So…something most peculiar happened to my family and I yesterday. It was horrible, momentarily…unsettling…and then…well, you’ll see.
We don’t have a good track record with pets. They either tend to die prematurely or be off their rockers. Occasionally they’re both.
We began with four goldfish. Within weeks one had died and then, as far as we could tell, the largest turned cannibal and ate the others. Then it died too. That was definitely a ‘wtf’ moment for us.
Then came the hamster. It lasted a couple of weeks too and then died somewhat ignominiously with its bum sticking out of its little house. Wifey and I put off telling the kids, who were both little at the time, until we reached their grandparents for lunch. We sat them both down and told them the hamster had died. Thing I was very upset and Thing II was confused but then became upset and then there was a very confused conversation which eventually led to us realising that my son (who was partly deaf at the time and eventually had grommets to correct his hearing loss) thought we’d said his gran – who he’d seen just minutes before and was busy cooking the lunch in the kitchen – was the one who had died and not the hamster! That kinda killed the moment of grief to be honest. I for one was crying with laughter.
Then, when we left for Bangladesh in 2008, we left our dog with the previously mentioned and most certain not dead grandparents and the rabbit with the curate from our local church.
The bloody dog (which had been off his rocker since the day we first got him) outlived all the pets but got more cantankerous and useless by the day. He had to be put down just before we came back from Bangladesh. Blind, bonkers and not even able to find his way around the kitchen let alone anywhere else, his body was slowly shutting down and, on the vet’s advice, was put out of his misery. I do miss him but he was hard, hard work.
I’m also grateful for him because I could spend a whole hour’s lesson at school telling true stories about my dog and get out of teaching classes anything I was supposed to be teaching. I made sure that every class I taught got the ‘dog lesson’ as early as as possible because it cemented me in their young minds as a teacher who was going to be fun to be around.
The rabbit had a desperate urge to be free along with an equally desperate urge to kill himself. He regularly chewed his way out of his cage, would then squeeze himself into impossibly tight holes or chew live electrical cabling. His best effort was escaping into the outside where I nearly ran him over with the car and I was clawed half to death by him when I tried to get him back into his cage. At some point soon after we left for Bangladesh the curate sent us an email to say he had died. He gave no details but I can imagine what happened. Only my family could buy a death-wish bunny.
In Bangladesh we fared no better. A succession of dogs, cats and birds either died of mysterious and infectious diseases, were killed by LAMB staff or – in the case of the birds – bludgeoned to death by their fellow inmates. I kid you not.
You would think, wouldn’t you. that after all this death-most-foul (fowl?) that my family had been put off pets for life? Oh no, not at all. Since returning to the UK I have been pestered, begged and threatened by the other three members of my little clan to get a couple of dogs. I’m resisting as long as I can and I’m partly helped by the fact we haven’t got a brass farthing to rub together at the moment so the expense of two dogs is way out of our budget right now; but I can’t hold off forever. For those of you who want to suggest we get a dog from a shelter: don’t, really don’t. Been there, done that; that’s where our hound-from-hell came from in the first place. If we get dogs again I want them from a good, friendly, sane pedigree. For now though, this home is my castle and my castle doesn’t permit pets.
Nevertheless, what I have no control over whatsoever is the neighbours. Our village is a lovely, friendly and welcoming place but the downside of that (in this case) is that when neighbours go on holiday they tend to ask you to feed their cat(s). My daughter, Thing I, is the Dr Doolittle in our family and jumps at the chance each time to take responsibility for feeding and loving the animals. I must say, she does a pretty fine job of it.
Which finally brings me to the tale in hand.
Our neighbours have just gone on holiday and left us in charge of their cat (called…wait for this…’Cat’). They also left the phone number of a family member ‘in case the cat gets run over or something’. The animal has somewhat befriended us and regularly trots into our house as though he owns the joint and I, equally as regularly throw him back out again. This has become something of a routine now.
