Before Zoe, there was the cat.
Zoe is our baby, the one we love above all others, the one we’ve accepted an enormous responsibility for---to respond to her needs, nurture her growth, pay for her college education. Harley is our cat, the one who believed (erroneously) that the foregoing applied to her. (She didn’t want to go to college—after all, what could they teach her?---she just felt she should be given the option.) Harley labored under this delusion for several years, going about her business of sleeping and eating and sleeping. Then Zoe was born; and Harley was in for a rude awakening.
When we brought Zoe home for the first time, we put her on the floor to present her to Harley because cat experts on the Web had suggested it was a good idea to get your pet used to the new presence. Let them up close so they could smell the intruder who’d now arrived to bring joy to the household/upset the balance of power.
At first Harley ignored Zoe. With disdain. Such a tiny creature was beneath her notice, its smells disgusting, its constant mewling absurd. Then, seeing all the attention Zoe was getting, Harley became curious. Not because she held our opinions in any high esteem but because Zoe was taking up too much of her slaves’ time, time we’d never spent oohing and aahing over her. She'd climb on chairs to observe infant Zoe in the Pack n’ Play, even jumping into it one time when Zoe wasn’t there, and for which she was unjustly reprimanded (her words, if she had them). When Zoe was able to turn over and we began playing on the floor with her, Harley would nudge her head under our hands or try to jump in our laps. When we pushed her away, she would attack Zoe’s floor gym, succeeding only in wrinkling it before walking away with exaggerated satisfaction.
In case we'd missed the memo, Harley was unhappy.
Then one night---at about three in the morning---while I was feeding Zoe, Harley roused herself from where she'd been sleeping at the foot of our bed, stretched, and slowly walked towards us. After a moment of silent regard, she sniffed Zoe’s head. Then she blinked slowly at me, jumped to the floor, shook her back leg, and walked away. Finally, grudgingly, she had accepted our baby.
As Zoe has grown into a toddler and started paying more attention to the cat, specifically her tail, Harley has been forced to seek refuge under the table. A lot. Zoe has tried to eat Harley's food and has dropped toys in her water dish. In tantrum mode, Zoe has thrown toys, narrowly missing Harley, who gallops away, belly fat swinging. But for the most part, Harley suffers it all with grave forbearance.
Lately, Zoe has been having night terrors and is waking up at three in the morning again. The other night, as I hurried through the dark apartment to Zoe’s room, Harley tried to trip me . . . playfully (again, her word). During Zoe’s first year, when she woke up several times a night, Harley used to do this. I’d forgotten, so I failed to anticipate and tripped. Luckily my head was there to break my fall.
Cursing at the cat I finally got to Zoe and comforted her until she went back to sleep. As I headed back to bed, wondering if it was worth it since I'd have to get up in an hour, I sensed Harley’s feline gaze in the dark. I knew what she was thinking: Wasn’t it better when it was just the three of us?
Zoe: 1; Universe: 0