Missed Part 1? Read it here
The wee thing didn’t stay wee for very long. It grew at a rate of knots on a diet of sardines, mackerel, salmon, steak—bloody steak!—and anything my mother left on her plate after each meal. That sodding cat was better fed than Mark and I had ever been as kids.
It wasn’t fat, necessarily, but by heck was it big. Solid. Strong and burly like a furry, whiskered wrestler. It would strut up and down the street like a panther, intimidating anyone who dared to approach it with vicious hisses and snippy flicks of its tail.
Arrogant, it was. It would lay out in the middle of the road on its back, sunning its belly and getting its coat blathered in dust and flecks of gooey tar that had melted in the summer heat. When a car came along it wouldn’t move. Brakes would screech and cars would lurch to a halt, and the damn cat would merely peer up at the vehicle before it and blink at the driver, as though they were doing it an inconvenience. A pip of the horn or rev of the engine was the only thing that got it to shift, and even then it moved at half-speed, luxuriously stretching out each of its limbs as it got to its feet and wandered over to the pavement to find a new sunbathing spot.
And it was this sheer bloody arrogance that killed it. Eventually a driver came along that couldn’t give a cat’s arse for the wee thing and its ego.
My lad was out playing football further up the street when it happened. He said he’d shouted at the wee thing, tried to get it to move when he realised the car didn’t look set to stop. But the wee thing, being a complete sodding idiot, didn’t bother.
Poor lad was only thirteen. Far too young to be scraping squashed cat up off the road. But he did it. He wrapped the wee thing in his t-shirt and took it round to his Nan’s, bare-chested and full of sorrow. He said that she yowled when she saw him, almost like a cat herself, and after that she didn’t make another sound. She took hold of the bundle of bloody fur and crushed bone and wept silent tears.
My lad didn’t know it, but it wouldn’t have been just the cat she was weeping for. It was herself, too. She’d only had that sodding cat for two years. The rest of them had reached fourteen, eighteen, even twenty years old. She saw its sudden passing as her own death knell.
My lad dug a hole in my mother’s garden and laid the wee thing to rest. Then he piled sugar into a big mug of strong tea and did his best to comfort her until I arrived. I was so proud of him when I turned up and saw him try to soothe her.
‘We’ll go down the rescue centre, Nan. Get you a new one. They’ve got loads; that’s where Alfie’s mum got her cat from, and she said there’s tonnes of them. I know it won’t be the same as your wee thing, but it’ll still keep you company.’
She refused, of course. She said that if it was meant to be, another one would choose her. And what she said after that put the fear through me: ‘Every cat that has come to me has been the same cat, Danny. Same cat, different body. It’s the soul that comes back. It sought out me all these years in different forms. And before that it sought out my father. And before that it was his mother. It’ll go to your mum, next. Then you, one day.’
My lad looked at me then with a face that almost broke my heart. He was thinking just the same as me—the old woman was losing it.
Months went by and there was no cat. This surprised me more than it did my mother. It wasn’t that I thought she was destined for a reincarnated cat soul, but stray cats aren’t uncommon in our neck of the woods. They hang about on the street corners and in the ginnels like vermin. I was convinced it would only be a matter of time until one wandered through my mother’s open window and she could claim it as another of her wee things. But none of the little gits did.
She went all depressed, but that was no surprise. This was a woman who had never gone more than a couple of weeks without a cat in her life. She didn’t know what to do with herself. She didn’t have something to feed twice a day. She didn’t have something to talk to in the middle of the night when she was awake for no good reason. She didn’t have something to stare at the telly with, or to watch over her as she fried off meat in the pan. There was nothing to butt open the bathroom door and gawk at her as she took her evening bath, though goodness knows why she ever put up with that.
She got ill. It was a cold at first, which turned into a nasty cough that wouldn’t let up. She hacked and croaked for weeks on end. She was sleeping through most of the day and she barely had the energy to make herself a cup of tea. I made sure, one way or another, she got at least one hot meal every day, but weight dropped off her regardless. She looked gaunt enough that a stiff breeze would knock her over.
I almost went out and bought her a kitten, convinced it was loneliness making her ill, but then our Mark let slip to her what I had in mind and she gave me hell.
‘Don’t be so stupid, Sharon.’
‘I thought it was a nice offer, Mum. No need to be so rude.’
‘You said yourself I was too old for another cat.’
‘I did, yes. But maybe I was wrong.’
‘I’ll only go and die on it, and then you’ll be left with it and you’d probably kick it out into the streets. You never did have a heart.’
‘You never liked any of my cats.’
‘That’s because they didn’t like me. Don’t have a heart… If I didn’t have a heart, mother, why do you think I’m round here every day feeding you hot dinners?’
She didn’t say anything to that. She just pursed her lips in that way she always did when she knew she was in the wrong and was too stubborn to admit it.
Then she went back to her usual tack. ‘If I’m meant for the next wee thing, it’ll come to me.’
Her cough became so bad that her chest rattled with every breath. She had a fever that wouldn’t shift, and her skin went grey. She was like the living dead by the time I called the doctor, who told us it sounded like pneumonia. Off to the hospital we went.
She wasn’t in long. They piped her full of drugs, got her stable, and shipped her off home again. I didn’t think it was right; she didn’t have the strength.
I made sure she had someone with her as much as possible. I drafted in our Mark and Danny and a couple of my cousins and some family friends to help out when I couldn’t be there myself. But it was sod’s law—or Mum’s typical bloody awkwardness—that she would fall during the scant few hours that she was alone.
I got a look at her X-ray and her arm had simply snapped in two like a twig. That was when it really hit me—my mother was old. The deep lines in her face and crepiness of her neck hadn’t been enough for me. Even the pneumonia didn’t do it. It wasn’t until she cracked a bone as easily as breaking a Malted Milk in half that I realised she wouldn’t be around forever.
And one thing always leads to another, doesn’t it? It was when they put her arm in a cast that they noticed the skin cancer. She admitted the mole had been bleeding on and off for a while; she just didn’t bother telling anybody. Daft old cow. I could have killed her myself for that little revelation.
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