Unless you’re the lucky (unlucky?) regular receiver of booty calls, the phone that rings in the early hours of the morning rarely signals good news. The one I received last week no exception to that rule.
The small animal hospital in Glasgow—a request to phone them message left on voice mail, as my phone is on don’t disturb mode through the night. I pressed ‘return call’. The back shift had left for the day; the on-duty vet said she’d find out and get back to me.
The second she spoke to me again, I knew what was coming. My cat, the fabulous and super-spoiled Freddie, had been brought to the premises in the early hours—no sign of life on arrival. Her colleagues had checked and there were no obvious indications of cause of death, but cats struck on the road (where he’d been found) often die from internal bleeding. I live near a busy dual carriageway. We knew he crossed the A82 from time to time late at night. On Friday the 13th, his luck ran out.
We drove to the clinic, umm-ing and ah-ing. Should we see him? I said no. Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of road kill; a different prospect entirely when it’s your pet. My husband said yes. He wanted to say a final goodbye. We arrived. Positions reversed; Sandy now worried that the sight of our poor dead cat would trigger tears in front of strangers. I can tell him plenty of times that it is okay for men to cry. But too many years of west of Scotland masculine culture will beat the message, Thou Shalt Not Weep, into a man.
The vet, a kindly soul, took us into a consultation room and explained what had happened. “What does he look like?” I asked. “I know he’ll be stiff.”
“He’s okay,” she replied. “There are no obvious injuries, apart from a small wound on his chest.”
We gave our assent. Bring him in. She returned, cardboard box reverentially held, its exterior decorated in a funereal fleur du lis. I jumped up, compelled to witness its opening and the revelation of precious content.
“Hey, darling boy. Look at you, all dirty…”
The Good Samaritan
I stroked his face and tickled him under the chin. Freddie adored a chin rub. I ran my hand along his body. As the vet said, no obvious signs of what killed him. I leant into the box and kissed his little face.
Goodbyes said, could the vet let us have the phone number of the person who brought him in? She checked and returned with a name and phone number.
Later that day, I spoke with the Good Samaritan. He and his wife had been visiting her parents who live further up our street. They came across Freddie, who was alive at that point but spasming. They moved him off the road and wrapped him in a blanket her mum supplied when told. An ambulance stopped, said they weren’t able do anything but provided another blanket. Another woman appeared; she researched vet services. The small animal clinic in Bearsden—25 minutes away—was identified. The man and his wife phoned them and the clinic said they should bring Freddie in.
He died on the way there.
Pictures and promises
My little cat—one, two, three, four, five, six people all doing what they could to save him. Later that weekend, there was a knock on the door. The Good Samaritan and his wife, Dave and Laura, armed with a huge bunch of flowers, Laura in tears. “Our cat,” I told them, “had a brilliant life up until that twenty minutes before he died. We promise you.”
“Show Laura the pictures!” I instructed Sandy. True, my husband has always had far more pictures of Freddie on his phone than ones of anything else. Laura saw Freddie at his worst. I wanted her to see him curled up on our bed, sprawled on sunny spots in the garden, perched on the sofa and doing his best to open packets of Whiskas by himself.
(He could, you know.)
Acts of kindness
My other promise to Dave and Laura? I will remember your act of kindness for the rest of my life.
They don’t even live in my town.
And others’ too. My mum cried when I broke the news. My sisters phoned; animal lovers both. Our sister-in-law delivered a card and flowers. The friends I told came up with lovely words of comfort. My neighbour burst into tears as Freddie had visited her house regularly, mooching for food. A work colleague listened to the tale, glassy-eyed.
Human interaction and love never ceases to astonish me—the powerful together pull of it when you ask really matters.
The house creaks, empty and incomplete. I glance at the spare room automatically when I walk past, looking for Freddie who used to sleep in there. The draught from the front door moves the living room one and our eyes dart there, waiting for him to walk in. I take ham out of a packet, pole-axed with longing for my little cat who’d jump up if you held small pieces of meat above his head.
We will get another pet, one I’ll speak to in a silly voice, over-feed and assume uncomfortable positions in bed so he or she can sleep on me. Like Freddie, his predecessor Corrie, and Jazz the one before him, I’ll adopt from a shelter and shower him or her with love.
For now though, we rest, we reflect, we look at pictures of cats needing their forever home, and tell everyone we know about the extraordinary kindness people have shown us, and the comfort we have taken from it.