I couldn’t bring myself to realise it for ages, but the cat was unwell. Very unwell. Not just feeling a bit off-colour, but really, hopelessly poorly. Cats are good at hiding how badly they’re doing, so by the time you notice anything, there are real problems. And these problems weren’t going away.
I got her, not on purpose but kind of by accident, about 15 years ago, just after my mum died. I’d moved out on my own and I was feeling completely lost, and then someone asked if I wanted to look after their cat because they were moving house, and I said yes, and then she turned up and that was that. We didn’t get on well at first – she hid under furniture for the first few days – but then she gradually sniffed around, didn’t see too much danger, and accepted her new home. She accepted food, and after a few weeks, the odd stroke. She was spiky, angry, grumpy, not through malice, just through caution – life hadn’t been kind to her before, at times. Animals can’t be unpleasant with any intent, they just are what they are, I think. It took time, but we got to know and depend on each other.
Maggie – named after the Rod Stewart song, not Simpson or even god forbid Thatcher – was a small, bony, yellow-eyed black cat, with soft fur and sharp claws. We spent the next few years together, moving from one place to another. In everything, she was the constant. Everyone needs a constant in life, alongside family or friends or loved ones, something that keeps you grounded to where you are and what you are, and who you are. Someone or something that makes you realise that you can’t be totally selfish and you’re not always first in the queue. That was my cat.
Then you get to that point where you know you have to make a decision, and when a pet is elderly, and tired, it reminds you of the people you’ve known in your life suffering through pain and hardship and it makes you want to think back. You can’t help it but you do. You think back over those moments in hospitals and crematoria. You think back over those moments when people felt too unhappy to continue. You think back and you wonder if there had been some way, to stop such suffering from happening, whether you could have taken it, or should have. You look into the eyes of an animal that is no longer raging against the dying of the light, but doesn’t want to go, but you know that suffering every day is worse.
It didn’t take long for her to go, just a couple of seconds, then she was gone. The sparkle went from her eyes and the fur stopped rising and falling, and that was that. It was gone, everything gone and finished and forgotten, in the blink of an eye, in a breath, in a moment.
Then you have to start life again, and get on with it, for the living. “Be kind while there is still time”. I say it over and over again. And I mean it a little more, as time runs out, away from all of us.