She first came into our lives about three summers ago.  We were sitting on our kitchen steps talking and sharing an informal meal as the sun sank below the trees at the edge of our garden, when we gradually became aware of another presence.  A rustle in the rosemary bush, a shadow in the evening sun and, suddenly, some golden stripes catching the last of the light.

Bodie (as we later learnt her name to be) was elegance itself.  A petite and exquisite figure shyly approaching two strangers who hardly dared breathe for fear of startling her and seeing her leave as suddenly as she had arrived.  Looking back, I suspect the fact that one of us was eating a freshly poached salmon fillet might well have meant that little short of a marching band would have provoked her retreat, but I've learnt a great deal about cats since then.

We were (and are) a childless and animal-free couple who both work and have little enough time for each other.  Despite living in a rural area the thought of owning a cat had never crossed our minds.  Now it never will, of course - one of the first things you learn is that nobody "owns" a cat, but rather they "own" (or, perhaps, "adopt") you.  It's amazing how your way of thinking of the world can be changed by these wonderful creatures.

During those first few weeks of warm, late summer evenings a ritual became established.  We would get home from work, change, prepare some food and then sit on our back steps.  Soon our new friend would arrive and greet us, first with purrs and a delicate brushing of her sun-warmed sides against our calves and later with licks and the evident desire simply to sit with us and enjoy the end of the day.  As autumn settled in and dusk fell with a cooler edge we retreated indoors and our friend followed us.  It didn't take long before the truth became apparent - that our house was, in fact, her house.

She was, however, very content to share it with live-in housekeepers. Admittedly our salary for fulfilling that role wasn't huge, but the fringe benefits were magnificent.  Furry, purry company is the best stress-buster that I've yet found, and I've tried most things.

Due to her small stature (and also to our ignorance of things feline) we started out thinking of her as not much more than a kitten.  The truth was somewhat different.  Her principle residence was the riding stables on the other side of our lane and the wonderfully kind people who ran that establishment were her first adopted family.  They were clearly the right kind of humans since, as well as sharing their property with a number of horses, dogs and tortoises, other cats had also settled there.  Those cats were larger, more boisterous and (it transpired) significantly younger than our pint-sized princess.  Bodie was, in fact, well into her teens and seemed to be looking for a quieter and more restrained atmosphere where she could enjoy some comfortable and low-key adoration should she so choose.  We were more than delighted to provide both the required level of attention and the country retreat, and our marvellously generous neighbours were equally happy to share the benefits of her company.

This summer, though, she had been slowing down a great deal.  Always keen to see us, always ready to share warmth and affection, her personality persisted, but her body was failing her.  A small cat in any event, she nevertheless lost an alarming amount of weight and would spend more and more of her time sleeping.  Cancer was eventually diagnosed, but she seemed to be in no pain and was still both enjoying life (in both her residences) and quality time outside with us on our back steps, where we had first met her.

Then, suddenly, during one night a few weeks ago when she was staying with her other family, she suffered a massive stroke.  The vet was summoned but, tragically, she slipped away.

Even though a few weeks have passed, even though she wasn't even really 'our' cat, I still can't write these words and think these thoughts without the tears coming.  And when people whose lives haven't had the feline touch utter the words "it was only a cat" in a manner intended to be comforting, they are genuinely surprised when their sympathy is treated as if it were a coded request for an act of violence to be perpetrated upon them.

I can't be more thankful that Bodie chose to spend so much time with us. She gave so much and asked so little.  The void that opens up when a cat-shaped hole appears in your life is a terrible thing.  Even though the pain of losing her was so severe, and the thought of going through it again one day is daunting, remaining deprived of a feline presence is simply not an option.  Come the autumn we will start to search for a couple of cats to share our home with - not as replacements (for they could never be that) but as new friends.  But not just yet.  It is too soon. For the moment, we will sit on our kitchen steps in the summer evenings and, as the weeks go on, we will hopefully be able to share and enjoy happy memories of our departed friend.

Marc Guillaume (Jersey)


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