‘Cat”s latest trick is to meow pitifully at the door and even scratch at it until someone (female) takes mercy and lets him in. Yesterday lunchtime I sat at the kitchen table eating my lunch watched by ‘Cat’ who was sitting outside on the windowsill looking as though he’d just die if someone didn’t let him in. I came very close to giving in but, with a slightly guilty feeling, I finished my lunch and left the kitchen to continue working.
Later that afternoon there came a knock on the front door.
A woman I’d never met before stood there.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said, “but I believe you’re looking after your neighbours’ cat at the moment.”
“Yes,” I said, amazed yet again at just how much everyone in the village knows about each other and somewhat warily wondering what was coming next.
“I’m really sorry but I think it’s been run over and crawled behind a bin across the road.”
My heart sank. We didn’t need this. My family have been going through hell recently and this just seemed unnecessary. I walked over with the lady and looked behind the public bin. Sure enough, there was a black cat, not moving. I touched it to see if there was any sign of life. The body was stiff. My daughter, I thought, was going to be devastated. I thanked the woman for letting me know and I returned home to wait for Wifey to return from work.
I slumped in my chair feeling just awful that I hadn’t let the cat in. If I had he’d still be alive now. It was my fault. How could I be so stupid, so heartless?
When Wifey did arrive, a few minutes later, I told her the bad news and we went out to look. Yes, it was definitely ‘Cat’. We waited for Things I & II to return back from school. When they did we sat them down, told them the news and then went to collect the poor creature from behind the bin and put him in a plastic bag.
I had the ‘pleasure’ of picking the poor creature up and getting him into a bag. We then brought him back to the house and put him in the garden area. I was given the task of ringing the ‘next of kin’ to see what they wanted to be done with the body. Meanwhile, Thing II broke down and sobbed on Wifey’s shoulder. It just seemed so unfair. This emotional turmoil was simply unnecessary and cruel. Why couldn’t God take this away from us?
I talked with the relative and we decided our neighbours didn’t need to know until they returned home. They would be upset and there was no point putting them through that until they got back. The relative would come in the morning and take the cat away.
As I was finishing the conversation and putting the receiver down, and the girls were crying together, we all heard a most eerie sound. The sound of meowing.
‘Cat’ has a distinctive sound. His meow is higher-pitched than most cats. This was the sound we were definitely hearing now. We all froze. There it was again. Where it was coming from we couldn’t tell but it was definitely ‘Cat’.
I don’t believe in ghosts but there are times in your life where something most bizarre happens. I’ve written about such experiences before. At those times you just momentarily suspend belief and think…noooo…it couldn’t be…could it?
Carefully, with family stacked nervously behind me, I opened the back door to peer into the garden. There was the bag. There was a paw sticking out of it and definitely not moving. We shut the door. That ruled out the ‘cat-miraculously-resurrected-from-the-dead’ theory. Still we heard the meowing. Do cats even have ghosts? I wondered.
“Check the front door,” Wifey suggested. So I did.
And in strolled ‘Cat’!
There was a few seconds of gob-smacked silence followed by a huge wave of relief followed by an even bigger wave of laughter from us all. ‘Cat’ was alive! Life hadn’t been that cruel to us after all. Thank you God.
Then a new thought dawned on us all: well then who the hell is the dead cat we have in our garden?!
At the present time of writing, I still haven’t found out. We may live in a wonderfully friendly, welcoming village but the neighbours have a habit of disappearing just when you need them. I’ve knocked on several doors and, so far, not found anyone in. So we still have a dead cat in a bag in our garden. But our ‘Cat’ is still very much alive.
The knock-on of all this though is that after feeling so guilty about throwing the cat outside all the time and thinking I’d effectively killed him through my (in)actions, I’ve now relented and when he comes in I don’t mind him staying. He’s a bold cat though and immediately goes off exploring. As I write this, he’s been in the house for two hours and I still haven’t found him.
So much for keeping my castle a pet-free domain. Damn it.
Postscript: Many, many hours later ‘Cat’ reappeared. We’ve since found he had discovered a perfect cat-shaped box among our many half-unpacked boxes and enjoyed hiding away there. I think he’s back in it now actually…
Oh! And we still have a deceased moggie in the garden 😦