Last night I was playing with a cat.
Or rather, last night, a cat was playing with my foot. I’ve noticed lately that cats seem to think of my foot as an ideal place for facerubbing. It’s just a question of sneaking into the right position. The cat in question had already warmed itself up by lying with its face buried in my sandals for a while. It had prepared itself funny. And it knew just how to get what it wanted.
Before I knew it I was coiling my toes back and forth, creating shapes for it to manipulate it’s face around. Bending and shifting to try and surprise it with new permutations.
This whole game took place in the dim light of a room full of people watching Twin Peaks. I don’t think anyone noticed how much fun we were having.
Unfortunately, the cat was still standing on the back of the beanbag when one compatriot stood up. The collapse and fall was, quite frankly, hilarious.
I doubt the cat saw it that way. It certainly appeared to stalk off with an air of ‘you didn’t see that and if you say you did you’re lying’ based dignity.
There are two critical problems with this story. First of all, I make claims to know what it feels like to be a cat. It is impossible for me to know what other humans are experiencing, but breaching the species barrier is an absurdity. The very nature of catness is lost to me. Even in the most primitive way, I cannot purport to see what they see. To know what it feels like to have such a tail. To want my face to be tickled that much.
I can certainly make estimative comparisons. Particularly about the tickling. I have desires for physical contacts. But lets not go there. We’re trying to talk about cats, not make me feel lonely. (Currently Toiletcat, our visiting cat, has been exiled as its impossible to let Toiletcat in without also letting the big territorial Tom that shat on my housemate’s bed in. This is sadness. Also there’s a chance that it was Toiletcat that did the pooing, and we’re just projecting innocence. Which leads neatly to my next point. Huzzah!)
The other problem with trying to imagine we understand cats is the way it seems so damn easy. The problem here is projection, or if you like longer words ‘anthropomorphism’. The impossibility of actual understanding is masked by a really neat ability to assume that everything everywhere thinks like we do.
I have no idea how much of a concept of dignity cats have, but it’s tremendously easy for me to see them express it. It seems to be their default mode. Even the playfulness has the appearance of a guilty pleasure to it. ‘Yes, I’ll play with you now, but if you tell anybody this happened, there will be poo in your bed tomorrow.’
But it’s projection. We could never know.
Illustration by Helen