It is said that no-one owns a cat. It is the cat that does the owning. They quietly choose where to make their home. We humans are gullibly led into believing that our cats love us when they snuggle up, rub their cheeks against us, and purr softly. They really make fools of us. Not only do they not give a damn about us but they actually would walk away tomorrow if a better deal was on offer elsewhere, by a neighbour or other better food source.
So it was with Marie. Marie was a long furred black female cat. She was a beautiful specimen, with a coat that shone under any light and a beautiful Sphinx-like form, when sitting watching the world go by in the garden, before she went into a crouch at the sight of some good sporting prey. The eventual waggle of her rear end and then the pounce would usually signify the demise of some creature or another, usually a mouse or bird. Although in the past Marie has been found trying to drag a full grown rabbit through the cat flap. She did so with a considerable amount of success, until I caught her at it, scolding her severely, and burying the dead rabbit in our back garden.
Marie came to us one Sunday morning in May. She was clearly badly undernourished and looked like a skeleton. As we lived in a built-up area I was not keen on feeding her, in case she belonged to one of the neighbours. I knew very well how interfering neighbours, feeding other people’s cats could cause confusion for the cat and irritation for their owners. However, after giving the matter a few seconds thought I decided to go ahead and give her some food. Her state demonstrated that if there was an owner, they didn’t really deserve that kind of respect. The cat was in a bad way.
So, after a few days, she was at our door every morning. We fed her well, and within weeks she had blossomed into her original beautiful condition. During this time my wife had been talking to a neighbour and mentioned our new addition to the family. She was told that another neighbour further down the street had mentioned that her black cat had disappeared. We knew the person faintly but had no idea that she had a cat. That evening we went to call on her to explain the situation and offered, if Marie was theirs, to bring her home. We did explain though, that it could be a problem as she would probably keep coming back to us due to the short distance. Mrs Milovac was very understanding and agreed that we were right to feed the cat. She had not seen her for many weeks, long before we began feeding her, and was simply happy to hear that Marie was alive and well. Constantine, her nine year-old daughter, was also very mature about the whole thing, and agreed that we should keep her. She did ask if she could visit occasionally to see Marie, which of course we accepted.
At that time Mr. Milovac was away on business and was not party to the agreement. He returned a week later, only to hit the roof when he realised that a neighbour had taken over his cat. He was one of these aggressive win-at-all-costs type of machos and clearly couldn’t reconcile the fact that someone else may have taken something of his. Within minutes of arriving back from his trip he was pounding at our front door.
“What the hell,” I spluttered, as I opened the door and saw only a clenched fist as he intended to continue pounding the door.
“Where is our cat? What do you think you are doing stealing our cat? You thieving bastard.” He looked rather silly in his black business suit and slippers. In his temper he had rushed out of the house without changing out of some fluffy slippers. I tried in vain to hide the smile.
“And what’s so bloody funny?” , he went on.
“Er, sorry,” I said. “Did your wife not tell you that we discussed the situation of your cat and she and Constantine both agreed that she would be better off here as she has become used to us?”
“It’s no use trying your smarmy arguments on me. I deal in negotiations worth millions every day you know. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes like you did them. Give me back my cat.”
My smile was becoming a fixed feature of my unshaven countenance, but I tried hard not to show it. I went indoors, picked Marie up from my computer stool, where she loves to sleep, and went back to the front door. “Here she is. Please take her.” I offered with as friendly a manner as I could muster.
He snatched Marie out of my hands and stormed off down the street.
I went indoors and quite calmly explained to my wife what had happened, even down to the detail of the fluffy slippers.
“But it is only 300 yards down the road. She will be back here in minutes I should expect”
“I know,” I smugly replied.
As expected Marie was at our door exactly 23 minutes after she was carried away. Within the hour Ivan Milovac was there too. He didn’t speak, neither did I; I just handed him the cat and he walked off in a huff.
Three times he called that evening, each time saying nothing. I did the same. At least he didn’t come up in those ridiculous slippers. The last time he came that evening I just hadn’t got the heart to let him know that his flies were undone, another dignity-reducing sight. We assume that he kept the cat locked in that night, as we didn’t see her until the following morning.
This went on for some weeks. He would come to our door. I would hand over the cat. He would storm off. I had genuine concern that he may give himself a heart attack if he carried on like this, but he never showed any sign of giving up. Losing was not in his blood.
One day we were in the supermarket buying our weeks groceries, including cat food, when Mrs. Milovac came along the aisle pushing her trolley in the opposite direction to which we were going.
We each smiled a greeting but apart from a “Good morning”, no-one spoke. As we went along the next aisle she came again. We met by the mushy peas.
“Please, call me Roger.”
“Roger, I really don’t know what to say. You see…”
“It is fine Mrs….”
