On 7 November, our cat Petra passed away after unexpected kidney failure. She was affectionate to the end, and although we couldn’t save her, she didn’t suffer.
She was twelve years old and had been with us since she was a two month old kitten with big ears and confidence to match. She came home the week Tim began work as a freelancer and immediately became his valued business associate and friend.
In my life, Petra was an unjudgmental listener, a sympathetic cuddler, a circuit-breaker to remind me to live in the moment, a creature whose world overlapped with mine but had its own rhyme and reason, and a source of uncomplicated joy.
Living as a completely indoor cat, Petra was very intensely involved in our day to day lives at home. She was affectionate, playful, demanding and hilarious. She was naughty in the way cats can be – because your little rules about where they can walk and put their claws and shed their fur while they sleep are meaningless to them. You can’t berate a cat for not following an arbitrary rule it doesn’t understand, so mostly we just laughed.
The morning routine often began with her stalking up the bed, staring intently at my face, purring all the while, and coming to bump her head against me. She’d be patient while the idiot ape-creatures she flat-shared with stood in the Box Of Falling Water, but soon after she would let it be known it was Time For Scritchies. These always took place on the red carpet in front of the TV. She’d lower her shoulders, stick her backside up in the air and then purr and wriggle with ecstasy while I scritched my nails up and down her spine. This was not Tim’s job – his designated Time for Scritchies was mid-morning, when he’d returned from coffee outside. Post-shower Scritchies was my job.
She had all kinds of routines during the day, from the rounds where she inspected the cupboards (to ensure, one supposes, there were no Cat Enemies abroad) to the 4pm Cuddle Me Now Lovefest she visited on whoever was at home. She would rush to the door when we came home, whether from breakfast out or a week travelling, mew a greeting and demand her due of pats, play and cuddles.
At the end of each day, when I sat up in bed reading aloud to Tim – usually from Wodehouse – Petra would come from wherever she was conducting Cat Business to sit on my lap and listen to the Girl Ape droning on in that pleasantish way. (The only objection she ever raised was my attempt to make a proper Empress of Blandings pig noise. She objected by fleeing in terror. I never tried that again.)
Petra loved wash day, and would curl up in the middle of the dry washing to make it nicely tortoiseshell coloured, which she clearly felt was a superior colour scheme.
She thought it was bloody Christmas if the humans opted for an afternoon nap – ALL THE FAMILY NAPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY! AWESOME! KITTY PILE!! and would purr her head off while finding the best place to settle on or between us. She had a habit of slotting herself between us anyway, lying on her back with her happily flexing paws in the air as we both rubbed her belly at the same time.
Periodically, we’d find that Petra had seized one of her many half-chewed mouse toys and dragged it proudly off to drop in her food bowl, as if to say, “Behold! I am a Mighty Hunter!”. I once saw her actually dragging a toy on the end of a string which was itself attached to a little stick, trotting across the carpet with her kill dragging between her legs, a tiny little lion of the living room savannah.
Petra loved playing chasey – red dot, bits of string, just dashing about the flat determined not to be caught by the humans who would scoop her up for a cuddle. She knew it was play, we could tell, by the chirpy little trills she made, by the way she’d feint and hide and pounce when she had the chance.
She was a fairly chatty cat. Petra had a range of vocalisations for play, for mealtimes, for when she had just come back from the cat hotel, or we had just come back from a travelling, for when she was half asleep but would greet us as we walked past. When we called the cat hotel while we travelled to see how she was doing, there was always some variation of, ‘Oh, Petra! The talky torty! Oh yes, she’s doing well.’ She always did like people more than she liked other cats and chatted to them constantly.
I used to read my stories aloud to her – it felt marginally less stupid than reading them to empty air – when I wanted to hear the flow of the text and listen for edits that needed to be made. She was a nicely nonjudgemental listener, though she did sometimes wander off in the middle of the exciting parts.
Petra was my company when Tim was travelling. She was the circuit-breaker when we got caught up in stresses of the workday and the outside world. Why should she care about those external things, for which she had no context for understanding? How could she care about things that made no sense in her world? So she may not have cared about that cranky customer or too many impending deadlines, but that didn’t mean she didn’t respond to us emotionally, on her own terms. She reminded us that the world didn’t revolve around our little slice of the universe, even if it was because she thought it revolved around hers. And why not? In her experience, it was a fair summary, and we were happy to have it so.
There are a million things she did that made us laugh, and only a few things that made us cross (but we laughed anyway) and one thing that she was. She was a friend. A little alien friend, maybe, with whom I communicated clearly enough but simply with sound and tone and gesture, but we connected despite the lack of common speech. We played together and showed love and affection to each other and made sure we weren’t lonely when our boy was away.
Our little home is very quiet now. It’s very still. There’s not a place I sit or walk or lie down that doesn’t come attached to a fond memory.
Waking up without her is hard. Coming home without her greeting me at the door is hard. Going to bed and reading without her purring on my lap as she listens is hard.
There is a Petra-shaped stillness everywhere I look. There’s a Petra-well of silence where she would talk to us.
I miss my friend.
But for all the sorrow I feel right now, I’m glad we three had each other for all those happy years. I’m glad to have given a home to a little cat who enjoyed her life so much, and who enriched my life in so many ways.
There’s a Petra-shaped gap in my home, but at the same time, there’s a Petra-shaped warmth curled up on a pile of metaphorical clean washing in my heart and memory – mewing a greeting when I think of her, and shedding tortoiseshell hair in that snug space.
Everything’s better when it’s torty-coloured.