Cats - whether they are Egyptian gods or just cushions that purr - have a funny way of knowing just what we need.
At sixteen, deadlines aren't what they're going to be. The night before my exams, I stayed up much later than planned, trying to concentrate on my studies.
It was a wild night. Lightning ripped across the sky, and thunder shook the house.
Through it I heard what sounded like a mother sarcastically imitating her baby crying. I realised that it was two cats preparing to fight outside my window and ran outside to scare them apart. One ran across the road to its home, the other - my cat - streaked wetly inside.
I heard the unmistakable sound of his tinkling bells as he sauntered into my room. I expected him to settle down in the top of my cupboard, but instead he leapt onto my desk, inches from my face. Unusual behaviour in a cat overweight and greying with age.
Fortunately he was not covering the whole page, so I let him sit and simply read the parts he wasn't sitting on. But whenever I put pencil to paper, he'd stretch a paw over, or his head, and turn upside-down golden eyes on me.
He began a deep, loud purr, as though I was paying him the utmost attention. But even he could never cover everything at one time.
Spotting movement out of the corner of his eye, he stretched himself up luxuriously and began, kitten style, to pounce on my expensive Derwent pencils, batting them all, one by one, onto the floor. I caught my breath as he, handsome as any star, sauntered across to wage war on a roll of sticky tape stuck to the edge of the desk. I laughed aloud and ached for a camera as he hunched over the edge of my desk, hitting and biting the tape like some manic figurine.
As the tape fell, he followed it gamely, leaving me a cat free desk. Reluctantly I turned back to my books. I was running out of hours.
The cat jumped up again, disgusted at my lack of appropriate response. I kept working, using a stumpy lead pencil to mark out some lines. It was then that Hope moved forward to begin chewing the end of that very pencil. I was startled for a moment, but kept drawing. He chewed the end meditatively for a moment, then took my hand in his mouth. He didn't bite me, just looked at me with adoring eyes, sure I couldn't resist.
He was right. I took him onto my lap like a heated teddy bear, grateful for his insistence. All work became irrelevant at his purr, more absorbing than the thunder still booming outside. Inside I just hugged my cat, warmed and reassured and thankful.
This cat was like a family member, except we never fought.
I never understood why a corpse was so much more comforting than "Missing". One of my closest and longest-held friends is dead. Or maybe not. I don't know whether to hope or brace myself. He disappeared a few nights ago. Just like that.
I counted the years on my fingers. Ten. We saw each other nearly every day. He was always posing. Vanity is an attribute in felines. He didn't need purring to communicate affection - not him. His tail, his breathing, a certain tilt of the head or curve of a heavy and playful paw-- I knew them all.
The whole family has looked everywhere. I called up several veterinary clinics to ask if someone had brought him in. For ages I walked around the streets calling and meowing with a can of open cat food.
I keep thinking I see him - another cat, a sweater, shadows. We're all scared that he's hurt somewhere, dying and wondering what's happening to him.
I found the body today. Thought I'd double-check under the house where I make him sleep at night. Kind of an adventure. I dressed in old clothes, knowing how dirty it is down there, and took a torch. I crawled in through the low door and shone the beam around, scanning carefully. It was surprisingly easy to see my way. My family uses the area as storage space, but it's empty except for a few blue-and-white striped folding chairs and some planks of wood. I gave it one last glance and suddenly saw him. The body was within arms reach, but so covered in dust and pastel brown dirt I hadn't noticed him. I sat next to him, observing his fur dried in spikes like teenage guys sometimes wear their hair.
My grief was unique; I was the only one who knew. Strangely, I didn't care about the body at all. The body was related to him like a collar, or a cat bowl, or something like that. The idea of it being him seemed ridiculous.
I don't know how long I sat, remembering.
There wasn't any smell. I was frightened to see his face, but I leant over and saw that his mouth was open, as if meowing. I resolved to hide it from my family. Finally I realised it was over, and faced the difficult task of moving him without touching his stiffened, ugly fur. It feels wrong for him to be so disgusting in death.
Clumsily I levered and pushed his dirty corpse onto a folding chair. I walked quietly inside and told my family the wait was over. I covered him in newpaper so they couldn't see him and we carried him on the chair like a stretcher. Dad dug a hole among the rose bushes and I pushed him in. He was so lifeless, I may as well have buried a stone.
We stood and cried for a while, then went back inside. I feel stupid to mourn so bitterly over an animal. But "just a cat" doesn't apply. He's been a fixture in our home more than half my life.
Grandma thinks my cat was killed by rat poisoning, and then went under the house because it felt safe. But he hated being down there. Why didn't he meow at my window? He certainly wouldn't hesitate to wake me.
I'm okay I guess. Life goes on. We have a new cat actually - I offered to help find good homes for a friend and we ended up with a kitten of our own. She's very beautiful and I love her, but every so often I wake up in the middle of the night and cry. You never forget your first cat.
Writing now makes me remember him as if he's purring away beside me. My earliest memory of him is the day he arrived in our house. I was seven, the same in years as he was in weeks. He was tiny and frightened but my enthusiasm was typically egocentric and he skittered away, sliding into a corner on our wooden floors before my mother rescued him.
It didn't take him long to adapt. He had me just where he wanted me. An indignant look was enough to have me leaping to accomodate his every whim. I knew before he did when he wanted to go out. I hesitated to invite friends over, knowing he disliked the noise. And always pathetically grateful when he deigned to honour me with his presence.
I'd only just begun keeping him under the house at night when he died. It felt cruel, but I didn't have the stomach to treat the wounds he'd get from fighting, and it seemed the only solution. Still, I always kept him free until the last minute before going to bed. That night I had forgotten something outside so I went to get it. He heard me and meowed mournfully through the vent in the wall. I laughed at his melodramatic tone and assured him that he was the most gorgeous cat in the world and I adored him.
That was the last conversation I had with him.
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