April 13, 2017 § 2 Comments

cat paws

I once had a cat who only visited at night. He was born on the farm so I thought of him as mine – but he never was. He belonged to himself. Gerald wore the history of his nightly wars in the oak meadow on his skin. At first I thought his battle cry was the shriek of a fox, and worried for the chickens who insisted on sleeping in the trees overhanging the pond – but I soon learned that foxes are quiet when they’re hungry.

His manners were his own, and driven entirely by instinct. A good jumper even for a cat, he would visit by leaping onto the conservatory roof then shrink himself thin to slide through the half open window onto the writing desk in my room. He left paw prints of mud and blood on the blank page. Then he would arch his back, wave his tail in the air like a sail pulled tight to catch the wind, and knead my chest until I got out of bed to feed him. I had been bloodied. Afterwards, he sat by the kitchen door and cleaned every part of himself  – his hawk like talons splayed as he stretched each back leg into the air to be washed. He sat quietly and waited for the door to be opened – he never did get the hang of the cat flap.

With long, grey fur that made him look like an expensive lap cat, he collected burrs and twigs and bits of broken shell from the snails he liked to eat; but unlike his sister, he never had the temperament for it. I was happy he didn’t spend much time in the house as he left his stink everywhere: on doorposts, on laundry straight off the line waiting to be folded, and on me. Even pots left to dry on the draining board could not escape the stench of his tomcat urine. Perhaps he didn’t know where he really belonged, so he marked everything to compensate.

But the last time he visited he broke his night time rule. He came in the afternoon. He had come home to die. I regarded it as a compliment. He walked in through the open door and stretched out on the sofa. Grown thin overnight, his fur had an odour I did not know. He shivered so I wrapped him in a towel. His body leaked death fluids – yet he kept his dignity. I think he’d been poisoned.

I still think of him sometimes – particularly when I hear the night time yowl of the fox, or new tomcats from neighbouring farms come to mark out their territory on his patch.

Things are different now. The chickens are gone, and I sleep with my window closed because these days I feel the cold. I miss the deep purring from his chest and the bloodiness on mine – and sometimes I wake and cannot be sure he’s not there. Perhaps he wants to be let in. I get out of bed, wrap myself in a blanket and open my window. I sit at my writing desk and listen. But now there are other noises – sounds that demand nothing of me. The wail of the curlew, the sharp cry of a rabbit being taken by a stoat – simple sounds of other lives not connected with me. So I close my window, and take up my pen.

PS. I think I’ve been reading too much Annie Dillard…

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§ 2 Responses to visitor

  • This started as beautiful prose and then turned very sad, but you handled it very sensitively: we had one cat who waited until the rest of the family had gone out and stayed with me to die. As you say quite a compliment but terribly difficult to break the news to the rest of my family. Moving writing, Rachael.

    • Rachael says:

      Thanks, Chris. And thank you for your story in response. The truth is Gerald did exactly the same as your dear cat. As you say, a compliment but so hard to handle.

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