©Amber Faille, 2009

©Amber Faille, 2009

From the moment we meet, I know she will not like me.

Now, I get along with almost everyone, but this time, it’s different.  I am not just a visitor or stranger.  I am not a temporary sitter on her day bed space.  No, I am not even a daytime playmate, as many others often are.  I am the worst kind of human alive.

I am a comfort robber

I am a conquistador of her nightly sleeping space, a territorial bedmonger – and I am the all the more to awful because I happen to be taller, bigger, stronger…and I can use my hands and my feet.  When I set my luggage down in Abby’s room, she stares me down with her wary marble green eyes from atop her nightly perch.

“Ooh – Abby, is this your kitty?” I coo.  I note the various incarnations and crayon drawings of the kitty, all composed with heaps of love, as I look around Abby’s prettily decorated room.

“Yes – that’s Bri-Bri,” responds Abby as she playfully strokes her hand back and forth on the kitty’s soft black fur.  Her skin is a soft pale peach against the cat’s dark midnight black.  “Hi. Bri-Bri!”

Bri-Bri.  She does not like me.  I can feel her tracking my movements as I unpack my things from my suitcase casually.  “Let’s go downstairs.  I hear your mom calling,” I say.  Bri-Bri stays where she has been all this time – curled up in the corner of Abby’s gracious daybed, silently protesting my arrival.

Later, while sitting on the cozy couches under the cool air provided by the air conditioning system, I ask my friend, Amber, about Bri-Bri.  Amber has just moved her family out to Idaho – and that includes Bri-Bri, who suddenly appears from nowhere and slinks down the stairs as we talk.  Somehow, she knows I am asking about her.  She mews her statements as she winds around the feet of the leather chair next to us:  Find out all you want about me – but I rule upstairs.  Let me tell you about my skills as the greatest hunter out here in the Pacific Northwest.  Let me tell you about how I lounge on the sofa, look out the bay window, and keep watch over the house.  Let me tell you, too, about the times I capture mice –  two mice in fact – and I did so  fearlessly, presenting them on separate occasions to Ms. Abby.  So see, as the self-designated, self-deemed most important and fearless warrior of this household, I will win out in the end.  All the queen kitties do.

“Oh, Bri-Bri is a nickname for Sabrina,” explains Amber.  We’ve grown up together from elementary school onwards, and this change is a big one for her whole family.  She has come to Idaho with her husband and two children, two cats (including Bri-Bri) and her California sensibilities.  Recently, they have also acquired a new puppy, Wrigley – but he is another story.  “We also call her Brini!  My sister named her when she took her home to live with her. But after living with so many people and pets around, she was lonely during the day when my sister was at work and consequently very whiny at night. So, she came back to live with us.”

My friend continues.  “She was born in Feb of 2003, just 3 months before Abby was born. Mama kitty and I were pregnant at the same time!  That litter Mama had 3 black kitties.  She and Abby just developed a special bond growing up together.  We always “told” her that she was Abby’s kitty…I guess she took it to heart!”  During the course of her explanation, Amber has managed to simultaneously tie Abby’s hair in a ponytail, regulate sharing between the two kids, and ordered Wrigley off the couch.

That night, after a full day of activities, I come back to Abby’s room and she is not there.  As I enter the hallway to brush my teeth in the bathroom, I spot her.  She is diagonal (kitty corner – literally) from me, watching the door for a chance to come in.  She does not yet know that Abby is downstairs in her parents’ room tonight.  I know she is wondering about this interruption in her nightly sleeping ritual.  She must savor the freedom of jumping up, the comfort of circling her spot in the corner of the blue and white day bed and the powerful feeling of protecting Abby throughout the night.

On any other night, she might circle, lie, and then get up towards Abby as they gently rub noses together, before Abby’s story time ritual with grandma and before Bri-Bri drifts off to imagine glorious mice-hunting adventures.  Yet this is not a normal night for her.  Abby is being put to bed below and thus starts a new nightly ritual for us during the next four nights:  the face-off.  She watches silently as I shut the door.

The next morning, mid-breakfast, the Queen of Sheba stalks down the carpeted stairs, swinging her black fluffy hindquarters indignantly with every padded step.  She mews her regrets and frustrations.  You, she accuses, I didn’t sleep well last night – and it was all because of you. I mutter my apologies but she continues mewing before disappearing without a backwards glance.  I am definitely not forgiven for my transgressions.  She is determined to win.

At bedtime, we again face off.  This time, though, I am scowling at myself for leaving the door cracked apart when I go to brush my teeth.  She smiles and mews joyously from her rightful palace.

