Sitting here at the desktop, I’m suddenly aware of not being alone. Scratching noises and paper crackling. Looking to where the noise is coming from I see a mouse under the table. The normal reaction should be one of horror I suppose. Having experienced a rat running across my stomach whilst asleep in bed and feeling nothing more than irritation I’d been woken up and having to get up, find the pesky creature and return him to his glass fish tank home, rather negates that option. This is relatively small beer. But decide I must get a cat.
My last and in fact only cat was called Marley. He was a handsome devil, all-black long fur with green eyes. We lived a grudging semi-feral existence together. He was presented to me in a cardboard box as a kitten. His owner was one of Toby’s ex-girlfriends who – in cahoots with him – gazed at me imploringly as they told me he would be homeless from that night as she was being evicted. What part of the word ‘no’ did they not understand. Presciently, her flat was petrol-bombed that night. Of course, Marley had managed to inveigle himself into my affections despite outward protestations that I was never at home and didn’t want any pets or ties. I’d done my porage on that one. So his little life was spared that night.
Marley proved to be useless at most cat things. Despite being semi-feral he was frightened of Magpies and spiders. I would watch stand-offs in the garden where the Magpie always seemed to be the victor as he slunk off in disgrace. Or the occasional massive spider which he’d eye languidly for a short while before feigning sleep as if he knew he was falling down on the job and was a way of getting me off his back. On the plus side I was spared the ‘presents’ of dead mice and birds at my kitchen door. He never sat on my lap and eschewed general affection- except for feeding time of course. With odd few exceptions, at times of great sorrow when he would suddenly appear on my lap in a curiously comforting manner. As if he knew.
We both tried to eradicate one another at various times, he by deploying himself cunningly underneath the top step of the stairs causing me to fall the full length of them. And me by a slower method - often forgetting to get cat food - feeding him a diet of left-over takeaways and Belgian chocolates.
He was however, an excellent judge of character. If he didn’t like a prospective boyfriend he would go beserk and run horizontally around the walls of the living room as if on speed. Which he did quite spectacularly with one ex-public school hooray with an accent to shatter glass at fifty paces. Marley must have known what was about to happen next.
After a deeply uncomfortable lunch at my local where his braying derogatory comments about Essex people and their customs could be heard several octaves above the estuary accents, with not a little relief I stood on the empty station platform saying goodbye to him. As the 6 o’clock commuter train pulled into the station platform opposite groaning with City boys, for some grossly inexplicable reason he put both his hands out, arms outstretched and grabbed my breasts. I remember freezing in horror for a nanosecond before slapping him around the face and storming off in fury. What he’d done was crass enough but in front of such an audience. What was he thinking. Though I did see the funny side of it afterwards as it was so bizarre and was greeted with howls of laughter as I relayed the event to my friends. So Marley had been right about him. Spooky huh?
So we lived this ‘odd couple’ existence together for sixteen years until a knock on the door from a stranger ended it all. She wanted to know if I knew who owned a black cat in the road as she’d seen a car hit one and drive off. Despite my feigned irritation and cursing of him over the years, I was surprised to find myself heart-broken and inconsolable.