Tag Archives: cats

“The Guest Cat”, by Takeshi Hiraide (2015)

My wife and I have lived with cats for twenty years now which is a shocking realisation. This book, an unexpected birthday present, is a meditation on how the relationships between ourselves and our cats (and neighbours) form and the ways in which we negotiate the fiddly, fussy social barriers defining the spaces and transitions between us.

A couple rent a property and find a cat begins to visit them regularly. She (the cat, Chibi), becomes more and more important as the narrator and his wife negotiate a major change in their lives, the Showa era ends and the Japanese property bubble of the late 80s begins to evaporate.

I suspect something of the flavour of this book has been lost in translation, though more through the unbreechable gap between the Western language of subject-object and that of Japanese (something the book explicitly addresses), where the distinction all but dissolves, rather than through any fault of of the translator. 

What we have, however, is still a touching mediation on loss and marriage and the kind of love that descends like snowflakes overnight. 


Caspar was a good cat

A few months ago, Tilly, our 18 year old female cat, vanished. She’d just had a successful operation on her thyroid and had once again begun ranging far and wide around the gardens out the back of our flat. She was also stone deaf. We waited – her disappearing for one or even two nights hadn’t been unusual in her prime – but eventually it became clear she wasn’t returning. We suspected a fox, or a car, or that she’d simply got lost and adopted by someone. Either way, she was clearly gone. I grieved but she’d always been an independent little soul and somehow I let her go relatively easily.

But Caspar, just as old but suffering from arthritis and borderline dementia, missed her a lot. He began to roam around the hall outside our bedrooms miaowing plaintively at all and any hours of the night but refused to leave the kitchen during the day. He started to go downhill fast. Up to the age of about 15, he’d savagely fought off all comers and as long as Tilly was lurking in the background, he’d still hissed and made it clear he wasn’t to be messed with. Now, he hid from other cats and sometimes spent hours in his litter tray. He slept more and more. His fur fell out along his backbone and he walked more and more slowly, getting himself tangled up in everyone’s feet.

“Poor Caspar,” Little Elf would say. She’d stroke him then try and wrap him in a towel or blanket and he’d be too dazed and tired to run away.

Finally, I got up one morning and noticed a wound in his shoulder with something white sticking through. Bone. I cleaned up the wound as best I could and supermum took him to the vet. The vet called me and told me what I was expecting.

“The muscle over his shoulder blade has completely wasted away and it’s literally worn through the skin. I can stitch him up, but it’ll happen again. And I think there’s something more going on.”

“Do you think…?”

Pause.

“If it was my cat I’d wonder if I wanted to put him through another operation with all the stress and trauma it would involve.”

I booked the afternoon off and came home. Caspar was sleeping on his favourite rug in his corner of the kitchen. Normally, he’d wake up with a kitchen full of people moving around him but he slept on. I confirmed the appointment and carried him there. In the vet’s (thankfully empty) waiting room, I lifted him out of his catbox and he unloaded a full bladder over my lap before settling into my arms. The nurse provided a lot of sympathy and paper towels and then we went in to to see the vet, another cat lover.

I signed the paperwork and they left us for ten or fifteen minutes. Caspar would normally be struggling to escape from the table or get back into his box but he lay comfortably on the soft cloth they’d provided with his head resting on my hand. I thought of the the first time we’d met him, half-grown and eight months old in a cat rescue home in Norfolk. We’d put him in the box they’d provided and he’d shredded it, horrified at being locked in. When we’d got him home, he’d hidden under a bed and cried, only coming out for food. It was three days before he emerged to explore and meet our other cat. Tilly had immediately swatted him on the nose and hissed, then run away but Caspar followed her around patiently until eventually she let him share a sofa and even an armchair. After a few weeks, we’d see her lurking a safe distance behind him whilst he faced off against the local gangsters.

He grew into a big, classic black British moggie, solid and muscular. He’d never kill mice – just catch them and look puzzled until we rescued them. Or until Tilly got to them – Tilly had no truck with vermin.

Caspar was already asleep again. He’d had enough and really just wanted to check out, Tilly was gone, he couldn’t fight, the house was full of children and he could hardly walk. Enough, I imagined him saying, then reminded myself that two hours earlier I’d been telling supermum not to project rational human thoughts and regrets onto a cat.

The vet came back and gave him the injection. Almost immediately, he stopped breathing. There was a little tremor and I suddenly became aware that Caspar was gone and that the thin bundle of fur and bones beneath my hands was just a reminder. The vet left me there for another half hour and I thought some more and counted the notches in his ears. The nurse brought me some tea. Then I said goodbye and went home.

I’m still seeing him in the corners of our house and I keep seeing Tilly at the far end of alleys and disappearing over walls. I suppose I always will.