Dispatches From Quarry Farm: The New Guy

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

“Cats are loose in their morals, but not consciously so. Man, in his descent from the cat, has brought the cat’s looseness with him but has left the unconsciousness behind – the saving grace which excuses the cat. The cat is innocent, man is not.”

Mark Twain, “The Lowest Animal”

It’s pretty well known that if you die in your house and no one is around to clean it up your cats will eat you. They don’t even wait that long — maybe a day at the most? As a guy who generally likes animals and has two roommates that are cats, and mostly enjoys their company, I don’t spend much time thinking about this. I mean, to be fair, humans will do the same thing when dropped hopelessly far from the store without phone service or chance of rescue — it’d take much more than a day though, I’d like to think, before some sweaty, depraved soul suggests drawing straws.

I scored Grey Greg, a twelve-week-old domestic shorthair, off Craigslist about a month ago. He’s friendly and unafraid and runs up curtains and chases bottle caps and scoots after twist-ties and ignores the toys I bought him and, considering that all kittens are exceedingly cute, is your average, extra-cute little cat. And as you may have guessed, like the sky in upstate New York, he’s grey. Aside from the tiny white dot on his chest he is all grey — even the curious little eyes in his head that scan the room for mischief are nothing but grey. Grey, grey, grey.

As I said, he’s been at Quarry Farm for about a month, but it only took him a couple weeks to figure out the morning routine and turn it up a notch. About thirty minutes before I’d like to wake up I can sense a change in the energy in the room. That undeniable feeling of being watched. Weezy the dog, in her bed in the corner, begins to sigh passive-aggressively, signaling her starvation and Dr. Carmichael, the plump, raccoon-shaped calico stares coldly from the top of the dresser near my bed blinking out the word b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t in Morse code. These two were easy enough to ignore while I reached for just one more dream, but the new guy’s approach is somewhat haunting and undeniably effective.

According to the internet wormhole I descended into (so you wouldn’t have to, you’re welcome), it’s the cartilage that’s the first to go. The nose and the ears and the eyelids don’t stand a chance in the world of postmortem predation. We don’t need to get into the details of what happens next, or what happens when you have multiple cats — Twain had up to nineteen at one time! — but it does not improve from there.

BGG (before Grey Greg) I always enjoyed the early morning dreams that come with drifting in and out of consciousness. Maybe a tropical paradise with a cloudless blue sky, tan feet in white sand, or the steady, hypnotic rush of a waterfall that smells like a cool summer escape. I’m good at finding these places in the last hour before dawn.

What I’m not good at is staying in these places when I realize that it’s not in fact a waterfall or the ocean I’m hearing. It’s the hot, short breath of a kitten inside my head while he’s chewing on my ear. It is humanly impossible to sleep a moment longer when a cat is chewing on your ear.

Suddenly Grey Greg went from a mild annoyance to his animal roommates, to hero — they’d never seen a slow starter like me leap out of bed that quickly. And me? I went from a guy with the cutest kitten ever to a guy who googles “Will your cat eat you?” and never sleeps in again. And for good measure I’ve decided to overfeed all of them to buy myself some more time. Just in case. 

Mark Twain had many cats in his lifetime — they numbered in the teens here at Quarry Farm. He had his favorites: Sour Mash was the only one that traveled back and forth with the family from the Elmira to Hartford. And there was Apollinaris, Beezlebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin and so on. Twain even rented cats when he was traveling abroad and couldn’t bring his own. With all this cat experience I can’t help but wonder if he knew.

I imagine with cats named Satan and Sin he might’ve had a hunch.