Mrs. Pepper’s Cats
A tale of two cats based upon true stories
(A cat’s tale)
Havana was not just any cat and she certainly was not what one would call common, she was definitely not a street, or for that matter what Americans call an ally cat. She was way too dignified and refined for any such lowly lifestyle. In fact she was very sophisticated for a feline, not that other cats are less sophisticated, merely Havana had breeding that set her head and shoulders above most of her compatriots.
Havana was a bit of an extrovert, with a loving and affectionate nature. She was very sociable and relished the company of her owner Mrs. Pepper and any friends or visitors who happened by Mrs. Pepper’s lovely semi-detached converted barn. She was so happy in company, adored attention and detested being left on her own for long periods.
Her temperament and intelligence were akin to that of the Siamese from whom she had, down-the-line, inherited her attributes. However that meant she was also as demanding, mischievous and inquisitive as her oriental cousins. She was a most playful cat, and would keep Mrs. Pepper and any guests endlessly entertained with even the simplest of toys, which also helped to keep her out of mischief, if even only for a short time.
Havana had a svelte and elegant body shape and a sleek and glossy coat the colour of warm dark milk chocolate. Her eyes were vivid green. She was unquestionably striking and most definitely pleasing to the eye.
Unlike most Western cats Havana was quite conversational, so much so that she simply had to have the final word in any verbal exchange. Especially so when in the company of Mrs. Pepper who loved her to death. Her pet name for Havana, whom she had lived with for eleven whole years, was ‘Stinky’.
Mrs. Pepper was employed by the local council as a social worker. She loved the job as she cared deeply about helping others but it was a stressful role and her thirty-seven and a half hour weeks often turned out to be forty or forty-five in length. Thus she enjoyed her time back at Mongoose Barn where she would eat a quick and healthy meal then get into her zebra or tiger onesie, snuggle up on the sofa in front of ‘mindless’ TV with Havana curled upside down on her lap, purring happily as her belly was massaged, and relax.
Mrs. Pepper loved animals and nature more than anything else, more so than humans, although she had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. She supported several animal charities with regular donations and intended to leave her estate to them on her demise.
Mrs. Pepper also loved her garden. She would sit with her morning coffee, Havana on her lap, watching the garden hail rain or shine. She detested pristine, sculpted gardens, preferring to watch nature take its course. She did though tend the lawn, weed the beds and keep the worst of excessive growth at bay. She liked nothing more than being in the garden in the spring and summer pottering, with Havana stalking the garden birds or lazing in the sun. She would have her mid morning tea on the patio with the sun directly in her face, imbibing the warmth on her skin and taking in the aroma of the plants and flowers drifting on the warm still air.
Havana loved living with Mrs. Pepper and although she loved company, she was largely a proud but timid creature. She was petrified of sudden movement, the wind and many other things she encountered from day to day, however she was really afraid of one thing in particular, Mrs. Peppers vacuum cleaner. Whenever Mrs. Pepper started it in the lounge Havana would leap from her chosen resting place and scuttle in low profile across the room, launching herself out of the front door cat flap in one movement. She detested rain but despite this she would remain outdoors until she was certain the vacuum cleaner was safely returned to its lair in the bedroom closet.
Havana was not a fussy eater and thus was easy to cater for, although she preferred good quality brands of cat food, with regular treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. Contrary to popular belief she, as a cat, did not enjoy cow’s milk as it upset her stomach. She was very partial to a proprietary brand of Chicken Terrine which she was given each evening as a treat. Should Mrs. Pepper be at all tardy in providing this, Havana would harass her remorselessly with loud mournful meows.
Havana was content to lay about the house and did not have any real desire for the outdoor life other than when Mrs. Pepper was in the garden or she was shooed out for fresh air and exercise. This was more pronounced in the winter or in rainy weather when she could sleep in her comfortable basket on the floor beneath the lounge radiator or, from time to time, emerge stretching, go to the kitchen to have a drink or snack from her bowls or leap onto one of the radiators, or the top of the boiler in the kitchen for additional warmth. She was definitely a house cat and could while away each day in peaceful slumber in her basket or secreted beneath a rug or any clothing left lying around the house. She had a proud heritage being descended from Elmtower Bronze Idol who was descended from Oriental stock, the Siamese.
