Harpo The Stealth Cat is the master of a minimalist feline martial art called delayogami. When you approach him in order to give him a pat he will, if he is in a bad mood (which he always is), lash out with one lightning fast, razor tipped paw. The rest of his body doesn't move a muscle. Harpo does not believe in unnecessary effort. You withdraw your hand immediately, of course.
"Ha, ha! Missed me again," you chortle triumphantly and you go about your business. Harpo returns happily to sleep. He knows something that you don't, and five minutes later, just when you are least expecting it, the pain hits you like a hammer blow and the blood begins to flow, dripping redly onto the pages of your book and obscuring vital sentences. Stealth cat wins again! Cursing, you head off to the bathroom in search of antiseptic cream and sticking plaster. Harpo grins malevolently in his sleep.
He's lived with us now for about seven years. He's big, black, sleek, powerful and vicious; the lord of all he surveys. There's no trace left at all of the cold, wet, starving, flea-ridden bundle of desperate fur that turned up so pathetically on our doorstep all those years ago. He knows that he is in charge of the world and he isn't scared of anything in it except visitors and vacuum cleaners. Since the lady who comes once a fortnight to clean our house is a visitor with a vacuum cleaner he finds her doubly scary and she has never seen anything of him except his fluffy tail racing desperately for the undergrowth. She treats my sticking plastered fingers with scorn. "He's a scaredy cat, he'd never hurt you!"
Since Harpo is demonstrably scared of visitors and vacuum cleaners, I suspect that he may also be scared of violins, vibrators, volcanoes, Visigoths, vintage volutes and vegetarian vindaloo. Fortunately for his peace of mind he has not yet come across any of these. Once a year he definitely proves himself to be frightened of both vaccinations and vets. I shudder to think what might happen should he ever encounter a vampire or a Volkswagen. I have no explanation for his monomaniacal alphabetic neurosis. I asked him about it once.
"I find it valuable for ventilating voles when I'm hunting," he told me, leaving me none the wiser.
Sometimes, late at night when he is sure that nobody is looking and when there is a 'q' in the month, he turns into Harpo The Cuddle Cat. The claws retract, the red gleam in his eyes dies away and he climbs on to a lap, his motor revving loudly in top gear. He snuggles and wriggles, demanding to be patted. Because we are too scared of him to disobey, we stop whatever we are doing and do as we are told. He radiates bliss from every molecule. Occasionally he dribbles.
Harpo is a long haired cat. Long haired cats need regular brushing in order to keep their fur sleek. However Harpo hates having his fur brushed. People who try and brush him are immediately terminated with extreme prejudice. As a result of this policy, his fur is generally matted and tangled and full of dags. Every so often we have to take him to the vet to be de-dagged.
"Hello Harpo," says the vet. "How are you today?"
"Kill, kill!" says Harpo. The subtleties of delayogami are put to one side. Flesh is going to be shredded.
"I'll let the nurse do this," says the vet as his mangled fingers drip blood. "It's just routine."
The nurse is already dressed in a suit of armour. She is equipped with electric shears. The magic sword Excalibur, sometimes called the Scourge of Felines, is sheathed in a scabbard on her back. The hilt peeks coyly over her left shoulder. She carries Harpo off into the back room. The spitting and swearing dies away into the distance. Eventually the nurse and Harpo return. He is now a short haired cat with bald spots and a bad mood. The nurse's armour hangs in shreds. Both she and Harpo are exhausted. Harpo glares at me.
"Just wait till I get you home," he threatens.
"I'm cooking a casserole tonight," I tell him. "How about I give you some raw beef?"
"I might forgive you eventually."
Now that Porgy is dead, Harpo is top cat. His Hairy Majesty takes this duty very seriously and he spends much more time at home than once he did. He sleeps on guard, one ear poised to listen for Bess who must periodically be reminded that she is bottom cat. Harpo is not currently aware that I have photographs of him and Bess curled up asleep together on the sofa, radiating peace and perfect harmony. One day, when the occasion demands it, I will embarrass him with these pictures and blackmail him into not ripping me apart.
Bess seems to know that something fundamental has changed in her life now that Porgy has vanished. It is hard to say whether or not she misses him (she paid very little attention to him when he was around, though she did bring him get well soon rats when he was sick). She has definitely grown more needy of late, constantly requiring laps and cuddles and reassurance. "Please don't send me to wherever you sent Porgy. I don't want to go. Please keep me here at home with you."
She follows us from room to room. She hates to lose sight of us. If I didn't shut the toilet door she'd even keep me company in there. Sometimes as I sit on the throne reading a book and contemplating the infinite, there are scratches at the door and pathetic whimperings from outside.
She insists on sleeping on the bed with us at night. Of course, it is winter at the moment and very cold, and the bed is very warm. Even Harpo, who is hard and tough and totally impervious to the extremes of wind, rain, sleet, snow and temperature, sometimes sleeps on the bed these days. It's easy to be cynical when you are owned by cats.
Both Bess and Harpo continue to supplement their diet with rats, mice, lizards and the occasional bird. Bess invariably brings her prey into the lounge so that we can properly admire her skills as a hunter. Robin, who is in charge of corpses, semi-corpses and vomit (all of which are closely connected to each other), has enormous fun chasing the semi-corpses round the room. There are an amazing number of hiding places in the average lounge and Robin is intimately familiar with all of them.
"Bess, Bess -- take it outside!"
Bess looks puzzled. "But it's yours now. I don't want it any more. Look! Quick! It has run underneath the stereo. Oh! You are hopeless!"
Robin arms herself with a long pokey thing and sweeps it back and forth beneath the stereo. The semi-corpse runs out and hides underneath the sofa. It's going to be a long night...
Harpo is a much more pragmatic hunter and all his trophies are immediately taken into the bath where he carefully dismantles them and arranges the bits and pieces artistically across the porcelain. This makes it very easy for us to clean up the mess, of course, though it does have a negative impact on our enthusiasm for taking baths. We have been careful not to tell Harpo how much we appreciate his hunting habits in case he stops doing it out of sheer feline perversity.
One cat, two cats, black cat, tabby cat. These are the cats today.