Helena put the phone down with a huge smile and did a little jig around the kitchen.
‘We have the perfect cat for you,’ the lady had said. She could hardly wait to call her sister. She would do it right now.
‘Rachel, thank you so much for suggesting I call the Oriental Cat rescue place,’ she blurted out.
She wasn’t usually so self-centred but she just could not stop herself.
‘So did they have any suitable cats?’ asked Rachel, almost guessing the answer hearing the joy in her sister’s voice.
‘Yes they did. Imagine, they have a lovely cat, two years old, a spotty like Pushkin…….the woman is having a baby and they don’t think they can have a cat, can you believe it?’
‘What about leaving it all day though, dear?’
‘They’d been out at work all day so he’s used to being left and he’s not a kitten so he should be fine.’
‘I expect he already has a name then, what’s he called?’
‘Oh it’s awful, Rachel, they called it Cefa… as in C for Cat. Can you imagine? I will have to find a better name than that but something that sounds quite similar………… I know, maybe Caesar, yes Caesar, that’s a good name for him. What do you think?’
‘That’s a fine name for a spotty Oriental. When can I see him, dear?’
‘I’m picking him up in two weeks time. How about Sunday the 30th?
‘See you then, dear.’
Helena went into her living room and sat in her favourite armchair where she could see all her cat photos. She looked at them lovingly and leaned forward to share her good news with them.
‘Can you believe it, I’m going to have another cat, now you mustn’t be jealous; you know I love you all.’
She reached out and held each of the photos of her precious cats. First Pushkin with such a lovely nature, her teenage boys had adored him. Their friends used to think him very ‘cool’. He used to greet them at the door and rub up against them. She stroked him through the frame and he seemed to purr back at her.
Then Hector. ‘Hmm not so great’, she reproved gently. Hector was fine with her but he had been so loud. Helena loves the way that Siamese cats talk to you but Hector well, he just didn’t stop! He talked all the time, even on the litter tray and when he was eating, with his mouth full. ‘Yes Frank was pleased to see the back of you wasn’t he?’ she smiled as she remembered her first husband’s dislike of Hector. ‘Yes, you were certainly quite a character.’
Here is Periwinkle, surely her favourite cat, but no, she admonished I must not have favourites. She closed her eyes and listened to the silence. How quiet it was without a cat in the house. How lonely with only photos to talk to now the children all had their own busy lives. She hadn’t dare dream of owning a cat again now that she had had to return to full time work after her divorce. It was so strange. Helena had grown up with cats, she enjoyed talking to the photos of them in her lounge as she sat and watched TV in the evening. But it wasn’t the same. Something was missing in her life without a cat to come home to, to stroke and share her thoughts with. Her cats marked out periods in her life, mostly happy, some not so. Whatever she was feeling, her cats would comfort her. She missed the warmth of a warm purring body on her lap, the touch of soft fur and the nuzzling of a little head into the crook of her arm.
And now at last she would have a cat. She waited impatiently for his arrival and happily bought toys for him to play with each time she passed the pet shop. But Caesar like Pushkin proved to be a great escapologist.
He would howl all night if she left him in the kitchen and created absolute havoc. One morning she came downstairs to find that he had not only pulled off all her notices from the pinboard behind the door but he had knocked every single drawing pin out, including the little group she had pinned in the corner, for spares.
On another occasion he had pulled down a pine framed mirror. Luckily the glass didn’t break but the frame smashed to pieces. When she tried having him in the bedroom with her at night he would walk around the bedroom flicking things off the table and chest of drawers and then sit on the pillow with his little face in front of hers and pat her on the cheek repeatedly until she would pay him some attention.
How could she explain that she just wanted to keep him safe? She stroked his ears fondly,
‘Now Caesar I know you don’t like it sweetheart but I really have to keep you inside for a while longer. I don’t want you to get confused and try and find your way back to your old home and I don’t want you to get locked in someone’s garage, how would I find you?’
They had endless battles with collars. She would put one on him as he sat oh so meekly. Then once out of sight and the collar would be off. They looked each other in the eye, it was a stand off. Sometimes when she did that she had the distinct feeling that there was ‘someone in there’. Her sister had it too, the first time she met him. Helena hadn’t said anything about him being a bit strange but Rachel came right out and said it.
‘Helena dear………… have you ever thought …………that there is ………somebody in there?’ she whispered.
Helena nodded conspiratorially avoiding his eyes. Could he understand them?
‘Do you think it’s …..Mum?’ Rachel ventured sotto voce. She nodded again, laughing.
They had been allies as daughters in the ever running battles of wills with their mother who was, always right. Dorcas demanded and usually got respect and attention; she didn’t consider anyone else’s opinion worth listening to and expected to be at the centre of whatever was going on.
Caesar was not scared or nervous of anyone or anything. Despite Helena’s worries about him meeting her boisterous grandchildren for the first time, he met them imperiously at the door, bid them hello with a lofty ‘miaouw’ and then rubbed up against them before throwing himself into their games and toys with enthusiasm.
When she did let him out he would disappear for days at a time then come back battle scarred and sick.
‘Ugh! What is that you’re bringing up? It looks like prawns. You shouldn’t even be eating prawns you know. That nice vet told us you had to have a restricted diet so that your skin will clear up. We need to get rid of those horrid abscesses.’ She started to clear it up. ‘That looks like chicken breast. Don’t you think I’d give you that if I could? Who has been feeding you and more important, tell me who are you fighting?’
One day he came back with his collar still on but it had a note written on it in pen. ‘Please ring this number.’
‘Your cat has been fighting my cat,’ the lady on the other end of the phone said in a very accusatory manner, imagining erroneously that Helena had some control over Caesar.
‘Oh so that’s who he has been fighting.’
