Yesterday I was thirty. I’m hungover and have just waved my wife off to the airport. I will be on my own for a month, the longest we’ve been apart in seven years. ‘Come over,’ say friends. ‘We’ve got you something to cheer you up.’
On their sitting room floor is a cardboard box. They’re grinning stupidly as I open it.
A tiny, barely the size of my hand black and white fluff ball looks at me. It has ears and a tiny pink pig’s snout of a nose.
‘Are you pleased?’
I’m terrified. Suddenly, without warning or any sort of psychological preparation I’m responsible for a life.
The little ball licks my fingers with wet sandpaper and I’m in love. I can do this.
Oh stupid hubris.
By the time I’m home with some kitten food, a litter tray and litter, my momentary belief in a Micawberish future where something will turn up has shunted into the rear mudguard of reality. My house isn’t kitten proofed. This becomes instantly apparent as she – still unnamed – disappears under the newly installed kitchen units. If I twist I can just get my hand inside the kickboard, but this particular monochrome pimpernel is not surrendering easily.
Images of my wife retuning to the fetid stench of a rotting carcass of starved kitten fill my mind. I have three options. One, trust the kitten will emerge like a magicians assistant. Two, destroy our new kitchen in the pursuit of the elusive moglet. Or three tempt her out. We settle on three. It takes me four hours, seven splinters, a near dislocated thumb which speaks to me still on wet February mornings but with a hand slathered in a chicken poultice our little escapologist gradually gives into temptation, begins to lick my fingers and bingo I have her. She’s out!
I dispatch her to the security of the bathroom hoping she detests water and resists the urge to make a bid for freedom via the u-bend while I secure the perimeter.
Over the next few days we size each other up. She has this thing about curtains, specifically her need to climb them. But whether they are too vertiginous or her claws not strong enough she fails on her quest. Her persistent hopelessness gives me her name: Sisyphus after the Greek pushing his boulder forlornly up hill. I’m better at cat names now.
She lies behind my head on the sofa as I watch TV. I learn not to eat on a tray after I look down at my well earned bacon and egg supper to find a small blinking yellow head staring back at me. Somehow, knowing where she last licked before she face-planted my supper renders my appetite moot.
When finally my wife returns exhausted from Chicago, Sisyphus and I have a simple routine. It’s as foolproof and mutually acceptable as that I have with my wife, giving and taking with understanding…
Which lasts until she starts bringing in live toads through the newly installed cat flap. Sisy, that is.