When Mrs. Pepper had moved into her newly converted barn in rural Leicestershire she had been left a small legacy by an aunt to whom she was close. She had been widowed the year previous to taking up residence at Mongoose Barn and decided she would use her inheritance to purchase a pair of cats. She had always liked oriental cats and on looking into the matter had the option of buying a pair from the same litter who were descended from the Siamese by blood-line. Marmalade and Havana had become her deeply loved companions. Both had different personalities, Havana being the more reserved, nervous and less active of the two. Marmalade was altogether more dominant, outgoing and adventurous. Often getting herself into all sorts of scrapes.
(and the Fox)
Mongoose Barn was in the most pleasing of rural locations within half a mile of the outskirts of a Leicester suburb and half a mile from the nearest village. Thus it was within walking distance, or a short car journey, from shops and local facilities. And yet it was in a tranquil, rural setting amidst a small development of converted agricultural buildings.
The hamlet was set back from the road by a long farm driveway which gave it a unique feel of being isolated but not alone. The land around the development was largely cultivated, arable fields with a spinney and small woods. This attracted many animals such as rabbits, voles, mice, muntjac deer, badgers, barn owls and foxes.
Havana and Marmalade felt so at home here where they could roam and hunt and bask in the sun in a tranquil, peaceful environment. Now most domestic cats do not roam far and wide. They have limited territories and criss-cross these checking for intruders and scenting to keep their area marked. They travel no more than 40-250 metres with Tom cats covering more ground. Domesticated cats are still wild at heart and are generally solitary in nature other than when mating, they tend to ‘timeshare’ territory to avoid confrontation with neighbouring felines and ‘visit’ each others’ houses. However, they still squabble over territory and on occasion come into conflict with other creatures.
One such conflict occurred on an early spring evening after Mrs. Pepper had been out after work tending her garden. She has put her tools in the shed, come inside and washed her hands. She went to the fridge and took out the ingredients to cook herself a risotto and also removed the sachets of wet foot for Havana and Marmalade, which she spooned into their bowls.
The sun had set and the night was drawing in; Mrs. Pepper waltzed around her cottage closing blinds and putting on lamps ready for the evening. She has diced some onions, grated some Parmesan cheese, measured out some white wine, Arborio rice and stock, and unwrapped the mixed seafood bought from Sainsbury’s. The butter was melting and glazing in the pan as she added the onion. Suddenly all hell broke loose.
She had heard the cat flap some minutes earlier and had not reacted, assuming one of her charges had decided to venture forth. Then she heard a caterwauling that froze her to her core.
Only six weeks earlier Marmalade had had to be rushed to the emergency veterinary surgery with a deep gash to one of her hind legs. It was so deep as to expose bone and tendons. After stitching and bandaging and wearing a head cone she had recovered well. Mrs. Pepper had concluded it to have been a fox attack given the severity of the wound and the fact that the beast had taken Marmalade by surprise-her front paw claws were worn down from scrabbling on a hard surface to gain a purchase as she was dragged backwards.
She stopped stirring the softening onions, quickly removed the pan from the heat and rushed to the front door. Marmalade was inside the cottage hissing and spitting ferociously through the cat-flap. Mrs. Pepper peered through the small window set in the door and in the gathering dusk spotted a fox skulking around the court yard.
Without thinking she swung the door open to shoo the beast away, but as she did so Marmalade launched herself stealthily at great speed, with agility and precision, right at the fox’s head. Mrs. Pepper’s heart was in her mouth. Both animals locked together in a ferocious and noisy battle that can only have lasted thirty or so seconds, but to Mrs. Pepper it seemed an eternity. Suddenly the fox yelped, disengaged and darted away with its tail between its legs.
Marmalade righted herself and followed the fox for a few metres before turning and sauntering back to the cottage. She sat on the path licking her shoulder, but thankfully and to Mrs. Pepper’s great relief, she had no visible injuries. She seemed not to be phased by the encounter and casually turned towards the cottage.
