Little Stripey Cat

One night when I was small,
Perhaps four or five years old,
A cat got into my bedroom somehow,
From outside, climbed up on top
Of the old dark wood wardrobe,
And sat up, shut its eyes, folded back its ears
And yowled at the top of its voice,
Causing me to dive under the covers in fear.
It was an unearthly howl of pure animal,
And sounded like a demon, a terrible foe
(I was 1000 miles behind enemy lines),
But these days, as I have come to know
The ways of cats and their habits,
I think it was singing to me.

I am still visited by cats at night –
One, at least. She is small and stripy
And first crept into my room when I left the
Door ajar somehow, although I was sure
I had bolted it fast. “Hello?” I said. “Who are you?”
And she paced out the corners of the room,
Approved, and curled up under the chair.
I smiled, then slept. In the night, about
0300, I felt a small thump, as she had pounced
Onto the bed, and I lay not breathing
And she padded lightly across the mattress
And up over the pillow and then, still not
Breathing, she pushed her tiny pink nose
Against mine and purred, a cat kiss,
Then turned around, tickled my face with her tail,
And curled up on my chest. I smiled
Into the darkness, indescribably moved.

By daybreak she was gone, and I checked
In all the rooms in the house just to make sure
She wasn’t there, and then sighed, and started to dress,
Feeling a kind of loss. I can’t keep a cat anyway,
I told myself – I go away for weeks, months,
Who would look after her? Perhaps she has
Other people she visits, not owners but
Friends with benefits of food and stroking,
And then, when she has had enough, she
Stalks off and goes her mysterious ways.
And so I consoled myself that she would be
Alright, she was independent and loveable,
And was always welcome to drop by.

Then one day she did again, a cold day
In November, with a low sun and raw wind
Off the fields. I went out to the car to get
Something and then looked up to see her
Sitting watching me in the lane. “Hello again”
I smiled. “How are you?” And she mewled
Hoarsely, and then I saw how matted her fur
Was and how a patch of it was missing from mange
And her front leg was injured – she sat with paw dangling
And her eyes had a milky cloudiness to them. I gently
Approached and stroked her soft head with my finger
And she bowed it and looked down in shame, and mewled again,
Eyes shut, and I thought, if cats could cry,
You would be crying now. You are crying now.
What happened to you? Well, I will look after you.
“Come on,” I told her, and walked down the
Path to the front door, looking over my shoulder.

Slowly she followed, stopping twice, then in through
The door and looked around uncertainly, sniffing
Here and there, as if to say, “Have you had another
Cat in here?” No, I laughed, just a lost rabbit one day
Who hopped in, and the bird that came down the chimney.
But what can I give you? I found a saucer of water
And gave her that, on the living room rug. My phone
Rang and she jumped. It was work. “We need you to be here at 1pm.”
I can’t, I said. Something’s happened. A friend… a sudden illness.
And hung up. Back into the kitchen and she followed me
As I went through cupboards looking for food. Bread? Milk?
And then an idea – a four-pack tin of tuna. Quizzically
She watched as I hacked away at it with my penknife
And then the scent reached her and she almost climbed
Up my trouser leg to get at it. Into the bowl a whole tin
Of pole-caught Skipjack in spring water – only the best for you,
I told her. And she wound herself round my feet as I walked back
Into the living room and I picked up a chunk, in the palm
Of my hand and sat with my back to her and dangled my hand
And then felt her whiskers on my palm as she pushed her face
Into my hand and ate with that slight air of distaste that cats have,
Like watching a lion crunching bones, ung, ack, click click click.

And when she had finished it she walked around the room a bit more,
Then jumped up on the sofa, and with the familiarity
Of old lovers, climbed into my lap, curled up and went to sleep.
My phone trilled, an ear twitched, I saw the office number
On the screen, and I just sat there, with it slightly out of reach,
Then leant back my head on the sofa, smiled, and went to sleep myself.

I still think about that cat. I think we loved each other.