There’s a story my grandmother likes to tell about our family, about a dying cat and a little girl and a goddess. And it’s a good story. When I was small I made her tell it to me so many times I could recite it myself from memory by the time I was five. But it was just a story. The only one who believed it was her. A few years ago I lost my temper with her, told her point blank it was all nonsense, a lie, an excuse. She just shook her head and said I’d understand someday. Now I am twenty two and someday has arrived. The evidence is huddled on my doormat, sopping wet and mewling.
We don’t find the cats. They find us. They know who we are.
I really thought it wouldn’t affect me. I’ve never displayed any signs of the family obsession, like cooing over pet-shop windows and wearing cat-themed nightwear. Even Nanna, when confronted, admitted it sometimes skips a generation, this ‘blessing’ in our blood. We don’t all have houses overflowing with furry emperors on four legs. One uncle on my father’s side actually took to breeding dogs, but we don’t talk about him.
I’m an atheist, for pity’s sake. I don’t believe in goddesses, least of all the miracle-performing, one-night-only, leave-town-in-a-puff-of-light sort. Coincidences do happen, don’t they? Just because my dad has four cats and my aunts have two each and my grandmother has seven, all of whom arrived out of the blue outside the right house or workplace or, on one memorable occasion, a neighbour’s stormwater drain – like there were neon signs invisible to non-felines leading them to cross our paths, as cats of fortune are reputed to do – what of it? It’s a small world. This must happen to other people.
Please tell me it happens to other people.
There are three kittens. They are tiny scraps of fur with absurd little tails, staggering about blindly, not a full month old and helpless as it is possible to be. I don’t know where they’ve come from or what happened to the mama cat who should still be here, protecting them from big dangerous humans like me. But she isn’t here. And I am.
I don’t want pets. I definitely don’t want kittens this age, dependent and expensive and undesexed, no doubt riddled with fleas and worms. I stand here on the doorstep, clutching my dressing gown closed, and peer out into the night. It’s raining. Outside the overhang of my front door is the dark wet world, slashed briefly by the lights of a speeding car and the heart-jolting shriek of tyres on a slick wet road. The kittens begin to cry again. All of a sudden I know that if anyone tried to hurt them I’d go for the ankles and drown the bastard in mud. It isn’t the fault of these kittens that a pair of idiots didn’t desex their cats. It isn’t my fault either, but this is the real world and it is not fair.
I scoop the kittens into my dressing gown pockets and bring them inside.
I settle them on an old jumper in the laundry sink, for now, and dry them off carefully with the lowest setting of my hairdryer. Later, after a mad dash to the only vet open between here and the coast, I feed them warmed formula milk through a medicine dropper. Only then do I call my grandmother.
“You see,” she says, a bit smug. “I told you so.”
“Why us?” I ask despairingly, leaning over the sink. “What did we do?”
“The right thing,” she says simply. “The cats know.”
Blessing of the cat goddess or six generations of coincidental guardianship over the world’s felines? I look at the kittens, who came from the cold and rain to find me.
“Nonsense,” I mutter, and stroke a tiny downy ear.
© Faith Mudge 2012