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Ted Cat

I was probably about 5 years old. Walking home hand in hand with my mum from school, grazed knees and what at the beginning of the day had been a neat plait in my hair. Out of nowhere, mum let out a shriek, let go of my hand and ran ahead to something lying deadly still in the road. It was our beloved cat; Bill. Dead. Stone cold dead.
We had two cats, Bill and Ted, my brother had named them after the movie, everyone found their names funny- it was funny, but then this really wasn’t. Mum fell to her knees on the pavement and cried uncontrollably, shaking her head, running her hands over her thick dark hair, searching for some kind of sense. I wasn’t sure what I was more upset about. I bit down on my lip. My brother appeared in a haze out of nowhere, and we carried poor Bill back to the house, put him in the garden shed in a towel, and then a bag, and waited for my dad to come home from work. Bill was mums favourite. He was flirtatious, charming, animated. Ted was the quiet, sensitive, constant one. I told mum it was ok, we still had Ted, but it didn’t stop any tears. Maybe Ted cat wasn’t enough on his own. I asked if I could go and visit Bill in the shed.
Dad returned from work, and again I asked to go and see Bill in the shed. I began to feel consumed by what had happened to Bill, and the reaction it had caused from my family, and I wanted to look at him again and again, I lost count of how many times my dad took me to the shed to see poor Bill, before we dug a hole in the garden and put him to rest. Ted cat didn’t get much attention at this time, I think my mum looked at him as a reminder of what she didn’t have. My dad recalls this time now as me being ‘obsessed with the dead cat’.

My dad has always been extremely gentle to all living things. I remember him putting my pet rat Reggie to sleep after we had done all we could for him. He went into the garden shed afterwards and cried into his tool box, so we wouldn’t see. Our garden was a graveyard for our pets, mostly ones my brother had bought without permission, that then got handed down to me much to my uncontrollable excitement. Like the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles T-shirt I wouldn’t take off. I’d like to think their resting bodies fertilised the many fruit trees I remember in that garden. My favourite house.

It’s the mid 90’s, in a rush for school, and my sister is knocking back the milk at the bottom of her cereal bowl before taking me in her lilac Mini to school as she did every morning. I go to feed my fish on the way out and notice one upside down at the top of the tank. I cry. I want to bury it in the garden. There isn’t time, and my sister is trying her best to make me feel better in the small amount of time we have to deal with what to a seven year old is the end of the world. She says we are gunna send it back to the sea to be free with the other fish. Poor Flotsom fish spins around the toilet as I watch in horror as he is sucked away. Ted cat looks at us confused from the arm of the sofa, one eye open. I go to school feeling sick and think about it all day.

Fast forward thirteen long years and Ted cat is not doing so well. His kidneys are failing, he goes downhill very very quickly. Mum asks if I think it’s time. I call the vet and ask them to come over to put him to rest, at home- he always hated the vets. I understood, I hated the white coats too. Them and the sickness that crept into our house like a bad smell, which brought with it a poison that ended in me shaving off the remains of my dads falling hair. I can’t remember anything else that happened that year, and I’m not sure Ted cat was around much to see it either.
I bunk off work and let the vet in. Mum is sat on one chair, Ted is lying drowsily on the other. I sit down on the floor and bring my face close to his, my breathing slows down to meet his. The vet says to talk to him gently while she gives him the fatal dose, I tell her to wait, we aren’t ready to go anywhere and this time I’m asserting it. I tell him in the softest voice I own that we love him, we always have, that all will be okay now, and I will never forget him, never leave him.

We’ve come a long way together. Packed up in the back of the car, us both kittens, me and him for the third, fourth house move. Him crying, complaining, me silent. Three schools, three months. He got over it faster than I did. I remember that time he let us cut his thick long grey hair when the school summer holiday was as hot as I can remember, leaving him with a long tip ‘lion tail’ for our own humour. How he would jump on my dads lap when he was asleep in the armchair and frighten the life out of him, getting me in trouble for finding it so hilarious. I smile as I recall mum saying how he ‘always loved a BBQ’, and how much he enjoyed being hoovered. Yes hoovered. I think back to my first break up, eighteen years old sobbing on the sofa as if I would never feel normal again, and Ted cat jumping up, butting his head against me in way of saying ‘You will be okay, I’m here, don’t be sad’. How he would close his eyes and put his head to the ceiling when you scratched under his chin, and as he got older began to dribble when he was happy, which disgusted everyone apart from me. Oh and there was that time he brought a mole in through the cat flap. A fucking mole?! How he’d give us endless love and unfaltering admiration, even when he got under our feet and we stood on his tail by accident.. even when we didn’t deserve it. It broke my heart how he loved us so unconditionally.

I nod to the vet, an ‘okay’ comes from my mouth in a voice I don’t recognise and the needle goes in, mum lets out a devastated cry, I tell her to shhh so she covers her mouth as the tears fall down and her brow tenses as she watches. I want things to be perfect. Everything needs to be perfect. This is his final few moments, I don’t want him to be upset or scared. He can’t talk, but I’ve always known what he’s thinking, and I have to protect him, be his voice like he was mine in the back of that car full of pointless belongings in the slow lane on the motorway.

Ted cat’s breathing slows to a stop. He passes away. I kiss him between the eyes, feeling his warm soft fur. The veterinary nurse and her assistant say goodbye, watery eyed. I’m holding my breath. I shut the door behind them and mum and I break down. We stay this way for ten more minutes, in separate anguish, before the human urge to complete the nasty job in hand overtakes the urge to dwell forever in sadness. Ted cat stays on the armchair while my mum and I go into the back garden. It’s an early summers evening and the last of the sunlight is escaping the lawn. I’m wearing some nice jeans reserved for work, I’m glad, I get on my hands and knees in the mud and dig a perfect cat sized grave. The dirt gets under my nails, on my knees and over my new white work t-shirt. I want it to cover me, I want to sweat and suffer and work, Ted cat deserved no less. Blood sweat and tears.
Solemn, my mum brings him outside, and covers him head to toe in an old towel, as his head is covered I feel like I can’t breathe, he looks so alive still, alert, like he is listening. Like he is listening but no one else is. I snap for mum to take the towel off of his face. I’m angry at her. It’s all moving too fast and my heart starts thudding.
I can’t keep the panic inside as I feel like I lose control completely of how things are developing, the perfection attempt slips away and I can’t stand it. Before I know it the hole is filled with Ted cat inside, and I imagine him in there, covered with a towel, and mud, not being able to breathe. Not being able to shout, to be heard. I struggle to catch some air.
I begin to feel a sharp disconnect from my mothers grief and my own, her overwhelming sadness is overtaken by my urgent private anxiety. I don’t feel like she’s listening. I’m on my own. I rub my grubby, moist hands over my clothes, as if I am to pretend that everything is normal. As if touching the rest of my body with my hands will make me come back into my skin again. The beginning of the next four years, the peak of the last ten.
That night I don’t sleep from the unbearable urge to go into the garden and get dirt under my nails once more, this time to dig him out. He can’t breathe, so how can I?
I put it off until tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow again.

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