Alex and the Pussycats

We went to a party last night, in Crail, near St Andrews.

Our host, Paul, throws an Almost New Year’s party every year, full of good food, plenty of drink, and wonderful company. He has a cozy Victorian house, full of beautiful things, which he shares with two black and white cats. Somewhat is the bolder of the two, and Muchly the sweeter.

Alex doesn’t know any cats. Martin’s allergic, you see, so we don’t have pets. I didn’t know what to expect from their meeting. Would Alex be afraid? Would he be too bold, unaware that cats can be hurt, and get scratched or bitten as a result? Would he just hate them, or they him?

His first encounter was not encouraging. We had just arrived, and were taking off our coats in Paul’s front hall, when Somewhat came downstairs, calm as a king. Alex took one look, and decided any further observation was best done while clinging to my legs.

But friendships take time, and parties allow for many encounters. Half an hour later, Alex was feeding me Pringles in Paul’s main sitting room when Somewhat came by again, no doubt to investigate the short human. He sat down calmly and looked up at the boy. Alex reached out, and I kept a hand on his wrist, ready to gentle his touch or help in a swift retreat.

There was little need for my intervention. Alex stroked and petted, but did not hit or grab. And Somewhat tolerated the familiarity, even rubbing his head against Alex’ chest and chin. Alex’ face was a mix of surprise and delight. He must have decided Somewhat was a new kind of teddy bear. And what you do with teddy bears is lie down and cuddle them, right? So he lay down on the floor, on Paul’s horsehair rug, and patted the space beside him. He looked up at Somewhat and patted again. The message was clear: Come lie down with me.

Somewhat, being a cat, was too dignified to roll on the floor with a little boy. Moving in gradual figures of eight, he segued toward a sofa. Alex followed, enchanted.

I sat with the two for a while, until I was sure the friendship was secure. Then I backed off and watched from a distance. From across the room, I caught the moment when Alex raised his shirt to show his new acquaintance his tummy. Somewhat kept his poker face, but I was laughing for both of us.

Muchly only appeared for brief spells, and was inclined to flee when Alex expressed an interest. Somewhat, however, had several pleasant encounters with the boy, allowing himself to be stroked and petted with bemused tolerance for the young. They parted as friends.

And yet, throughout the party, I met adults who bore the claw marks of Alex’ new friend. I myself got a warning glare for daring to stroke him once too many times.

I wonder how he knew that Alex was young, and to be extended extra courtesy?