‘Silly-Billy Popkins’. Mrs. Pepper scolded as she tenderly raised Marmalade from the path, took her inside and checked her over for any physical damage.
Thankfully Marmalade was unscathed and seemed to have gained not only her revenge for the previous attack upon her, but she had also clearly marked out the area as her territory.
During the attack Havana hardly stirred from her basket under the lounge radiator.
(On the tiles)
Havana was not as brave or as daring as Marmalade but over the years she too had been in a few scrapes. On many of these disastrous escapades she had followed her sister, but whereas her sister seemed to largely avoid trouble and calamity, Havana was not so good at doing so.
One such incident was what Mrs. Pepper described as the squirrel incident.
One spring morning Mrs. Pepper had decided to take a day’s toil. Meaning she was taking time off from her social work duties because she had accrued overtime hours for which she was not paid.
She loved Springtime as the garden began to come into life with the Hazel bursting with greenery, trees budding and shrubs and flowers blossoming. She adored being out in the sunshine just pottering or undertaking an annual maintenance or horticultural tasks. She always felt at peace at these moments.
On that morning she had awakened at eight o’clock to the Today programme on Radio 4, with the dulcet tones of John Humphries and Mishal Husain, the first Muslim presenter of the programme. She had listened to the headlines, risen, pulled on her pink stripped, hooded dressing gown and gone to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
Already the sun was streaming into the cottage, dappled by the hedging and the window and door frames, and Mrs. Pepper sighed deeply as she contemplated a relaxed day away from the pressures of employment in a failing social care system. She felt deeply about her profession and simply wanted to do good so that society was improved. However swinging austerity cuts imposed by the government had decimated every aspect of public service since the crash or 2008.
She brewed a strong latte and a small bowl of Scotts Porridge Oats with stewed apple added, and ate it sat on the settee watching breakfast TV with Marmalade and Havana vying for her attention. Havana was always the jealous one.
After breakfast she placed the dirty crockery and utensils in the sink and headed to her en-suite for a shower. She changed into her gardening ‘togs’ and went out feeling ready to face a morning of pottering, snipping and clipping.
Havana was sitting by the back door soaking up the sun and Marmalade was exploring in the bushes when she emerged from the shed with her gardening gloves donned and her clippers in one hand and her plastic tub for cuttings in the other.
Mrs. Pepper became engrossed in her garden. She was largely oblivious to anything other than the task in hand and the comfort of the warm spring sun. She thanked her lucky stars at times such as this that she had chosen to move here after her husband had passed away.
Mrs. Pepper worked away slowly, enjoying herself in the quiet of her garden plot with the warm spring sun on her face and arms. She had been aware, from time to time of her two cats exploring the garden or simply lounging in the golden rays emanating from the late April sky. She was contemplating having a lunch break and having been lost in thought, had failed to see her felines saunter off together. Marmalade had gone off to explore their territory and to examine and mark it as cats are prone to. Havana had followed on behind, shadowing her sister. At one point she saw a grey squirrel heading for the sunflower hearts hanging in a feeder adjacent to the neighboring property, High Barn. But Marmalade had launched herself after it and she had seen Havana follow. She had been unconcerned as she knew the cats unlikely to apprehend the offender or for them all to come into physical conflict. She had returned to her gardening in an almost trance like relaxed state.
Suddenly, after about five minutes had elapsed, Mrs. Pepper’s attention was drawn by a plaintive meow. Concerned, she looked in the general direction of the sad refrain. To her absolute horror there on the apex of the neighboring roof of the two story, converted ‘cow sheds’ was Havana whose body language bristled with fear.
Havana was half way along the roof profile, her body low against the ridge tiles and her limbs stretched over either side. Marmalade was nowhere to be seen.
Mrs. Peppers heart was in her mouth. She rushed to the end of the garden close to the building shouting loudly ‘Silly Billy Popkins, come down from there!’ She was terrified that Havana would lose her grip and plummet to the ground. Of course she knew cats to be masters of freefall from three to four months of age due to the cat righting reflex, which is a cat’s innate ability to orient itself as it falls in order to land on its feet. She knew that with their righting reflex, cats often land uninjured. However, this is not always the case, since cats can still break bones or die from extreme falls. Over two stories up was, in Mrs. Pepper’s view, much too risky.
