No time for cats when I was a monk, but back in Annapolis after thirteen years, I soon had another sidekick. Paulinus, skinny and sharp of features, shared my bachelor’s digs and moved in with Gwen and me after our marriage. Sadly, the two of them never really struck it off; and since I wasn’t bound to Paulinus by vows and an exchange of rings, it was Paulinus who had to find a new home, and did. Gwen adored Dilys, our next cat and named for an especially catty aunt of hers. Our Dilys, an affectionate calico, was with us through our eighteen-year marriage and spent hours lying on Gwen’s bed during her last illness. And the cat, quite old, died shortly before I moved to Fly Creek. I came up here alone.
But Owen soon joined me, and then my dear Anne; and we shared a happy life here until his death five years ago. I’ll bet you remember Owen; he was in this column a great many times. And now there is Simon, a gray-and-white domestic shorthair and the most talkative cat I’ve ever known. The cat has a comment on everything; and, lacking an audience, he’ll sometimes sit soliloquizing. And Simon, like most cats, loves to be stroked along the back: with slightly curved palm, the juncture of fingers and palm sliding along his backbone. That’s the way to pat a cat.
But, Owen, you must study those filmic super villains more closely! By my observation, most criminal masterminds pat their lap cats very slowly, maybe four seconds per stroke. And do note if there’s a change in rate, and weigh it against the dialog. And remember that the cat is not just a prop but also a cast member. Watch its face. Are its eyes closed or open, and, if open, is it looking toward the hero? If it is, does it slowly blink — a cat’s equivalent of a smile? And is it a malevolent blink or perhaps a conspiratorial one? (The cat, after all, may be like the villain’s tender hearted seductress who wants desperately to get out of his clutches.)
And, Owen, don’t forget the most important possibility. That cat may be the real criminal genius, and the bald, fat cat-patter may simply be his stooge!
If you need further advice on this, old buddy, don’t hesitate to write. I’ll be glad to make up some more.