We have been having a rather miserable week of it here. One of our cats, Hilly, fell seriously ill, and after a great deal of agonising, we accepted that the kindest thing would be to let her go. We said our goodbyes this morning.
When we got her, our son was just starting pre-school. We drove in the car to pick two cats out of a litter of about six, and we chose the ones who came forward to greet us. We were rather under-equipped in the early stages and having no proper cat carrier to hand, I’d sellotaped a cardboard lid to the top of our laundry basket. This turned out to be insufficient restraint, and before we were half way home, I had two kittens loose in the car and exploring, to my son’s delight. This early adventurousness was misleading in Hilly’s case. She turned out to be the nerviest of nervy cats, little more than a black and white streak making for one of her hiding places. We knew of her existence only by the vast quantities of fluff she left in her wake, and the occasional spectacular vomit.
In the latter half of her life, however, she began to calm down and gain courage. Because I spent a lot of time sitting around being quiet and still, she started to come and pester me for affection. She had a backlog of five years to make up and was almost comic in her neediness. She liked best of all to run back and forth underneath an outstretched hand, as if saying, don’t bother stroking me, I’ll take care of that myself! If I sat in an armchair she would run circuits around me. But eventually she would settle down, her compact body stretched out against the length of my thigh. In the past couple of years while I’ve been writing, we’ve been together a great deal like that, both of us pretending that I’m Colette. Her newfound visibility made her no less nervous; it just meant that we got the fun of watching her run away from spiders, and take off like a helicopter when someone sneezed. Just a couple of months ago, she was having a good old scratch at the rough doormat inside the front door when I saw the bus go past that was bringing my son home from school. This should be interesting, I thought. When my son ran up to the door and pounded on the knocker, in his usual fashion, she managed to make it clear to the first landing in one single bound.
I know she had to go, because it was unbearable to see her wobbly on her legs, completely without vitality and constantly, unhappily hungry. But it’s been unbearable knowing that moment would come. Last night, I wondered what I could do to give her a good send off. And it occurred to me that one of her favourite things is to scavenge. Inevitably if we have visitors, she roams the kitchen, pausing to lick or chomp at some scrap she’s found on the floor (just to show us up, as all dependents are wont to do). So as I prepared our chicken dinner, I dropped scraps of meat down to her and she pounced on them with something resembling her old glee. I took my dinner and sat on the sofa with her, and to save her the trouble of making herself surreptitiously longer and longer in the direction of my plate, I put tiny pieces on a tea towel on my lap and she ate them off it, purring like an idling sports car. All strictly forbidden, but why worry about precedents at this stage? Condemned kittens need a good last meal.
We are going on holiday next week, which is a relief, as being around the house without my little companion in it feels awful. She was a darling of a cat, dainty and delicate with the cutest white paws that she tripped about on as if they were Jimmy Choos. She would lie on her back revealing her fluffy white tummy in a shameless tease as she never had any intention of allowing you to stroke it. Then she would headbut my elbow with some ferocity and whisk back and forth on the spot, determined to dunk her tail in my mug of tea. ‘We have the silliest cats on the planet!’ I would cry.
We loved her very much and we will miss her terribly.