Mornings, I creep. I consider each footfall, trying to avoid every creaky board in this old house. I don’t want to wake my son. He’s been sleeping downstairs on the couch since he got a concussion. He needs his sleep, and I’m used to this hour by myself in the mornings. I need this hour by myself.
I let Puck out of his crate and marvel like I do every morning that we have a cat who actually has to sleep in a dog crate in the basement because he cannot stop waking us up on the hour every hour all night long. He croaks his hoarse morning meow at me and leans against my legs to be pet. Frances buries her nose in his neck fur, then races him up the stairs. They make a clownish pair, one a lanky 18-pounder and the other a delicate 8 pounds. Big cat, little cat. I feed whatever cats show up for breakfast. Frances is always here, swirling, crying, even though she rarely eats the first time food is offered.
I take the circuitous path through the dining room around the table–fewer creaky boards that way. Frances beats me to the refrigerator. She is circling on the kitchen island–bought to extend the limited counter space in this small kitchen but given over almost immediately to the cats, who claimed it as their territory–crying for milk. I pour some into her bowl, and she laps for a moment, then decides milk wasn’t what she wanted either. She hops down and swirls around my legs as I separate pots at sloth speed. This is my own biggest worry in the mornings–I’m going to clang pot against pot and wake up my son. The smart thing would be to set the pot on the stove the night before, but I never remember.
I heat the milk for my coffee on the stove instead of the microwave. No beeps, pings, or clicks required. If I move slowly enough, intentionally enough, I can do it virtually in silence.
The rest of the cats eat and run, back to bed for their post-breakfast nap, but Frances is a be-with kind of cat. She stands on the armchair, waiting for my coffee to be ready. I am barely seated before she’s in my lap, kneading my bathrobe with her giant mutant toes before curling up to sleep.
All the curtains are closed, and we’ve hung blankets over the ones where the sun comes in, trying to make the house darker, better for morning sleep. It’s almost too dark to read, and besides, I’ve left my book in the bedroom and I’m not creaking back through the living room to retrieve it. Of course there are books in this room too–there are books in every room of my house–but I’m not sure I want to start something new.
I sit and pet Frances and sip my coffee and enjoy the silence.
Then I make the mistake of thinking about the dog. She’s still asleep, and I’m grateful. The clatter of claws as she careens across the floor, the whap of her tail against the stove as she greets me, the jangle of her collar as she gives herself a vigorous morning shake…. Nobody is sleeping through that. She’s an old dog, though you wouldn’t know it from the way she skitters across the floor to get to me every morning, and she now spends the first ten minutes or so of the day sorting out her breathing–snorting like a bull, chuffing like a tiger, and occasionally sneezing. Even when I get her still enough to be quiet, there is the heavy breathing.
It’s like she can hear my thoughts turn to her, though, because suddenly there she is in an explosion of sound. I dump Frances off my lap and herd Roxy out the door. Now that she is up, I’ll be sharing my chair with her too.
Sometimes I’m up and down twenty times in the morning, my coffee growing cold as I feed the errant cat who missed breakfast when it was served fifteen minutes ago, take Roxy out, feed the cat who decides he needs a second breakfast fifteen minutes after the first was consumed, wrangle the cat who sits at the foot of the couch yowling for no earthly reason. My trick the first day was to lure the criers into the back staircase, an area that’s usually off limits to cats, where there’s much to explore. But now they’re bored by cardboard boxes and brooms and bags of cat food that they’ve discovered they can’t actually bust into, so they ignore the fingers I enthusiastically wave at them and refuse to come to me.
Finally all six cats have eaten at least once and no one is meowing. Roxy has gone out and gotten through her morning breathing exercises and is now curled in a cat-sized circle in my chair. Frances has settled into my lap. My coffee is lukewarm, but it would be too much trouble to heat it up.
I open my notebook.