Even when we still had Marmalade, our ginger boy, his sister Chocolat would follow me around the house whilst most of the family went out to work. If I went upstairs to write, she would come along, and either pester me for attention or curl up and nap somewhere whilst I worked. Or she would chat to me whilst I made food, answering my questions with a ‘mew’ or ‘meeeew’, jumping up on her hind-paws to head-butt my hand.
She still does all this: though, with my Mum retired, and my sister around more often, she has more attention than she knows what to do with. She has a routine in place: either I wake up and she’s curled up next to my side, or she’s in her cat-bed. Depending on what time of the morning it is, she may even be outside exploring. But without fail, when I come downstairs, she always expects me to feed her something, even if she’s already had breakfast.
Or she engages me in a conversation, probably to admonish me about staying up too late and waking up late. Then sometime in the afternoon, she goes exploring in the back garden – since it’s cold, this isn’t more than twenty minutes at a time, and she always comes back in chattering about something (who knows – maybe she’s complaining about the cold weather). Since it’s so muddy, she leaves paw-prints everywhere – up the stairs, on tables, on paper and letters – even on bed-covers.
She’ll have a nap for hours at a time, only waking when it gets dark and she wants some food. She still acts like a kitten, playing with a beaten up fabric ball – batting it into the air, kicking it with her hind-paws. There is a catnip mouse with a feather tail that she spends ages cleaning, as if it’s a kitten. Plastic bags fascinate her – she’ll stop in front of one and lick it like it tastes of milk. Of course, like a lot of torties, she complains loudly about all kinds of things. Apparently you can hear her upstairs or in another room voicing her displeasure with the state of the world.
When I go up to bed, she follows me, exactly like a little shadow. Yet so much of what she does and thinks is a mystery to us – she has grown into herself and does her own thing. She is far less clingy with me than she used to be, just after Marmalade went missing. Marmalade’s absence, and the sense of unresolved grief, is easier to bear with her huge personality. She makes us laugh and she isn’t a silent shadow – she is present, loud, filling up the house with her attitude.
‘What does it mean to love an animal, a pet, in my case a cat, in the fierce, entire, and unambivalent way that some of us do?’ – Alice Adams, ‘The Islands’.