In the morning, the cats are desperate, like prisoners left in solitary too long. They used to sleep in the living room, one under the couch, one in the closet, but now, with the air conditioner on in here, they lie down in front of it when I go to sleep, usually about 1:30 a.m. Then at 6 or 7, they start walking across my body, Mouchette like the soft, exploratory patting of a toddler, Fitzroy heavy enough to wake me from the dead (which I hope he does, if necessary. He has to be good for something).

At the third go-round, I get up, feed them, shut the door on them and shove the books against it. Sleep another 2 hours. When I finally get out of bed for good and open the door, they’re waiting anxiously, little black and big orange, my two Halloween children-who-might-be-monsters, or vice versa.

Mouchette has become a love-kitten, jumping on the bed right away, letting me stroke her from head to tail. She’s so light, my caress can knock her sideways, especially if she wants it to. She likes falling against my leg, being pinned briefly by my hand, body vibrating with her purrs. Best of all is when she rolls, as if helplessly, on her back and lets me stroke her taut black and white belly, softer than the luxurious belly-fur of the King of Fluff. She wiggles in pleasure, her milk-dipped front paws reaching under the sheet to tent her face. She’s more abandoned to pleasure than Fitzroy, who’s always charting the action.

Meanwhile, The Vampire Cat sits on the floor staring at me, and when he can’t take it anymore, jumps up, pretends to kiss me good morning and attacks her. Most of the day, she withstands his attacks just fine, but coming when she’s let down her guard, it’s a shock and she shits a little. Not on the bedclothes. It’s clinging somewhere to her body but the smell lets me know she’s not immune to terror.

I pull him away and try to force him to take the affection he’s so jealous of. He fights me. I toss him off the bed. He hangs around, meowing angrily, jumping on me, biting, whatever it takes to make sure I don’t go back to sleep. Then once the coffee’s made—he’s learned what that means—he promptly curls up and goes to sleep on the windowsill. His job is done. I won’t lie around all day, lazing like a cat.

At midday, I brush him, which he thinks is a massage-peace offering, and who am I to stay it isn’t? The hair comes off in wads. It’s already everywhere. I have 2 new vacuum cleaners—one for the kitty litter tracked on the rug, one for the cat hair like cornsilk drifting across computer screens, couch pillows, dinner. I croon to him, insulting him extravagantly. He rubs his face against my knuckles, tilts his chin so I can stroke his downy throat. I like it best when his lip gets pushed up by mistake and I feel the side of his teeth.

Mouchette plays with her toys: Perrier bottle caps. She loves them and has a collection. I can hear her kicking them around at any time of day or night—she’s a girl who knows how to play alone. It reminds me of when I was eight or nine and used to bounce a tennis ball on my bedroom floor, seeing if I could do it 100 times without missing. Something is whirring in her brain.

And she’s starting to talk. Her nearly silent meows, inaudible unless I was right beside her, have become squeaks. For a few days I was yelling, thinking the cats were fighting in the other room. Today I went in and there she was, sitting by herself on the arm of the couch, going eek, eek, eek. She sounded just like a nest of baby mice.

Margaret Diehl