The red tea kettle was blocking my view of the clock. It kept doing that. I sighed as I rolled over and sat up in bed. It was new and hadn’t yet learned its place, so I picked it up by the handle and carried it out of the bedroom, down the darkened hall, and into the kitchen, only once stepping on one of the cat’s toys, quite an accomplishment. I flicked the little stove light on and set the kettle on the counter.
What time was it again? That was when I realized that I’d forgotten to check the time after I picked up the kettle, so I glanced at the stove clock in the dim light of the kitchen to find it blocked by the red tea kettle, handle up so that I couldn’t read the time. I glanced over to the counter top where I was sure I had just set it, but, yes, it was not there. I sighed again, shook my head slightly, and picked the tea kettle back up, looking for somewhere else to set it. It needed a place, its own place, to be. Maybe, then, it would quit wandering around.
I could put it in a cupboard, but that would just be inconvenient, having to get it in and out all of the time. I wanted it to live on the stove but on the burner where it wouldn’t block the clock.
Oh! The clock. I wanted to know the time. I looked over at the clock, and there was the tea kettle again. Hadn’t it just been in my hand? I was sure I hadn’t set it down.
I reached for it again, but, at that moment, the cat floated by, ghostlike, doing whatever it is that cats do at night. He brushed my cheek with his tail as he lightly pressed one paw onto my shoulder as he passed by. Looking for flying bugs, I supposed.
His sudden spring to the ceiling almost caught me by surprise, and I saw him going for the spider in the corner where the ceiling met both walls on that side of the dining room that adjoined the kitchen.
The cat stiffened, caught in the act, but he couldn’t stop like he would have been able to if he’d been on the floor. He looked back over his shoulder at me and “mew”ed just as he collided with the ceiling and bounced to the wall, grabbing hold with his claws.
The spider scurried into the crack where the two pieces of trim met. I could see him peeking out but was too far away to hear the cursing that I was sure was happening. Spiders like very much to curse. Most of them, anyway. Tarantulas are above that sort of thing. Or so they say.
The cat arched his back and, then, marched down the wall studiously ignoring me as I scolded him, “Geoffrey, what have I told you about the spiders? We leave the spiders alone. Spiders are good.” I spoke slowly and distinctly, as if he was hard of hearing, which, honestly, at that moment, he was.
When he got close enough, he leaped from the wall to the dining table and sat like the puff of smoke he had originally been named for.
I sighed and shook my head at the cat, thinking back to the small, gray puffball he’d been when he’d shown up on my doorstep. Like a puff of smoke when you blow out a match or a candle. All except for the toes on his front paws, which were white. I had determined to call him Smoke and actually had for a number of weeks.
Until my nephew came to visit.
He’s my sister’s kid. We don’t ever see each other, my sister and me, unless she needs something. That particular day, she had needed me to babysit, her usual reason for seeing me, so she had dropped my nephew off at an obscene hour on a Saturday morning. A time when normal people are still sleeping. My nephew came in asking, “What’s for lunch?”
I told him it was too early for lunch, to which he replied, “Actually, it’s late for lunch. At school, it’s already nap time.”
I grumbled and went to grub around in the kitchen and look for food.
He met the cat while I was trying to find slices of leftover pizza that I could pick enough of the mushrooms off of that it would convince him to pretend they weren’t really there to begin with.
“Warm or cold?” I shouted out into the room with the TV that only worked three days a week.
“It’s going to the table, then. Why don’t you bring Smoke, and you can feed him some treats while we’re eating.”
That’s the great thing about pizza: I was about to have it for breakfast, and my nephew was having it for lunch, and we were both perfectly satisfied that all was right with the world with that arrangement.
He plopped the kitten down on the table in much the same spot as he was currently sitting and eyeing me sullenly for the scolding.
As I dropped several cat treats into the boy’s hand, he said, “Why do you call him Smoke?”
“That’s his name.”
“No, it’s not.” He said it very matter-of-factly, very like when he had said, “At school, it’s already nap time.”
That was annoying. I wasn’t even awake, yet. No pizza. No coffee. And less than four hours of sleep. “Yes, it is. I named him that.”
He looked at the cat, held out the hand with the treats, and cocked his head slightly as the cat took one and sat down with it.
“He says he already has a name, and he doesn’t like Smoke.”
“What’s wrong with Smoke?”
The boy shrugged, “I don’t know. He says he doesn’t like it.”
“Why didn’t he tell me, then?” I raised one eyebrow at the kid, thinking I’d won.
He glanced back at the kitten and offered him another treat. The pizza, his slice and mine, was just sitting there on our plates waiting to be eaten, making me cranky, while my nephew chastised me on behalf of the ball of fur that looked like it was about to drift away.
“He says he did tell you. He says you don’t listen.”
“I do, too, listen.” I crossed my arms, thinking back, trying to figure out if I’d been listening. I wasn’t sure, and that made me more cranky, because the kid might be right.
“If you listened, you’d know his name is Jeffry.”
“Jeffry?” I blinked, stared at the kid, and picked up my slice of pizza. Just to make a statement by doing it. “What kind of name is Jeffry for a cat?”
The small shoulders of the boy shrugged as he took a bite of his pizza, “I don’t know. I just know that that’s his name.”
I waved my pizza in the air, “I like Smoke better.”
With his mouth stuffed, barely comprehensible, he replied, “He doesn’t like Smoke.”
“So. He’s my cat.” I obstinately took a bite of my pizza.
After a moment of chewing, the boy said, “Jeffry says he’ll call you Bob.”
“But my name’s not…” I ripped a big hunk of pizza off with my teeth and sent it spluttering everywhere as I said, “Fine!” After I swallowed, I added, “Geoffrey, it is.” Internally, I smiled, knowing that neither of them could spell so couldn’t tell that I had given the cat a name I wanted to give him anyway.
As the cat sat on the table and stared at me, I wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t known all along. Cats always look like they have secrets, even when they don’t. Who knows what was going on in that cat’s head.
I saw the spider creeping back out of the crack in the ceiling, and I glanced up at it, “You leave that spider alone.”
The cat stood up, turned, and lifted its tail to me as it hopped off of the table, drifting off through the house but near the floor this time.
I stood there a moment in the arbitrary division between the kitchen and dining room completely unaware of what I was doing. Why I was up. What time it even was.
Oh! The time! I turned back to the stove, and there was the red tea kettle again blocking the clock. I grabbed the tea kettle and jerked it from the stove. 1:16 glowed dimly in green on the little panel on the back of the stove where the knobs are, and I stood there staring at the readout. I didn’t even remember why I’d wanted to know what time it was. Or why I was awake…
Why was I awake? Something had woken me up. That’s why I had been trying to look at the time. Oh, well. I had no idea what it was, if I had ever known at all. What I did know is that I was going back to bed.
I sighed and raised the red tea kettle up to eye level, “But what do I do with you?” I yawned, shook my head, and set the tea pot back down on the stove. I’d figure it out later.