Nine years ago. I break up with the first girlfriend I had after I moved to California. As Sunnyvale is a wretched place to live, particularly if you’re in your early twenties, newly single, and full of piss, I up and move to San Francisco. I teach myself to navigate by driving through the city in the night-time fog.
For company, I acquire two kittens, the wide-eyed runts of a semi-feral litter. (To this day, Oedipus and Electra skitter and scramble whenever a human approaches, only deigning to approach when we’re sitting or lying down.)
Around the same time, Shannon, an acquaintance I met through the ex, also adopts two kittens, the antiparticles of mine. Charlie and Clarie are part Siamese, all curiosity and warmth. Perfect, right?
But step to the next year. Shannon and I share a bed; Charlie is incessantly loud and pushy in his affections, and so insistent as to drive me to distraction.
Move forward half a decade. Shannon and I marry; merge our households; and watch, as the cats size each other up. Charlie asserts his dominance by pissing over every surface, something that as a court eunuch he theoretically cannot do. Oedipus and Electra hide under the bed, and hiss at passers-by. Clarie is ever unruffled, either lying in someone’s lap or begging for milk.
A year later, Cian is born. The cats are demoted en masse from family members to pets. Clarie worries about Shannon’s exhaustion, and nightly hunts leaves that she offers to placate her. Cian’s colic leaves us frazzled; I find myself suppressing the urge to throttle Charlie when he wakes me from a nap or simply steps into my path.
Charlie supplements his diet with half a rat here, a portion of songbird there. Shannon finds little packages of intestines under furniture, and gives me the j’accuse stare; how come I haven’t already cleaned up the carcasses from places that I never have any reason to look in? I banish Charlie to Shannon’s sister’s house; now that I am a crime scene cleaner, it’s that or kill him.
As Cian grows older, we relax into being a family. Charlie returns, having outstayed his welcome abroad. Miraculously, he and Cian become friends. Where the other cats scatter at Cian’s enthusiastic approach, Charlie wants to head-butt him, cuddle him, declare him an honorary Siamese cross. The two loud, rambunctious mammals make a natural team. I find it harder to sustain my murderous urges in the face of this affection, even as the midnight feasts resume, sometimes under our bed.
And now to a week ago. Shannon asks me if I’ve seen Charlie recently. I give her the honest answer: I don’t notice the cats much. She rolls her eyes; that is such a Bryan answer. For all x, I don’t notice x much.
The next day, I intend to visit the humane society, to see if they have heard tale of him. The plan is derailed by Shannon rushing to hospital with early (very early) contractions. After a few hours of worry, we get the all-clear; the next day, I go to the humane society.
They only hold animals for four days. I don’t know when the last time was that we saw Charlie, and wonder if I am too late. He’s not among the living detainees. I look through the dead-on-arrival log; not there, either. I wonder if maybe he decided to move to a house where he would have the undivided attention of his human servants.
Then I find an entry, in another log, detailing the arrival of a cat that matches his description, from the street around the corner from our house. The cat had been hit by a car; it was injured; euthanised. No mention of whether it was held for four days first. I don’t know whether we noticed his loss too late, or whether he was too badly injured to live.
Cian asks where Charlie is; we are guiltily evasive for a few days. Inevitably, he overhears our conversations, and asks why Charlie is dead. He isn’t as troubled as I expected; he is sure that Charlie will be born again, into a new skin.
Do cats go to cat heaven when their owners are anticlerical heathens?
If so, I hope he’s bugging the crap out of some born-again preacher.