My oldest cat, Tungsten, has never played much. She used play at string-toys with me, and would zoom through the nylon tunnel when I walked beside it. I’m not sure whether it is age or apathy that is slowing her down these days. It may simply be disdain for my other cats foolish enough to leap and spin and chase things. But there is one activity that the orange one still likes. It’s one that I share with her alone.
When I come home from work, I go to my bedroom to change clothes. Tungsten always follows me. The other beasts will wander about, knowing that it’s dinner-time. Josie and Tucker may pursue each other. Their top-cat, however, comes into the bedroom and gets up on the bed. I spread my arms and shout her name.
Years ago, I would seize her and almost flip her over on the bed, then she’d wrestle and try to nip my hand. Now, she’s too old for such gymnastics. She will sometimes stoop, as if about to roll, but she doesn’t. In fact, she looks like she’s cowering and in fear of receiving blows from my hand. But she’s really just preparing. Periodically, she does flop onto her side - her current version of a tumble. These days, I grab her and gently ease her over. But then, she likes it a little rougher. I rub her fuzzy head until my hand is a blur, massage the sides of her face as though I were trying to use her fur to start a campfire, and finally, rub her boney sides with my fingers, while she claws at the bedspread, trying to stay in place. It looks as if she’s undergoing some painful torture, but when I stop, her little motor is rumbling.
This is often repeated several times. If I think we’re done, I will look at Tungsten. She may stoop, ready to fall over. That means she’s not finished. So we repeat the process. Then at last, I gather her up and take her to the bathroom for a drink of water, and I can feel her skinny frame vibrating.
This is our routine, something we’ve always done, in one form or another. Once in a while, a spark of youth fires through her, and we will wrestle, my hand against her whole tiny body. But mostly, she’s passive and simply enjoys the sensations, the interaction between us. I think it makes her feel good. I know it does me.