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Dear Cathy,

I must apologise for my delay in responding to your last letter, but all will become clear as I explain this rather strange job I have been doing for the past week.

As you know, I have yet to find my own apartment in Rome despite my unending search for somewhere affordable. Let me tell you Cathy that La Dolce Vita is not a place where the word ‘affordable’ applies to anything except for gelato, a heaping mound of which you can purchase for one euro. So I am not only broke and homeless, Cathy, I am also as wide as a dump truck.

Anyhow, I had met a rather miniscule Italian and his Amazonian Canadian wife at Gladdy’s dinner. They asked me to cat-sit for two weeks while they went off to Sardinia for a holiday. They wanted me to stay at their apartment — even though they had a cleaning lady who came every day and his cat-owning mother lived in the apartment right next door — because they didn’t want the cat to “feel lonely.” I personally thought that cats valued their solitude above all things, but perhaps Italian cats need constant attention, just as the men do?

I told them I’d do it even though every fibre of my being was against it — I barely knew the people after all — because at least I would have a rent-free place to stay for a while. The couple insisted I come and see the apartment before I made a decision. But how do you tell people no after you’ve seen the apartment? That’s like asking someone to use their bathroom and then emerging two seconds later and saying you’d rather take your chances going number 2 in an egg cup than put your bare toosh on their toilet seat.

Not that the place wasn’t nice! It was actually quite cute, except that it was a basement apartment. You could look through the barred windows and catch the slightest glimpse of the sunlight blazing everywhere else in the city but only three inches past the windowsill. So a very cute, very dark, prison cell of an apartment.

They said they would stock the kitchen with food for me before they left but I quickly realized that ‘food’ is a subjective thing. Their ‘food’ would have been a culinary delight for me if I were a sheep or other form of grass-grazing animal. Everything was green and leafy, leafy, leafy, with no carbs or meat or beans or anything to actually eat it with, except a bit of parmesan. The couple are very thin. But beggars are not choosers, Cathy, and one cannot live on gelato alone.

The cat – Leo – was very unfriendly. He scratched at me the one time I attempted to rub his tummy and we both hissed at each other when I tried to steal his tuna to eat with the damn leafy greens. What was also very odd was that he had some sort of day job which necessitated his departure from the house no later than 8am every morning and saw his return at six in the evening.

I cannot imagine what field he worked in but he was positively exhausted by the time he got home, at which point he would pick at his dinner and crash in front of the TV. He would completely ignore me until I went to bed and only when I was asleep would he insist on stalking into the bedroom, jumping on the bed and waking me up at quarterly intervals to stare at me menacingly. I don’t think Leo liked me very much Cathy, and the feeling was decidedly mutual.

In the mornings, he was in a mad rush to get to ‘work’. At precisely “you have got to be kidding me” past “I am seriously going to kill you” o’clock, Leo would start the process of trying to get me up to give him his breakfast and open the window so he could leave. He would carry on with a piercing, incessant, un-ignorable mewling until I got out of bed.

I figured out eventually that if I feigned a deep sleep, he would let me snooze for 15 more minutes, provided that I allowed him to sleep directly on top of my face. On one hand, this was useful for muffling out the sound of the herd of elephants practising their early-morning Russian dance routine in the apartment just above me; on the other, there was a cat sleeping on my face.

If, after the snooze, I tried to keep pretending that I was still asleep, Leo would then take up a new position in which he crouched down on the pillow beside my head and stared at me, unblinkingly, with his humongous cat eyes. Having only ever seen cats take this position just before they attack unassuming prey, a fear of being mauled by this professional puss in this underground prison cell practically had me flying out of bed and to the kitchen to tend to his every whim.

After the seventh day of this, I was sleep-deprived, starving and fervently wishing that Leo would decide to give up his life of domesticity to roam free in the wild – or at the very least, be captured by animal rescue and held in lock-up until his owners returned. Alas, at precisely 6pm every evening, there he was at the window, giving me his dirty looks while demanding to be let in to his castle.

So Cathy, for the sake of my sanity, I left instead! I called a friend to crash at her place, then I called the cleaning woman and told her that I had suffered just about enough abuse from this feline and she would have to look after His Highness until the couple returned.

Lonely my ass!

All my best to Douglas and the children, my dear.

yours,

Martha

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