Bath time! You haven't forgotten the liver snaps, I hope. JOHN SWART PHOTO

Nothing breaks like a heart, and Monkey knows it

VOICE Correspondent

I see it when they gaze into each other’s eyes, he giving her the unblinking attention that every human craves. The way she snuggles him, cuddling him close, the way she used to with….

At 4 AM, without fail, I’m startled awake by whiskers piercing my nostrils, followed by a rough and wet tongue on my nose. That’s my cue to lift the covers and let Monkey into the warmth beneath. If I lift them to the outside of the bed, he refuses. Raise them between Els (my wife) and me, and in he goes, snuggling close to me for warmth. I know it’s because he doesn’t want to disturb her sleep. When I get up quietly, sliding the comforter back, it’s her he’s looking at. His back is turned to me, my job as his personal furnace complete. He’ll patiently watch her sleep, hoping for her to rise, until he hears his breakfast being served downstairs.

My greeting from Els is always a cheery, “Good morning, did you feed Monkey?” If he’s sluggish getting off the heat vent to greet her, the next will be, “Where is he, anyway?”

She happily picks him up, gives him a hug and a nose rub, and then brings him to me so I can say good morning to him. He looks at me with a smirk and knowing eyes, confident he’s ascended to Male Number One in our household.

Monkey is the first cat, ever, that either of us has had. My family had dogs when I was young, and if you don’t count the hermit crabs we bought for our kids when they demanded a pet, Els never had an animal. We cat-sat him a few times for our son, and when he left to work overseas, Monkey became ours—six years ago. He’s gradually stolen Els’ heart.

Three days a week Els arrives home from tennis shortly after lunch. Like clockwork, at 12:20 PM, Monkey appears from where ever he’s been sleeping, goes to the landing by the front door and waits. If the weather is warm, he’ll meow at me or walk across my computer keyboard, telling me in no uncertain terms he wants to go outside, and wait for his true love on the front step.

She always greets Monkey first. It’s part my fault, though, because he’s at the door before I can rinse my hands and remove my apron from preparing lunch.

However, if we’re both away in the morning, and I arrive home first, Monkey doesn’t budge. No pitter-patter of paws rushing to the door, no big eyes staring through the railing, no greeting whatsoever. He nonchalantly walks past me looking for Els.

It must be this ardent devotion to her that she loves in him.

In the evening, Els declares to either Monkey or me—it’s not always clear, as she’s seems to talk to him most of the time now—that she’s headed up for a warm bath and then to read in bed. Monkey rushes up the stairs and waits for her, either perched on the tub edge or countertop or heat register. I’ve recently noticed a package of cat treats in her makeup drawer, so this bedtime loyalty may be down to bribery rather than ardour.

Monkey’s favourite time to carouse outdoors is the evening, under the cover of dusk and darkness. The local feline hook-up destination switches from house to house in the neighbourhood each night. One evening there’ll be three of them at our place, under the trees, on the deck, or beneath the trailer. Next night, Monkey’s nowhere to be found.

Els has explained to Monkey many times that he has to stay on our property, and can’t cross the dangerous street. Monkey stares up at her absorbing every word, then promptly goes across the street if that’s where the party’s at. Maybe it’s the bad boy in him she finds irresistible.

So, at 9:00 PM, Els forms a one-woman search party, calling his name, peering under everything outdoors in gradually expanding circles around our home. If she doesn’t find him, she’s in the house, seeking my help. “Where could he be? He wouldn’t cross the street.”

I doubt she was so concerned when I was cycling the remote roads and trails of South America or Africa.

“John’s on his own,” she’d tell friends with a shrug. But if Monkey’s been away for more than an hour, it’s a national emergency.

There’s another way I sense I may be on the outside looking in. Pre-Monkey, when my wife travelled for a few days, she might leave me a frozen casserole. When she and I travel now, and Monkey is home alone, we pay a person to come in for half an hour twice a day to feed him and play with him so he doesn’t get lonely.

The cat toys are carefully spread out on the couch, just the way he likes them. Packages of treats outnumber his real food, and he has four scratching pads spread around the house. Videos of birds are pre-programmed on the TV, and I know she’s teaching him how to use the remote.

Yesterday Els asked me if it would be possible to add an extension to the door bell, a second button three inches off the ground. This was in case we didn’t hear Monkey scratching at the door or window to come in, he could ring the bell.

Can you imagine? Monkey would know when she was out, then he’d ring the bell every two minutes and look up at me with that smirk when I answered. I suggested just getting a smart doorbell, and programming the number into his cellphone.

In a way, I’m thankful she and Monkey have found each other. Soulmates are special, and it isn’t every day that they connect.  Deep down, I know that Els has room for many in her heart.