So, last spring, we decided to bring Kitteh inside and let her live out her dotage as a house cat. Her arthritis and generally non-combative nature left her at a disadvantage against Trump, the outside cat, so we intervened. She quickly adapted, and is generally low-maintenance. Until she discovered the wood stove, that is.

We have a wood stove in the center of the great room, surrounded by a brick hearth. I had joked during the summer, “Wait until she learns that these bricks get warm in the winter,” but I don’t think I’d expected her to be quite this enthusiastic. This cat has become a tyrant. From the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning, she’s hobbling around after us, “meeping” her little head off, until one of us builds a fire for her. As I type this, it’s 5:28 a.m., and she’s circling around the table where I sit, like a fuzzy, arthritic shark, waiting for me to get up and do my duty. When I build the fire, she’ll put herself right in the middle of the proceedings, like the most obnoxious supervisor, as if she doesn’t trust me to do it correctly. “I can’t put these logs in here if you’re going to stand in front of the stove door.” “Excuse me, I need those newspapers you’re standing on so I can use them for kindling.” Meep, meep, meep. What’s taking so long, human? Finally, once things are arranged to her satisfaction, she’ll lie on the bricks, inches from the stove (and sometimes partially underneath it), where she will happily sleep for the rest of the day (unless we’re foolish enough to let the fire go out). It’s been a fairly mild winter so far, too — temperatures have been mostly in the forties and fifties, with no real snowfall worth the name. No matter. Until the return of the summer sunbeams, Her Majesty wants fires all day, every day. Wittgenstein claimed that if a lion could talk, we wouldn’t be able to understand him, but I find it fairly easy to understand what this little domesticated lion wants. Warmth, food and maybe some skritching, in that order.

Do cats have religion, do you think? Sir James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, argued that the numerous dying-god myths throughout Europe and the Middle East were rooted in agricultural societies’ need to understand and adapt to unpredictable weather and the changing of the seasons. I feel like I can see a similar rudimentary impulse motivating Kitteh — why do the bricks turn cold again? What must I do to propitiate the fire-bringers? Is God dead? Sometimes, if we fail to respond promptly to her meepings, she’ll return to her spot next to the stove to endure in silence, feet tucked and head bowed almost as if in prayer (once she’s warm, she takes on a more typical sprawling pose to sleep). Is she perhaps reflecting on whether she might have angered the gods by doing her business outside of the litterbox? Is she marking time until the return of the blessed warmth, looking for comprehensible patterns? Yesterday, she apparently re-discovered that the furnace vents also blow warm air. It was near sixty degrees, so we didn’t build a fire; we just left the furnace on to kick in as needed. We noticed her investigating underneath one of the bookcases while it was running, and she perched herself close to the vent for about ten minutes, until it cycled off again, and she was forced to wander in search of the Promised Land once more. Truly, her world is a vale of tears.