‘We thought he was a stray.’
‘Have you been feeding him?’
‘Oh yes, just some shrimps and chicken breasts, they are his favourites, you know.’
Helena felt like pointing out that he threw them up again on her carpet.
‘But he’s on a restricted diet. Please don’t encourage him into the house with food.’
‘Well we thought he was a stray and my grandson loves playing with him.’
‘Well he does have a collar you know.’
‘Well sometimes. But he’s obviously happy here.’
‘But he’s fighting with your cat.’
Helena thought she should explain that he had come to her quite recently and may not be fully settled in especially as she was out at work all day. This was clearly a mistake.
‘Well no wonder he comes here. He must be lonely. You shouldn’t really have a cat if you’re out at work all day.’
Helena was just about to explain the circumstances under which she had decided she could have Caesar and then thought better of it. Why should she share these personal details with this ….. this … cat thief?
Anyway the woman was still talking.
‘I don’t want him here fighting my cat.’
‘And I don’t want him there either so please don’t feed him or let him into the house.’
The situation improved for a short while and Helena and Caesar continued to build their relationship although it was not long before he started to disappear for days again.
Helena was really upset. She started to dread coming home fearing the worst and then when he did appear, feeling so angry that he was with ‘another woman’. She confided in her sister.
‘Don’t you remember how Mum did exactly the same thing?’ Rachel reminded her on one occasion.
‘Oh yes!’ Helena went wide eyed when she remembered how similar the circumstances had been.
‘Remember just after Sapphire died she adopted that other cat that looked just like her. We told her not to and she kept saying she wasn’t feeding it then you found that box of dried cat food in the cupboard at Christmas one year?’
‘Yes and she said oh that doesn’t count it’s just a bit of dried food.’
‘And you found she’d bought a bowl for it as well!’
‘And do you remember she even had the cheek to phone the owner and tell her to get it deflea-ed because she’d had some bites?’
‘Oh yes, how dreadful! The woman asked her not to feed it because it was her daughter’s cat and her daughter was really upset about it.’
‘She didn’t stop though did she? She just ignored us all. She was her usual unreasonable self and wouldn’t accept she was doing anything wrong.’
‘But Helena dear, I read in the paper that it’s actually illegal. It’s called enticement. It’s illegal to entice someone else’s animal into your home.’
‘Well it certainly should be. Gosh it’s like history repeating itself isn’t it?’
They said goodbye and Helena looked again at Caesar. ‘Are you in there Mummy?’ she asked.
After a while the disappearing acts just became too much for Helena to bear and she decided to pay this lady a visit. She looked up the name and address in her telephone directory and marched round there to try to reason with her. After all, she kept reminding herself, “it is my cat and I’d like to have him with me”.
The ‘other woman’ wasn’t at all how Helena had imagined. She was plump and haughty as if she’d been someone ………once. Her hair was tightly curled like her lips and her arms as she crossed them in what Helena decided later was a very aggressive pose, rather like her mother’s in fact.
‘Are you letting my cat in at night?’ she asked.
‘Oh yes, he loves to sleep on our bed.’
Helena couldn’t believe her ears. ‘Why don’t you shut your cat flap at night?’
‘I’m not going to change my living arrangements to suit you, you know.’
‘But what you’re doing is illegal, it’s called enticement. You’re feeding my cat and he is on a restricted diet. He shouldn’t have this food. You’re enticing him away from me.’
‘Well he obviously prefers me to you.’ She went to shut the door in her face.
Helena was incensed. Caesar was her cat and she wanted him with her when she was at home.
‘It is illegal, I could report you to the Police.’ she insisted as she stuck her foot in the doorway.
In the background, in the kitchen she could see what must have been the Deli owner husband, shrimp and chicken breast conveyor, sick inducer, slink back into the shadows. What a wimp, thought Helena, just like my Frank. You aren’t even man enough to come and help your wife. For a second, she felt a frison of kinship.
‘And I could report you to the RSPCA. You call yourself a cat lover and you don’t even look after your cat properly. Why do you think he comes here?’
Helena sighed; maybe she should just give up. After all, maybe this woman, rude and unpleasant though she clearly was, could actually have a point.
‘Look, do you want him?’ she offered magnanimously.
‘Certainly not, he doesn’t get on with my cat.’
Helena just turned on her heel and left, thwarted. What could she do, there seemed to be no easy solution? This woman just did not make sense. She wanted him but she didn’t want him. She was enticing, yes enticing him with food he wasn’t allowed and then said she didn’t want him.
She went home and sat on her sofa, put her head in her hands and wept. ‘Oh Pushkin, what shall I do? Hector how I miss your talking the house is so quiet without you.’ She looked up at her photo of Periwinkle her first cat, how people had stopped and stared when she took her out on a lead. Orientals were quite new then, people hadn’t seen them around as much as they have nowadays.
The phone rang and interrupted her reverie.
‘Oh Rachel it’s you.’
‘Whatever’s the matter, dear?’
Helena told her a shorthand version and waited. There was a pause.
‘Have you considered sharing him with this woman?’ she asked.
‘What?! …….Not on your life. I was going to take him back to the Rescue Centre. I just can’t take any more worrying when he’s not here.’
‘Hang on a moment Helena dear. She wants him when her grandson’s over and you want him after work and at weekends, why don’t you offer to take him round for her grandson to play with when she asks, if in return she will not let him in and not feed him?’
‘You don’t know what she’s like!’ Helena reposted
‘She’s a mad cat woman like you… and me.’ Rachel said soothingly.
Helena came off the phone and poured herself a glass of wine. She thought about what her mother had done and she thought about her poor cat Caesar who had been sent from one home to another and been left all alone all day with no-one to play with.
She got out a pen and some paper and started to write a letter…..