June 1, 2018 § 6 Comments
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 knew and I knew he belonged only to himself. Gerald wore the history of his nightly wars on his skin. Half an ear was gone, the other tattered. At first I thought his battle cries in the oak meadow were the shriek of a fox, and I worried for my chickens who insisted on sleeping in the trees overhanging the pond. I soon learned that foxes are quiet when they’re hungry.
A good jumper even for a cat, he would visit by leaping onto the conservatory roof and shrinking himself thin he squeezed through the half open window onto my writing desk. He left paw prints of mud and blood on the blank page, then arched his back, waved 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. Was now part of his gang. After he had eaten, he would sit by the kitchen door and clean every part of himself – his hawk-like talons splayed as he stretched a 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 to sit still for long. But 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 anyway.
But the last time he visited he broke his night time rule. He came in the afternoon. 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 fluids – yet he kept his dignity. He had come home to die.
I think he had been poisoned. I still think of him sometimes – particularly when I hear the night time yowl of the fox, or a tomcat from a neighbouring farm comes to mark out his territory on the vacant 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 the window, and take up my pen.