The Cat Story

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Because I promised:

Last summer my sister and her girlfriend adopted a cat. They hadn’t planned to. Their neighbour arrived at the door with a scared, emaciated kitten and asked if they’d take it in — she couldn’t, she said, because her own cat was funny around other cats and had recently gone AWOL for several nights on end; he might disappear forever if she introduced an interloper to the house. So my sister and her girlfriend reluctantly adopted the stray kitten and fell, quickly, in love.

He was perfect. He had soft pink kitten paws and piercing green eyes almost completely eclipsed by huge pupils that reflected their faces back at them, like tiny black mirrors. He had pointy ears and a little white blob above his top lip — like a Hitler moustache, except slightly askew. They named him Pipas (which is Spanish for ‘marbles’ or something, I wasn’t really listening).

The love, it appeared, was reciprocated. Pipas slept in their bed, curled between them, purring soft kitten purrs and breathing his fragrant kitten breath into their sleeping faces. He suckled at the downy fleece of their dressing gowns as though drawing milk from his mother’s teats. I’ve got no idea how they managed to sustain a sex-life during this period, but I suppose that’s not my business.

As the kitten grew we, the extended family, were bombarded with pictures on social media. Video clips in which Pipas was caught doing things all cats do (sleeping in vessels meant for storage, rubbing himself against my sister’s leg in anticipation of food), only we had to pretend they were remarkable. ‘He’s so clever,’ my sister would text, along with a WhatsApp pic of the cat chewing some old slippers.

I would delete these messages and occasionally ring my mum to ask if we should be concerned for my sister’s mental health.

Months went by, and winter drew close. I had embarked upon my own doomed love affair by this point and was in no fit state to correspond with my sister about the day-to-day antics of her cat. I resigned from the family WhatsApp group in a fit of rage during a dramatic confrontation over which restaurant we were to book for our early Christmas dinner. I heard through the grapevine that my youngest brother had agreed to stay at my sister’s house and cat-sit over the New Year.

And then, one morning, I woke early to a text message from my mother. ‘Have you heard about Pipas?’ It said, and I thought: Fuck. The cat’s dead.

But it wasn’t. The cat had gone missing. Someone had set off fireworks and Pipas had spooked. There was a desperate internet campaign for her return. Against all the odds, it worked. Rejoyce, for the cat has returned! All was well.

But it wasn’t.

A few days later my sister and her girlfriend received an email. ‘I think you have my cat,’ it said, ‘he went missing this summer.’ A picture was attached, and it was undeniably baby Pipas, who was someone else’s all along. Quite how he had ended up wandering the streets of Camberwell, some six or seven miles away from his original home, was anybody’s guess.

If I had been my sister, I would, at this point, have said: ‘go fuck yourself’. The cat was settled, everybody was happy. Why complicate things by worrying about other people’s problems? But my sister is a thoroughly moral person, and the original owner had a young family: the children missed their kitten. ‘It was the right thing to do,’ she told me, after they had delivered Pipas back. (It was, by all accounts, a horrid goodbye. My sister’s girlfriend had cried and begged the original owner not to feel the cat dairy; the original owner had agreed and then, baffled by the request, asked whether or not milk was dairy.)

It was sad. But it was a cat. We all moved on. My romance imploded. I rejoined the family WhatsApp group and attended our early Christmas dinner, despite the venue. Real Christmas passed. My sister and her girlfriend spent New Year in Columbia. If the subject of cats was raised we all agreed they had done the right thing. Life continued as normal.

Until last week, when my sister opened her front door one morning to find Pipas waiting on the doorstep. It was almost seven months to the day since they had returned him. The cat had walked six miles; he had used his cat instincts to find his way to Camberwell. He had got back, all by himself, without the aid of a sat nav. He saw my sister and mewed. He ran straight past her, leaping into the house and up the stairs and onto the double bed where my sister’s girlfriend sat reading. She burst immediately into tears, and the cat jumped into her lap, suckled quietly at her fleece dressing gown and fell sound asleep.

It’s almost enough to make you believe in love again.

*The cat in the image (from freedigitalphotos.net) looks absolutely nothing like Pipas.

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