Should she get the ladders from the garage? No they were far too short and would never reach the level of the roof ridge. Besides that might spook Havana and cause her to panic, Should she call the fire brigade and do they even still rescue cats in these days of public sector austerity?
Instead she was rooted to the spot afraid to move lest she unease her beloved Havana.
Suddenly Havana raised herself on all fours and moved gingerly along the roofline a few yards. Mrs. Pepper was petrified, she held her breath and stood stock still as she watched, fully expecting to see a disaster unfold in front of her eyes.
Suddenly Havana disappeared out of sight over the other side of the roof, ‘Nooooooo!’ cried Mrs. Pepper rushing to the gate, pulling it open and running the few yards to the service road at the front of the ‘cow sheds’. She saw in her mind’s-eye her beloved cat laying on the road motionless. When she reached the front of the building there was no sign of Havana. She stared down the road assuming that the cat had fallen and scuttled away injured to die somewhere in the undergrowth, she set off at pace down the road in search.
As she passed the second property the front door swung open and Mrs. Pugh stood there
‘Oh Mrs. Pepper! Your cat has just frightened the living daylights out of me.’
Mrs. Pepper was trying to understand the significance of her words, as Havana appeared from the hallway, scuttled past Mrs. Pugh and was off at a trot back towards Mongoose Barn.
Mrs. Pugh continued, ‘I was just coming out of the bathroom and there she was on the landing, fair frit me to death I can tell you!’
Mrs Pepper looked up, saw the open Velux skylight window and suddenly understood.
‘I am so sorry Helen.’ she said. ‘Havana must have chased a squirrel up onto the roof and got herself stuck. I do hope you are ok.’
Turning, she waddling back up the garden path to her cottage, only to find Havana curled up in her basket fast asleep. After a quick physical check Mrs. Pepper was satisfied that she had indeed been unharmed, and had managed to come out unscathed after all the drama.
Marmalade was an inquisitive cat. She was also daring, mischievous and relatively fearless; unlike her more timid sister Havana. But Mrs. Pepper loved both of her Oriental charges equally.
One other attribute though set these two furtive, furry, female felines apart. Marmalade was a thief. An out and out bandit at times.
Now this is not, as Mrs. Pepper would attest to, a characteristic totally unusual in cats. Many owners will testify to having a four-footed thief in their homes. Many people share their lives with cats who seem to have very sticky paws indeed. Many cats being predators are motivated by food. Most homes are infiltrated by a variety of enticing food aromas that their cat is subjected to throughout the day and it can be hard for them to resist. In Mrs. Pepper’s case she was unable to open a packet of crisps without Marmalade arriving on her lap and awaiting her opportunity to swipe the odd Walkers cheese and onion from her hand, just as she was about to place it in her own mouth. Marmalade was so obsessed with crisps that she would awaken from cat napping or appear from the garden or the other end of the house at the mere rustling of the packet.
Some cats will steal objects just to play with them. They will often take the item in a stealthy fashion because they do not wish the owner to know, because past experience has taught them this is the best way to get away with it, particularly if they have been scolded previously. Cats tend to chew on stringy things like chord, laces, rubber objects, socks, wool or fleece. They tend to remove them somewhere out of the owner’s sight so they can play with them in peace, chew them or even attempt to eat them. In some instances this may provide some comfort to them if they are feeling stressed. Sucking of some items, such as wool or string, is a self soothing mechanism, much as a baby sucking its thumb. Sometimes the objects stolen are taken because they have the scent of the owner in them.
Another reason for cats stealing things is to gain attention, especially if doing so previously gains them a reaction from their owner. Even giving a reprimand is seen by the cat as a form of attention. And playing with the object or participating in the game before taking it away reinforces the behaviour. Cats are very clever animals and if a cat sees that stealing results in receiving attention, they will be more likely to do it again.
