14 Home alone
Ginger Jack is eight years old and has never lived alone. He was rescued from a pet shop where he shared a cage with twelve mewling, flea-ridden kittens and since then he has lived with constant feline and human company. But now there are no other cats. Jack is finally alone, with only human companions, for his big tabby mentor and protector has died and Jack is at last an orphan.
Out of all the six cats who resided in our old house when Jack first arrived, it was the largest, the strongest and the greatest hunter who befriended this feisty ginger kitten who arched his back and hissed to show that he wasn’t afraid. Old Sam took him under the wing of his long-haired striped coat and showed him how to play-fight, how to stalk the birds and how to catch a squirrel. Jack took his lessons seriously and began by dragging the squirrel tail around the garden after Sammy had demolished the entire body.
Together they ambushed the smaller female cats for fun and curled around each other in sleep, Sammy vigorously washing grubby ginger ears and fur. Together they weathered the disruption of removals, the dismantling of the only home they had ever known, where Sam was born. Together they travelled with little complaint to Cornwall for the summer and together they journeyed back again to a new home, where they seemed to both greet the green gardens and fields with a mew of relief and caught mice within a day of arriving. Together they explored the shrubbery, slept on their familiar old sofa and curled on our bed while we read morning papers.
But Sammy was fading. He was nineteen years old on the 3rd of September. He demonstrated his approval of our new home by catching and eating a field vole, staking his claim on a dry sunny patch of grass under the apple tree laced with mistletoe and peeing in the soft ash of the open fireplace. But after three weeks he was tired. One morning he went for a walk in the garden despite the wind and rain. We found him in his sunbathing spot, hunched and cold, protesting at the weather, so we carried him indoors to the sofa near the Aga. It’s too cold outside today, we said and he agreed. From then on he quickly became weaker and the following day he was barely able to stand, so we kept him warm and stayed by his side all day, with Jack looking on and wondering. The sun came out that day so he had one last sunbathe under his tree, wrapped in a blanket, soaking up the rays of the sun. That night we lay him to sleep in a bed on the floor near the Aga’s warmth and that’s where he stayed and that’s where we found him in the morning.
Now Sammy lies in the garden, within sight of the kitchen and his favourite sunny place. His grave is marked with a serene stone lion whose features resemble the dignified, gentle giant we had known so long. And Jack is now alone and needs our company more than before. He seeks us out for strokes and games, even though there are plenty of mice to play with. We’ve asked him if he’d like some company, a budgie or a hamster perhaps. But he says he’d like a kitten. And so would we.