Dedicated to Eliza, Kenzie and Ruby.
"You're supposed to be Holly's cat, cat. Not mine."
The cat showed little interest in my words. Stretching, yawning, dipping his claws in the bedclothes, he was busy finding a comfortable place beside me.
"No way, Cat, I won't share my bed with you."
He kept his eyes closed but his tail began beating rhythmically against my leg and I guessed he meant to tell me something like "Not like you share it like anybody, anyway, huh, Toby?"
I kicked him out of the bed and he landed gracefully on the carpet, headed to the door slowly as I leaned back. Fucking cat.
I still couldn't understand why Holly had chosen this big grey blue-eyed stray cat rather than any of the lovely kittens who kept trying to draw her attention. One of them, a white little furry ball curled up in the corner of a cage had moved me, I would've adopted it but Holly's choice was already made.
"It's something in the way he looks at me, Dad, I love him already. These kittens will find someone easily but no one will adopt a grown up cat, maybe we're his last chance!"
OK, the cat was supposed to have a therapeutic function, the psychiatrist had said, "an animal, a cat maybe could help Holly healing. It could be a good idea to let her have one."
So I decided to respect her choice and we brought back this… animal home. He purred like a diesel engine, his claws could cut through the carpet and he mewed loud enough to frighten the neighbour's dog but Holly loved him. He was hers from dawn to sunset but at night, he seemed to have a special liking for my bedroom and we played the same game every fucking evening. I found him on my bed, ready to put on a little show for me, "look like I'm beautiful, see how fine I am here, let me stay and I won't disturb you, I'll sleep on the other side of the bed," and eventually I kicked him out my room and he left, dignified and looking somewhat hurt. Jesus fucking Christ, I was having an argument with a big stray cat.
"Is he a purebred cat?" My mother asked Holly when she saw the animal, "he's got very blue eyes."
"Oh no, Granny, he's a stray cat. Dad says they're the best. Aren't they, Daddy?"
My mother looked at me, raising a skeptikal eyebrow and I tried hard not to blush.
"Holly fell in love with him," I explained, and she seemed to understand, nodded twice.
"I see. Then darling, I agree with you, he's very… impressive. Did you give him a name?"
"His name's Cat. He doesn't like any other," Holly replied, raising her chin defiantly.
"You're spoiling her," my mother told me later, "and frankly, Toby, this cat is not the right animal for a little girl."
"Holly keeps saying that he chose her as much as she chose him, and he's nice with her."
My mother looked at me and gave an exasperated sigh.
"I hope so." I could see she was afraid of him.
Cat loved Holly and Holly loved Cat. Holly treated him like… like a grown up respectable cat, didn't try to play with him like kids usually do or bother him but talked to him for hours, stroking him gently, and Cat didn't move, purred nicely, pushed his nose against the palm of Holly's hand, nuzzled up to her neck and seemed to listen. Well Holly was a very mature girl, she'd gone through too much already and I wasn't surprised by her behaviour. I don't know what she talked about when she was with Cat, maybe about her mother or me or Gary but he definitely had a soothing effect on her, she looked more relaxed, happier... No doubt, Cat was great with her, whereas he tended to avoid Harry, because Harry enjoyed pulling Cat's tail and ears, bathing him in the swimming pool or taking him for a walk in Holly's old pram, something that Cat seemed to dislike more than anything else. But he was probably too well mannered to react so he just walked away when he thought he'd gone through too much, his muscles moving slowly under his skin like some miniaturized panther, powerful and haughty.
Just after the adoption, Holly and I took Cat to the vet, who was a very nice young woman. Actually Cat didn't seem to like her as much as I did.
"You know, you should have him castrated, it would be safer for him and Holly, big tomcats like this one can be aggressive," she said.
Holly stiffened, Cat stiffened, two pairs of blue eyes caught mine indignantly.
"Huh, huh, we'll see," I said.
"Don't wait too long, he's grown up already, it will become more and more difficult. And if you don't do it, he'll have fights with other cats, he'll risk being harmed or catching very bad diseases…"
Cat was growling fiercely, his grey coat bristled and Holly's eyes were full of tears, so I shook my head, glanced at the vet warningly and she blushed.
"Just give it a thought, OK?" she said.
