They say bad things happen in threes. (Why don’t good things even happen in ones?) When my cat Susie died, I took Sweetie and Minstrel home. He Who Shall No Longer Be Named (aka my ex David) said they were fine, but I wasn’t confident. Sweetie was very thin, her fur terribly matted. I took her to the vet five times in the first week, and she seemed brighter: she was given what the vet called a ‘geriatric cocktail’. I could do with one of those. Her eyes shone and she was jumping on the bed. Minstrel was fine, but had to have an operation on Friday to scale and polish his teeth.
But then, on Monday, just two weeks after I brought her home, I woke to find Sweetie asleep on my pillow, when normally she struts around, shouting for her breakfast. She seemed wobbly. So I rushed her back to the vet. It turned out she was in acute kidney failure. For the first time, she let the vet stroke her; normally, I would take along a pair of oven gloves. The vet said there was nothing she could do and that Sweetie was close to death. So she was put to sleep. My second tabby in two weeks. Gone. She was Bad Thing Number Three, as my assistant Nic’s beloved staffie Zac was also put down only last week, suffering from an inoperable tumour in one of his kidneys.
Sweetie came into my life because of a newspaper assignment, which is how I’ve ended up with most of my animals (turkeys, sheep and my dogs Hilda and Missy). Christmas 2004, I was sent to the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in Canning Town, East London, to volunteer. I didn’t really mind leaving my home on Christmas Day, as it was good to get away from my passive-aggressive husband, who was refusing to cook, citing a yoga class. He got me a DVD of The L Word, which was possibly trying to tell me something: it wasn’t even the box set, just one random episode.
The clinic was packed to the rafters with stray cats; they were even piled in baskets in the loo. I posed for hundreds of photos, holding cats, scrubbing cages, but the story didn’t run as the devastating tsunami happened in Asia, and my editor figured no one cared about cats under the circumstances. A few days later, Celia called my husband. ‘We have taken in a very special kitten. She’s quite feisty, which meant her previous owners beat her up and chipped a tooth. She might have a bit of brain damage because she was so badly knocked about. We think Liz should take her.’
I didn’t really want any more cats, but when I got home from work there she was, parading on the spare bed. I bought the oven gloves not long after; tea towels were no defence against the kitten we named, counterintuitively, Sweetie. She was never quite right, and was always losing her balance. She once fell into the pond, and emerged, soaked and embarrassed, reeking of fish for several days. And now she’s gone. My last link to my old London life.
Anyway, I thought I should tell David that Sweetie had died, given he ‘looked after’ her for three months. So I sent him a text. No reply. I often wonder why people are allowed mobile phones when they don’t use them.
After four million years, he replied. ‘I am so sorry to hear that. You gave her a long, comfortable life. I hope you are well.’
‘I hope you are well.’ Who am I, his aunt? Wouldn’t, ‘How are you coping?’ be more apt? Flowers? A commemorative bench erected in Sweetie’s memory? Even my old London cleaner, who had often looked after my cats while I was away working and hasn’t seen them for 11 years, was more effusive. ‘They were your babies. I’ve known you long enough Lizzie to know you love your animals more than people. I hope you’re feeling OK.’
Nic is taking Minstrel, my last cat. I am officially no longer a mad cat lady. Neighbouring farmers are no longer able to daub ‘Witch’ on walls. It’s the end of an era. I text Nic the night before Minstrel leaves me: ‘I hope he settles with you. He’s a really special cat. He kisses on demand and really listens and looks you in the eye when you talk to him.’
More than can be said for most men.