The phone rang as I was headed out the door for Cleo's session. It was Kelley. Mom hasn't left yet. Can we postpone 15 minutes? Of course, I said. Kelley and her husband were sitting in the church parking lot a few blocks from her mom's house. Kelley had contacted me a few months before Christmas after Cleo was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, and wanted to have portraits taken as a surprise for her mom since they didn't know how much time Cleo had left. Once the coast was clear we met at the house. Even though Kelley's mom called several times to suggest places to go shopping for furniture (what she thought Kelley and Leif were doing in the first place), she never suspected a thing. Needless to say, Kelley's mom loved the album. Here is the story of how Cleo came into Kelley's life.
The Story of Cleo . . .
Disclaimer: my husband and I have 2 dogs and 2 cats of our own and all are rescues; I would never, ever get a critter from a pet store at this point. As a junior in high school in 1997, however, I was considerably less aware and thus my mother and I approached the Petland pet store in Monroeville while I whined incessantly about how much I had always wanted a black cat and could we please please please get a black kitten if they had one. Please. Pleasepleasepleasepuhleeeeeeee
There was one black kitten. I don't think I've ever seen my mother look more disappointed.
The kitten was sleepy and kind of layabout as we did the cursory kitten-squeezing. My mum asked if she was ever active and the saleswoman assured her that yes, she did in fact move and play. I used her lethargy as preemptive attack on the pivot that I *knew* my mother was preparing; "Oh see, she's sleepy . . . so she won't get into trouble and the landlord will never know." And thus did the black kitten come home with us the following week, whereupon she was named Cleo--short for Cleopatra. Her very first act as illicit apartment kitten was to scale the drapes so that she could sit in the window and advertise her presence. Eventually the landlord found out about her, but he declined to make a fuss. Cleo amused herself by climbing All The Things, begging for water at the bathroom sink, and racing around the apartment. At night she would sleep with me and suck on the crew neck of my t-shirts so that I would wake up with a wee little fuzzball at my side and an enormous slobber patch on my chest. Because she functioned so much like a hyperactive, drooly security blanket she pretty quickly earned the nickname Woobie. To this day mum and I refer to her most frequently as Woob, Woobie, Woober, or The Woob. "Cleo" has rather become her formal name. When I moved into my first place after college mum told me that, as she was my cat, I could take her with me provided I was ok with all the heartache and distress that would cause her. But, you know, if I was willing to make the woman who bore me VERY VERY SAD, I could have my cat. Totally up to me. Needless to say, Woob stayed with mum, who refers to her as my sister.
In her prime she was enormous--15lbs. And when she developed arthritis it became difficult for her to pop up onto window sills. So mum had a carpenter make a tiny set of kitten steps that led from the human steps up to an expanded window sill in the breakfast nook, in order that she could continue to make her little quacking noises at the birds. Woob has a voice--it's a little child-like in pitch, but with a slight edge of perturbation, which is how we perceive her personality. She's very much a cat: not overly fond of strangers or noise, picky about her food and the cleanliness of her blue donut bed (she lets mum know when it needs to be washed by pointedly lying next to it, but refusing to get in.) She doesn't bury her poop because she much prefers if it is instantly jettisoned from her box--and the house--by the closest available human, and she would rather not be picked up. Ever. She likes to play, where "play" means "to watch someone wave around a cat toy so that she can very occasionally swat at it from a recumbent position."
She has always been confident in her status as most intelligent mammal in the room.
While I was in grad school, Woob began assembling her oeuvre. It started with an errant piece of paper on the floor, which she decorated with a series of claw holes. Thereafter, she would sit at the printer and meow plaintively for paper. Mum would occasionally interpret the claw holes by connecting the dots. If the interpretation was correct, Woob would floop onto it when on the floor for her approval. Lately, however, Woober seems to have tired of the arts and prefers napping, waking mum up at 5am if her food bowl is empty, and napping some more. She's like a little sloth in a cat suit. Although she is old and hobbly, she still greets my mum in the kitchen most days and likes a good head scratching. So far as anyone can tell she has never spent a moment feeling bad for herself, even when her back was cut open after her first surgery and she couldn't comfortably sit for a week. She's a little trooper. A little, fuzzy, formerly drooly (but now far too dignified for that) trooper.