One day the apartment was an empty shell of freshly-applied white paint, and the next a family had moved in. Two tall, slender brunettes and their tiny child now occupied the home where Hank and Daphne had previously lived. They have no names. If I were to see them on the street I would most likely pass them without recognising them as my neighbours.
They don’t have a dog.
What they do have is some sort of a cycling obsession. I know this, because the nieghbour man often puts his very expensive-looking bike on a stand on his balcony and cycles for hours. HOURS. Which is fine, obviously. Who am I to say whether or not it’s unusual to get dressed in your lycra onesie and hop up on your perfectly road-worthy bike only to never leave the safety of your balcony?
Unfortunately, Oscar, the once-kitten, now small-bear-cub, has taken a keen interest in all this cycling malarky. Any day with a sighting of the stationary cyclist is a good day in Oscar’s book. I know this because the first day that we saw him pedaling furiously to nowhere, Oscar made an ill-advised attempt at joining him. He was busted only as he dangled on the edge of the window – a hefty wad of fluff swaying drunkenly in the breeze – calculating how far he would have to leap to catch the cycling man.
It turns out my cats have even less spatial awareness than I do, and have yet to master the seemingly simple concept of small versus far away.
Considering Cycling Man lives a block over and a floor down, I suppose it is – in theory – possible that Oscar has flying squirrel capabilities I am not yet aware of (who knows what lies under all that excess fluff), and was about to deploy these skills to glide gently and gracefully down to our new neighbour. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that he would have leaped optimistically off the balcony like a rotund, airborne starfish and speedily plummeted into the holly bush below our window.
Ultimately, he was snatched to safety and now I am far more aware of our neighbours’ activities than I was before, if only because I have a feline bicycle enthusiast.
If I look out the window right now, I can see Cycling Man pedaling away like he’s trying to out-cycle his demons. Oscar is watching him with obsessive interest.
Tomorrow is Paddy’s Day so I just want to wish everyone a great Lá Fhéile Pádraig – please remember the cardinal rules relating to shamrocks (never clover) and Paddy (never Patty), and don’t drink too much green beer (know the one that’s one too many; one. One is one too many. Drink something decent instead)!
This morning I woke up and made a phone call of total betrayal.
I phoned a number saved on my phone to schedule a very important appointment. As the receptionist explained about the two procedures and the need for fasting, I caught a glimpse of Oscar’s face, so blissfully oblivious of the treachery taking place right before his eyes. As we discussed dates and times, I turned to see Maya lying on the floor, watching me carefully from the other room. She rolled over onto her back and I felt a sharp pang of guilt about the scar that will soon run up her midsection. Once the deed was done and I had finished with my phone call, I called the scurrilous gurriers over and turned the laptop screen towards them.
“Okay guys, I have a survey for you to fill out.”
Maya eyed me suspiciously, white paws on the table. Oscar stared at the ceiling and licked his nose.
“There are no wrong answers, okay? It’s just to see if there are any areas I can improve on. You know, to see if there’s anything I can do to make you happier.”
Maya’s eyes flicked to the screen and back to my face. Oscar scratched his ear.
“It’ll only take a few minutes!” I promised. “It’ll be great!”
Maya yawned. Oscar batted at a hole in the wall he mistook for a fly.
The survey was divided into sections that dealt with their day-to-day lives. I decided to let them type up their own answers, since at six months old they are both perfectly capable of such things.
Maya had hers typed up in under five minutes. After a flurry of typing, she slid it across the table and, tail held proudly in the air, pranced over to the carpet to clean herself thoroughly for the sixth time this morning.
I sighed as I read through her answers. Someone had clearly been practicing with Mavis Beacon…
I set it aside and looked over at Oscar, now slowly and methodically thumping away at the keyboard with his large paws. He was completely absorbed in his work, his pupils so dilated he looked like he’d had special brownies for breakfast. His tongue poked out ever so slightly. He took so long with his survey that even after I had left for lunch, eaten, come home and done my chores… he still wasn’t done.
Two hours and forty-five minutes later, he finally dragged a crumpled page to my feet and left to look for food.
Expecting a thesis, I picked it up and straightened it out to find this:
I laid it neatly next to Maya’s piece of paper and looked down to find Oscar sitting by my feet, smiling at me expectantly. When he was sure he had my full attention, he fell heavily on to his side and rolled himself belly-side up. He chirped adoringly and I pet his tummy as requested.
Maya looked down at us from her perch on the cat tree, disgusted at Oscar’s lack of decorum.
Maya and Oscar are booked in for neutering and spaying next week.
I feel bad about it already.
Although this nonsense post is probably not the best place to be announcing this, I won an award! I didn’t want to say anything before this because even though I made the longlist, and the shortlist, and then knew I was a finalist… I still didn’t think I stood much of a chance of actually winning. I won Best Blog Post at the Blog Awards Ireland for Falling Half in Love with Strangers. I wasn’t able to go to the awards, but I’m going to pick it up on Wednesday so I can put it on my mantelpiece and look at it every time I feel completely useless and uninspired. Just wanted to share that because it was such a lovely surprise!
