As I sit here working, I can see a cat out of my window. This is actually quite rare. Santa Cruz is a pretty doggy place. From hulking Hispanic dudes squiring minuscule Chihuahuas, to petite West Side moms out jogging in the company of a Wolfhound, the canine world has a big paw print in this town. I can understand why. People here like to exercise and go to the beach and hike and stuff, and dogs are totally up for that, especially if they get to madly dash about to no discernable purpose. Imagine the response of a cat to being told it was going running, or to the beach. It wouldn’t have to say anything. The look on its face would be enough.
Now, I don’t mind dogs. I can see the point of them, and since arriving have struck up affable acquaintanceships with a few belonging to friends. I am, however, a cat person. Inveterate, long term, through and through. A big cost of coming to live here in California, however, has been saying goodbye — or at least au revoir — to my own.
Quite soon after we got together, my wife and I traveled to Scotland to acquire a cat. We didn’t do it that way just to make our lives difficult, but because we’d encountered the Burmilla breed courtesy of my editor and thought we might like to have one. On being confronted with a room full of kittens our initial resolve crumbled and we wound up leaving with two, a brother and sister we called Spangle and Tilly.
Tilly was — and remained — tiny and feisty, the first of the litter to be born; Spangle was far more shy, and larger, the last of the same litter. They were white and grey, yin and yang, and for seventeen years these cat people enlivened and enriched every moment of our lives. There were downsides, like the fact their housecat status (for a long time we lived in flats, and neighborhoods where the feline territory wars were fierce) meant we could never leave doors or windows open, and the amount of fur shed per unit time eventually gave my wife a lasting allergy. Both cats came into the study to work with me every day, however, and hung out with us on the sofa in the evening, and slept next to our heads every night. I loved them both, but Spangle is as good a friend as I’ve ever had.
Then we discovered Santa Cruz and realized that’s where we needed to live. Concern about the cats was wound into this decision from the very first, and we came out here for an exploratory year on the strict understanding that, once we’d found our feet, the cats would follow. We had someone they knew house-sitting our property in London, and looking after them, and so — while I know they missed us — their life went on pretty much as normal.
Until, after three months, Tilly died.
She’d been ailing for a year or two, and we’d been dripping fluids into her on a weekly basis for eighteen months before we left. Finally it got too much for her, and she went. Anyone who’s lost an animal, especially after so long, and when you weren’t able to be there at the end, will be able to guess how that felt.
They will probably also be able to understand my feelings on realizing that Spangle, now eighteen, is simply too old to fly. You can’t transport animals across the Atlantic in the cabin. They have to fly in the hold. They travel in custom-made crates and every effort is made to protect their wellbeing, but I’m not putting my old friend Spangle through that. Instead he’s gone into retirement with my widowed father, and the arrangement seems to be working very well. Both are happy, and look after one another.
It’s hard, though.
Jean Cocteau said “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul”. That’s both beautiful and true. The house we’re living in now, though good and comfortable, feels a little empty without a feline presence — especially the presence of our own particular cats.
Life costs, I guess, and rates of exchange are hard to fathom.
The cat I glimpsed earlier is still out there. I’ve no idea who it belongs to, and he’s not doing much of interest, just staring vaguely in the bushes. It’s strange how much difference his presence makes, even though he doesn’t know I’m watching.
I miss my cat.
We’ve finally gotten to the point of wondering whether we should encourage some local felines to come and share our lives here, not least because I think my son needs a pet, as all children do. If we go ahead, I’m sure it will be a good thing, and that our lives will be enriched in the way that only those creatures are capable of.
But I still miss my cat.