“Tuna time,” I say as I struggle out of bed. From the other side of my queen-sized mattress, Belly sits like a statue on her heating pad, watching me. I make my way to the bedroom door, and Belly twists and jumps down with an oomph-meow, as if her joints ache.
In the kitchen, I fork a chuck of canned tuna into her bowl. “Want some tuna, Belly?”
She stares up at me, a plea in her gaze. “Mow.”
I set the bowl on the far end of the kitchen table as I say, “Here you go, buddy.”
She springs first onto a chair and then onto the table with another one of her oomph-meows and digs in. I fill her other bowl with dry cat food and a third bowl with fresh water. Then I leave her to her meal.
Once she’s had her fill of tuna, she heads into the bathroom for a drink of water from the leaky bathtub faucet. Then she jumps onto the bed, sits on her heating pad, stretches out a leg, and begins washing. I rub my hand over her head.
“Hey, pretty girl.”
She must know she’s pretty because she doesn’t stop licking to acknowledge me. She really is a beautiful cat – a brown, black, and white tabby with an M on her forehead. I kiss her on the M and continue on with my morning.
As I get ready for work, I hear her pacing around the living room. “Whatcha doing, Belly?” She stops, glances up at me, and says, “Meep” before heading the other way. I leave her to the pacing, and eventually I hear her scraping in the litter box. A moment later, she races across the living room and attacks her scratching post. Then she saunters back to her heating pad and falls asleep.
Right before I leave the house, I stroke my hand over her head. She rolls onto her back, showing me her belly. I rub her chest, her purr rumbling under my fingers. She grabs my hand with both front paws and tries to nip me. I’m too fast, though. I yank my hand away and say, “Nope.” Then I tuck my hand under the blanket. “You wanna play, Belly?” I wiggle my fingers, and she pounces on my covered hand with paws and teeth.
For a moment or two, she chases my hand as I move it back and forth underneath the blanket. Eventually, she involves one of her back feet, and I remove my hand. She keeps kicking, though, booting herself in the face over and over.
“Belly, you’re kicking yourself in the face. Don’t kick yourself, girl. Stop. You’ll hurt yourself.”
I place my hand over her back paw, and the kicking stops. She grabs her tail between her two front paws and licks the end of it, calm as can be.
“Good girl.” I pet the side of her face, and she rolls to her back again. “I gotta go, girl. Be good.” I unplug the heating pad, drop a few kisses on her cheek, and turn away.
At the front door, I can’t help but look over my shoulder at her. “I love you, Belly.” The end of her tail wags in response, and my heart melts. “Ciao, Bella.” Another wag of her tail. Then I’m off to work.
When I get home that evening and open the front door, Belly’s cute, little cat face pushes through the gap. “Hey, Belly.”
As I push the door all the way open, I bend down and rub the side of her face and under her chin so she won’t try to escape into the outside world. “How are you, girl?”
Her tail wags like a dog’s, high in the air and happy. I nudge her inside and close the door. She walks around the kitchen, meowing.
“You want some food, Belly?”
She rubs the side of her face against my leg and then does the same to one of the kitchen chairs. “Mow.”
“Are you starving?”
I pour some dry food into her not-quite-empty bowl. With her usual oomph-meow, she springs onto the chair, onto the table, and crouches over the bowl, chomping away.
A little later, Belly is restless. I know from being home on the weekends that she slept most of the day. Not the entire day, though, I deduce from the fuzzy toy ball I discover in the middle of the hallway. “Were you playing, Belly?”
I kick the ball to her, but she only stares after it. I walk over, pick it up, and toss it into the air near her. Her eyes light, and she bats at the air with her front paw, missing the ball because she refuses to move. I grab the ball again.
“Come on, Belly.”
I toss it her way, and she bats at it. Then she runs and punts it across the living room floor.
“There you go. Good girl.”
I toss it a few more times. Then we kick it back and forth some. But she never really gets into the game. In the past, I’ve watched her play one-cat soccer, but I guess she’s not up for it right now. Who can blame her? She’s fifteen years old.
I pet the top of her head and the side of her face. She leans into my hand, and her purr rattles the air. “You want some catnip?” She doesn’t answer, but when I grab the container from the cabinet and shake it, her eyes light again. I pluck a pinch of catnip and sprinkle it onto her crinkle-noise blanket in the living room while she bumps her forehead into my arm.
“I hear you, Belly.” I rub my finger through the herb hill, invoking the crinkle sound. She sniffs at the catnip, rolls her face and body over it, and licks some of it up. Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle. Then she assaults her scratching post before making her way onto the pillow I’ve set out for her next to the living room window.
For the rest of the evening, Belly naps, wakes, eats, and drinks from the leaky tub faucet. But when my usual bedtime nears, she starts pacing around the living room and kitchen.
“Mow,” she says.
“What’s the matter, girl?”
“Okay. Let’s go.” I brush my teeth, change into pajamas, and slide under the covers. She’s already on the bed, sitting next to her heating pad. I turn the heat on, and she lies down.
“Is that good, Belly?”
She answers with a wag of the end of her tail.
I read for a while before I turn out the light and fall asleep. Later, I awaken to her walking circles around my head.
“For fuck’s sake, Belly. Stop. I’m trying to sleep.”
I nudge her away, but she comes back. I check the control on her heating pad. The automatic shut-off has triggered. I press the button once to return it to low temperature. She curls up on it again and leaves me be. She wakes me the same way a couple more times, and we go through the same routine.
On the last go-round, the heating pad doesn’t appease her. No matter how many times I nudge her away, she keeps bothering me. When walking around my head doesn’t get me to do what she wants, she paws first at my shoulder and then at my chin. I sigh, roll over to check the clock, and groan. It’s tuna time.