Nina celebrated her fortieth birthday by paying homage to her Italian heritage, at home with a dozen of her closest and craziest friends. Having consumed three large pizzas and several bottles of Chianti between them, they sat on the balcony baying at the full moon that rose like a fat and unwieldy ball of yellow neon.
“La donna e mobile . . .” Imaginary mandolins traced delicate, vine-like curls in the air, and transported them to a far away place, an olive grove perhaps, or a Venetian canal.
Luciano looked on from his vantage point in a nearby tree. He curled his tail like a possum and dug his claws deeper into the soft, aromatic bark. He shut his eyes and waited. Patience was his virtue.
As the evening wore on, the guests departed one by one, or two by two, depending on the preceding eye contact and the degree of drunkenness. Finally, Nina was alone. She blew out the candles that lined the balcony and lit a cigarette, so that a solitary red orb glowed in the darkness. All was silent. Luciano slid along a branch that extended to the edge of the balcony, and jumped. He landed with typical precision at his mistress’s feet, and rubbed himself against her legs.
“Ah, Luciano, where have you been,” she lent down and stroked his black fur. “What a wonderful night I’ve had,” and she told him about her guests, the food, the wine, the music. He listened patiently. He loved her voice, her soft purr of happiness.
When she finished her cigarette she went inside and put on a recording of Rigoletto. She lay on the sofa, enjoying the luxuriant rise and fall of the music. Luciano jumped up and sat on her belly, kneading her breasts. After a while, he relaxed, spread himself across her torso, and made a soft, feline squeak as he fell asleep.
In a moment Nina too fell asleep, and what remained of Verdi’s drama continued to unfold on deaf ears.
In the morning, they awoke with a start, like guilty lovers. Luciano jumped down and nipped his hind leg furiously. Nina sat up, stretched and looked at Luciano, who had stopped biting himself and returned her stare.
He opened his mouth as if to yawn. His whiskers flattened against his cheeks and his ears narrowed like poisoned darts.
“La donna e mobile,” he sang.
Nina blinked and raised her eyebrows.
“La donna e mobile,” Luciano repeated, much to his consternation.
Nina’s eyes widened. “You can talk,” she whispered.
“Non parlo, ma canto,” sang Luciano. “Mi scusi, signorina,” and he proceeded to scratch his throat in an effort to expel the diabolo tenor that had invaded what had hitherto been a perfectly adequate voice box for a cat.
Nina took a deep breath and steadied herself. So, her cat could sing. Not only that, but in Italian. This was a good thing, right?
“Luciano, it’s OK.” She lifted him onto her lap and rubbed his head affectionately. “I like it, mi piace. This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had. What a wonderful thing to happen.”
Luciano wasn’t sure he agreed, but, ever the opportunist, he made the most of her attentions. It wasn’t until much later, when he found himself lapping some spilt Chianti, that he realized the full extent of his problem.