A cat may steal objects and carry them around as if carrying their prey. They may act protectively of their catch and may growl while walking around the home. They may even guard objects and this may cause them to show aggression toward their owner or another animal they live with.
In Marmalade’s case she brought back objects from her travels around her territory in the vicinity of Mongoose Barn. Mrs. Pepper was often incredulous and stumped by the range of objects Marmalade delivered.
Whereas both Havana and Marmalade now-and-again brought back alive or dead small rodents, and in Havana’s case once a live kit which, due to a broken hind leg, had to be dispatched as a kindness by Mrs. Pepper’s friend, Simon, Marmalade turned up over the years with a variety of unexplained objects.
These included a child’s Timex watch, a rubber toy dinosaur, a piece of half eaten buttered toast and a little girl’s pink pen with an Ostrich feather attached. In fact she had a thing for feathers. Mrs. Pepper herself had been given a feather pen as a gift. Having no real use for it, but feeling obliged to retain it, she placed it in the top drawer of the bedside corner table in the spare double bedroom. Only to discover that Marmalade would lay on top of the table, and using her paw, work the drawer open until she could remove the pen. Mrs. Pepper often found it in various locations around the house, where it had been taken for surreptitious play, and returned it to its place with a smile, until next time.
However the one and only object which stuck in Mrs. Pepper’s mind was brought home one warm, balmy summer evening in late August. Mrs. Pepper had enjoyed a barbeque with a small number of her friends in the afternoon and evening. She had seen them off one by one and was busy in the cottage kitchen loading her dish washer and cleaning the utensils and items that were not dish washer proof, when she heard the cat flap operated. Normally this did not phase her and either Marmalade or Havana would appear meowing and seeking her attention. On this occasion however Mrs. Pepper’s attention was taken by the loudness of the entry through the plastic kitty door and the fact that no feline appeared to harass her for strokes.
She stopped washing her crystal whisky glasses, took her hands out of the warm soapy suds filled water, dried her hands and went to the front door. There she was met with the tableau of Marmalade sitting proudly awaiting her attention as she guarded a bright pink child’s dress shoe.
Mrs. Pepper was incredulous, Where on earth had Marmalade obtained it? What on earth possessed her to take such an object and drag it all the way back to Mongoose Barn? And how was she, Mrs. Pepper, going to find out where it had come from and explain it to the parents of the currently one shoed young lady.
She took the item from an indignant puss, pacifying her with her evening sachet of moist flaked chicken, and placed the shoe out of reach in the cloakroom before returning to the kitchen to finish her chores.
When she had finished her tasks she was quite exhausted from the catering, entertaining and clearing away and so decided to pour herself a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and sit in the garden until sun set.
As she did so, she was reflecting upon a lovely time with dear friends and trying to put thoughts of work, looming in the morning, out of her mind when she heard her name called. She looked round and there at the bottom garden gate stood Mrs. Pugh.
‘Hi Mrs. Pepper, how are you?’ she said loudly.
Mrs. Pepper pushed back her chair and rose from her garden table to walk the short distance down the path.
‘Hi Helen.’ she said ‘I’m great, how are you? What can I do for you?’
Mrs. Pugh then explained to Mrs. Pepper that she had been in her lounge clearing up after Sunday lunch, her two children were in the lounge watching ‘Ice Age’ on DVD after spending the afternoon in the garden where they were going to camp out overnight.
She looked out the window and saw Marmalade skulk out of her children’s tent carrying one of her daughter’s dressing up shoes in her jaws. She tried to follow her and retrieve the bright pink high-heel by startling her, but Marmalade had simply ignored her, leaped over the post and rail fence and disappeared along the alleyway.
Mrs. Pepper laughed quietly to herself.
‘Hold on Helen, I’ll go get it. I wondered where she had stolen it from; I am so sorry.’ she ended as she scuttled up the garden path to fetch the contraband shoe.
Cats, big and small, domestic and wild are territorial and they establish distinct areas where they function. Their home range or base where they live, sleep and eat, their territory or range which they defend, where they hunt and where they potentially mate. Domestic felines which are allowed to roam outdoors will establish their home ranges and territories, although the home range for female house cats is only about two hundred square metres.
