Cats will do ANYTHING to survive...
Aunt Melody had always loved cats. Not just the real thing, mind, but cats in any sort of representation be it picture, figurine, tacky plastic toy or nasty knitted thing she picked up at some table-top sale or from a charity shop. Over the course of my lifetime – forty-two years and some – Aunt Melody had gone through more than a dozen assorted moggies of all sizes, shapes and colours. She had also gone through two long-suffering husbands and several would-be life-partners who, upon realising that in Aunt Melody’s scheme of things her cats always came first, not unreasonably found this level of inattention a tad too much to swallow and soon departed. If Aunt Melody was hurt or upset about the change in her circumstances she barely showed it to me or any other member of the family.
Admittedly, some of the creatures were cute. Hell, I’m not a cat-lover by any means, but there is something inherently appealing about a cat’s face. It is, after all, how they manipulate their way into people’s lives. Isn’t the saying that cats choose their owners and not the other way round? If that’s true, then Aunt Melody was the most popular cat lover in our small corner of the world. At any given time there were upwards of a dozen of the animals roaming her spacious home.
Not that all of them could be called cute by any stretch or definition of the word. There was an old tom, an overweight beast of a cat the size of a badger Aunt Melody had named Bruce after the British entertainer Bruce Forsythe. This creature ruled the roost over the majority of the assorted rabble. He was nothing special to look at, just your average black and white-furred animal. It was his eyes, though, that set him apart from the other cats. They were larger than normal, a piercing green that seemed, to me at least, glow with malevolence. He and I never got on and he had taken to avoiding me whenever I called round. I was fine with that but, even so, I swear I could feel him glaring at me, even if we were not in the same room! If I’m being perfectly truthful, he actually scared me a little, though I could not for the life of me have said why exactly.
"My darlings," Aunt Melody was fond of saying with an affectionate smile on her still-attractive face, "take care of me. Who needs a man to muddle things up?" she added with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, having recently learned that I was getting serious about my latest guy.
"Auntie," I sighed with mock exasperation, "there’s loving cats and there’s loving cats. Do you really need to have so many of the…," I paused momentarily, choosing my words carefully, "creatures" I appended quickly. "Really, one or two, even three at a push, should suffice for most people"
"If I didn’t take the darlings in, sweetie, what would happen to them?" she asked, her pale-blue eyes peering at me over the rims of her stylish spectacles. "A cats home!" she enunciated disparagingly. "They are not homes, dearie, they are slaughter-houses, that’s what they are. I can’t allow that to happen". Her voice, as it always did when we got onto this subject, had more of a steely edge than I was used to hearing from her.
"They are not all like that, Auntie" I offered carefully. "Some of them do make tremendous efforts to rehome the strays that come their way. It’s a very sad fact of life that not all strays can be rehomed. Indeed, Auntie, not all cats want to be rehomed"
"Which is where I come in!" she cried triumphantly, grabbing a scabby-looking tortoiseshell and hugging the pathetic creature to her ample bosom. "Without me, Boris here," she said, holding the shivering creature up for my inspection, "would have ended up in feline Belsen and would have assuredly been put to death for no other reason than he had no-one to care for him"
It was, of course, an exaggeration built around a kernel of truth, which Aunt Melody knew that I knew, but we danced this dance on a semi-regular basis and we knew the steps off by heart. My response at this point was to make no response at all, thus allowing Aunt Melody her ‘victory’
"My concern, Aunty, is that one day these cats will be the death of you" I said after allowing a suitable time to pass to allow her to savour her Pyrrhic victory. "You are not getting any younger, you know"
"It’s lovely that you worry about me so, darling, it really is, but you really shouldn’t. I may be in my eighth decade but I’m still fitter and more mobile than many of my contemporaries" she said proudly.
It was true, too. Aunt Melody was a few months shy of her eighty-fourth birthday and still trotted down to the shops three or four times a week. She played bingo at the church hall Wednesday and Friday evenings - and won more than she lost! – and after more than thirty years she was still an active member of the local W.I. branch in town. Occasionally she volunteered at a charity shop whenever they were short staffed. Even so, I had noticed that she was slowing down, her steps becoming more faltering and her increasing reliance on the sturdy walking stick that she had resisted using becoming more evident with the passing months.
"I know, Aunty, I know" I said, a smile in my voice as I rose to my feet. I crossed the cat-cluttered living room and wrapped my arms around her bony shoulders and hugged her as tightly as I dared. She had never been a big woman; dainty and delicate would best describe her, and age had shrivelled her slender frame to that of a porcelain doll.
"I love you too much to lose you" I whispered into her coiffured hair.
"I love you, too, darling" she replied, patting my hands. "You’re a good girl for coming to see me" she told me, taking my hands and kissing the fingers. "You run along now and see that man of yours." She grinned and winked at me as a pink flush suffused my neck and cheeks.
"I’ll see you next week as usual" I told her as opened the ugly modern uPVC door that the council had installed a couple of years previously. The beautiful solid oak door that her second husband had fitted at some considerable expense lay rotting somewhere at the bottom of a landfill site out of town, which rankled with me. They never even gave Aunt Melody the option to dispose of it in her own way. Progress, huh?