Our next stop was the classics department at McGill University, where Tulip’s litter-mate and twin Euphemia was an associate professor. Her office was in a quiet corner of one of the University’s older buildings.
We interpreted the indistinct grunt that greeted our knock on Euphemia’s office door as an invitation to enter. The office was long and narrow. Every surface was covered in books and manuscripts. Even the telephone tucked away in the corner behind the door was covered in papers. Illumination was provided by a low wattage fluorescent bulb, which gave the scene a damp, cold aspect.
I was surprised when a tabby – who I hadn’t noticed because he was as greasy and grey as the books that lined the walls – addressed us. “You must be looking for Euphemia.” The academic spoke with a croaking, tired voice, “She’s expecting you.” I noted disapprovingly that the academic’s collar was dusted with catnip.
We were spared having to socialize further by the appearance of Euphemia, who poked first her ears and then her head, body and tail through the doorway. Once through, she said, “Inspector Barks and Detective Mittens. I trust you have not been waiting long?” She slunk into the office, and sat in a corner, equi-distant from us both. Euphemia was not one of those fashionable cats who has adopted a primate style of dress, so it is more accurate to say that she was adorned, not clothed. She wore a modest kerchief around her head, she had three metal studs in her right ear, and her whiskers were dyed. Her most prominent adornment was her ankle bracelets, to which were attached tiny ceramic bells. These bells rang as she moved – useless if hunting birds, but no doubt quite effective at alluring toms.
Because my readers will range from mice to snow leopards, I hesitate to describe her eyes. If a small rodent encountered the glow of those eyes in a field at night, it might think “here is the Death Goddess”. Through those same eyes a dog might peer into the soul of a worthy adversary. But for a feline those eyes must have been special indeed, for they captured all of the ambiguities of cats: presence and distance, engagement and disengagement, the sense of being outside of time and in the moment, and most vexing of all: the calmness of the carnivore.
I have never inquired about Mittens’ sexual habits, but because of his soft, petulant manner I assumed he was attracted to hard, young toms, and was certainly a bottom. I was therefore surprised to see his eyes light up like supernovas as he greeted Euphemia with a little bow.
Following Mittens’ suggestion, we decided to relocate to a café in Outrement. We scampered instead of taking a cab. Mittens went ahead with Euphemia. I dawdled behind reading copies of La Derrière and The Gazebo, the city’s largest circulation dailies. The Gazebo ran an old story about the Nicaraguan kitten Tulip had just adopted. La Derrière appeared to be on our trail: according to a story on the back page of the front section, Tulip had missed a performance last night. The writer speculated as to whether she was the victim in yesterday’s murder. The story cited a source within the Police department who would “reveal all” today.
I put away the papers. When I looked up I saw that Euphemia was now beside me. She leaned so close to me that I could smell every molecule on her pearl white mane.
“You’re wearing jaguar musk?”, I commented.
She paused for just a moment before replying, “Leopard. But all pantherines smell the same.”
I prodded, “Did Tulip use that perfume?” .
Euphemia hesitated before she replied, “Yes. The scent is called Serengeti.”
Mittens had slowed his pace so that he could join us. He asked, “Who wore this perfume first, you or your sister?”
The question flustered Euphemia, as if she sensed that it could incriminate her, but she did not know how. She replied, “Tulip discovered it. But we’ve both been wearing it for years.” With these words she raced ahead, her head low to the ground.
Moments later we arrived at our destination, the Café Gauche. The joint had retro stylings: posters of primate females with veils, gloves, and that sort of thing. Euphemia fit right in with the hip, bohemian crowd. Mittens and I did not, but no one was fussed.
We settled onto a divan near a window. I let Mittens take the conversational lead: after all, both he and Euphemia were felines. I expected the Cat Detective to begin with questions relating to Tulip. Instead he said, in a gracious but insinuating way, “Tell us about Tulip’s tom-friend, Trouble.”
Euphemia groomed her paws before replying. The less cats hurry, the more they care, I thought. Tulip’s sister finally spoke, “Trouble was feral from birth. I don’t say that he was born wild because he wasn’t – he was born indoors, at dawn, to a domesticated mother. However, he became feral, along with his mother and five litter-mates when he was one day old, and did not sleep indoors again until he was an adult.
“I see.” Mittens groomed his whiskers. Euphemia’s tailed flopped erratically.
I jumped in with a question for Euphemia, “Your family is pure bred. Did anyone object to your sister dating a mutt like Trouble?”
“If they did, they didn’t say anything about it.”, Euphemia replied. “My family is very liberal: we shun breedism. At least we make a point of acting that way.” She shrugged and purred softly.
“What about your Sire and Dam?”, I pressed.
“My Dam hates everyone Tulip dates … dated. But she likes Trouble more than Bull.”
“… and your Sire?”, I prodded.
“Dad abandoned us when we were kittens.”
“I’m sorry to hear that”, I said. Her words made me think of the last time I’d seen my own father. He was eating a used tissue on the train tracks near the Junction, in Toronto.1
Euphemia shrugged again.
Mittens jumped into the conversation, “What about Bull?”
“Tulip and Bull were only ever about their nightclub. The dog-cat mating stuff, that was just hype.”
“Perhaps Bull and Tulip were fighting over the nightclub?” Mittens asked.
“Maybe. But Bull is an alpha. Alpha dogs don’t kill over things like night clubs. With them its always about bitches and hierarchy.”
Although I found Euphemia’s ennui affected, I had to agree with her words.
“What did Tulip think about Trouble?” Mittens asked.
“She loved him. Even …” Euphemia was so choked up she had to stop speaking.
“Tulip loved Trouble even though he was feral?” Mittens prompted, gently.
Euphemia burst out. “Tulip thought she could domesticate him!” Before my amazed eyes, Euphemia began to weep because of her sister’s feral boy-friend. It made no sense. Cats don’t weep.
We waited for Euphemia to calm down, which she did in a feline way: her tears quickly gave way to languorous fidgeting. First she circled her cushion. She sat down and groomed her right paw, and then shifted her hips in order to better groom her left paw. One dozen preens later, she reconnected.
Mittens immediately resumed his questioning, “Euphemia, what do you think of Trouble? Do you want to domesticate him?”
I – and most of my canine colleagues – find Mittens intolerably rude, but it is a fact that time and again his manners will be sincerely praised by felines. However, this time cat and dog opinion were in accord: Euphemia plowed through the pillows that decorated the space between them and landed on Mittens. Fur flew as they did a half roll, which ended with Mittens on his back and Euphemia on his stomach; her claws were sunk deep into his fur, and her fangs were at his throat. Euphemia held this pose for one breath, and then compulsively licked Mittens’ head a half dozen times before retreating. I had not yet processed what I had just seen when they were seated again, grooming themselves as if nothing had happened.
It was clear that our meeting was over. After a few minutes of casual grooming Mittens rose and slunk over to Euphemia. They rubbed muzzles in farewell – a long, languorous rub, even by cat standards. The air was charged with the smells of attraction and anger. No more words were spoken. Not even a purr.