My friend and I are having lunch and, as often these days, bemoaning the state of the world. There are Gaza, and Israel, and Ukraine. There are the immigrants massed at the US border and drowning in the Mediterranean. There is Darfur. In Vermont, there is this almost frost-free winter, which leads to marauding black bears (it’s too warm for them to stay in hibernation) and, in the Arctic, to starving polar bears (there is no ice for them to travel and hunt from). There is AI, not to mention the upcoming election.
We pause to take a breath and then, out of the blue, I start talking about my cat.
“He has,” I tell my friend, “the most amazing whiskers.” I am well acquainted with Telemann’s whiskers. Every night, as I lie in bed reading, he arrives. After some peremptory head butts on my nose, he settles—not at my feet, not on my legs, but on my chest. His face is so close to mine that I can feel his breath on my upper lip, and he lies there like a purring incubus, staring into my eyes while I try to read. It feels uncanny to have a cat staring into your eyes for minutes on end, so after staring back, trying to see into his soul and coming up empty, I contemplate his whiskers.
“They are so elegant,” I continue. “Pure white, to match his chest and paws. They are thicker at the base and then taper almost to invisibility at the tip, like eyelashes. The top ones are shorter and stick out horizontally, but the longer ones swoop down in graceful arcs. And he has two cute little stubby ones on either side of his chin….”
I interrupt myself to check on my friend, in case she has fallen asleep during my speech. But no, she is wide awake. “I know what you mean!” she exclaims. “I was looking at Finn [her cat, named after Twain’s hero] the other day and I said to my husband, ‘just look at Finn’s whiskers! Aren’t they magnificent?'”
And we’re off on the topic of cat whiskers, how they are the miniature equivalent of that ornament of Victorian parlors, the porcupine quill, and from there we diverge into the many charms of felines, and how DaVinci himself, who drew many cats, some of them scary, supposedly said, “The smallest feline is a work of art.” We both agree that, unlike dogs, cats even in the poses of intimate hygiene have a certain fluid grace….
And just like that, thanks to Telemann, Finn, and the feline folk in general, we leave the world of human-made misery and form a tableau that some might smile at: two ladies of a certain age having lunch and looking happy, going on and on about their cats.