One Smart Cat

One Smart Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul

One Smart Cat

There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.


Nicole and I sat on the futon watching a TV movie in the house we shared with three other college students. The music’s crescendo, the beating drums, the danger lurking behind the corner on the glowing screen gripped us completely. If there was a world outside the television, we did not know it. Then a sound from upstairs momentarily overrode the pounding drums. Thump, ting! In the back of my mind, I wondered, What is that cat doing? I decided to ignore the sound. What harm could a cat do in the space of a few minutes?

Ting, thump. Then came a strange grating noise, slow and deep at first. “What is that?” I asked Nicole.

“Huh? Probably Nermal,” she answered, her eyes fixed on the flickering screen. I was about to dismiss the repeated thumping when it stopped, and, as if on cue, the cat appeared. She hung from the metal banister like an adolescent boy struggling to do chin-ups—forearms extended up, body dangling below like a wet towel. Nermal slid down, gaining speed. She reached the end of the banister and went flying—her journey ending when she landed a few feet from where we sat. It was a spectacular entrance, one never performed before or since.

Nermal looked at us, eyes wide. We stared back at her. The room was still; the booming noise from the television had suddenly gone silent. The stillness was broken only when I started to laugh. Nicole joined in. Nermal licked her paw, as though nothing had occurred. She held our attention, and that was all she had wanted to do.

Nermal does not tolerate inattentiveness. A quiet human with eyes drawn elsewhere is a no-fail formula for mischief. She was given to me when she was no bigger than my palm, and, even as a kitten, she was deceptively innocent, with large green eyes and ears that were too big for her small head. In snapshots taken when she was four months old, she appears to be the epitome of sweetness and serenity, with tigerlike stripes adorning her black-velvet body and green eyes glowing like heated emeralds. Little did I know those eyes were not only marking each passing moment and calculating her plans, but also waiting for the next opportunity to pounce on a sleeping face or a moving foot beneath the comforter.

As an adult cat, she has become amazingly creative and persistent at getting what she wants. When I tell my friends and family about her exploits, no one believes me.

One night recently, I discovered yet another of Nermal’s uncanny skills, one that I could hardly believe myself. I lay huddled under my duvet, waiting to fall asleep, Nermal curled into a ball at my feet. She fell asleep before I did, and, as I listened to her snore, I sighed. I knew that, by four o’clock, she would be screaming to be let out into the hallway. It’s the same routine every night: She awakens at four, stretches, hops off the bed, and begins to scratch and meow impatiently at the door. This continues until, groggy and slow, I finally shuffle across the floor of my room and let her out. Some mornings (especially those that follow late nights), I find it more convenient to ignore the scratching and meowing until it is my time to get up, announced by the blaring noise of the country-music station coming from my small clock radio. She doesn’t like the delay, but, as she can’t open the door herself, she has to wait.

That night, as the minutes continued to pass without sleep, I knew that I would have to ignore her early call if I was to get enough rest. Finally, I fell asleep.

One moment, I was sleeping. The next, the twangy voice of Tim McGraw jarred me from my dreams. It was still dark outside, and, confused, I checked the digital display: 4:11 A.M. Why had the alarm gone off? Had there been a power failure? A single triumphant meow came from beside the bed. It was time for the cat to be let out. Puzzled, I got up and opened the door. The cat gleefully bounded out the door, the bell on her collar announcing her joyous exodus. I shook my head. Fluke, I thought. Cats don’t use alarm clocks to wake their humans. And I would have left it at that, too. But the next morning, it happened again. And then again. Until finally, three days later, I caught her in action.

It was one of those nights when more thinking about sleep is done than actual sleeping. No amount of pillow fluffing, rolling over or augmenting blanket layers could remedy my sleepless state. Then, as I stared at the shadow-covered ceiling, I spied a stealthy feline figure slip from bed to nightstand. She stepped lightly, paws making a soundless transition from soft mattress to wooden nightstand. First one forepaw, then the other, both of them followed by two hind feet as she silently stepped up onto the alarm clock. The soft pad on the bottom of one paw pressed the sleep button. Country music began to play: Time to get up! She wanted out.

I couldn’t believe it! Nermal must have noticed a correlation between my waking and the alarm going off. I couldn’t bring myself to get mad at her. I realized that I was actually proud of her intelligence. I mean, how many cats use alarm clocks to wake up their people? Not that four in the morning is appealing, but, nonetheless, she is one smart cat.

Nermal—for better or worse—has become a fixture in my life, an irreplaceable presence who keeps me on my toes. When I return home after a long day, I call out her name at the foot of the stairs; the faint jingle of her bell always answers my appeal. Following the sound into the living room, I find her perched on top of the covered fish tank. “Ik-ik-ik-eow!” she says. “You’re home.”

I pick up her soft body and carry her to my rocking chair. She first sits, then stretches out, finally curling up into position on my lap, then a deep purr emerges from her depths. I can feel the vibrations filling my legs, persuading me to relax. I take comfort in her company as she takes comfort in mine.

Her eyelids become heavy, yet before she succumbs to slumber, she looks up at me expectantly. I imagine she’s asking me, in that way she has, if I am okay. I smile and caress her soft, warm body until she is convinced she can sleep. And, as she gently snores and drifts into the realm of dreams, I feel immensely lucky, despite the fact that, with Nermal at my side, I know tomorrow will be a very early morning.

Rebecca A. Eckland

off the mark      by Mark Parisi

OFF THE MARK. ©2002 Mark Parisi. Reprinted by permission of Mark Parisi.

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