Letter to my friend Lizzie in France, on hearing of the death of her cat, Lucy.
“Christmas week 2018 at La Crabouille, sitting at your kitchen table making preparatory sketches for the unexpected commissioned magazine illustration that had come in via an e-mail and required I begin work immediately in order to meet the deadline. Lucy is outside, peering intently at me through the window pane. She yowls and pats at the window to test whether it’s open. It isn’t. She stares harder at me. More yowls, louder, and in a rising pitch. I get up and cross to the window to unlatch it. In she comes.
She sits companionably on a chair next to me. I go the taps to get myself a glass of water, and when I turn back she’s curled up RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF MY DRAWING, a scattering of garden ‘bits’ around her. She gives me a stony look, daring me to move her. I pick her up firmly and put her to the floor. Pause. She stalks with stiff-legged hauteur to the kitchen door to be let out, and I oblige her. She exits without so much as an acknowledging glance, an imperious Princess expecting lackeys to clear her way.
Back to work at the table. Not two minutes later Lucy is at the window, again, patting at it. I ignore her. She all but tuts, rearing to her hind legs to emphasise the urgency, patting harder, her claws making little scratching noises, stopping from time to time to pierce me with a stare emphasising her meaning. I get up, cross to the window and let her in. This happens repeatedly throughout the morning. I must have let her in twenty times by the time G passes through the kitchen and says “Just ignore her.” I try to. I really try. But Lucy just thinks up more attention-grabbing strategies. Now she’s putting her shoulder to the panes, and her yowling has passed from urgent to Banshee-shrieks of rage. You come in, Lizzie, and go to the window to let her in, saying as she streaks past “Oh poor Lucy, wouldn’t Clive let you in?”!!! Lucy leaps to table, to stand defiantly in front of me, her nose inches from my face. Very slowly and without unlocking her gaze from mine, she sits on my drawing hand – the pencil still between my fingers – in the middle of my sketchpad!”
2002 – 2020
I’ve just revisited this post as I wanted to reread your lovely words on Lucy, and lo and behold I found a host of cat lovers commenting on your thoughts. I think you touched some sensitive nerves there Clive, Marly’s, Jack’s, Bernie’s happy memories, also Viejecita’s vivid description of wild cats in the shed, now part of her children’s childhood memories , and then the sad consequences of wild dogs finding them. (BTW thank you Maria for your best wishes, I feel I know you too)
How many memories stir within me when reading those names “ Rugrat” and “Riot” and “Holly” I remember them all. Especially poor lovely Holly who’s kind heart was taken advantage of by my dog Daisy, who, I’m sometimes reminded, took over your apartment when you looked after her for a week, I still feel guilty about that!
And your description of Jack too, he was such an adorable dog. We have so many souls to remember who added joy to our lives, they come and go, each one an individual character and each one mourned till our hearts could burst.
Thank You Lizzie
And love for everyone, from Madrid
Lovely to read that description and all the responses. We collected a new cat for my youngest, who is home in the lockdown. Frida (I call her Nutcake) is wonderfully playful and has many little invented games, more so than any cat I remember. But my favorite cat of all time was my little Burmese, Dunya, who was the silkiest creature I’ve ever held, and who liked to snuggle between shirt and sweater and pop her head out at the neck. She is the cat of cats for me, tiny and intensely loving.
Ahhh, a lovely recollection. Burmese cats are beautifully mad. I greatly like your words “She is the cat of cats for me, tiny and intensely loving.” How good it would be to be remembered thus.
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What a BEAUTIFUL cat and what a super tail /tale.
Our own orange beast Sandy, (we wanted to call him Marmalade but the grey cat next door had that name) used to go up on his back legs and try to grasp the fridge handle with the front two paws when hungry; this was because he knew his food was there, a very ‘kosher cat who ate the same as us. (No Kit-e Kat.)
If thirsty he would sit near the kitchen sink and ‘mew’ at the taps. He had white paws and a white ‘bib’ chest. If my mum thought he looked grubby she’d say, ” you need a wash” and would butter these areas and we’d watch as he licked the fur clean.
Love and thanks for jogging me to the memory of my own puss, who was a gangster.
This is a new story that I’ve never heard before, or not that I recall. I don’t think I knew you once had a family cat. Your mother’s technique for getting Sandy to clean himself is very novel! Whoever would have thought that ‘buttering the cat’ would be a thing!
Jack, when still very young, once came upon a full half pound pat of butter straight from the fridge, sitting on a dish in front of the fire to soften. He ate the lot while we were out of the room, and with predictable results. I hadn’t seen the like since ‘that’ scene with the projectile vomit from ‘The Exorcist’!!!!
I lived with many cats for years; my beloved Mobi, who died in my arms one year ago this month, would scold me into bed each evening for some fifteen years. She would let me settle before selecting her place behind my knees or in more recent years on my pillow, at times on my head. Her last gift to me was the morning she died. About 3:30 a.m. she woke me with a faint warble. She knew she was close. We sat together for three hours until the end. We used to enjoy playing the sniffing game. I would open various jars of spices and herbs, etc., for her to sniff. She never grew tired of sampling one after another. She was partial to cinnamon, as I recall. I buried her with full honors, adding small ceramic pots laden with treasures of one sort or another. Also a few coins to appease whatever pagan gods she worshiped, along with my dog tags, wedding ring, and a silk scarf from Italy. I miss her. Very kind of you, Clive, to memorialize Lucy. Very civilized. I would have enjoyed her company. Stay well.
