We are thirteen

Kitten’s been on ‘permanent loan’ to my mother for the past five years or thereabouts, keeping her company and giving her something to focus on after Dad died. This morning I got a telephone call from my Godmother to say that it was time to collect Kitten, and I drove across to my mother’s early this afternoon. ‘Kitten’ is a huge misnomer since this little cat celebrated (though she’s not a great one for celebrating, I have to say) her twentieth birthday this September.

I found a handy little paragraph online:

To convert cat age to an equivalent human age, an accepted method is to add 15 years for the first year of life. Then add 10 years for the second year of life. After that, add 4 years for every cat year. This means that by year two, a cat has matured to about the same as a 25 year old human.

So she’d be 97.

She is a poor old thing to look at now, thin and wobbly, and as grumpy as ever – but she seems to be settling in. She’s eaten a surprising quantity of Gourmet food and has now relocated herself to the bedroom.  I just found her in the wardrobe, sunk into the spare duvet. She looks cosy enough, if not exactly full of the joys of spring, and after all these years alone with an old lady the other cats don’t seem to be bothering her. I’ve noticed that whilst she was almost completely silent with Mum, who is stone deaf – even ‘miming’ her miaows to save energy – after a few hours here she is using her voice again. She’s got a fearsome growl on her.

I’ve been desperate to retrieve my old moggie for some time. Mum hasn’t really been up to caring for her for the past year and has become increasingly anxious about the responsibility. I was hoping against hope that she would herself come to the decision to give Kitten back, rather than my having to step in and take her furry companion away when things got just too bad. In truth things have been just too bad for many months now; I was delaying out of cowardice, weighing and re-weighing the welfare of the cat against the potential distress to my mother. Overnight, unexpectedly, and thank goodness, Mum did decide. It can’t have been easy for her.

I suppose the thing with cats is that they are the custodians of various chunks of our lives, the keepers of our memories. Which is why it hurts so much when, inevitably, they have to leave us. It’s not just losing the cat it’s losing our route back to all the things that happened over all those years, the houses we shared, the various crises we weathered. The past is another country, as they say, and when a cat dies the last bridge dissolves with it.

I remember the first time I saw her – as one of a whole litter of flying kittens in a supply teacher’s scruffy back garden, in an unfamiliar town a good hour’s drive from where I lived. I was supposed to be on a date with him – I think I found him in the newspaper! I suspect he had only dated me because I’d mentioned liking cats and he saw an opportunity to get rid of one of the litter his own cat had suddenly produced. Kitten’s a tabby and at that time she was called Stripe. In order not to become attached to them he had not named them, merely identified them by appearance – Stripe, Spotty, Dotty or whatever.

It was never going to work between him and me: he was shorter and totally un-fanciable – in fact not even likeable – but I needed to keep seeing him at least until Stripe was ready to leave her mother. Also, of course, he had to keep seeing me if he wanted to home a kitten. I don’t know which of us found that convenient pretence most irritating. The man had ginger hair, I remember; most of it growing out of his nose and ears.

(I don’t suppose he’s reading this.)

How strange to have her back with me again. How strange to be a thirteen-cat household, if only for a short time. I expect one morning I’ll discover Kitten curled up somewhere, apparently asleep but in fact gone to the land of Endless Purrs.

All this reminded me of a Wordsworth poem. It’s quite a long poem; this is just part of it:

  • “How many are you, then,” said I,
  •  “If they two are in heaven?”
  •  Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
  •  “O Master! we are seven.”
  •  “But they are dead; those two are dead!
  •  Their spirits are in heaven!”
  •  ’Twas throwing words away; for still
  •  The little Maid would have her will,
  •  And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

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