I enjoy being with people, don’t get me wrong. I like spending time with people. People are great! I have a lovely time whether I’m out with friends or at home chatting over tea.
It drains me though, and it drains me fast. Fast like my Samsung S7 battery that runs down after a few hours of intense usage, not like ye olde Nokia 3210 battery that lasted five days if you played Snake on it constantly, and twenty-three days if you barely touched it at all. When I spend time with people, afterwards I need to retreat, relax, and recharge, and usually my recharging station is my home, where I work or study at the dining table next to the window.
This is how I first became aware of my neighbours.
My window overlooks their balcony, and every day out of the corner of my eye I would see a man and his dog – who we will call Frank for the purposes of this post – coming and going on their walks together.
I can’t fully explain my obsession with Frank. It started out as a pretty benign distraction from my day; I would see Frank (an English Bulldog) and Frankman (the name I gave his owner) exit the building, and then I would watch, amused, as Frank lay stubbornly down on the grass and refused to go anywhere.
Frankman would sigh, exasperated, and half-heartedly tug on the lead.
Frank would dig his barrel chest into the grass.
Frankman would grumble and pull with all his might.
Frank would duck his head and hunch his stocky shoulders, as immovable as a rock formation.
Frankman’s pleas would go from an exasperated, “Come on, Frank” to an increasingly desperate “FRANK! FRANK! COME ON! FRANK!”
Frank would stare implacably at his owner.
Frankman would yank on the lead in a sort of daily exercise in futility.
Frank would lie on the grass stoically refusing to go anywhere before he was ready. Then, as if he hadn’t just been making a scene for the past five minutes, he would calmly get up and trot off with a flustered Frankman in tow.
This would happen before almost every single walk. I would watch these scenes, and over time I grew fond of both Frank and Frankman. There was something really endearing about Frank, who made it clear that if he went anywhere at all it was only because he was allowing it, and there was also something endearing about Frankman, because he always looked so buttoned-up and serious but would lose all and any air of authority around Frank.
Frankman also has a wife (Frankwoman) and together the three of them were the Frankfamily. They brightened up my days considerably with their Frank-related antics. Even on his own, Frank would bring a smile to your face. Like a creep I would sometimes take photos of Frank’s more memorable moments. I have, for example, a video of Frank falling off a chair and quickly getting back up to look around and check if anybody witnessed it. He was a character.
And then one day, Frank was gone.
One week he was being his usual obstinate self, and the next there was no Frank, no walk, no tug-of-war happening in the garden. I barely saw Frankman or Frankwoman. Where was Frank? Considering I had never spoken to Frankfamily, there was nothing I could do but wonder. I rationalised it to myself coming up with a variety of reasons he wouldn’t be at home, but in three years Frank had never to my knowledge been apart from the Frankparents. If they were at home, so was Frank. The whole thing was worrying.
The following weekend, I watched as Frankman arrived home with a tiny bulldog puppy in his arms.
Frank was gone.
Since I never spoke to Frankman and Frankman never spoke to me, the mystery was unresolved until one day when my father dropped over for a visit. As I walked in with him, we met Frankman and the new addition walking out. Unaware of the delicate neighbourhood ecosystem in which nobody directly addressed anybody else, and instead only ever communicated through comments directed at each others’ pets, my father asked Frankman what had happened to “the big dog”. Frankman looked down at the ground and explained that Frank had had a heart attack while they were out for a walk. A congenital heart defect, undetectable until it was too late. He said it casually, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the grass as he spoke, but his voice was gruff with emotion.
The new addition was called (let’s just say) Ariadne.
Ariadne was adorable, but she wasn’t Frank. She was too small, too cute. She bounded out for her walks with great enthusiasm. She didn’t know Frank’s trick of standing up on the chair and placing both paws on the balcony railing to survey his domain. She didn’t bark as often. Her best moments came when she attacked Frankman’s shoes and when she waddled off with a leaf or a stick she’d found, proud as punch.
We switched Frankwoman’s name to Ariadnewoman, but Frankman remained Frankman.
You know, in memory of Frank.
A year on, Ariadne is almost Frank-size. Oscar and Maya are fascinated by the way her stocky little body romps around the garden. She’s a fan favourite. She still doesn’t know the trick of standing up on the chair to look out over the garden, but she has been starting to show sure signs of stubbornness. The other day I had to retreat to the back of the apartment laughing because she wriggled under a bush, sat down, and no amount of begging, shouting, pleading, threats, offers of treats or cajoling would coax her out. Ariadnewoman eventually sat, defeated, on a bench to wait out this episode of hard-headedness.
And now, Frankfamily are moving away.
Naturally, I didn’t get this information from the source – I still have never had an actual conversation with the couple – but the information is legitimate. They are leaving. When I first heard this, I was more upset than anybody should be about strangers moving house.
“They should have warned us,” I muttered darkly to Scrubs.
“Don’t be weird.” He said.
“Do you think we could start a petition for them to change their minds?”
