The other day a friend told me that my blog had become rather boring lately. He said all my posts seemed to be about books and crosswords and stupid things, when what everyone really wanted to know about was the cat. ‘I have no idea what’s been happening in her life,’ he complained. ‘What her current interests are – her hobbies, her passions, her pursuits.’
‘She doesn’t really have any,’ I said. ‘She just likes lizards and stuff. Oh, and leaves – she’s back into collecting leaves again.’
‘That’s exactly what I mean!’ he exploded. ‘How am I to know these things unless you write about them?’
‘Is it really necessary that you know about the cat’s -‘ I began, but he cut me off.
‘What’s wrong with you woman?! Of course it’s necessary. It’s as necessary as air – as water – as liberty.’ And he refused to let the issue rest until I promised faithfully that my next post would be solely and exclusively about Fina. So with apologies to everyone else…
ERASING THE CAT
This morning I erase the cat. Make her disappear. Take her for ‘a ride in the car’.
First of all, I empty her litter tray into the bin, wash it, bundle it up in a big plastic bag and stow it beneath the back porch. Then I hide her kibble, food bowl and water bowl in the laundry cupboard.
The scratching post goes into the wardrobe next, along with her cat bed. Next I gather all of her toys together: balls with and without bells, her current krinkletoy, stuffed mice, and a feathery creature on the end of a string. It’s quite pitiful to see the little heap all her worldly possessions make: I have visions of knotting them up in red and white spotted handkerchief, tying it onto the end of a stick then sending her out into the world of men to seek her fortune. Instead, I stash them into the dark wardrobe as well, snatching back Mousey at the last minute.
I brush down the rug and sofas, removing every trace of cat hair. Then I artfully drape throw rugs over the parts of the couch that have been ravaged by her claws (ie. I cover it completely.) Finally, I go through the house with a stick of white sage incense to wipe out every trace of her scent. You would never know a cat had ever been there.
She’s an illegal you see. According to our lease we’re not supposed to have a cat, and today is our six monthly inspection. We debate packing all her things away, locking her outside, then if the landlord happens to see her, pretending she’s the neighbour’s extremely friendly cat. There are problems with that, though (What if he notices my mobile number around her neck? What if she mauls him for intruding in her territory?) and in the end we decide it’s safer to coincide the inspection with her first trip to the vet. We’ve had her for nearly a year now, and it’s about time for her check-up.
I get her cardboard cat carrier down from where it has sat on top of the wardrobe for the past 10 months, line it with a towel, then put Mousey in so she won’t be lonely. Then comes the hard part. It takes both Richard and I five minutes to get her in there and close the lid, trying to ignore the frantic little paws scrabbling about on the sides, squirming their way out through the rapidly-decreasing gaps; the mewling; the little head thrusting up against the lid; the green eyes wide and panicked. Finally she is in. It’s done. Arriverderci cat.
It’s heart-rending to hear her piteous miaowing all the way to the vet. ‘It’s alright little one,’ I reassure her, trying to go slowly over the speed bumps so she won’t be disturbed; stroking her at red lights through the air holes. Her fur feels soft as feathers and I can feel her trembling under my fingertips. Her pink felt nose is all that can be seen, pressed against the circular air vent like a traveller looking out wistfully to sea through a porthole.
I feel terrible. I wonder what she thinks is happening, if she thinks we’re taking her back to the shelter; that she’ll never see her special cat bed or eat her cat grass or fetch her favourite leaves from next door again. I almost work myself into tears. I can’t believe I have to bear all this stress by myself; that Richard isn’t here having his heart broken as well. I wonder what I’ll be like when I have to take my child to school for the first time. Probably much happier, I decide: at least there’ll be no cardboard box involved.
I get lucky with parking, finding a place almost outside the vet. I don’t bother reverse parking as the street sign instructs; just swing the car in any-which-way. ‘Nearly there, Fina,’ I assure her, cradling the carrier in my arms.
There’s a homeless man sitting on the footpath outside. He tips his hat to me as I struggle with the door. ‘Sounds like a pretty one,’ he says conversationally, in response to the plaintive cries emerging from the box.
‘She is’, I say fervently, wishing I could open up the box and show him just how pretty she is – her big moon-like eyes and sweet raccoon-face, the long, elegant plume-like tail. ‘It’s her first visit to the vet. She’s a bit nervous.’
‘Good luck with it!’ he grins, and gives me a thumbs up as we go in.
When you think about it, for a cat, a trip to the vet isn’t that different to being abducted by the mafia. You’re captured and confined against your will; driven to an unknown destination, not seeing where you’re going; then end up in a small brightly lit room where you’re interrogated by a stranger, usually painfully. Little wonder Fina is frightened.
She holds up bravely, however, baring her teeth and splaying her claws for inspection, flattening herself onto the scales to be weighed, allowing her stomach and glands to be prodded, even submitting to the indignity of the thermometer. She doesn’t bite the vet even once, not even when she refers to Mousey as ‘her little friend’ rather than her minion. I’m so proud of her. If gold stars held any value for her, I’d plaster her scratching post with them.
I pass the homeless man again on the way out. ‘How did she go?’ he asks.
I beam. ‘All good. Not one shot!’ He gives me another thumbs up and seems genuinely pleased things have worked out so well for the cat. I think how strange and lovely it is that this man and I from such different worlds are temporarily connected by our concern for this little creature.
Fina is recovering well from her ordeal and doesn’t seem to resent us for our role in it. She got lots of pats and attention when she got home, and had tinned cat food for dinner as a treat (‘‘Dine’ for cats who are connoisseurs’’ ) She’s sitting on the desk beside me now, a little subdued but otherwise herself. She’s been gazing up through the skylight, watching the leaves of the gum tree whip about in the wind, the sky flatten to dull white as night creeps closer. Richard’s practicing his piano nearby, and she seems happy, listening to the hesitant trails of notes of notes plopping like raindrops into a pool. She’s very sleepy, every few minutes her eyes drifting closed to form little crescent moons. I can rest my hand on her side, and feel it rising and falling with each deep breath, thrumming slightly as she purrs.