My desk for the past two years has been shared with a cat. At first, as a three-day-old, bottle-fed orphan lying on a hot-water bottle snuggled under a blanket in a basket. Having been warned by the vet he would not wake himself at such a young age, my phone was set to ring every two hours day and night so I did not miss his feeding time. It could take me an hour to get a few cc’s of milk, carefully mixed, into his resisting mouth. My days were classified as successful when he suckled well, and miserable when I would tearfully tell him he must drink if he didn’t want to die. And he was not going to die on my watch. Then came the sponge wipe – of eyes not yet opened, or ears not yet unfurled, of mouth not yet bewhiskered, and lastly of bottom in order to stimulate a trickle of pee.
My writing time suffered as my days fell into the rhythm of that demanding little kitty, as all the functions of his deserting mother were taken over by me and, when possible, my husband. Marley survived, and grew to spread across my desk. He sometimes slept, and sometimes played, his paws faster than my typing fingers. Sound asleep in another part of his domain, which as all cat owners know means the rest of the house, he would sense me sit at the computer and suddenly appear on the floor, poised to jump. If I was not quick enough to move the keyboard words such as “llljjjrrrrqqqq” would race across the screen. I learnt to never hit send, or save, until checking every line.
A favourite game was called, ’race you to the printer’. Set up in another part of the house he would skitter around the kitchen island, over the back of a conveniently placed chair, through a rather attractive African kuba hanging as a room divider to land with a thud on top of the printer, invariably managing to either turn it off or mess with the functions. When printing finally began a new game ensued. This time called, ‘claw the paper’. Pages would become marked with deep gouges that left the document more akin to braille than type.
Marley was my travelling companion, sitting quietly for the most part, as I flew up and down to St Croix. He adapted quickly to island life. He patrolled his garden for marauding chickens and country cats, he learnt the art of mousing and no gecko was safe from his toying. He perched on a crumbling wall of ballast brick and coral and watched pityingly as my husband cleared his hunting terrain, knowing it would be back to full growth by the time we next visited.
A prone body became his resting post. Up close and personal was his mantra as we shared air and learnt to view television between whiskers, or were woken in the dark hours by his insistent purring. He liked to bump heads before draping himself over a shoulder, happy to hang as we went about whatever chore was being undertaken. Bed making became a game of hide and seek, and his special toy, a fluffy lamb that had kept him warm as a kitten, would often appear on the coverlet. His fur, as soft cashmere, soothed away any of our woes.
He derided our house rules as superfluous. ‘No cat on the bar’ lasted a very short time once he learnt to leap. Well really, it was by the far the best place from which to bird watch. Though we did stand firm on no cats on the kitchen counter. Marley would instead sit on a stool, his head just visible, occasionally stretching a paw to casually swipe a piece of paper, a pen, a phone maybe, off the banned surface.
Despite numerous strategically placed scratching pads he insisted on using the sofa, the bed, the chair. He would only drink running water, so tooth brushing became somewhat of an art, never mind he had his own water fountain. The moment the shower was turned off he would crouch on the wet floor and chase rivulets to the drain before snaking around still damp legs. The morning shave for my husband became a watched act as Marley, hovering over the sink, would tap the foamy water and delight in the dispersing bubbles. He had beds, and toys, but much preferred drawers, and a favoured spot on my husband’s sailing boots. And who needs toys when toes were so much more enticing.
He did not like to be corralled and whilst never venturing far beyond our terrace in Houston, or our garden down island, he enjoyed the outdoors as well as his deserved comforts. We allowed him his freedom, though the longest he was ever out was less than an hour. In winter his tapping on the window would became peremptory if his demands for entry were not immediately met.
And now he’s gone. And tears fall as I type and I wonder whether we, his surrogate parents, failed to prepare him enough for the tough world. He went for a walk and never came back. Marley is everywhere and nowhere. My desk is empty. I am bereft.