Sunday, 8 February 2015
My mother's garden seems woefully empty without the presence of our two cats, who have been living with her for the last seven years. When my partner and myself were obliged to move from the lodge in Hampshire, and found ourselves temporarily billeted at Turnpike Cottage in Somerset, we were unable to take the cats with us, as the front door of the cottage opened directly onto a busy road, and there was no garden at the back. Besides which, it had been stipulated that pets were not permitted. If we had had more time in which to find a place to live and had been in a healthier position financially, we would never have moved there.
My mother spoke up at once, offering to harbour the cats until we were able to afford them sanctuary, and welcoming the then three displaced animals into the home of herself and my father.. Within weeks, both sons had settled, but Alice, the restless mother, always consumed by wanderlust, and who had been leading a feral existence until becoming a member of our household at the lodge, had disappeared, much to my mother and father's concern. There was no sign of her; her departure, sudden and unexpected, was complete, and we conjectured that she had attempted to make her way back to the lodge, to the one fixed abode in her peripatetic life. We searched, and grieved and worried, but to no avail, for she never returned. I dream about her still, and, each time I see a plump, grey and white cat, my heart misses a beat, even though I know that I shall never see her again.
My partner and I moved once more, leaving the tiny , damp, dark cottage with relief, although I had been able to make some of my best drawings there, and found a rented house in the small market town of Frome nearby. I enquired about the possibility of having the cats to live with us there, and seem to remember that we were granted permission, but I was forbiddingly anxious about catching them, and disrupting their new life with my parents. Years passed, years that were often painful for me, as the journey of recovery from depression was long, seemingly without end; I was frequently cast down, and bitterly homesick. During these years, until my mother's accident, the cats had lived contentedly with my mother and father, enjoying the extensive garden, those of the neighbours, and the quiet allotments lying beyond the bottom fence.
I saw them when I visited, and did my utmost to maintain the bond between us afraid that they would forget me; worse, that they should become shy of me. They never did. Each time I made visits to my mother and father, and then to my mother, they would greet me, request my attention, accompany me in the garden, sit by my feet before the fire in the evenings.
When our mother fell, and was first confined to hospital and then to the downstairs portion of the house, there was much discussion between myself and my sisters about her future. We were concerned that none of us would be able to stay with her continuously until she was fully recovered, and I was desperately worried about how she would fare with the cats; for some time I had been afraid that she might trip and fall over them, particularly Minos, the black cat, who has a habit of running close alongside one before suddenly dashing ahead thence to arrive at a standstill. I had been coming to the conclusion that I would have to seek afresh our landlord's permission to have the cats live with us. Still I hesitated, my mind exercised agonisingly by doubt and anxiety. It was like a revelation when my youngest sister said, " Take them with you. This is your chance to realise a dream".
Both my sisters undertook to catch my nervous cats and load them into baskets; my younger sister provided baskets, cat litter, litter tray and a complement of soothing remedies to help the sensitive animals undergo the transition. On the afternoon of their capture, a cold, golden afternoon in January, my younger sister and I were in the garden, she pruning the apple trees, myself picking up the cut lengths of timber and removing them to the bonfire heap. I was conscious of an all encompassing unrest, as from previous experience, I knew that the cats could be challenging to catch, and I was painfully anxious that something in our well thought out campaign would go awry. I felt also a great sadness for them, as they would be leaving a place that had become their home, and the garden would be bereft without them. Both cats were in the garden throughout the afternoon. oblivious to their coming fate, Minos shadowing me as I moved about the lawn collecting sticks, Silas, the tabby, disappearing with fluid motion into the undergrowth on business of his own.
Just before sunset, my sister and I repaired to the house, made up the fire, kept watch for the appearence of the cats, whose habit it was to come in at close of day and take up warming positions in front of the fire. Despite my fears to the contrary, they did appear, both, and my sister quietly got up and shut the back door, thus confining them indoors.
The ensuing capture proceeded as planned, myself absented from the fracas to the front room by my sisters , and without further ado, my partner and I set off for Somerset with the cats safely stowed in their baskets in the back of the car. I had expected much evidence of distress, but they were, for the most part, quiet.
During the first few days of having them with us, I felt overwhelmed by responsibility, and was given cause to reflect upon the responsibility I had laid at the feet of my mother, a responsibility that she discharged dedicatedly and without qualm. I almost wished that I had asked the RSPCA to take them from us as kittens, and rehome them, as they had initially offered, so overpowered did I feel. For a while, these unwelcome feelings took the place of any pleasure I might have felt in their company, and when I visited my mother in the meantime, to care for her, leaving the cats behind in their new home, I found myself weeping at the too empty garden, missing them, half expecting to see them, moved beyond measure at the sight of the two delicate curving paths they had made in the lawn, ghost tracks which would disappear without their continuing footfall. I grieved on their behalf, as the garden of the rented house in Somerset is far smaller than that of my mother's, there are no adjoining allotments, and the neighbouring gardens are just as small as our own.
Given time, the sense of loss is replaced by the more welcome feeling of delight in their presence, the overweening burden of responsibility lifted, as we slip into a routine of care and companionship. I remain profoundly relieved that my mother is no longer at risk of falling over the cats, and deeply grateful to her for having provided without hesitation a loving refuge for them. That she will miss them I know, but I hope that she has many memories to sustain her , as I have both a storehouse of images of them in my mother's garden, and am beginning to build the same of them in our very different home.