Okay, a quick multiple-choice quiz:
I am not responsible for either act of destruction. Who is?
1. A very clumsy (or angry) spouse.
2. Murphy, my rambunctious, 70-pound dog.
3. Barnaby, my 30-ounce, 12-week-old kitten.
Yes, cat owners, that was an easy one. The quiz was mostly for the others.
I have never been a cat person, and I confess I was not prepared for a force as coldly and efficiently destructive as my newest pet, a wee stray who was rescued from the undercarriage of a car on the coldest night of late December, and who has been living with me ever since.
The assassination of the champagne bottle was fairly pedestrian; Barnaby knocked it onto a tile floor from a shelf I naively thought was too high for him to reach. (Nothing, it turns out, is too high for him to reach. He is six inches tall but regularly visits the top of the refrigerator.)
The annihilation of the frying pan was also accomplished by a precipitous fall, but this one was a masterpiece of demolition science involving the casual harnessing of multiple Archimedean principles. Barnaby used a turkey baster as an impromptu fulcrum and a kitchen towel as a sleigh to minimize drag friction. This kitten is a destructive genius.
I haven’t yet learned how to discipline him effectively, because unlike dogs, who accept punishment with appropriate shame and learn from their errors, cats do not seem to grasp the concept of personal responsibility or atonement. Barnaby does not regard getting yelled at, or being put on timeout, as an occasion for attitudinal adjustment. If anything, he regards it as an opportunity for reprisal.
Yesterday, when he kept leaping onto a windowsill until he managed to knock a plant to the floor, I banished him to the bathroom, with appropriate stern finger wagging. Within a minute, from inside, there came a terrible sound. When I opened the door, Barnaby was in the toilet bowl along with a full, sodden roll of toilet paper. (He had apparently ridden it all the way down, like Slim Pickens on the A-bomb in “Dr. Strangelove.”)
Caught in flagrante, Barnaby did not apologize; he escaped. Darting past me, wet as a fish, he squished across the floor and leaped into an open pantry, where he immediately found and entered the most problematic hiding place available, a slightly open bag of flour. I do not believe in corporal punishment, even for animals, but that earned him a swat. He swatted me back.
My body is a spiderwork of tiny scratches, most of which I do not remember sustaining. Barnaby sleeps in the bed near me, and my theory is that he spends half the night finding soft spots where he can inflict just enough revenge to break skin, but not enough to wake me. So most mornings I gingerly search my body for clues to what awful things might have transpired overnight. I imagine that’s exactly what it felt like to be Dr. Jekyll.
As I type this, Barnaby has been in my lap, asleep. He just awoke, startled, darted onto the desk and upended my coffee cup. Now he is hiding. Of course. He is Mr. Hide.
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