27: The Reign of Cleopatra

27: The Reign of Cleopatra

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

The Reign of Cleopatra

Cats do not have to be shown how to have a good time, for they are unfailingly ingenious in that respect.

~James Mason

At age ten I was already a huge animal lover, but had never had a cat of my own. When I visited friends who had cats, I loved to pet their soft fur and feel their happy purr, so I jumped at the chance to cat-sit for two cats when a friend of my mother’s offered to hire me.

The indoor cats lived in a single story, second-floor apartment. The male was a gray tabby named Caesar The female was a Siamese named Cleo, short for Cleopatra. All I had to do on each visit was put out food and clean water, scoop the litter box, and keep the cats company for a while.

Everything went well from the very first visit. I had practiced my “Here, kitty, kitty!” but as soon as Caesar heard me put the key in the lock he was on his way to meet me with a “meow” and a dance between my legs. Cleo was more standoffish, but her loud “mer-row” let me know she heard me arrive. She finally made her appearance when she heard the can opener’s whirr.

By the time my first cat-sitting assignment ended seven days later, I still didn’t have a cat of my own, but I felt like I had two cat friends. Every visit was a blur of leg rubs and happy purrs. I felt like a cat whisperer. I was a natural.

Then one day I got a sad telephone call. Caesar had died unexpectedly. Would I ask my mom if Cleo could stay at our house while her owner was out of town for a three-day weekend? The owner worried that Cleo would be upset if left alone so soon without Caesar’s company.

When my mom said okay, I was over the moon. Even though she wasn’t mine, I was going to have a cat living at my house! I couldn’t wait for my buddy Cleo to arrive.

Although I was glad to see Cleo, she didn’t reciprocate the feeling. When she came in the door, I wanted a cat cuddle, but she ran off to explore the house. “Mer-row, mer-row” echoed off the walls.

I had scarcely said goodbye to Cleo’s owner before Cleo finished a circle of the first floor. Then, although she had never seen a staircase before, she ran up the bottom set of stairs, barely paused at the landing and bounded up the second flight of stairs to the top. She was on a tear, back and forth, up and down. I tried a “Here, kitty. C’mon, Cleo,” patting a spot next to me on the sofa, but Cleo didn’t break stride to even look at me. I thought she just needed time to acclimate to her new surroundings.

Over the next few hours, Cleo kept up her wild pace. Up and down stairs, up and over the back of the sofa, always on the move, and always just out of reach. In the past, Caesar had been friendlier than Cleo, but eventually Cleo would come for a scratch behind the ears. There were no scratches for her that day.

Later in the day, I realized the house seemed quiet and I hadn’t seen Cleo for a while. “Cleo! Here, kitty!” I called.

She didn’t come, but she did answer with her regal “mer-row!”

I was standing by the bottom of the stairs and her voice sounded loud. I looked around but I didn’t see her anywhere.

“Mer-row!” Cleo said again.

I looked up and saw her head stuck through the railing at the top of the stairs, directly above my head. The tip of her tail twitched back and forth.

“Careful, Cleo!” I yelled. Could a slender Siamese fit all the way through the railings or was she stuck? I was panicked. If she could fit through, what if she lost her balance and fell? I didn’t want to have to explain how I killed my cat-sitting charge.

“It’s okay, Cleo. I’m coming.” I used my sweetest, most soothing voice and edged up one stair.

Before I got to the second step, Cleo flattened her ears against her head and hurtled through the air. I didn’t have to worry about her falling, because she jumped!

I didn’t have time to react. Cleo landed on my back and bounced off into the living room in one motion. When I turned the corner to check on her, she was sitting calmly, cleaning her fur as if nothing unusual had happened. I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck.

I told my mom what happened.

“She’s so fast, you probably just didn’t see her come down the top flight of stairs,” Mom said.

I almost believed her, until it happened again. And again.

The next time I couldn’t find Cleo, I tiptoed to the steps and peeked overhead. Sure enough, there was Cleo. Waiting. It had become a game for her. Which would have been fine, except the next time I headed upstairs I was in a hurry and I had forgotten about Cleo’s game. As she launched herself into space, I took two stairs instead of one. This time, instead of a smooth bounce off my back, Cleo had to use her claws to steady herself as she sideswiped my head.

“Ow!”

The blood convinced Mom I was telling the truth, and before the day was over, she had the cat land on her head once or twice too. But I didn’t celebrate this little victory. We were under attack.

Shy Cleo had gone Rambo. Maybe she was over-stimulated by the excitement of experiencing stairs for the first time. Maybe it was the whole change of surroundings. Whatever it was, Cleo was a fast learner, graduating from novice user to stair ninja in a matter of minutes.

I don’t know if we were “prey” or just part of a crazy cat practical joke, but for the rest of the time that Cleo stayed at our house, we had to hold a book over our heads if we wanted to use the stairs. You couldn’t always see her, but Cleo lurked in the shadows, waiting to pounce — and she never missed. She never seemed to get tired of waiting either, even if no one came by for a long time. She was a true cat “survivor” willing to outwit, outlast and outplay us.

I wasn’t the cat whisperer anymore.

Cleo was in charge.

~Wendy Greenley

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