Not related to The Critter Room, this one was written during the last weeks of my mother’s life

Edward and the spider

Edward is my mother’s cat. Now aged 14, he’s never been the most sociable or cuddlesome of cats. He was one of two brothers adopted by my parents, and their history with my family goes back to my mother’s 70th birthday celebration, which took place on a beautiful Thames sailing barge called, curiously, “Hydrogen”, moored on the River Blackwater. The June day was attended by many family members and friends. Dress code for the boat was casual, with flat, sensible shoes.

Well, there’s always one, isn’t there? And, on this occasion, the one was my mother’s friend Sue, who arrived looking like the Queen Mother on an official visit to Ascot, a vision in mint green suit, strappy high heels and an enormous, formal hat. She swept aboard, made herself as look as regal as she could while sat on a storage bin in front of the wheelhouse, and proceeded to put away several gin and tonics from the complimentary bar on board. As she gradually became more and more tipsy, she cornered eight-year-old Joanna and began to regale the child about her cat. Sue’s cat was a pedigree seal-point Birman called Princess Yin-Yang (I kid you not), the queen of a breeding pair whom Sue had acquired when their owner had fallen foul of the local Constabulary and been invited to spend a little time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Princess Yin-Yang was “with kitten”. Sue was thrilled by this, and you could practically see the pound signs rolling up in her eyes at the prospect of a litter of four or five highly saleable pedigree cats. She happily described to the enthralled Joanna how Princess Yin-Yang would give birth to her kittens on a red velvet cushion, and they would be fed morsels of roasted chicken on tiny forks and sleep on feather beds (she’d had quite a lot of gin and tonics by this time) and how they would have the very best of everything until it was time for them to leave home. At this point, Sue would collect handsomely and spend the resulting dosh on a sumptuous trip to Thailand.

Jump forward to September. Awaiting the birth of her Far Eastern holiday, Sue had prepared a luxurious nest for Princess Yin-Yang, her partner had been banished upstairs (the cat’s partner, not Sue’s) and all was set. One Saturday morning, Sue came downstairs early as usual to see if “it” had happened yet, and the cat was nowhere to be seen. However, she could be heard – purring. In the broom cupboard. Sue opened the door and there, among the brushes, dustpans and bottles of cleaning fluid, lay a blissfully happy Princess Yin-Yang, nursing two brown tabby kittens – the apparent result of a single night of unbridled debauchery in the garden.

Princess Yin-Yang was immediately retired from stud duties in disgrace (and subsequently became a much-loved pet) and Sue lowered her sights a little and enjoyed a week in Italy the following spring. And, the two brown tabby kittens were named Edward and William and went to live with my parents.

The brothers couldn’t have been more different. Edward was a large, marbled tabby with a fantastically soft coat, a permanent, slight scowl and a tendency to be stand-offish. William was a smaller, salt-n-pepper tabby with a cute, kittenish face and a happy-go-lucky disposition. William was most taken with my step-dad, which thrilled him to bits because, as a large man with a tendency to crash about the place, most cats treated him with suspicion, even though he adored them unreservedly. During my stepfather’s final illness, when the end was in sight for him, my mother asked him if there was anyone he would really like to see, expecting him to ask for his son or his sister. He said “just Wills”. So William was brought and he slept on the chair next to my stepdad’s bed until the end. William himself died three years later from congestive heart failure.

So, Edward was my mother’s cat. Aloof and independent, he lived life on his own terms. No purring or ankle rubbing for him, nor chasing after birds in the garden nor catnip mice in the house. No hours spent snuggling on a friendly lap, or curling up on the end of the bed or presenting his belly for rubs. That stuff was for saps.  No, Edward sat apart. My mother and he shared a mutual respect, but rarely any physical affection.

But now, my mother is herself reaching the end of her life. She is no longer the strong, capable woman that she was. She is no longer able to provide Edward with the precisely seven-and-a-half minutes per day of scritches and cuddles that he would permit, nor is she the one filling his bowl with food, then refilling it with snacks, as she used to. Edward’s home is filled with unfamiliar smells and sounds and beseiged by strangers who arrive, don’t introduce themselves, then go. Things are not in the same place any more, there is no more routine and no more certainty. There is, however, a new worst enemy – the wheeled commode which rattles and bumps over the tiled floor, apparently completely out of control, and which sends him scuttling under the sideboard for cover.

I guess it was while under the sideboard that he flushed out the spider. I was alerted to its presence by the sound of my mother’s floor-standing planter being sent flying, followed by the skittering of claws on tile. Round the corner and into the living room came a fleeing house spider pursued at break-neck speed by a swivel-eyed, flat-eared lunatic, with a lashing tail, extended claws and an expression on his face of pure, unadulterated joy. I wish I could say it ended well for the spider. Ed pounced, he retreated, he lined up on target and pounced again. He arched his back and danced around on tippy toes. He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, before finally mashing the hapless creature into the carpet. He was on an adrenaline high for some while after, rushing aimlessly up and down the passageway and diving under the furniture. That was earlier this evening. When I finally came up to bed, Edward was snuggled on my mother’s bed, leaning up against her leg, purring.

He and my mother do not have much longer together. Do you think he knows?

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