Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Robin Turner

16th December 2011

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

I’m looking into the kitchen. The lights are off so I can’t see beyond the open child gate; a half swung saloon door to keep out unwanted cowgirl toddlers. At the top of the three steps that head down to a heavy tiled floor, my cat sits, as Zen as ever. I write this knowing I’ll never sit here again and just watch her watching whatever it is that she watches in the oily darkness. She won’t be there tomorrow.

When the vet first spoke the words, I think somehow I already knew. I’d always avoided the responsibility of taking Honey to the vet when anything was wrong, mainly because I dreaded any sort of terminal conversation. It’s the same reason I will do anything to avoid conversations that take place in doctors surgeries, accountants offices and banks. They never end well. The one time my partner couldn’t take her in, the amiable Aussie vet held her by the scruff of her neck said he thought it looked bad. In that context, bad only ever means one thing doesn’t it? Bad is never a little light gum disease or a rotten tooth. Bad is bad like Breaking Bad. Bad is cancer of the jaw, spreading with an intensity that makes you realise just how little power you have against the grimly determined forces of nature.

It sounds silly but we really thought of Honey as our first child. We talked about her that way, me and the mrs. When we picked her up from a rescue home, we’d said she could be a trial run for a family. And true to form, she acted the part. She could really be like a petulant teen. She had a habit of sloping in whenever she wanted, demanding things then not repaying with any kind of gratitude. When she wanted to, she could be the most loving thing in the world – radiating an almost nuclear warmth, purring at an ear splitting volume right in your ear, giving so much back. As loving as a baby, grateful for everything we’d done to repatriate her after a pretty hard first few years.

When our daughter Pip was born, I often wondered if Honey was heartbroken, no longer the central focus of our attention. Like a sullen older child you just couldn’t explain things to, suddenly elbowed out while we fussed around this wailing, bawling new arrival. She stalked and avoided, looked peeved, if that’s possible in a feline face. Then, I’d see her sit on the arm of the sofa watching while Pip played, keeping her eye on the toddler moving through the room like a Tasmanian Devil, a protective presence always at a safe distance. In those moments, I really did think she was a cornerstone of our family. It feels odd saying that. It’s a statement I would have looked at with an arched eyebrow if I’d read from anyone else before we took in a rescue cat, if I’m being honest.

I closed this document for a couple of weeks after events played out; the first paragraph written alongside a load of rambling notes that I wrote whilst stuck in a holding pattern. We’d known what was to come next but we, us heathens, found ourselves praying for a miracle to delay the inevitable end. Nothing changed, she went down fast. So tired and drawn, weighing nothing – she was still Honey, but a walking ghost. A shadow. Fur and muscle – and not a lot of that. When the day came we arranged for a home visit though the appearance of the friendly Aussie saw her revert to her most feral instincts. She went down fighting.

All her things are now packed away, hastily shoved into bin bags and hidden from view until such a day comes that we can face going back to them. Then, we’ll wash the clumps of fur and the flecks of spittle out. The final act – a loveless purge; Persil Bio eliminating odours and washing away the last traces of a life.

Maybe then, we’ll start to think about getting them back out, using them for another new arrival. Another new member of our little clan. Maybe.

One day.