Smudge is the first to arrive and the last to leave. He waits for me to lift the blanket, then he darts underneath, circles once, and curls into a crescent with four cold feet pressed to my side.
Then comes Toast, whose soft belly drapes across my throat like a scarf. Her purrs are light vibrations that tickle my neck. She is restless, catnaps for a few minutes, then shimmies under covers, pivots and re-emerges in a Sphynx pose on my chest, tiny paws tucked under my chin. Another short nap and then she’s scooting further under the blankets and circling into a ball on my stomach. Finally, she slides down my hip and claims Smudge as her pillow.
I recognize Chipotle by his distinctive little wheeze. Because he’s the favorite, I try to accommodate his preference. I scoot over if he wants to wedge himself beside Smudge. I twist to slide Toast off my chest before her cat nap is finished if he wants to be held like a baby. I roll from my side to my back when he decides that under the arm would be best.
Oliver is always last, but he has no intention of gracefully accepting whatever spot is left. I try to direct him to Smudge’s side, since Smudge is the only one who reliably likes him, but Oliver has his own ideas as well as an uncanny ability to sense just the spot where his arch frenemy, Chipotle, is already sleeping.
Oliver ignores my attempt to direct him to safety and headbutts the blanket hard by Chipotle. I eventually give up and let him in. Suddenly he is the most awkward creature ever, unable to find a place for his paws that don’t already contain cat. Most nights he steps on Chipotle’s ear and then his belly and then his tail and then his belly again before finally finding the cat-free zone by my hip. Before their recent tenuous detente, so much stepping on in the middle of the night would have led to a roiling cat fight under the covers, but this time Chipotle doesn’t stir. Oliver finds the right spot, relaxes, and suddenly the whole bed rumbles with his purrs.
They are still asleep when I wake up. Most mornings I lay there petting them, listening to Toast’s gentle purr and Oliver’s happy snorts and snuffles. Eventually I lift the covers back, careful not to uncover Smudge, and the two closest to the edge of the bed reluctantly stretch and spill to the floor to let me out. Smudge slumbers on, undisturbed by our absence.
I get my coffee and my notebook, and before I am even sitting in my chair, they are back, tired from so much sleep, ready for their morning nap. A new kind of jostling begins as each cat jockeys for the coveted upper lap position. Chipotle always claims it first, but Oliver has a wily way of securing it at last.