An old friend of mind died this week. I’d known him nearly seventeen years, and he’d steadfastly supported me through some wild and eventful times. His name was George, and he was a cat. If you think crying because your cat died is plain silly, this post is not for you. Soz.
I first heard about George and his brother in 1997. Their mother and her two feral kittens had been picked up by the RSPCA as strays, all terrified of people and completely unsocialised. The mother had been offered a home, but they couldn’t take three. I hadn’t planned it, but sometimes you are just in the right place.
So I brought two tiny kittens home, so badly infested with fleas you could feel the bumps of tightly packed parasites under their fur; both anaemic, with heart murmurs. The vet told me not to expect too much. But we killed the fleas (with only minor blood loss myself as they fought back), and they spent a few days hiding in appalled distain behind the books on my shelves in case I tried that again.
What to name them? They’d been seen by at least two vets, who agreed we had a boy and a girl. I like books. The male kitten looked so handsome I thought he should be Mr Darcy. Of course, what else could his sister be but Georgiana? She had gorgeous fluffy fur, and looked delicately feminine. When they returned some weeks later from the inevitable ‘coming of age’ vet appointment, I was informed that sometimes appearances can be deceptive, and the bill wasn’t quite as high as I’d feared. Luckily, George didn’t seem to suffer psychological harm from his brief sojourn as a girl.
They lived with me in London, then came along as I moved to the Highlands for a decade, which allowed them to expand their hunting repertoire from the usual mice and rats to moles and the (very) occasional low-flying bat. George was always fat. Quicker than Darcy, his typical day would involve a lot of sleep, a quick wash, food, then back to sleep. If he thought I hadn’t provided quite enough supper, it was a matter of a moment to nip outside, leap on some unfortunate snack, and return to snooze it off. This is him staking out a rabbit hole.
While in Scotland he had an accident that nearly killed him: probably hit by a car but I never found out. He went missing for two days, eventually crawling back home where I found him under a hedge, incontinent, with a paralysed back end and fly maggots hatching in his legs where his urine had given him sores. The vet took him in without much hope, and he stayed there all week. They wanted to put him down, but let me take him home to see if I could nurse him to any sort of improvement. I brought water and food to his bed, took away towels he had soiled, and rubbed cream into his sores four times a day. Almost his entire back half had been shaved so he looked like a bizarre poodle, with just the end of his tail and back feet left furry.
After five days, he purred again. After ten days, he got up to drink. I don’t know how many of his nine lives that had taken.
We moved back to England a few years ago, and he spent his grand old age roaming Hampshire fields and sleeping by the Aga. If you don’t deserve a permanently warm Aga when you’re old, I don’t know when you do.
He had the loudest purr. It would start if you said his name. We would have to turn the television up if he came to sit on our laps. He could purr non-stop for the entire duration of a film.
And then, last Monday evening I went upstairs to bring him down for the night and saw him sleeping on my bed. I said hello, and he didn’t purr. I knew before I looked properly that he had died: a George who didn’t purr was not George. He looked so peaceful, he must have gone in his sleep, and so recently he was still warm. I was there, holding his paw and weeping, when my husband got home and found us.
We buried him in the garden the next day, and I’ll get a stone with his name to lay over the top. Darcy is wandering round looking forlorn, as we all are. I haven’t yet had the heart to put the second cat bowl away. We all keep wishing he’d come back.