When I say chess I don’t mean the board game as this is not some ridiculously cute snapshot of a fluffy cat pawing at game pieces. When I say chess I mean a strategic game of wits between the cat and I, carried out within the confines of the house.
It’s lunch time and I’m sitting in the dining room, enjoying my bowl of soup, noodles and vegetables which contains tuna. Tuna has the power to trigger in the cat some terrifying primeval beast as she will do literally anything to get to it, and the smell is clearly driving her bonkers.
However, she’s clever enough to know that I run a tougher house than my In-Laws did (she was dropped in our laps on a temporary loan while they’re living out of state) and has learned that I have no tolerance for animals being on furniture used for the preparation, storage or consumption of food. So the dining table is a huge no-no.
Our game of chess consists of us taking it in turns to make a move. I have to confess that for the first few minutes of the game I was unaware that I was even playing, but once I noticed her dark little profile moving ever closer I accepted my inescapable position as her opponent.
My chess moves consist of the repeated movement of fork to bowl, then fork to mouth. The entire time I remain at my chair, seated at the dining table, my relaxed posture hiding the fact that I am coiled like a spring.
Her chess moves consist of lots of stealthy little movements, contrived to look nonchalant while disguising mental calculations that George Parker Bidder would be proud of, all designed to bring her closer to the tuna in the most circumspect way. As with chess, her ultimate aim is to put my king (the tuna) into checkmate, a position from which escape is impossible.
Her progress towards the tuna is as follows: after I sit down to eat, I hear the sound of her collar bell from further inside the house. The smell of the tuna has clearly reached her, as I see a furry little head poke around the side of the spare bedroom that she sleeps in. Having smelled the tuna I can see that she has become visibly excited, but instantly cautious as she knows this prize will be hard won.
From the bedroom she enters the hallway, pausing to lick a paw and groom herself. Satisfied that she’s established a disinterested approach, she saunters down the hallway. Having casually progressed down the long hallway she completely ignores me and enters the kitchen. She stands by the cat-flap, trying to convince me that she’s interested in what’s going on outside. After staring at the cat-flap for a few minutes, she pretends to remember something urgent she needs to do inside the house that has prevented her from going outside, clearly trying to communicate to me that it in no way involves my tuna, and once she’s finished her important task she’ll be rushing outside.
Having taken care of whatever mysterious yet urgent task she had in the kitchen she then moves to her food bowl, sneakily eyeballing me while pretending to be engrossed in her dry cat food and using this time to cunningly weigh up the situation and gauge whether or not I’m suspicious of her actions.
Confident that her skills have hidden her true intent she leaves her food bowl and wanders towards the dining room, pausing for a split second before entering the room as if anticipating a thrown shoe or other projectile coming her way.
Satisfied that I’m too busy with the tuna to notice her, she walks under the table and things go quiet for a few minutes. As I start to wonder if she’s prepared to try new, aggressive tactics and whether or not I’m about to feel the points of little claws or teeth on my ankle, I hear a jingle-jangle from the other side of the dining table, and see a chair shake. A small furry head pops up over the top of the table and darts back down. She was clearly scouting out the location of the tuna. A heavy thumps follows shortly afterwards, and I feel a furry tail brush past my legs. She’s mobile again.
A pitiful mewling begins, the sort of noise any animal would give if it hadn’t eaten in at least a month. Normally I’m a sucker for animals in distress, but I’m no chump and am definitely not falling for sympathy tactics. The mewling abruptly ends as the cat realises it’s not working.
The jingle-jangle of a bell, the scrabble of paws, my world shakes and suddenly she’s behind me having jumped up onto the backrest of my chair. This is a major line being crossed and she knows it, and almost as soon as I turn to reach for her she’s down and away like furry lightning, peering at me from around the dining room door and, satisfied that she’s communicated her demands, resuming her pitiful mewling. I turn back to the noodle tuna lunch and ignore her.
The mewling moves, its source now coming from around my feet but horror of horrors, an unforeseen situation arises for her as the lunch bowl is now empty. I stand and pick up my bowl, walking towards the kitchen. She can sense victory slipping out of her grasp. I deposit my bowl in the sink and begin to wash up, feeling a frantic furry presence entwining itself around my ankles over and over again in a desperate circuit.
I put the bowl on the draining board and dry my hands, looking down to see the look of loss on her face. I then reach for the second bowl on the side that I’d left there earlier and walk with it to her food bowl, bending down to move a few spoonfuls of tuna from my possession to hers.
Her purring begins, which I personally feel is one of the most rewarding sounds in the world, and her tuna feast is under attack.
I know that I could be less of a jerk about it and give her some tuna first, however I know the cat and know that she’ll finish her food off in lightning speed and come bother me for some of mine, therefore I enjoy my lunch and refuse to share, and only after I’ve finished do I reward her with something. My reason for this is so that I get her out of the habit of associating the dining table with snacks and handouts, and I hope that her brain will eventually be trained to make the mental connection between waiting for people to finish their meal and a delicious reward appearing in her food bowl (obviously she’s well fed and her bowl remains topped up, it’s just that she has a deep, dark passion for tuna, possibly something that’s hardwired into the DNA of all cats).
Anyhow, another thrilling game of Lunch Chess has concluded, and we’ve both got time to rest up before Dinner Chess begins in a few hours.