Jack, what a beautiful account of Mobi. I love the notion of you enjoying spice-sniffing sessions together. I’ve never before heard of such a thing with regard to a cat, but it makes complete sense in the animal world, in which smell is of such significance. (And is so heightened.) That she slept with you comes as no surprise. My late terrier Jacket slept all his life in our bed. In the winters he’d burrow deep under the duvet and curl into whatever shapes Peter and I were making in our sleep. In the summers, like Mobi he favoured the pillow, as a puppy often draping himself over my head, his tummy blazingly hot against my scalp. Later in life he took to stretching out between us, on his back, head slipping down between the pillows so that he looked unnervingly decapitated. He’d spend the night rolling this way and that, clinging to my back and then rolling over to snuggle to Peter’s. He was very fair in bestowing his cuddles. Sometimes I’d pull him over to nestle into my chest so that he was on the outside edge of the bed on my side, but as soon as I nodded off he’d clamber back to his preferred position, in the middle between us. He died in March 2018, and his absence is a constant ache.
Jack, you must still be raw from the loss of Mobi. I hope you have another cat to help with the missing. I haven’t yet taken on another dog, though I wish I’d done so before this lockdown. The warm snuggle of a much-loved and loving animal, is a terrible absence in my life right now.
Stay safe and well.
Thanks for this wonderful piece.
My pleasure, John.
What a lovely letter of rememberance !
And what a beautiful Princess.
We never owned a cat in my family. I was brought up among dogs, and it was the same with Javier’s family. But the first few years we came to live here, there were lots of wild cats born in a kind of open shed we had under the hot water tank, behind the house.
We never went near them, nor let the children touch them. They had to stay wild as the mother would have rejected them had she smelled us on the kittens. But we left bread soaked in warm milk in a special dish in the garden for them. The kittens were lovely, and the children used to admire them from the kitchen door while they were lapping their milk.
Until one full moon night, the wild and stray dogs around organised a kitten hunt. It was a disaster.
So we changed the water tank, closed the shed. No more kittens are born here. But until very recently there were a few old cats who still came a visiting their place of birth.
Love for you both and for Lizzie too (I feel as if I knew her a little from her texts here.)
Maria, I think it such a tender thing that old cats would return to the place of their kitten-hood. And why not? Why should nostalgia for times past be something only people would feel?
You must have been very firm with your children for them to have obeyed you in the matter of not petting the wild kittens. As a child I would have defied parental instruction to pet a little milk-lapping fluff-ball, and had it subsequently been rejected by its mother, used that as my excuse for it to HAVE to come and live in the house. I was once staying with my sister and her family when her dog had a litter of puppies. My sister was determined that the puppies wouldn’t be allowed into the main part of the house, and that when weaned all of them would be found homes and dispatched. But I had my eye on one, and sneaked him into my bed every night, returning him to his mother and siblings each morning before light. And of course he developed quite differently to the other puppies, and stood out from the rest because his gaze followed me whenever I went near their pen, and people noticed. Eventually my sister said I should have him, because for some reason he seemed to have developed a natural attachment to me. And of course I did have him, and he grew into a much-loved dog. (And no-one ever knew he’d been in my bed every night when a puppy.)
Was Jack that puppy ?
I still go to old entries to see phoptos and read the things He used to do…
I have been looking at Jack again, the photos of Him in your bed, and I realised this puppy was a “precursor ” ( I do not know if you use that word in English, or not. Would Harbinger have been a better word ? ), anyway, I have seen the photo of your friend who gave Him to you as a puppy . Not your sister ; that must have been much earlier .
As we say here in Spain ” Metí la pata de nuevo , ya siento”.
Ahh, you came to the right conclusion before I got back to you. This was ‘Rugrat’, my terrier before ‘Riot’ who was the dog before Jack. And before all of them, ‘Holly’, the only dog I ever purchased, from a pet shop (in the days when pet shops were allowed to trade in puppies and kittens) and the sweetest, gentlest scrap of inky velvet you could imagine. She lived to be very old and I never saw her once, in her entire life, growl or raise her voice in anger. She was the kindest creature on god’s earth, and used to bring me fledglings she found dropped from their nests on our walks in the park, carrying them gently in her mouth to me without harm, depositing them at my feet and looking at me with a very concerned expression to make things alright again! She was an old soul, full of unexpected wisdom.
It is clear you are a good influence on pets ( and on people around you too )
That’s a wonderfully evocative description of her, you can imagine how much we miss that character stomping around, I used to get up every night about 4 am to feed her and let her out, it’s weird sleeping through the night after all those years of slavery!
I miss those mornings reading by the Rayburn with Lucy fast asleep on my lap, she would sleep so deeply and soundly almost nothing would wake her, I even perfected the art of walking in a squat with her still attached to my lap if I needed to reach for my tea on the table!
I think that’s how she was originally lost by her mum, who had probably moved all the sibling kittens to safety whilst Lucy was in a deep sleep.
Thanks for the lovely photos and eulogy Clive, much love , xxL
My memories of Lucy during our last Christmas with you are so fresh. She was an incredible character, absolutely herself and determined in her actions. I love that spirit in an animal. You can see it in the photographs. Oh dear. You must feel her absence terribly