Holly cried in the car and Cat was unusually distant that evening, didn't settle down on my bed, although I'd promised Holly we wouldn't do this horrible thing to him. That's the night when I lost the battle. I'd carried Cat down into the kitchen, and closed my door before going to bed. I fell asleep fast enough and it seemed I'd been sleeping for just a few minutes when Holly's voice woke me up.
"Daddy, daddy? Did you see Cat? He's not downstairs!"
What time could it be, looked like night wasn't quite over yet, a grey dawn was trying to creep inside the room. Oh Christ only 7 and it was Sunday… Fuck Cat!
"I didn't see him, go back to bed, Darling. I'm sure he'll be back soon, don't worry about him. He's a big boy."
She left reluctantly and I was about to drift back into sleep when I heard the noise next to me and froze. Oh no, no, no that couldn't be, I'd closed the door when I'd gone to bed, I was sure of that. But when I watched under the sheets, Cat was there, his big body spooned against my waist, his nose buried in my skin, purring like he was in heaven. He opened his eyes, threw me a delighted lazy glance, stretched, yawned widely, showing me his fangs and his scratchy tongue before curling himself next to me again but I was too tired to move and I let him sleep there, half aware that I'd lost a battle, the first one of many others. From time to time I could feel a big paw on my belly then he started purring louder, reaching some kind of feline ecstasy. My resolution vanished and I ran my fingers through the thick grey coat, stroking Cat's ears, back and chest as he purred and stretched some more under my hand, rolling on his back, showing his claws, drawing them back, scratching my skin, mewing crazily like a rutting stag… Aw Cat, I love you, I thought, and he rested his blue eyes on me like a pair of precious sapphires until I fell asleep again.
When I woke up, he'd left. Smart cat, I thought, he knew how to keep up appearances. That's how it all began between Cat and me.
Over the years, Cat grew wilder. He didn't like strangers, didn't like women who slept with me, managed most of the time to snake between us during the night, no matter how careful I was to lock him downstairs, and sometimes frightened them, scratched them, daring me to choose them rather than him. He loved only Holly and me, didn't pay any attention to anybody else, not even Harry, waited for me every night at the door of the bedroom. My bedroom? Our bedroom? I was getting a little confused. In the morning, he woke me up, licking, biting, purring, his paws dancing on my bare skin and no matter how many times I pushed him away, he came back relentlessly. Cat was a very stubborn cat. He fucked all the females around the place and I could see a lot of grey blue-eyed kitten wandering in the neighbourhood. Those glorious days, he came back home very late, strolled inside the room and crashed on the bed, proud and exhausted.
"You're a conceited bastard, Cat," I told him as he settled down against me, licking his wounds. He looked so human then that I could've cried. Sometimes, as cats do, he would bring me a dead mouse, a rat, a bird, put it down at the kitchen door and watch me smugly. The bodies were horribly mutilated; no doubt he'd played a lot with them before the kill… He came to me, rubbing his body against my legs until I thanked him and fed him and stroke him. Cat was a ruthless cold-blooded killer. I could take it, not like he was the first one in my life.
"Is there any reason why this cat doesn't like chicken nuggets?" My brother asked me one day as his kids were having dinner at my place, trying to feed Cat with leftovers.
Cat raised his eyes to me, licked his big paws one by one carefully and seemed to sigh. He didn't like to be called "this cat", and Angus laughed.
"I don't like them either."
"I don't know what possessed you when you got it, Toby, he's frightening."
Now I'm old and Cat is very old. Holly left and so did Harry, leaving both of us behind, living their adult lives far from here. I gave up on women and Cat more or less did the same. He spends all his time with me now, on me or near me, sleeps in my bed, warms me up, shares my meals. Sometimes he looks deeply into my eyes, and then sticks his claws into my skin, licks my armpit, the nape of my neck, the back of my knees, bites the skin there, making me yell and then licks me like crazy… He seems to like that a lot. I threaten him.
"You motherfucker of a cat!"
And I could swear he's laughing.
I take him to the vet every month. She tells me, "He's OK, don't you worry, maybe he'll live longer than us, longer than you."
Somehow, I doubt that. I wonder if we could be buried together. I'll ask Holly when she comes to visit us next month, I know she'll understand, she knows about Cat.
I'm afraid to lose him now, afraid to wake up and find his dead body next to mine. I don't think I could stand losing Chris twice.