In the wild, the area of the home range generally relates to the availability of food. If food is plentiful, a large home range is unnecessary, but if food is scarce, it isn’t. Thus in Africa lions and other big cats, and feral cats the globe over, may travel far and wide. Cat territory consists of networks of paths that are patrolled regularly on a routine basis. Cats mark their territory by scratching, spraying, depositing urine or faeces or by rubbing secretions from glands against objects.
They have scent glands along their tails, on each side of their foreheads, their lips, chin and the underside of their front paws. The secretion from this array of glands is used to mark the areas they see as their territory.
Havana and Marmalade, despite being domestic animals who had a guaranteed food supply, still exhibited these innate rituals. They sprayed, deposited urine and faeces and left secretion and scratch marks as markers to other cats in the locality. These markers contain data about them as individuals such as their sex, age and health and what times of day they had visited. Other felines read such markers frequently, like a village notice board. The marking of territory does not deter others, but it does result in competitors ‘time-sharing’ the territory in less densely populated areas, such as where Mongoose Barn was located. Cats are largely solitary in nature, unless intact and ready to mate, and they generally work hard to avoid chance encounters with other cats which could lead to conflict and even injury.
It is well known that domestic cats need to be kept indoors for some time if moving home, as without having scented, it is common that they will become disorientated and lost even only ten feet from their residence. Equally if they inadvertently move outside of their territory they may not find their way back.
The latter it seems is what befell Marmalade one summer evening when she was still under two years old. Mrs Pepper was prone to herding her two charges in after dark and locking the cat flap to prevent nocturnal wanderings. That evening after enjoying a bit of light gardening after work, Mrs. Pepper ate her salad supper in the garden and sat reading as the sun slowly began to set. At about ten o’clock she decided to go indoors, have a cup of tea and get ready for bed. As she went inside Havana followed her in and went to the kitchen to have some dry cat food and some fresh water-Mrs. Pepper was particular to change the water twice a day in the hot weather. Mrs Pepper was about to shut the cat flap when she thought of Marmalade. She had a quick scout around the house but Marmalade was nowhere to be found. She went to the front door and called her name to no avail. She went to the back door and again called out to Marmalade without a response. Thinking nothing of it she went about her business, fully expecting the more daring of the sisters to turn up as she was prone to each evening.
After her hot drink she changed into her pyjamas and brushed her teeth. She fetched a glass of cold water from the kitchen and placed it on her bedside cabinet. She had looked out for Marmalade throughout the evening and reluctantly decided to scout the house again with the hope of finding her curled up with Havana in their soft basket.
Somehow she already knew. Call it a premonition, call it what you will but Mrs. Pepper had already accepted her search as fruitless. And sure enough Marmalade was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Pepper was beginning to fret. She always worried about her cats as they were her lifeblood. Her only connection with the sanity of affection. Yes she had a close group of friends and a wide circle of social contacts, but when all was said and done, following the untimely death of her husband, when she curled up alone at home, Havana and Marmalade were all she had in the world.
She paced. She opened the front door and the back, calling Marmalade’s name lovingly in the hope she would heed the maternal concern and return to the fold. But the night was silent and only Havana responded on hearing her owner’s distress, by sidling up and rubbing her head on Mrs. Pepper’s feet. Mrs. Pepper knew she would not rest and so took a blanket out from the pile under the lounge table, lay on the settee, turned News 24 on low volume, in case Marmalade was to meow, and snuggled Havana between her legs for a reassuring tickle.
Having drifted off after a taxing week at work, she awoke some two hours later, startled and mildly disorientated. Havana had withdrawn to her basket and as she began to focus she could well see that Marmalade was not in the basket with her. Her head cleared, she switched off the recycling twenty-four hour news programme and conducted another, more thorough, inspection of the cottage, entering every room and checking cupboards just in case Marmalade had got herself inside by accident. She even checked the dishwasher and the tumble drier. And given that Havana had once fallen into the toilet bowl, she check these as well, just in case.
