26 July 2012
CHIARO, MAO AND ME
I have two half-Siamese cats, brother and sister. The larger, white male is named Chiaro, short for chiaroscuro, the term in art for the interplay of light and shadow, a reflection of his black markings. His face and body have the distinctive, exotic Siamese structure more than his sister. The smaller, calico/tabby female is named Mao, simply the Chinese word for cat. You'd have to look up her family history to know there's Siamese in her. Her appearance is that of most slightly-built house cats. They've been my companions for six years, since I adopted them as kittens from the Humane Society shelter.
I'll never forget the first time I saw them. I was touring the facility, meeting all the cats who were up for adoption. Some lived in cages, others had the freedom of small rooms with windows facing both the corridor and outdoors. When I came to one such room, there were four litter mates inside, two white and two calico. They were all healthy and full of energy, and I fell in love (something that easily happens between cats and me). I spent time playing with them, then left with the intent of returning the next day to adopt two ~ which two, I couldn't decide.
When I returned, I found the decision had been made for me. Someone had already adopted one of the whites and one of the calicoes. I wasted no time signing papers for the other two. When I arrived at their room, Mao was sitting on a ledge, backlit by the sun, looking regal and sublime. A natural cat.
During the months and years since, we three have learned each other's ways, and are very close. Chiaro, being the larger older brother, sometimes gets carried away with rough play, and I (as alpha cat) have to remind him to tone it down. He's much the braver of the two in meeting strangers, Mao is more shy, easily startled, gentle. But because they grew up together, she is not intimidated by her brother. When they're play-wrestling, she'll leap at him with mock ferocity, forcing him onto his back, then dance away, only to come back for more.
We all enjoy certain daily routines. After my morning shower, I groom each of them with a brush to keep their coats healthy and minimize shedding. They love being groomed, and never turn down the chewy treat I offer as reward. Later, when I'm at the computer, one or the other will curl up in my lap and fall asleep. Anytime I travel out of town for more than a day trip, they accompany me.
Their internal clocks tell them down to the minute when mealtime is (morning and evening), and they aren't shy about reminding me. I live in a small apartment, and they are strictly indoor cats (there's too much nearby traffic and risk of becoming lost). I'd love to live in a larger house with lots of windows and a sun porch, where they would have more room to run around and watch birds at the feeders. Someday. For now, they're allowed anyplace inside the apartment, except where human food is prepared or served. Sometimes their chases approach significant speeds, and I have to play traffic cop to prevent damage (like the time they knocked over and destroyed my flat screen TV ~ the replacement is securely fastened down).
I love that they seek me out, whether I'm exercising (they'll sit near the stereo speakers to listen to classical music), watching a DVD movie, or lying in bed reading. Our mutual affection finds its perfect expression at bedtime. When the lights go out, the cats will settle lying on my legs, or snuggled against my side. When I awaken in the morning, they're still there. And another day begins.