I’ve dreamt about him every night for the last week since he’s gone, vivid dreams that melt away as I wake but amongst the jumbled stories that fill my sleep I’m conscious that his furry presence was by my side, my abiding sidekick, just as he has been for the last fourteen years.
I hadn’t really wanted him, giving vague mutterings to Vic of “Well, not really, well, OK, I’ll think about it” but suddenly there was a lanky-legged twelve week feral kitten born on the local rubbish tip delivered to my house and Vic was gone. We regarded each other from across the room through the bars of his small cage – I hadn’t even got up from the sofa as he’d arrived – he was all eyes, pointy ears and legs and looked like a rangy, tabby-furred fox. Having been caught at about seven weeks old, he was the largest of the litter of five by far and certainly the bravest, being the first to come forward as we’d smeared cat food on our hands and held them up to the bars of the big cage Vic kept them in as he slowly accustomed them to people and various domestic noise. He licked the food from our fingers, his bravery encouraging his siblings to come forward and over the next month started to look rather eager to start a life outside the metal bars. I got up from the sofa and opened the small cage.
Eddie ate like a horse and grew like a four-stemmed weed, supplementing his diet with an alarming number of kills which he’d bring home as soon as snared and, to give him his due, all were eaten with gusto if I didn’t manage to wrestle them away if still alive. All that would be left were perhaps a leg, a few tail feathers and, in the case of furry critters, a small whirly bit and tail. My neighbour, an ex-paratrooper, once admitted he’d had to abandon his shoe-polishing session by his back door as he found the sight of Ed cracking the skull of a bird between his teeth rather distressing. He’d creep in to my other neighbour’s house and steal the cat toys she bought for her over-indulged cat and regularly came cantering up the garden path with all manner of swag; a magpie which flew round the kitchen before escaping through the window, the lower half of a turkey leg including its foot, burger buns, a garlic baguette and once, an oven-warm lamb chop complete with traces of mint sauce. He developed a penchance for spongy pot scourers which I’d find shredded all over the house and was frightened of plastic carrier bags after getting his head stuck in the handle hole in a quest to lick the remnants of an Indian takeaway from the tinfoil dishes. Fights with other cats, if they happened, seemed to be over quickly – he appeared not to follow the rules of endless crooning and slow circling for an age but would dive straight in. My ex and I once looked on in horror as he leapt on a cat who just happened to be passing and expertly flipped it over on its back. Wary of strangers, once stroked, he’d be a mate for life, happily approaching people he hadn’t seen from one year to the next but avoiding anyone he’d never met before. I still get the occasional email from someone who met him twelve years ago, purely to ask “How’s big Ed?” Neighbours knew him well, he was always “Eddie from the tip” given that everyone knew the local tip and if you knew the tip, you’d be aware of the clowder of tabby cats that lived there. He was languid and long with a shiny sleek coat that was as soft as rabbit fur and smelled of fresh air. He weighed 16lbs.
When I left the ‘Set to live with Joe Brown in 2007, Eddie seemed to put himself into retirement, avoiding fights and rarely hunting, which was a surprise. He became lap cat, sofa cat, lolling in the garden cat but still with his unmistakeable loud miaow. He’d come when I called him and respond if I asked him if he was a peckish puss but not flinch if Joe Brown asked him the same thing. He became less hefty to pick up. When having a blood test and resisting mightily at having his front legs held, the vet asked “Is this a feral cat?”
“Yes” I replied and, out of habit, went on “He’s from the tip”.
It was odd to have Ed on medication, he just didn’t seem the sort of cat that would need it, being picky about food was strange and stints on drips felt just plain wrong despite the fact that they flushed his system and kept him going. I’ve stood in the vets on more than one occasion quietly weeping at the sight of my cat tucked into the corner of his caged cube, attached to a drip and with a litter tray. Litter trays were an absolute outrage to Ed, he once protested at being forced to use one when I moved house by weeing in my handbag.
In the last month or so he deteriorated rapidly, thinning alarmingly, became disinterested in food and looked pitiful during another stint at the vets which didn’t appear to be having any effect. I brought him home. My cat who’d always greeted me cheerily gave me sideways looks that seemed accusing, he who’d crunched and eaten the heads of starlings refused to eat and who’d once caught a swift wobbled and fell down a couple of stairs. It was, in fact, the sight of him obviously having tried to get to the litter tray and run out of steam, lying in his own wee and looking humiliated, which caused me to pick up the phone and ask the vet to come.
I’m not sure if there’s cats at the tip any more, certainly not the true tip cats anyway with their unmistakeable tabby rabbit-fur coats. The Cats Protection League caught them, had them neutered and either found them new homes on farms or returned them to the tip to slowly die out over time. Eddie was one of the last litter. He’s buried in the garden which apparently is against the law here and therefore seems fitting for a cat that was born on the edge, as it were. He’s within earshot of the church bells and pretty much in the shadow of the chateau up the road. Clearly he came an awful lot further than could have been the case if I hadn’t opened his cage nearly fifteen years ago. I’m so, so glad I did.