BROTHER IT'S COLD OUT THERE
The cold weather has brought the cats indoors and we witness Blackie and Brownie, our two neutered toms, take the first steps in their annual round of reconciliation.
Make no mistake: their negotiations are as protracted, tortuous and delicate as anything management and labour ever dreamt up. Like exhausted armies, each side knows that the outcome is inevitable; yet each side insists on observing established protocol.
Not that our cats could be called enemies, far from it. They are litter brothers who have never been separated. A regime of no favouritism has never stopped them keeping a jealous eye on each other when it comes to treats, but they eat ordinary fare from the same dish, darting their heads under each other like kittens. One will allow the other to sit on my lap for a stroke, knowing that his turn will come, but as soon as the brush and comb come out, up they both jump and jostle for position.
By now they are portly, middle-aged gentlemen. There are still mad moments in spring when they sense the sap rising outdoors and skitter all over the carpet. Only in spring do they issue the distinctive ululating challenge that leads to chases up and down the stairs.
Come the summer, they settle down and are content to ignore each other. In human terms they remind me of nothing so much as an old married couple who decided long ago that divorce was not the answer and who have resigned themselves to rubbing along together under the same roof. In the case of cats, of course, it’s the same roof plus the same yard, and ours is large enough to give them plenty of opportunity to live their lives in parallel. They spend sedate afternoons sitting several yards apart on the lawn, or up on the wall observing the doings of their humans.
Cold weather brings them indoors again. With the wisdom of beasts, they know that it will get even colder. So negotiations begin, one step at a time, leaving ample room for retreat without loss of face. For several days we find them sitting a foot or so apart on window ledges, accepting each other's presence. A further week goes by in which we find them in each other's favourite place: Brownie lolls in Blackie's time-honoured winter position, on the dresser by the stove, his spine pressed against its warm metal casing. Blackie in turn jumps from floor to worktop to cupboard top, surveying the comings and goings in the kitchen from Brownie's vantage point. We suspect that the purpose of this manoeuvre is to impregnate themselves with each other's scent.
The endgame is played out on the back of the couch where they lie facing each other, noses three inches apart. Imperceptible shifts in position narrow the gap until, if they turn their heads to look at us, their whiskers clash. Then Brownie, the boss, disposes himself on the cushions, and a few minutes later permits Blackie to join him. After that, it becomes difficult to tell them apart. They form a single furry cushion, curled around each other, noses buried deep under the other’s flank, black fur shading into black tinged with brown.
It's a cold world out there and a truce has been called until spring.