“We should be able to lodge an objection. Do they not know Ariadne is essential to neighbourhood morale?*”
Scrubs sighed and eyed me with considerable alarm. “Please hide your obsession with their dog for just a little while longer.”
Of course, I couldn’t do that. How could I let Frankfam move without letting them know they would be missed? I decided to buy a card. I went into town and bought a card that said, “Sorry You’re Leaving” on the front and, “Wishing you all the best” on the inside. Perfect, I thought… But then the overthinking started.
Ariadne can’t read, I reasoned. A card won’t make her happy. I bought a dog toy – a white, fluffy alpaca – and a gift bag to put it in. I nodded, satisfied with myself.
Maybe I should add a dog treat, I thought.
I grabbed a pack of chicken twists from the shelf.
Maybe two, just to be sure she’ll like one of them.
I grabbed a Jumbone.
I turned towards the till, but it was too late.
I had lost the run of myself.
I can’t just address the whole thing to Ariadne… My brow furrowed. What about the humans? What about Frankman and Ariadnewoman? Is it rude to exclude them?
A couple of lollipops, a bag of fizzy sweets, a couple of chewy bars and a box of maltesers got swept into the basket.
When I got home, I wrote the card to Ariadne and her humans. I thanked Ariadne for brightening up the block, told them we (the humans and the cats) would miss seeing them around and good luck with the move. I threw everything into the gift bag, took the maltesers back out because they seemed like overkill, and left it on their balcony.
Then I went home, sat down, and realised that:
Having never had a conversation with them ever in my life, it might not have been the most reasonable thing to go so overboard with the goodbye present.
They probably wonder a) who I am and b) how on earth I even know they are moving.
I now have no choice but to avoid them until they leave because I am so embarrassed.
When I told Scrubs he groaned and asked why – WHY – I would have done such a thing without consulting with him first. He is naturally mortified by association, but at least he can claim ignorance since I am obviously the nutter who wrote the card.
I am still sad that they’re leaving our neighbourhood. They just seem so lovely and I like to think in another life they would have stayed another four years and eventually we might have worked up to greeting each other with actual words and eye contact. Who knows. Dream big!
On the other hand, at least once they leave I can stop feeling myself turn red with embarrassment every time I see them, now that they know without a shadow of a doubt that I am their number one fan.
Swings and roundabouts.
*Not complete hyperbole; for about a year somebody in our apartment block named their wifi ‘CAN WE PLAY WITH ARIADNE PLS”
So it’s been just over a month since Oscar and Maya moved in. We’ve got to know each other over the course of that time, and we now have a fairly decent communication system in place which consists of them scratching at the fridge (food please), them scratching at the door (attention please) and them scratching at the window (FREE USSSS!). As brother and sister, I have to say their personalities balance each other out quite well.
For example, Oscar enjoys waking me up with vigorous face licking (which is both quite painful and also the most exfoliating experience I have ever had), but likes his own space when he goes for a nap. Maya, on the other hand, prefers to act as a sneak-attack alarm clock in the morning, but prefers to snooze while snuggling with humans.
Oscar lives in a perpetual state of wide-eyed innocence, finds many things confusing, and often acts in ways that are not only unpredictable but also completely illogical. Maya is sensible and sharp as a tack; her every action is both deliberate and based on common sense, so her behaviour is generally predictable.
Oscar is a picky eater with intolerant tastebuds and a delicate stomach.
Maya eats like she’s been marooned at sea without food or drink for nine days.
Together, they rule the apartment in the form of a boisterous but benign dual dictatorship. They may only have been here a month, but they are learning at a rapid pace. Here are some of the things they’ve learned in one short month:
Some things cannot be explained
Certain things are a mystery and will always remain that way. For example, the toilet cistern. When the human flushes the toilet, where does the water go? What is that gurgling noise? Inquiring minds (Oscar’s) want to know.
Obviously the hoover should be avoided at all costs, but there are other objects in the house that look innocuous but later turn out to be possessed by demon energy. The hairdryer is one such object. Trust nothing until you have seen it come to life and heard whether or not it roars with the voices of ten thousand angry beasts.
Rules are made to be if not broken then at least challenged
The human says a lot of things. Sometimes the human says things like “GET DOWN OFF THE TABLE!” and “STOP CLIMBING THE CHAIRS!” Remember this is ‘your life, live it however you wanna,’ as Eminem once said. You do you. If that means practicing your bouldering on the dining room chairs, go for it.
All objects have special feline functions
The human thinks it is a cardboard box, but actually it is a battlestation. The human thinks it is a curtain but in fact it is an invisibility cloak. The human thinks it is a paper bag, but it is really a costume for our upcoming theatrical production of CATS The Musical.
So here we are, a month in and we’re all learning lessons!
They’re starting to really trust me, and coincidentally we’re coming right up to the time when I need to take them to the vet to be neutered and spayed, so I’m sure all that trust will need rebuilding in pretty short order after it is blown to smithereens by the veterinary surgeon’s scalpel…