I’m not really a cat person, which is not to say I don’t like them. I’m an animal person in general, a dog person in specific and a big dog person if you want to really get into the details. I like cats just fine; I’ve just never had one. Which may not make me the most likely cat sitter.
That’s what I was thinking as I juggled my bag of take-out Thai food and a weekend sized duffle bag at the door to Jennifer’s apartment building. I was there to cat sit Rudolf, named after the silent film star, not the reindeer. As it turned out, Jennifer’s need for a weekend cat sitter coincided with my need not to freeze to death while my apartment building’s heat was shut off. The simple repair had turned into a major repair, which was now stalled for the weekend. My weather app promised low teens. My landlord promised nothing. Also, Jennifer was my boss, so saying no would have been a little complicated.
Jennifer and Rudolf shared a luxury apartment on the Upper West Side, another plus for cat sitting. I’d stopped by the night before, got the rundown on the building, security, cat feeding instructions and all of the directions necessary to spend the weekend binge watching premium channel TV. Cats do not need to be walked outside in freezing weather, a fact that had me re-evaluating their charms as compared to dogs.
Now I entered the lobby, nodded at the man behind the desk, stopped to grab a cappuccino at the deluxe machine, and entered Jennifer’s code into the elevator. This was going to be like a mini-vacation. The only amenity at my apartment was the free workout from climbing five flights of stairs in an elevator-less brownstone.
An insistent meowing was coming from the door as I turned the key in the lock.
“Oh no, are you hungry? Want some dinner?”
Rudolf hissed and stalked to the kitchen.
“Guess that’s a yes on dinner.”
I followed the waving flag of Rupert’s tail through the gray and cream living room under two chandeliers and into a kitchen decked in artfully worn brick arches and shining stainless steel appliances.
Rudolf jumped to the counter and stared at me, his tail drooping from imminent starvation.
His dinner consisted of a complicated mix of canned cat food, tuna fish and a sprinkling of kibble. Jennifer had smiled indulgently while describing Rudolf as a somewhat particular eater.
I put the dish on the floor. Rudolf yawned and began licking one paw.
“Dinner,” I said, clapping my hands in what I considered to be a friendly, attention getting manner.
Rudolf stopped licking, squinted at me and turned his back, looking out to the front door in hopes someone less moronic was on the way.
“Just me, kitty,” I said. “I’m all you’ve got this weekend.” I washed my hands, getting ready for my own dinner. Behind me Rudolf sneezed.
My dinner was from a new place I’d been waiting to try. I’d gotten to be queen of the take-out dinner since I moved to the city. There were a lot of good, cheap take-out places, which also solved my eating alone in a restaurant anxiety problem.
Although, a kitchen like this would probably change my cooking habits. I took a minute too long to admire the chef’s model Viking range.
A whooshing, crumpling noise got my attention and I turned in time to see Rudolf pouncing on my container of yellow curry, which was now spilling its spicy goodness all over the floor. He batted away pieces of potato, apparently prizing the chicken morsels. Damn.
He kept batting his paws, this time at me, claws bared, while I attempted to steal what he obviously regarded as his dinner. He connected a couple times, leaving thin red lines on the back of my hand. I knew they would puff up and start itching within minutes. Cats were working their way back down my list of preferred animals.
I found a broom and wielded it gently to separate Rudolf from his feast, which produced a few hisses and stalked exit. I ordered pizza and finished cleaning the mess. Rudolf had disappeared and I was okay with that.
Rudolf still hadn’t reappeared by the time the pizza came. I started to worry about how much spicy curry he had eaten. It didn’t seem like a particularly healthy dinner for a cat. I flipped on the warmer on the oven, tucked my pizza inside, having learned not to leave food on counter tops, and went to check on him.
The search revealed more chandeliers, impeccable design and no cat, not to mention a smoky haze when I returned to the kitchen.
I shut off the oven, rescued my pizza from a cloud of smoke, which seemed to be coming from leftover grease in the bottom of the oven. Cranking open the window cleared out what was left of the smoke. Finally, I settled in front of the TV with the only slightly smoky box of pizza.
Dinner over and only one episode into a promising detective show binge, I decided to search one more time for Rudolf. As I came back into the living room, I became aware of a low rumbling. I checked the TV and sound system. Nothing unusual. I went back to the kitchen, double-checked the window I had opened earlier, locked it, went back into the living room where the sound grew louder. I felt like I was playing some solitary form of the warmer, colder game we had played as kids.
The sound was Rudolf, sitting on the top of the bookcase, purring in a baritone rumble, looking happier then I’d seen him so far. Maybe he just needed time to warm up. But he didn’t just look happier. He looked bigger. I took a closer look. Maybe he just had his fur fluffed up.
I was surprised when he jumped down and followed me to the couch. Really surprised when he settled down on my lap to watch TV with me. He was warm, cuddly and a perfect antidote to dark, grisly murder mysteries. Cats were making their way back up my favorite animal list.
A particularly tense chase was happening on the show. I was watching the detective being lured into a trap, when something crashed behind me.
I jumped, throwing Rudolf off my lap, and whirled to face… Rudolf sitting on top of the bookshelf, a small figurine shattered on the floor below him. He looked at me and calmly began licking a paw. He meowed at the cat who had been sitting on my lap, who answered and rearranged himself on the couch.
A whiplash comparison of the two revealed that there were, indeed, two cats. And that imposter Rudolf was darker, fluffier and a great deal larger than real Rudolf. So much for that attention to detail answer I had given in my job interview.
Imposter Rudolf and I sat down to begin formulating explanations. As cat sitting job performance goes, adding an extra cat has got to be better than losing one.
About the Author: Holly Dutton splits her time between Phoenix, Arizona and Carlsbad, California. She has raised two sons, several dogs and countless fictional characters. She is currently working on a collection of short stories set in the Southwest.