Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Very Fine Cat

Each time I returned home I'd call the cat as I shut the door on the world. "Henley. Henley! Idiot..." And I did just that again tonight, hustling in from the dark and rain. It took me a moment to realise Henley wasn't ignoring me this time. He was in the box I was carrying from the vet, warm but lifeless.

Henley was an old cat. No one knows how old – when he was chosen by The Editor from the rescue home they shaded the truth slightly. Or perhaps they didn't know; Henley had been rescued from a poor start in life where he was kept locked in a shed. Being liberated to live in a country cottage must have seemed idyllic. Not that he was outwardly grateful. He'd suffer a morning hug, but Henley was not one of natures tactile cats. More of a presence than a friend. But he was large and long haired, just the sort to wrap around your neck with his huge, room filling purr.

Henley was a difficult boy, but given his childhood allowances were made and understanding given. The Editor spoiled him rotten. And then inadvertently disturbed his little world by sneaking a kitten through the front door. One look at this tiny furball, Bella, and Henley turned up his tail, packed a valise and moved into the garden shed. He flatly refused to live in a house with Bella.

This was my fault. Bella was a pre-parole hearing present from The Editor to me. Alas, that hearing led to naught – except Bella. Who, as I kicked my heels behind bars, grew old enough for "a boyfriend" and produced a bunch of kittens. The last, and unexpected of which, was Jack – an improbable cat, for being a giant compared to his mum.

By the time of my release then, The Editor had a herd awaiting. Henley, Bella and Jack. Bella, a tiny classic black and white, impossibly pretty, was the psychopath. Jack was, well, slightly dim but The Editors favourite because he was definitely a pick-up-and-cuddle type of cat. And Henley.... Distant but present. To be stroked with caution. If at all.

When I left home, The Editor gave me a cat. Henley. The transition wasn't easy for either him or me. Giving some evidence to the theory he was actually a misogynist, Henley seemed to relax living with me – and no other cats. I learned that I could occasionally stroke him, without being punctured. The same immunity didn't apply to the mattress that comprised my bed at the time.

Far from being hugely aloof, as the months passed Henley grew more chilled, even sociable. And be indulged. When he took to laying across my coffee table, then my work table, I bought him his own. He ignored it, and opted to live in the laundry basket. Or the bath. And I found lots of time to make a cautious fuss of him, time and wounds teaching me exactly what he enjoyed and what he wouldn't entertain for a moment. It took months before I got the nerve to pick him up – the idea of his claws that close to my face probably drew the process out longer than necessary. But then he never did learn to sheath his claws when "playing"

As time passed, Henley even seemed to view me as a good thing, and shadowed me. If I was downstairs, so would he be. If I was upstairs, the Dark Shadow would follow. Very rarely he would even climb on me, mostly in the morning when he could easily spend half an hour laying on my naked chest as I struggled to roll my first cigarettes before getting out of bed.

I made allowances for his idiosyncrasies. Having spent most of his life using a cat-flap, when we moved in together he flatly refused to go out of the caflap. In, yes. Out, no. So I had to tie the blasted thing open, and suffered living with a nasty draft around my ankles. It took a persistent morning of bunging him through for him to make his peace with his catflap nemesis.

We'd have long, one sided conversations about his food. Raised on dry food, having my sole attention led to a series of short hunger strikes as I schlepped to and from the shops. Tins it was then, supplemented with occasional pouches. He had a bigger food budget than I did. And a weird weakness for milk – which made him crap everywhere.

Of late he has taken to extending his range. Discovering the flaw in open-plan living, a sofa near the kitchen units, he'd settle into the draining board or on top of the cooker. I'd even lured him upstairs. Previously forbidden territory at the cottage – long haired black cats and white duvets don't mix – my more, ahem, relaxed attitude to housework meant that most of my world involved tufts of black hair. Taking against the laundry basket, Henley would curl up on the chair next to the bed when I settled to sleep, his huge purr keeping me awake.

The past few days saw Henley turn weird. He took himself off behind the kitchen units for hours on end, hardly touching his food or water. Blocking off his hideaway seemed mean, so I gave him a box layered with his favourite blanket – carrier bags – and he settled next to the sofa. Obviously struggling to breath, not having eaten for days, barely hydrated, we took the Long Walk to the vet. Heart failure.

Henley kept me company, gave me joy, helped me focus on something more than my own travails. He kept me company in prison – his huge purr captured on an MP3 player lulled me to sleep. He sits at my feet now, awaiting his burial in the morning. His purr, his presence, will take a lifetime to fade.


  1. Yeah, it's hard to lose them, even the aloof types. I had a female Henley. Playing with her was risky, but could be fun if I was careful. She became more sociable as she got older, even became a lap cat for a short while. Then a stroke undid all the progress, and it was a long slide down from there.

  2. Lovely to have you back.

    Heart rending story - been there with dogs too! You will always have a soft spot for Henley but others will probably come along.

    Best wishes for 2014.

  3. Aw I'm so sorry for his death, it is not easy to lose a pet. RIP Henley. At least he had a good owner for the last days of his life.

    I love your blog btw. Even if I didn't know your back story about why you were in prison, the writing style alone would've captured me. You have a gift.