My darling, beautiful cat king – king of the beasts and of my heart – took his last breath this afternoon, with no warning other than his gathered heap of gorgeous years. I got home yesterday evening from a few days away and he greeted me with a lazy squawk from his bed by the radiator, then relaxed in my arms as I grabbed him, plucking him from the floor as I do hundreds of times per day, him lolling and heavy breathing (the lazy way to purr), waiting for gravity to take its toll and for his stunning lump of a body to be too much; content with the up-down ride of daily love – my ears only popped this morning after yesterday’s flight; I wonder if his ever did, being so repeatedly picked up and put down.
Some say it’s silly to feel so heartbroken over the loss of a pet, but I will never say it is. Some say love for animals is not as real as love for people, but they don’t know how many memories and thoughts and moments he had buried deep into his fur, since my teenage years; how much he has been a store for everything.
His was an active lifestyle (in between near-constant naps); he moved from rug to rug, from radiator to radiator, from the hamper basket we kept especially for him to tidy himself away into in the evenings to the ukulele box he didn’t quite (with respect) fit into. He tolerated newcomers as they were hauled in one after the other from the rescue centre (his own pre-here environment); he nodded at the new-arivals with a casual shrug, happy as long as they were female. One by one, these new members of his harem flaunted themselves at him, with faux-casual rolls of submission at his feet. He would usually look away, bored, then leave the area in search of a new place to nap in peace. Just occasionally he would get a bit fluffed up and skittish, even at the grand old age he reached, and chase one or two of them about, asserting his authority, reminding them who was boss and showing off his sizeable agility by jumping on and off the furniture. Sometimes he would half-heartedly sniff the bottoms of the females as they passed him, but only, it seemed, because he thought he might as well.
His bodily bulk would settle into place with the many stages of a camel sitting down; marvellous hip bones gleaming behind him and his head nodding off before the final sprawl; the full reveal was always worth it; his undercarriage was a golden blonde and the fur there was curly and miles deep, a complement to his wild, Elizabethan ruff and knotty culottes (heaven for a cat comb addict), which were inadvertently effective at killing wildlife and small insects merely by the act of sitting on them in the garden and contemplating life and existence; he killed many slugs this way, but was always a staunch believer in the circle of life.
He was well groomed, always, and a complete gentleman; I combed him obsessively, determinedly and heartily, like my grandma did before me. He was insatiable when it came to throat and ear caresses, and my love for giving him them was equal. I must have spent hundreds of hours gazing into his handsome face, sometimes lightly pulling his whiskers, some of which changed colour, from black to white or vice versa from root to tip, and admiring his strong, velvet nose, which finished in a delicate triangle of terracotta. Fluff sprouted majestically from in between his oversized paw pads (which held his always-available claws, which he couldn’t be bothered to retract in his later years, and lest we feminise him too much and forget he was a beast); and from his ears, behind which the fur was slightly golden. For someone so glorious, his face depicted a near-permanent state of disappointment and outrage; at any moment, he looked as though he had just heard something preposterous, even when he was in raptures during the personal attention of a full-body massage, say, or offered sardines from a can (disgusting, but his favourite), or meat from a bone.
I’m not even remotely ashamed of my love for him. Some might say this kind of love suggests a substitution for something (a boyfriend? A child?) – well, maybe, but so what? And he was always his own, rude, enormous, hungry self. Whenever I was away from home I would miss him viscerally, wishing I could rub my face into the soft, deep pile of his back and tickle his enormous lion-esque paws. He never wriggled to get away; I think he understood that his role in life was to be a vessel for affection. He accepted this with great bravery and sloth-dom.
We talked often of my preference for him to live forever. Still, last year, or thereabouts, he was attacked (we think) by something in the garden (a fox?) and wouldn’t stop shaking after coming in one evening traumatised by some outdoor experience he couldn’t communicate to us. He slept curled up on my bed, his heartbeat slow and his body trembling, and we didn’t think he would last the night; I spent much of it stroking his head, whispering sweet nothings, telling him how loved he was, even describing for him a much-loved cat (Peggy) who once lived with us (until the age of nineteen; she was truly wise) and who he might be lucky enough to meet, if he insisted it was his time to go. He curled into me, then, eating up the peace and permission, and decided to stay. But I think I knew something was lost, and that his immortality was destabilised.
This morning, he purred as usual even as I syringed a thyroid tablet down his throat; his years-long enthusiasm for his own daily medication a mark of his unique character; he didn’t mind anything – also, the act of turning him upside down like a baby and smoothing his throat after the gulp was enjoyed, and immediately followed, he knew, by several breakfasts. At his most recent MOT (only a couple of weeks ago) he was admired by the vet, as always, and congratulated for having a good weight, a feat he managed by squawking several times per hour for attention, his voice box a sort of bell; and despite the fact that his other fate in life (other than existing as a sort of Platonic Form of fluffiness, for adoration and simple fact of sensual existence) was to always be on precisely the wrong side of any door at any given time. As we buried him in the garden, my Dad couldn’t help wondering aloud how many times the three of us had opened and closed doors for him in his lifetime.
He is buried now (with his flower-power collar, a silly, un-stylish, plasticised necklace we couldn’t bear to take off after inheriting him from my grandma, who I think would have been pleased by the extreme heights to which our love for him reached in her absence) under the lilac tree in the garden, and marked with a forget-me-not, which I hope will spread and take over the whole bed.
I am writing this as if I am OK with it all, and as though it really has happened, which it has; but I missed him even as he finished living here, and wanted to look at him for ages even in his final position, my fingers drinking up the feel of his fur, which has always felt different from the fur of other cats; like voluminous silk, or nylon, always with a sheen and so much depth. I am terrified and panicked over forgetting what he feels like; you don’t get that from photos. Most of all I miss the weight of him in my arms; he was a 4d cat and photos never came close (even the ones on his instagram account, which only recently described his foray into new musical finds; he was always an adventurer).
Sir Fluffalot, I love you, I love you and thank you.