I figured out how to describe Ernie’s facial expression, and I tell you what . . . it was a revelation. I was looking at him last night, and remembering the day I described Blake’s habitual smile, and I couldn’t help noticing that Ernie rarely smiles. If ever.
Ernie is a very serious fellow. He has serious thoughts. I’m not quite sure what a cat with man-boobs could possibly be thinking about, but I’m sure it’s something like healthcare reform or environmental conservation.
At any rate, I was getting ready for bed and putting on my pajamas when I noticed Ernie. He was in the room with me, and I had only noticed him in a vague way when I first walked in and started my nightly routine.
Then, for no reason at all, I really looked at him, and it was kind of spooky because was looking right back at me. Although my brain knew he was just hungry and hoping I’d walk to the door to go get his dinner, for a fraction of a second it seemed like he was trying to get my attention. Like he had to tell me something. And that was the lightning bolt moment.
Ernie's normal expression looks like he just said something horrific and shocking. So off-the-wall that you know it's a joke.
“Florida fell into the ocean.” “Some famous movie star died in a freak accident at a basket-weaving contest.” That could never happen.
We've all been there. Someone tells you something completely wild, and then they look so deadpan you consciously set aside your foolish feeling and make a point to believe them. They hold a steady, severe look for a fraction longer than is strictly necessary to pull off the joke. The trick crosses the line into “That’s not funny!” and when they finally give their "Gotcha!" smile you wind up feeling gullible and stupid.
Which, I realize, is the funny part.
That's what happened last night with Ernie. As I peered into his worldly eyes, admittedly an impossible contradiction since I stand by my original assessment that he’s the dumbest cat on the planet, he had a look on his face that somehow made me believe he was the first to hear a heinous news story. He's a cat, of course he didn't actually verbalize anything, but the process was the same anyway: an unbelievable scandal, information delivered straight-faced, a pause while I contemplated the outrageousness and tried to keep from laughing at his stony silence. Then another pause.
His ability to hold the serious expression for so long made me doubt myself.
My smile faded. Could he possibly be serious? Is Florida gone? What could have gone wrong at a basket weaving contest?
I caught myself thinking: any second now . . . any minute he’s going to crack and I’ll know he was kidding.
Any minute now.