It was August 2017 when I set off for the animal rescue centre and came away with Emmanuel.
I had intended to bring home a kitten or two, but you know cats. Emmanuel, enormous , jet black, with golden eyes , just stole our hearts. In a room full of prowling moggies, one of whom tried to bite my friend, he just met us on his own terms and said, in cat of course, “ What took you so long human. Take me home .”
Chipped and with his documents stowed carefully on the back seat, he left the others without a backward glance. Once at home, he made a low prowl around the house, did a smelly poo in the litter tray and settled onto me on the sofa, padding and purring and sucking on a blanket.
In the next few days I showed him the box I had carefully created for dark escapes, I laid out the toys in all their magnificence, balls, mice, a thing on a stick. He looked at me as though I were utterly bonkers , turned his back and began a leisurely bum washing routine.
One thing he was good at was eating, though his tastes and moods with food were mystifying. “ Ah, human,” he seemed to say, ” I know I appeared to love the food you gave me yesterday but I need to warn you that , despite you having acquired two boxes of the stuff, I will never eat it again”.
Despite that, he ate and he ate and he ate and in between eating, he bestowed that paddy sucky purry love on me and then slept. When he was awake, he squeaked for more food. Squeaks had been his name, but had somehow seemed undignified for such a big beautiful panther like boy though I have to say , HE really doesn’t seem to care what he is called.
Through the hottest weeks of the summer, all doors and windows stayed firmly closed. The first time I let him out he was gone for an hour while I chewed my fingers and tried not to panic. When he prowled back, soaking wet and proceeded to wash himself I assumed this would be the start of lots of outdoor adventures, but that was it.
Emmanuel seemed not to be that interested in outside, except as I discovered by accident, unless I went with him.
No, he rarely wanted to go far and showed a distinct lack of normal cat grace and elegance, needing to be rescued from gate posts and fences. When he did climb it was almost as though he hadn’t quite realised what he was doing, squeaking at me as soon as he had attained some height in what sounded like, “ Oh dear, I seem to have got up high again. Would you mind awfully turning away while I attempt my descent.”
I fell in love. I didn’t even really mind that if I turned over in bed he would pounce on me and demand I feed him. Sleeping after 7 became impossible, which for a lie-abed like me was a bit of a shock.
I had waited until he was settled to take him to the vet. He had always been sneezy and itchy but I didn’t have the impression that he was ill and I found no fleas on him. What I had entirely forgotten was how surprisingly resistant a large old cat can be when faced with a cat basket. My lovely gentle old man grew extra legs , and claws and his tail took on a life of its own. After a couple of attempts to wedge him in to the cat box, I cancelled the appointment.
Most cats I have known would have squeezed themselves under the bed or behind the dresser following such an encounter. Emmanuel, just flopped at my feet and had a wash as if to say, “I am sure you now understand my views on such shenanigans!.”
When I finally did get him to the vet some weeks later, employing a technique of cunning and brute force, we confirmed what I had come to suspect. My lovely fella was probably a good five years older than the rescue centre thought and that he needed some attention to his teeth in the near future. That actually turned out not to be the truth. Some vets can be a bit sneaky!
I went away and left him for two days last Autumn and I missed him so very much. I knew he was well looked after, but I was concerned that all he did was sleep and without me there, he would barely rouse himself.
His hatred of dogs had become evident early on and his true panther nature was very clear when a dog came anywhere near the house. He seemed utterly fearless on that score and saw my neighbours poodle off from his sleeping position on the sofa when she dared to come to our patio door.
He loved people coming over and would come and sleep in the middle of the floor as though providing a trip hazard was his life’s work. But the sleeping, sometimes 22 hours a day seemed a bit too much. I worried he might be depressed. I thought a new young life might just pep him up a bit. so I began a search for a kitten.
I have been owned by cats before so I knew they might not be the best of buddies but I wasn’t prepared for the next bit.
I wasn’t prepared at all.
In the side room at the rescue centre I walked past some big old moggies meowing for my attention. My resolve was tested, but as the cage was opened and the little tortie I was here to see crawled into my arms I was smitten. With her head tucked under my chin, her little paws padding , her whole body shook with purrs and sucking. Mirabel went into the basket without complaint and apart from a few squeaks, travelled well. As I released her she stepped confidently out onto the carpet and ambled past a bewildered Emmanuel, pausing only to hiss and swipe at him as she went on to explore her new home.
It was a declaration of war and I am sorry to say, one of the weapons in this little warrior’s armoury was the dreaded cat flu.
As the next few days unfolded, Emmanuel would not be comforted. While I worriedly watched Mirabel’s symptoms develop I began to panic. What had I done? I had my precious Emmanuel refusing to be comforted , mainly on the spare bed, while a ball of snot and coughing that was the intruder, took control of the whole house, blocking him at every turn, from food , water and the litter tray. Occasionally she would allow me an ecstatic cuddle with purrs and sucking that were off the Richter scale.
Mirabel’s flu didn’t seem to slow her down . The vet dosed her up, but a temperature , runny eye and sneezing didn’t seem to daunt her. She was tough, maybe as a result of having to fend for herself, we don’t know for how long, in her little life. This little scrap was a force to be reckoned with.
