish with fur. I must find another way of administering the fish oil.
The radio is on, news of the SARS epidemic that may be starting again in China. Kate greets the report that they're planning a wholesale slaughter of civets with unease.
"What's a civet?" she asks suspiciously.
"Well, it's a little like a cat," I tell her. "They eat them there."
"Well, every culture has its own food traditions. People here eat cookie dough, you know."
"Ugh." Kate settles into a deep valley of comforter with a sniff. A aroma of fish emanates from her as she moves. What if I made a paste of parsley and rubbed it on her chops, I ask myself. Would that get rid of the fish smell?
"We would never eat you, Kate." I say, to put her mind at ease.
"Fine. I won't eat you, either."
"Okay." This mutual nonaggression agreed upon, we lie in companionable silence as the radio turns its attention to the stock market.
"Dow's up, Kate," I say. She doesn't answer. "I suppose you think cat food grows on trees."
"I never thought about it. It just appears in the bowl."
That's what faith is, I suppose, for a cat. For us, it isn't so simple, for we know that sometimes food does not appear. Favorable outcomes in life aren't the measure of the presence of God -- something we know, but seem easily to forget.
In the garden of Eden, we read, everybody lived like Kate lives: food just appeared. A world in which there were no challenges, no defeats. Apple or no apple, it couldn't last: we would not be who we are without our obstacles. The same complications we bemoan make us the interesting beings we become in life; the ethical compromises that scar us separate us from the animals -- animals need no ethics. For animals, things just happen. We are the ones who must choose.