The ground is littered with a blizzard fall of leaves. Some of the houses have cleaned them up which is a crime in my book. Surely one of the beauties of this time of year is the burnt orange and golden confetti that crunches beneath our feet. A mist settles all around us, blanketing the town in miniature droplets, making straight hair curly and grey things black under a layer of damp.
The children look like little eskimos when they’re wrapped up in new winter coats, the only things exposed are faces and hands. Ringlets frame their faces as their hair coils in the heavy, dewy air. Today, they get to dress up in costume at school. The usual morning chatter weaves around us, however this time, it’s not coming from uniformed students, but a bat, three witches, two black cats, a superhero and a small, zombie bride. Fake blood, fake teeth, fake witches nails and fake severed limbs adorn their innocent little selves. They become absorbed into the school building and all is quiet again: monsters, ghosts and ghouls disappeared.
The heat of the house embraces me like a hug as I open the front door and remove my armour from the cold. With a meaty stew bubbling on the hob, my attention strays out the window to the forgotten back garden.
It settles into the season ahead, all desolation and bare, brown branches. Dotted around is the evidence of a summer of plenty. The barbeque, once full of red coals under sizzling steak, is now rusty and broken. A dilapidated greenhouse, not so long ago, the incubator of the vegetable patch, protecting the baby shoots, lies on its side, cracked and dismantled. Bamboo sticks left lying around, formerly the scaffolding for the tomato plants, not needed now as the tomatoes have long since been consumed by greedy mouthes. The children’s toys left idle, no longer jumped upon, rode around or decorated with sand pit sand, and are now sitting sad and neglected, covered in silvery webs and muck.
All produce has been removed and either eaten or promoted to indoor dwelling, like the pumpkins who had to be torn from their mother plant in a flurry of panic after an early forecast of frost. They reside in their superior setting now, growing ripe and orange, awaiting their fate – to be carved into horrifying features. The only life residing in this garden now is the occasional bird looking for worms, the stunted lawn and the cool October breeze rustling through the undressed plants.
I stir the pot and think of the pink cheeked children who will bundle back through the door in a few hours, disrobing and leaving hats, scarves and gloves in their wake on the floor. They’ll tuck hungrily into the hot stew, spilling it all over their costumes. I’ll complain but feel satisfied that they’ve something warm in their little bellies before they go back out again as little monsters, hounding the neighbours for sweets and treats, warning of tricks for non-compliance.
My cat Bob, Bob Buttons to award him his full title, is a cat among cats. In fact, he’s more than a cat among cats – he’s a leader, a trend setter, a feline eminence. We were a week away from moving into our new, first home: all bare floors and magnolia walls. The first thing that would grace our house would be a cat. We met Bob who was a six week old bundle of orange fuzziness and knew we must have him. Being forced to take him a week early, meant he had to live in a pet carrier until our house was ready. In it, he was cosy with a mini litter tray (a takeaway box filled with litter), his food bowl and a cushion to sleep on: a kitten bento box. To this day, he can’t pass a pet carrier without getting in, lying down and claiming it as his own.
So we finally moved in. He had a sniff around, decided it was modest enough and laid down his hat. Should he have had the ability to speak, he would have said ‘yes, fine humans. This will do.’ We subsequently purchased him a bed: the kind that hooks onto the radiator and is made of sheep skin. Did we have a couch for ourselves? No. We had an inflatable children’s armchair and a deck chair. But Bob would look down at us from his heated height and yawn at us: his uncomfortably seated comrades.
He was a playful kitten. His party piece, to rear up on his back legs and ‘box’ with us or his very entertaining crab impression: arching his back, his fur standing on end, ears flat to his head and run sideways, thinking his tiny, fluffy self formidable and terrifying. His favourite thing was to jump into our car and head off for a visit to my parents. He’d lie across the back window, watching the cars behind us. His other transport method of choice was across my shoulders, sometimes on my head when he was small enough. Being a new estate, we didn’t know our neighbours but I’m pretty sure they thought I had hideous dress sense: this orange stripy fur hat that doubled as a scarf. Once they knew the truth of my living garment, their opinion changed from oddly dressed lady to crazy cat lady pretty quickly.
Some neighbours may not have been as fond of our marmalade moggy as we. He was often known to sneak into their houses and either rob things or repose on their beds. A lad living behind us, stopped us one day, asking if he was our cat. Dubiously, we muttered ‘yes’ and ‘why?’ As we cringed, he explained that oftentimes he’d come out of his shower to find Bob laid flat out on his bed, fast asleep. We uttered a hurried apology and ran inside, issuing a futile scolding to the impervious Bob.
Once retiring from burglary and breaking and entering, he turned over a new leaf and became a superb neighbourhood watch-man. During a particular incident on our street which made the headlines country wide, Bob could be seen on the six and nine o’clock bulletins, sitting on the victim’s wheely bin, scoping out the crime scene. Not one detective or police car got by without a thorough inspection of the chassis and sometimes roof. The street felt safer with Bob on the case, I’m sure of it.
So Bob was our baby for the better part of four years. A new cat, Molly joined us and while they are reasonably amicable, they could take or leave each other. Then real babies came along. On bringing our brand new baby daughter home for the first time, we of course worried about ‘the cat sleeping on the baby’s face.’ We needn’t have worried. Bob couldn’t have given less of a hoot if he’d tried. Things got real when the baby became mobile. Bob was now a moving target. But, being as laid back as ever, he accepted this fate and was often rewarded for the tail pulling with a rub, cuddle or playful headbutt. Eight years later and the two, along with our second daughter, are the best friends you could find. Adding a dog into the mix didn’t upset him either. Retaining his alpha status, the dog is put swiftly in his place with a nail studded swipe. He can regularly be seen following us half way to school. Once he gets as far as he has the bottle for, he’ll sit and wail until we fade out of view.
As he settles into his geriatric years, (he’s now twelve) he’s still got that spark of devilment in his eyes. But he is slowing down and prefers nothing more than the company of his ‘mammy’ at night by the fire. Not deterred by working on a laptop or any kind of device, he will firmly place himself between it and me and there will be no moving on him. He’s also decided that he’s too good for his litter tray, preferring to pee into the part of the garden wall where the cap stone is gone and the cavity block is exposed, leaving him a perfect little hole which he’s adapted to be his urinal.
Whether it’s a ginger cat thing, or whether he was just blessed with having bags of personality, there isn’t and could never be another like my cat Bob.
I inhaled the early morning country air as I stood, bathed in the April sun. What a great day for it, I thought. The cold, sub zero winter had meant that we hadn’t really done much, had been restricted by the bad weather, sometimes housebound by snow. But today was different. Today Spring, maybe even the very earliest of Summer was here. It felt good. It felt good not to be wrapped up in duck down stuffed jackets and layers of wool and fleece.
He felt it too. There was a spring in his step. We hadn’t met before, he was new to me and I to him but I thought we’d get along just fine. His blond hair was highlighted by the suns rays. He was giddy, excitable. It perturbed me slightly but I figured I was in control. I wouldn’t let him get out of hand. We walked along the country path, a nice easy pace to warm up. He wanted to go up the hill but I was too nervous for that so refused him.