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Ten Days one Summer

October 2005


The mewing outside the open bedroom windows increased in loudness and pitch. The night sky behind the curtain was indigo - stars slotted into spaces and the air was warm and still.

I padded downstairs in my nightdress and opened the front door to the porch. In the light cast onto the path, a small, long, slender spotted tabby cried to be let in. I opened the porch door. The tabby shot in, purring and wriggling round my legs. I picked him up, he licked my cheek, purred even louder and wriggled to get down. Immediately he walked with a positive determination to the kitchen. There was a full tray of cat litter and a food mat ready, as I was soon to be getting two kittens. I suspect this kitten whom I thought was five to six months old, thought it was specially for him.

At the food mat he began to cry again, so I opened a tin of cat food and placed a saucer of milk on the mat. He attacked this with the ferocity of the hungry, jiggling the plates around noisily. We always knew when he was eating, because of this noise. Then he made a beeline for the cat tray and proceeded to use it with obvious relief.

After frantic scratching and scrabbling, the kitten flew up the stairs bounding onto the bed, where my husband, Ian, was trying to sleep. The kitten wriggled onto his shoulder purring as loudly as an old petrol-driven lawnmower. When I clambered into my side, he jumped over to me frantic for affection and clung to my neck like a limpet, snuffling my hair and licking my cheek and ear. He was very wriggly and the name Wrigley stuck. Because he made so much noise purring it kept Ian awake, so I took Wrigley into the spare bedroom still clinging to my neck. He slept there all night.

The next morning at seven o'clock I suggested to Ian that he let Wrigley out with him on his way to work. I would see if he returned. I set my alarm for nine. I had to be up for my friend Fay's wedding. Wrigley apparently followed Ian out of the front gate, but as soon as he reached the end of our fence, he scampered back to the house. Settled in bed, trying to sleep, I heard the pitiful mewing of Wrigley feeling abandoned again. I opened the front door to find his tiny, blunt-shaped face with small, amber eyes and large, rabbit ears peering at me upside down from the flat roof of the porch. Not being able to resist his funny, affectionate ways, I let him in again and in he flew - straight to his dish.

After breakfast and another visit to his litter tray, Wrigley bounded up the stairs and began to play with various toys I had found for him; a yellow, fluffy chick, a ribbon, a screwed up piece of tissue paper and corks, which were his favourites. He would retrieve them doggy-fashion for me to throw again. He would bat them under chairs and under the dining-room table and play at catching then the other side.

I proceeded to get ready for the wedding with the help of a boisterous, exuberant Wrigley. I popped next door to ask my neighbours if they knew of anyone, who had lost a cat. The kitten, tail straight and stiff as a mast, followed my feet, introducing himself, fluffing out his tail when the golden Labrador called Toby barked from their house. Following me like a private detective back to our house, I made sure Wrigley had water, food, a cleantray and plenty of shady spots in the house, as it was already hot at ten. He settled down in the igloo, which had belonged to my cat, Miffy. She had died in March at the age of thirteen and four months. I was heartbroken and we had just decided to have another cat (or two), when Wrigley appeared. We thought he had been dumped, because we lived on the edge of a park with few houses around. We could not have wished for a more loving, enchanting cat. He seemed to weave a spell and his amber eyes knew many things. He loved us as much as we loved him, so we decided to keep him, as long as no one claimed him. The two kittens destined to come to us went to other homes.

Wrigley settled down from the moment he appeared, adopting us as much as we adopted him. We informed the local Cat Rescue and Welfare organisation, for we knew he had been well looked after, was extremely affectionate and loved human company. He was an unusual-looking cat with a definite Oriental streak in him.

The weather was very hot when Wrigley arrived. All the doors and windows were kept open in the following days, but he never wandered far from us, or out of the garden. He loved to play, be cuddled or lie sprawled out between Ian and I on the sofa. He adored the garden and the pear tree, which was eighty years old and about twenty feet tall. He climbed up halfway at first, but the second time reached the top. The sumac tree was another favourite with thick, gently curving branches, ideal for resting on. Any near fall would be counteracted by both front paws grasping the branch, then swinging like a monkey, until his body scrabbled back to an upright position. The lawn was for chasing leaves, twigs, bees, flies and butterflies and his corks, which were caught with dramatic head-over-paws dexterity and other gymnastic displays. He would race into the lounge through the open patio doors, flying off chairs and anyone, who was sitting in them at the time, onto the front windowsill, sometimes bumping his nose on the glass in his joy and energy.

