The tale of the little cat who wasn’t there started in January. We were mourning Lulu, who had been put to sleep. She’d been my feline friend since my mother brought her home in a tatty wicker basket lined with brightly knitted blankets. Back then, Lulu was four years old, already a mother to several litters of feral kittens. She’d been caught in a feral neutering programme, and claimed political asylum. She was not feral, but a lost or abandoned pet who had never lost her memories of a warm home and plentiful food. Mum and Dad were vets, and home was full of rescue animals.
Lulu, named for her fierce ginger fur, her tiny frame, and her loud voice, moved into my bedroom. She left home with me, moved house with me, met my husband before I did (when he stopped outside my house to stroke her) and sat with me in the bedroom, reassuringly patient, when my daughter Freya arrived fast and unexpectedly one February morning. She was my only midwife, but her calm gaze reminded me that she’d done this many times..
That cat transferred her allegiance from me to Freya within minutes. She sat by the cradle, woke me if Freya was restless, and watched me critically as I learned the craft of motherhood.
But the world turns, and cats, even magical cats who choose husbands and help to deliver babies, don’t live forever. Lulu was put to sleep just before Freya’s fourth birthday. Heart failure, she was seventeen..
We mourned her, but agreed that it was good to have some freedom, to take weekends away and visit friends, without worrying about getting home for the cat. Freya was inconsolable for a while, but she bounced back, and we promised her that we would get another cat.
As the heartache of Lulu’s loss eased, I noticed all the benefits of not having a cat. It was easier to clean … no fur, cat food, piles of cat sick, and best of all, no litter tray. I missed my little red friend, but didn’t feel the need to get another cat. Everything was ticking along, until Freya came home from nursery with a sore throat.
The next morning she was tearful and couldn’t eat. My mother swept in, looked at Freya’s rash, diagnosed Scarlet Fever, and rang the doctor to demand a home visit. Of course, she was right. Freya was confined to bed for several weeks, she was too weak to walk or play. It was three weeks before she could talk again, and she told me about The Little Cat That Wasn’t There.
She said that one morning, with nobody else in the room, she’d felt the end of the bed bounce, as it did when Lulu used to jump on it. “But Mummy, it was just a little bounce.” Freya said. “From a little cat. I looked, but it wasn’t there.”
She told me that she’d felt tiny velvet paws, and she giggled as she told me about little scratchy claws. She told me that she felt a small rasping tongue licking the sweat from her forehead. She looked, but the little cat wasn’t there.
“Do you think it’s a ghost?” I asked.
“No, it’s not a dead cat.” Freya said, reassuring me. “It’s just a little cat that isn’t there.”
As the weeks went by, Freya became stronger. We read to her, and listened to her as she told us how the little velvet paws were getting bigger, how the bounce at the end of the bed was getting heavier, how the little tongue was licking more strongly. But still, the little cat wasn’t there.
Freya would sit out in the garden, and if she dozed off under the blankets that covered her, she would wake to tell me about the little nose that nuzzled against hers, about a whip thin tail that swished against her calf, and about tiny ears, silky beneath her fingers. It was the little cat again, but it wasn’t there.
I told my mother that I was worried about Freya, she said it wasn’t unusual for kids to have imaginary friends; but then at the beginning of June I got a call from my dad.
“You know that cat that you said you’d get one day? Well, I think he’s here. He’s an abandoned black kitten, about nine weeks old. He needs company. Shall I bring him round now or will you collect him?”
I hung up and complained to my husband. He shrugged. “I don’t mind having a kitten around.” So much for moral support. I gave in, and rang Dad back. “Bring him round, I hope he’s not got fleas!”
Dad made some offended noises, but turned up an hour later carrying a battered wicker basket lined with colourful knitted blankets. Freya was already in bed, fast asleep, and I decided to leave it that way, it would be easier on the kitten if he didn’t have to face the full rampaging energy of a four year old on his first night. I had forgotten, of course, about the full rampaging energy of a nine week old kitten. By eleven I’d surrendered, and the kitten had the run of the house.
At dawn, I heard a surprised squeak from Freya’s room, then a delighted yell, followed by a matter of fact miaow. I went in, she was sitting up in bed. The kitten jumped onto the end of the bed, making the mattress bounce. He ran across her legs with velvet paws, just catching himself a little with his tiny claws. He jumped onto her shoulder and licked at her face with a miniature rasping tongue. She swung her legs out of the bed, and he nuzzled at her face, she stroked his silky ears, and watched as he jumped off the bed and entwined his tail around her ankles. Freya looked at me, a big grin on her face.
“Mum. The little cat is here.”
Copyright Jeanette Greaves, 2008