Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

How a family pet melted my heart and then broke it

Furry friend: Lexie the cat
Furry friend: Lexie the cat

I'm not pet-mad like some people. Far from it. In my late teens, I saw enough of my Mum turning mush-brain with a series of dogs to be put off for life. Those damn mutts got more attention than me and my brother did. She had imaginary dialogue with them, fed them lavishly, talked about them incessantly.

So smug did they become over the attention that they soon began to saunter around with pitying glances at the lower forms of life in the house, ie my brother and me.

Even now on the telephone, my mother will tell me that Toby has passed on his regards. I have to remember fast that Toby is their new, yappy, indeterminate mongrel. I never return the salutations, because it's a bloody dog. So, four years ago, what made me go out and buy a cat?

I'd resisted my sons' early teenage years' pleas for furry friends, but gave in just before they were to leave home.

It was an impulse buy based on experiencing one of their friends bonding with his own moggy. I knew nothing about cats, or even where to buy them. I was certainly unkeen to have anything to do with the waste end of the business.

On the web, I came across a breed called Selkirk Rex and thought they looked pretty sweet. Before we knew it, my sons and I were coming back from a breeder with an eye-wateringly expensive tortoiseshell blue kitten, which they decided to call Lexie. She promptly disappeared under the floorboards for a day-and-a-half.

Something strange happened over the next year or so. I melted, bit by bit, like a polar icecap. Lexie was pretty affectionate and made me laugh quite a bit. Cue string music and slo-mo video. Embarrassing, huh? I was becoming everything I hated.

I once found myself talking with a woman down the road about our pets for 20 minutes in a bout of oneupcatship and had to slap myself.

All that came to an end last Friday. A neighbour brought Lexie round in a sheet. She'd been killed by a speeding car that didn't stop.

I couldn't look. It upset me more than I could imagine. The day before I'd been tickling her under the chin, in the only place she can't reach, and risking a scratching by trying to brush her tummy.

Why would she go out into the road and not stay in the back garden where she usually prowled? None of us could understand it.

But we were all, cynical people of the modern world, in shock. Next day, I dug a big hole at the top of the garden and we buried her with a rose.

She was only four years old, that stupid cat. There were years of chasing her tail, bringing in half-dead creatures and, later, lying in the sun all day, to come.

She was supposed to become a fixture of the house, a feature much like an old, much-loved sofa. That was in her job description.

We were all a bit silent on Saturday. The flap would swing open in the high winds and we'd all turn to look.

We raised a glass to her that evening and wondered how a bloody cat had changed us so much.

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