Food was a great obsession for a few days, as he was obviously hungry and thin when he found us. As we got to know Wrigley, the more we loved him.

Wrigley's character was unique. We really hoped we could keep him. A visit to the vets was arranged for a check-up and inoculations; also to arrange for neutering in the future. The vet seemed as enchanted as I was with Wrigley, who was interested in everything round him. He thought he was five to six months old and that he had a streak of Burmese in him somewhere.

On returning home, Wrigley marched straight to his food bowl, then proceeded to rush in and out of the garden into the lounge before settling down on the sofa between us. The telephone rang.

"Hello, you don't know me, but I know Diane Millward, who does a lot of work for the Cat Rescue and Welfare. She noted you had found a stray tabby. We lost one about three months old." I was stunned.

"I've just taken the one we found to the vets. He thinks he's about six months old." I prayed he would not want to come and see Wrigley. "We weren't sure how old he was when we got him. He has a small, blunt face, large ears and a long body." I was silent. I knew Wrigley was their cat. I felt my stomach lurch. "We've put up posters, but no luck. Do you think we could come and look at the cat you've found - it's worth a try? Is it OK to come now?"

"Yes, of course. Mind you, we'd be heartbroken if it was your cat. We adore him. We thought he'd just been dumped."

"Think how we felt when we'd lost him."

"Yes, I'm sure. Bye."

I knew it was their cat. I went into the lounge to watch Wrigley. Ian was asleep on the sofa. I woke him up and told him about the call. We sat watching Wrigley playing. Then he flopped down next to us on the sofa and wanted his tummy rubbed. The knock at the door sent that icy sensation through me again. Wrigley followed me to the porch. A youngish man with a turquoise T-shirt and small, bright blue eyes was standing there.

"That's him!" he exclaimed, as soon as he saw Wrigley, who did something he never usually did: he disappeared. The young man showed me the poster with a photocopied picture of their cat they named Dylan. It was Wrigley. "Nikki will be so pleased," he said. "He's travelled quite a long way from Bakersfield. We offered a reward of 10 to anyone, who found him. Please take it for looking after him."

"I can't," I said, as he insisted again. "I love animals." Tears began to fill my eyes. I meant I loved Wrigley. I went to look for him in the front garden, but there was no sign of him. Ian came through the hall to the porch cradling Wrigley. He handed him over. Wrigley scrabbled and wriggled to get free. I know he wanted to stay with us. He loved us; also the garden and the house were like paradise to him. He never wandered out of our sight. I stroked Wrigley's head and said goodbye.

I watched as the young man held Wrigley and tried to open his car door. Then he reversed his red car down the road and was gone. I went into the conservatory and burst into tears.

The days that followed were all dark. It was like another bereavement after losing Miffy, but I knew Wrigley was alive and we could not keep someone else's cat. It was the only time in my life I have wanted something that belonged to another person. I cried all night and the tears did not subside the next day. I dreamt of Wrigley, I kept going over how we could have kept him. I told myself he might come back as mysteriously as he had appeared. The book, 'The Incredible Journey' kept coming into my mind.

One dream was of my art room, where Wrigley used to 'help' me, while I was writing, typing or painting. The room was now sparse and bare. There was a large, black hole to the right through which Wrigley had vanished. I felt it was my 'heart' room and Wrigley had, indeed, left a huge, black hole in my life and Ian's, which depression threatened to fill.

Today is Monday 13th July. I still feel awful. I cannot get to sleep until late and wake up early with that lurching, sick feeling of knowing Wrigley is not there. He used to wake me at about five o'clock by bouncing onto the bed and then my shoulder; purring, nuzzling my hair and licking my face. We keep listening for his mewing at night and remembering his funny, mischievous ways by day. Although he was only with us for ten days, it seemed like ten months. We will never forget him and like Miffy, he was one of the family. The dent he made in our lives was deep.

A pot of bronze chrysanthemums sits on the lounge windowsill where Wrigley loved to sit. The card says, "Thanks for caring for our cat. Much appreciation. Nikki and Ashley." There is a photograph in a frame next to it to remind us of the cat we loved, who could not stay with us. Two sentences keep running through my head:

"As deep as the joy he gave to me,
As deep my sorrow is."

Copyright: Vivien Steels (1995)

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