51: La Chatte

51: La Chatte

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

La Chatte

I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul.

~Jean Cocteau

I have a left-handed cat. Her name is La Chatte, and my husband and I acquired her by default three years ago, when I was a new stepmother and was in bending-over-backwards mode towards my husband’s children, who live with their mother and stepfather on the other side of town.

In a fit of romantic display, my sixteen-year-old stepson had arrived at his paramour’s door on her birthday carrying a fluffy, black kitten. The birthday girl’s mother was less than enchanted; one is either a cat person or one is not, and I’ve found that when it comes to cats, there is no middle ground. Wanting to thwart the possibility of her daughter’s attachment, the mother spun my stepson around and pointed him in the direction of his car, kitten in hand.

What happened next was a domino effect: my stepson went back home with the kitten, which he handed into the willing arms of his eight-year-old sister who formed a bond with the ball of fur within seconds. Promptly, their mother arrived on the scene followed by the family’s four curious dogs. Barking, jumping and general pandemonium ensued, and it didn’t take long for their mother to make an executive decision: there would be no kitten living underneath their roof and that was the end of that.

When the phone rang at our house, my husband spent the following half hour trying to soothe his precious daughter, who sobbed and wailed that all was lost because she couldn’t keep the kitten. My husband looked at me with desperate eyes so I gestured for him to hand me the phone. “Tell me about the kitten,” I said, and by the end of the day we were the guardians of an appeased eight-year-old, and the permanent caretakers of a nine-week-old black kitten.

Suffice it to say, La Chatte has changed the dynamic of our home, and we have adjusted our lives to accommodate her. She is large on personality, whimsical and capricious. She is aloof until it doesn’t serve her, at which point she’ll capitulate. She is primarily an indoor cat, but she likes to dart outside should one of our screen doors fall off the track. She never goes very far; she typically just hangs around on the front porch evading us when we give chase and sauntering back inside when it suits her. Rather than being frustrated, I have cultivated an essential patience and am now in the habit of waiting indefinitely to do her bidding.

The reason I know La Chatte is left-handed is because she uses her left paw to get my attention. When we are seated at the dinner table, she positions herself on the counter behind me and reaches out with her left paw to tap me on my shoulder. This is her way of saying that she wants to join us for dinner even though she has already been fed. If you were to have asked me four years ago if I’d ever envision myself inviting a cat to dinner, I would have told you the idea was preposterous. Yet I have changed my mind completely and I cave every time she taps me, because the gesture is so endearing.

La Chatte is exceedingly vocal for a cat, having figured out quickly that one well timed meow will spur me to action. “What is it, La Chatte?” I say, springing to her command. She’ll meow again for good measure just to make sure she’s got me, then lead me to the kitchen where her green food bowl with “The Cat” written in white block letters awaits — because we couldn’t find one written in French.

I am the reclining sort, as in I like to lay prone on the sofa while watching movies. For years I had the exercise down with a soft pillow and throw blanket strategically appointed, but all that changed when La Chatte moved in because she’s the affectionate kind who doesn’t take no for an answer. She simply insinuates herself onto my chest and all the king’s horses couldn’t dissuade her, so I have amended my ways to include her. Now no movie would be worth watching without La Chatte’s Zen-like presence on my chest.

I have learned that in order to live harmoniously with a cat, you have to accept their premise: they are mysterious little creatures with whiskers, claws, flexible bodies and searing eyes. They are curious, elusive, independent, and fundamentally beyond the reach of human influence until they decide there is something they want from you. I have learned that sometimes in life it’s best to suspend judgment and embrace the entire package, even if you never went in search of it. I have learned all this and more. And now I know that sometimes the virtues of patience, acceptance and unconditional love arrive by default in a warm black bundle that purrs.

~Claire Fullerton

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