Poor Emmanuel went from miserable to sneezy to very unwell quickly. Another trip to the vet confirmed he had been hit by the flu, but he was not willing to be comforted. I admit, I considered taking Mirabel back. It seemed to me, she would survive and would be loved by someone, but this old boy was more delicate. I was waking up in the night and going into the spare room, tempting him with treats, talking to him, soothing him. Sometimes he followed me back into my bedroom, but he wouldn’t come near me and perched wretchedly on the edge of a linen chest. Mirabel hissed at him in greeting and made his life as miserable as possible. She was so tiny, I knew that all he had to do was put her in her place but he seemed incapable.
I bought some of that plug-in hormone stuff. I think it helped. I have often thought that cats know when you have spent a lot of money on them, (usually at the vets ) and their recovery from what ever they have persuaded you was happening would be related to how much you spent. Maybe that’s what happened, because within weeks of that little tortie force of nature joining us, I had shelled out a wadge of cash on both of them.
It took a lot longer for Emmanuel to recover from the flu, but one day he just climbed onto my chest while I was lying in bed and bestowed a few purrs upon me. Imperious Mirabel, on the other hand felt no need for overt displays of affection. She wanted to be out and about , and I learned quickly not to assume that when she brushed against me, or came to look deeply into my eyes , that she wanted a cuddle. Handy with both teeth and claws, she remains her own being. When she does climb into my arms, it is a treat that made my heart sing.
I don’t know about her early life. She had been taken to the rescue centre at what they thought was about four months. It’s impossible to say how many of her nine lives she had used up. She was tiny for her age and didn’t seem to grow much. A friend said she would be a big cat, but for about a year, she didn’t seem to want to fill her own skin. She had the hanging belly skin of a cat that had a lots of kittens or been very fat in a previous life, neither of which was the case.
As the weather warmed, I would often find she wanted to be out under the moon. Sometimes in the early hours I would go into the conservatory and find her curled up on a chair. On those warm nights sometimes I even dared to bury my face in her deliciously scented fur and sometimes she even purred for me. She smelled and felt like heaven.
Mirabel loves water. From her earliest days with me she would climb into the shower when I left it and sit for hours and the bathroom and loo are sources of endless fascination for her still. Her latest thing is the sit at the edge of the sink and just stare into it. She can do this for hours.
One day at the end of this last summer she walked into the sitting room and I realised she had grown. I know it sounds crazy, but it was sudden and incredible…, almost a year after coming to live with us, she was growing and she still is. In little spurts Mirabel with her grumpy little face is almost doubling in size. I entertain the fantasy that I will wake up one morning to find a tiger at the foot of my bed.
Has the relationship between Emmanuel and herself improved? Mostly they have a little boxing match every time they meet, but neither of them puts much effort into it and it’s true that once or twice they have actually gone to sleep almost touching, but I don’t think either one would miss the other.
Eighteen months after coming here Emmanuel looks and feels like a younger cat. Always laid back, he spends long hours asleep in the conservatory, carefully avoiding the cat bed I bought for him. He often greets me when I pull up at home in my car with the desperate insistence that he hasn’t eaten for days. He likes being outside when it isn’t raining and seems to enjoy my sitting with him on the terrace. Most nights he sleeps beside my pillow, but that’s probably to make certain that if there are nocturnal wanderings on my part, I might just be persuaded to fill his cat bowl.
Neither of these moggies are great hunters, I am relieved to say. Emmanuel once caught a bat that flew into the house and once I found a mouse in the conservatory that I suspect had been found already decomposing and brought home , probably to test my housekeeping skills.
They have enhanced my life, these two. I don’t pretend to understand their little cat ways and they are definitely the most aloof and ‘catlike’ moggies I have ever had the good fortune to live with.
Thinking of rescuing? As long as you know it’s forever and you can do your best to keep them safe….I say go for it… and allow yourself to be checked out. If one of them picks you, be prepared to allow them to creep into your heart and curl up their forever.
Mirabel and the Crane Flies
When first she arrived, she smelled of herself,
Deep and biscuity and new.
Now when homeward bound
she greets me in the dawn with slow blinks,
The moon is in her eyes.
And if she will let me, and if I can,
Burying my nose in her fur
I find ,
She holds the scent of night
Of hedgerows she has plundered,
of deep summer grasses she has stalked her litheness through,
of the distant tang of sea salt from the shore she has never encountered,
but is carried upon the dread wind who is her companion in the darkness.
Maybe a musty hint of mouse in flight is there
A tang of moth searching for love in the moonlight.
The tiny aural glimpse of fleeting long-legged lives for whom she knows no compassion.
I have watched her dismember the lace winged beauties with their impossible limbs
Remembering my sons fearful cry from an autumn so long ago,
“But what are they for?”
And she turns her face marked in accidental grumpiness upon me and saunters like a queen.
Her victim quelled she abandons me to grieve over its pointless end.
Maybe they are FOR her, serving no other purpose than a moment of graceful entertainment.
I dispose of the corpses with tenderness, my heart aching for their transient moment of life.
How terrible, and yet,
I love her so, I will forgive her even this.