Tickle

At 8.00am precisely, my 12 year old nephew pads into the family room of my house. He rubs the sleep from his eyes and peers at me lying on the couch under a striped doona. I have sacrificed the comforts of my queen sized bed to the still slumbering number two nephew; a 20 year old who won’t see the light of day until around lunchtime.

I watch my nephew from the corner of my eye as I pretend to be asleep. Knowing he is an early riser, we made a pact the night before that he wasn’t to come downstairs until eight o’clock. ‘Maria, are you awake?’, he asks in a staged whisper, inching his way closer. I surprise him by leaping from the couch and scooping him in my arms. ‘Of course, I am awake’, I reply as he wriggles from my arms and plonks onto a stool at the kitchen bench.

This is obviously my cue to prepare breakfast. There’s no need to ask what he wants. He likes his bacon and soon the aroma of sizzling rashers wafts throughout the house. Maybe the tantalising smell might lure the 20 year old downstairs. No such luck. Instead, we eat breakfast in companionable silence, both of us intently concentrating on each forkful. This is the hallmark of a true Katsonis; food comes first.

After we have eaten, we return to the warmth of the doona and the couch, snuggling next to each other in our makeshift cocoon while we watch Die Hard for the seventeenth time. My arm snakes out and I tickle him in the ribs. His squeals of laughter reverberate in my ears and throughout the house. A perfect way to start the day.

*  *  *  *  *  *

My portly puss, Romeo, stares at me intently across the lounge room while I lie prone on the couch at the end of an arduous day. I am wrapped in a feathery quilt as I indulge in watching re-runs of the CSI franchise, the equivalent of fast food television. Romeo is deliberating where he will settle for the evening. A typical feline, everything has to be done on his terms. They say dogs have masters and cats have servants. It is so true. I have long given up on the fantasy of calling his name to have him jump on my lap and shower me with affection. I only come into favour at meal times when he wraps his shaggy grey torso around my legs, mewling for food like a newborn.

As he sits on his haunches, Romeo surveys the room and appraises his options, his tail swishing from side to side. Perhaps he might languorously stretch out to his full length on the emerald ottoman. Or maybe he will take refuge underneath the flecked marble coffee table in his own little cubby house. But wait, this time he slinks towards me, eyeing the quilt with anticipation.

Romeo takes a flying leap and I feel the full weight of his 6.6kg as he lands on my chest. He is a portly puss and intensely dislikes the diet he is forced to endure. Not that it is doing much good. Last time he went to the vet, he had gained weight and the vet gave me a withering look as if to say ‘Are you feeding him the cat equivalent of McDonalds’. I felt shamed at being such a bad mother.

When Romeo descends on me, he starts kneading straight away. This is a curious ritual which involves pushing against me, one paw at a time, alternating between the right and the left as if he is kneading bread. He purrs at full throttle accompanied by a look of rapturous delight. It is almost orgasmic and I feel slightly used and dirty when he finishes.  Romeo finds a soft spot on my chest and coils into a ball, his face resting on his paws. I revel in the warmth of his body and the silken caress of his fur against my skin. As he shifts position in his sleep, his wiry whiskers graze my face, tickling my skin. Soon we are both asleep, our chests rising and falling in unison.

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