“It is fine Rose. We do understand that you are stuck in the middle in this. We have no issue with you.”
“It is just that he cannot be seen to lose. Every mealtime is spent with him talking about how he will make the cat come back to us. He doesn’t seem to realise that HE is part of the problem. He locks her in, smacks her when she climbs on the furniture, shouts when she meows to go out. Of course the cat is not happy at home. Neither am I come to think of it. Oh! Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Please excuse me.”
Off she went with her trolley. Mavis and I just looked at each other knowingly and said nothing. We both felt very sorry for poor Rose Milovac.
It was worse after a business trip of course. Milovac would go off for three or four days, during which time life would become quite normal for us and Marie. Then he would return and the whole farce would get going again.
Knock, knock, knock. Open door. Hand over cat. Close door. Wait for cat to return. Knock knock knock…….and so on until one day I couldn’t be nice any more.
“Do you have any idea how ridiculous this is making you appear Mr Milovac?” I blurted out one day. “Every evening when you come home from work you come here for your cat, a cat that clearly hates you and hates living with you. Why don’t you let it go and get yourself another cat if it means so much? I would even be very happy to pay for it for you.”
He looked at me with trembling lips. At first I thought that he was going to cry, but then realised it was pure anger. He looked me in the eye and said, “You will never win.”
During the first week of December we had a freak snowfall. One Saturday night we went to bed with clear skies and relatively mild temperatures. It was a beautiful evening with many houses already decorated with Christmas lights of various colours and brightness. It was one of those evenings where one is very happy to be alive.
During the night the wind got up and temperatures plummeted. The snow came down in sheets all night. As it was a Sunday we lay in quite late, snuggled up together. Around 9 o’clock I came down, expecting to see Marie in the kitchen waiting for her food. We had built a cat flap a few weeks earlier, despite the issue of Mr. Milovac and his persistent behaviour. I noticed immediately that it had snowed heavily overnight. The snow had drifted with swirling winds so that all sides of the house had drifts up to the window sills. Opening the door was impossible at the back of the house.
I promptly thought of Marie, being outside in the snow, and hoped for the first time that she had been locked in down the road at the Milovac’s. I proceeded to make a cup of tea to take back to bed when the familiar knock knock knock came at the front door.
I carefully opened the door, trying not to let too much snow fall into the house, only to see a duffle-coated, snow-covered, horrible little man standing there demanding that I hand over his cat. My instant thought was for Marie. If she wasn’t with him, where was she?
“She isn’t here,” I said. “I thought that she was with you.”
“What have you done with her? I want her now before I call the police.”
“Now calm down and don’t be so impatient. First we must find out where she is. It must be minus 10 degrees out there. I hope she is safe. You better come in.”
Mr. Milovac stepped inside, removed his long wellingtons and we went through to the kitchen. I opened the kitchen window and gave a whistle that I hoped she might recognise. I was still in my pyjamas, bare footed. It appears that Marie had been crouching under the next-door-neighbours shed as shelter from the snow. Her cat flap was out of use, nearly two feet below the snow line.
At my whistle she managed to scramble onto the wooden fence between me and my neighbour and gingerly walked along the top, knocking off little clouds of snow as she progressed. At the end of the fence, where it joined the house, there were approximately three feet between her and the open window. She sprang towards the window but her feet slipped on the icy fence and she didn’t make the distance, sliding off the kitchen window sill into the deep snowdrift.
I stuck my head out of the window and could see nothing, not even a hole where she had disappeared into. The snow had covered her leaving no trace.
I turned to Milovac as he was dressed in thick winter clothes and told him to get out the window quickly. He refused, mumbling something about not having his wellies on. Our eyes met as I gave him the most contemptuous scowl. “Fuck you,” was all I could muster.
I leapt out of the window into the snowdrift. The ice instantly chilled my whole body but I only had thoughts for poor Marie, so cold and terrified down under the snow. I scrambled around like a madman trying to find her, when my hand touched something. I grabbed it in both hands and sure, enough, surfaced with Marie. She was bewildered and frightened. The cold was quickly getting to me. Luckily Mavis had come down due to the commotion and helped me crawl back in through the kitchen window.
We sat on the carpet, frozen, totally wet, but happy. Marie leapt into her basket and began licking herself warm again. I began laughing, feeling rather silly in my soggy pyjamas, until my eyes fixed on the third person in the room, Ivan Milovac.
“Get out,” was all I said.
He turned in shame, slowly put his boots on at the door and left. Mavis quietly closed the door behind him.
“Roger, I suspect we may have seen the last of him,” she said with a loving smile.
That Christmas was rather special. John and Maria, our two children came home from university for the holidays. We celebrated our Christmas together as a family just as we do every year, except this year we had one small addition to enjoy it with.