“Bri-Bri,” I begin.  “I don’t know how to say this, other than I just don’t sleep with cats.  C’mon Bri-Bri.  Get off the bed.  C’mon Bri-Bri.”

I coax.  I cajole.  I implore.  Bri-Bri ignores me.

I sit down on the bed, thinking a stranger’s presence might scare her off.  No dice.  Bri-Bri begins to groom her paws.

“C’mon Bri-Bri,” I start again.  “See, I like kitties and I like dogs.  I like all animals.  I just…I have to sleep and I don’t sleep with kitties.  I don’t even own cats.  Or dogs, for the matter.  You’ll have your space back.  Trust me.  See, I am lifting the covers.  I am getting under the sheets.”

I am, of course, completely unsuccessful.

Having failed, it is now my turn to climb out from under the white quilted covers and to head downstairs.  Fortuitously, I spot Abby in the kitchen.  “Abby,” I whisper.  “Psst.  Abby.”  Abby looks over and comes towards me.  I feel slightly guilty about making a deal with her, but it is for the better.

“You see, uh,” I pause.  “I was wondering if you want to take Bri-Bri down with you.  She’s looking for you and thinking you’re coming upstairs to sleep with her.”  Abby, as all wonderful children do, lights up and comes upstairs to get Bri-Bri.

Oh, but how unhappy is Bri-Bri!  She hisses and swats.  She mews and mocks.  She does not budge.  Abby turns to me.  She says, with all the sincerity of a seven-year-old who thinks that everybody sleeps with cats, “It’s o.k.  You can sleep with her tonight.  Good night, Bri-Bri.”  Abby leaves me to my own devices as she heads downstairs.

“Abigail, did you need something?” asks Amber.  I hear hidden in her mom’s voice a worry that Abigail has disturbed her guest.  No, it is the opposite, I want to say, for I need Abby to get Bri-Bri back downstairs.  I eye Bri-Bri cautiously again.  From beyond, I catch snippets of the conversation downstairs.

“No, just Bri-Bri wants to sleep upstairs,” responds Abby.

“Oh,” utters Amber with surprise in her voice.  “Are you sure she’s o.k. with that?”

“Oh yeah,” says Abby sweetly.  Now she embellishes.  “She says she wants Bri-Bri to sleep upstairs with her.”

“Oh.  Hmm…O.k., I guess.  If she doesn’t mind…good night, Abby,” says Amber.  Her voice trails off.

It is not looking like a good night.

For a while, I try once more to reason with Bri-Bri.  I attempt to pick her up – but she is adamant.  She wants her place back.  Sss.  Sss.  She is bothered, but not about to give up.  As a last resort, I walk downstairs one more time.  Luck really is on my side this time – I encounter Amber and ask for her help.  Eventually, Bri-Bri is removed and gently placed downstairs while I rest, reassured and cat-free.

Mid-afternoon on the third day of what has been so far, a fantastic visit to Idaho, Bri-Bri appears again from thin air to make her opinions known.  We are exhausted from rafting the Boise River earlier that morning and chatting once again in the living room.  I get up to grab a glass of water and Bri-Bri takes the opportunity to walk on over to the area with all the shoes.  I know she is unhappy about the events from the previous night.  She makes this known as she ignores all the other shoes, and focuses only on swatting my sandals.  That evening, when it is time to go to bed again, I see her watching from across the way.  This time, I have made sure to close the door completely.  She is watching, watching, watching and stays watching as I close the door.  In the morning, I open the door and find her wide-awake, watching.

On the last day, it isn’t until I am at the bottom of the stairs tying my sneakers, getting ready to head to the airport, that she emerges, with perfect timing.  I’ll never know how she knew, but she did.  As I pull tight the final swoop of rope on the shoelaces, I look up to see her rounding the corners, clearly headed with a determination up the stairs.

She pauses at the bottom of the staircase, at my feet, and Bri-Bri glares one last time, staring deeply at me through her pretty marble-green eyes.  Specks of late afternoon sun flicker in her accusing gaze but she mews, triumphant.  At long last, the stranger is leaving, going home, adios, out!  She mews a few last words as she trounces past me upstairs towards her bed and kingdom, as if to say Get going – I’ve won – I’m taking back what’s rightfully mine – So there – It’s About Time!

©Susan Lee, 2009

Susan Lee experienced the wonder that is BAWP during the BAWP summer institute of 2007.  Currently, she teaches second grade at Park Day School, and is also a teacher in the Young Writer’s Camp.  Having raised only goldfish, hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs, she has never had to negotiate with pets for bed space until she met Bri-Bri.  In general, she thinks most pets are cute and cuddly!  She may be reached at susanl@parkdayschool.org.

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