Roughly four years ago I reported on the acquisition of a calico kitten named Hermione. I began by writing that she was asleep in my inbox. Now four years later, too large for my inbox, she sleeps in the chair next to mine in the room in our apartment I call my office. I ended my earlier scribble about her by saying that whatever disorder she might bring into my life I judged to be worth it. I now have to report that she has brought no disorder whatsoever, and instead her becalming company has brought only contentment, pleasure, and delight.
In all the time she has lived chez Epstein, Hermione has caused no destruction of any kind. She has knocked nothing off any counter or table. She never attempts to eat any but her own food, with the exception of her taste for tuna, a small amount of which I parcel out to her when I prepare tuna salad. On the “it’s alimentary, my dear Watson” front, she has never failed to use her box and, given her constant bathing, is doubtless cleaner than I. Her only known vice is a passion for rubber bands, which I prevent her from indulging out of fear of her swallowing one.
Hermione is a house, or in our case a sixth-floor-apartment, cat. Apart from a few trips to the veterinarian, since living with us she has not been out of doors. Only once has she been left, for a week, in a vet’s kennel for cats, and, though she survived the ordeal well enough, with luck she will never have to do that again. I have decided that she is the feline equivalent of a Christian Scientist, at least on that religion’s medical aspect, which is to say, I have determined to dispense with regular visits for her for checkups, shots, and the rest. She is—touch wood—bountifully healthy.
When I first saw Hermione, she was the runt of a litter of 11 kittens, all of whom had lost their mother and were lodging in a local pet store as what were called rescue animals. Runtish no more, she is, without being overweight, a full-figured girl, though with a small and elegant head. Hermione is lengthy, and, gracefully passing from room to room, she sometimes reminds me of one of those accordion-connected double buses.
Hermione sleeps a lot, in various locations. (Is this, I wonder, because I bore her?) One of her favorite locations is atop our kitchen counter in a square box, now filled with tissue paper, that once contained a pair of boots. Although she is not a lap cat, she will squiggle up at my feet or sometimes atop my head when I’m napping. Evenings, when we are watching television, usually some old BBC drama now on DVD, she joins us on the couch and agrees to allow petting, which she prefers behind the ears and under the chin, though she will accept strokes along her back. She spends most nights asleep at the foot of our bed.
Apart from a dish of dry food, and a quarter can of moist food served twice daily, and a bowl of cold water (known locally as Walden Pond) set out to the right of the kitchen sink, she has no regular requirements. Some mornings she will appear at my desk, mewling lightly, a signal that she wishes to be brushed. Other times she will roll over on her back, paws raised, which means she wants to play with the toy called Cat Dancer: a length of wire with bits of rolled cardboard at each end, with which she tussles and rolls about.
I cheerfully accede to Hermione’s few demands not only because of my deep affection for her but because I sometimes worry that she has had a bad deal in life. Here, as I see it, is the deal. Hermione has been spayed and for company been restricted to two adults, who, though quite mad about her, can communicate with her only in a limited way. In exchange for the loss of freedom and a life among her own species in the larger world, she has been given warm shelter, a guaranteed supply of food, and safety from the harsh depredations of nature and malevolent humankind. In this deal, she is likely to live three or four times as long as she figures to do out on her own in a cold climate. All in all, she has been offered a gentler if more extreme version of the welfare state, in place of the life that Hobbes described as nasty, brutish, and short.
Would you take such a deal? I’m far from certain that I would. That’s why Hermione, for all her days, has only to ask for a brushing or a cat dance workout and she shall receive.