When she came up empty she felt a coldness descend. Neither cat had ever been away from home so late into the night. Marmalade had once disappeared for a short time before the farm house refurbishment had been completed. Marmalade had gone exploring the empty building, managed to get under the floorboards into the cellar and become trapped. Her meows were heard plainly though from the courtyard and Mrs. Pepper had summoned the owner, who had come immediately and released the animal. Mrs Pepper considered her cats to still be young and to an extent still vulnerable, her babies. She told herself not to worry, but it was in her nature to do so and she tended to worry more about animals than humans.
She eventually sidled off to bed but could not rest, so she put on some mindless late night TV programme-a repeat of ‘A Place in the Sun’, a house hunting programme, which was partly in and around Calpe and Alicante, Spain with which Mrs. Pepper was familiar.
She eventually drifted off, awoke briefly just long enough to extinguish the drone of the television and slept fitfully until the dawn began to break. As the morning sun spilled in through the roof light she came too, hopped out of bed, quickly emptied her bladder and brushed her teeth in the en-suite, struggled into her dressing gown, then made her way briskly along the corridor to the lounge, hoping to see Marmalade and Havana curled up asleep in their place beneath the radiator. She had taken the risk of Havana going out during the night, leaving the cat-flap unsecured so that Marmalade could get in had she returned.
As reality set in she realised that Marmalade was still not there, she stooped and knelt by the cat basket and stroked Havana’s soft chocolate coat.
‘Where is that sister of yours?’ she asked rhetorically.
Once again she went to each door and tried calling, softly this time due to the early hour, but to no avail. She tried hard to keep thoughts of Marmalade lying dead by the roadside out of her mind but it was a struggle to do so. She kept telling herself there was a simple and rational reason for her disappearance. Cats often went into sheds, garages or other buildings out of curiosity, to hunt or to seek warmth, and sometimes got locked in. Marmalade had developed the habit of climbing into the cabs of vehicles and perhaps, just perhaps she had done so and would be discovered by the driver in due course. Despite trying hard to remain rational and hopeful, tears welled up and the lump in her throat moved her to deep sobs. She poured the coffee she had brewed into the half mug of warmed milk, placed it by her place on the settee, before scooping Havana out of her basket and sitting her on her knee for comfort.
She began to formulate a plan of action, and as she was prone to do, she wrote a list. It was Saturday morning and for that she was thankful as it gave her the opportunity to concentrate on finding her wayward cat. Besides she did not feel able to leave the cottage and concentrate upon work.
She decided that she would conduct another search of the cottage, even though she knew in her heart it was a waste of time. But something was nagging her to ensure she literally turned over every leaf. Next she would extend the search to her garden, including the shed and the garage and then radiate it out to the courtyard and surrounding areas of the small development.
She sent texts to several of her neighbours with whom she had amicable relationships, asking them to check their sheds, outhouses and garages. At times like this she thanked her lucky stars for mobile phone technology. Next she texted two good friends whom she normally joined for breakfast at the local Waitrose store each Saturday for a chat and general discussion about all manner of things. They had named this ‘Bickerfest’ as it often deteriorated into heated debate, especially so far as Neil, who she had known for decades, was concerned. Simon, whom she had also know for a long period of time, was more circumspect and less prone to pushing his own point across.
She asked them to break protocol and come to her cottage at ten o’clock for coffee and croissants and to help her widen her search should Marmalade not be found in and around the development.
By Nine o’clock she had showered, dressed and had looked thoroughly through her shed, garage and garden. She had received texts back from Nicky, who also had two cats, and from Debbie, who preferred dogs, and lastly from Helen who had no pets. All confirmed that, despite searching, they had no sightings of Marmalade. All three offered to assist Mrs. Pepper further if needs be.
Simon and Neil readily agreed to the change of routine and were more than willing to help find Marmalade whom they both knew well. Claire, another friend, but not a participant in the quaintly adversarial ‘Bickerfest’, also came over They all turned up early, had a quick breakfast and then headed out to complete a wider sweep of the locality with Mrs. Pepper.
They separated out, Simon doing a circuit of the fields to the south of Mongoose Barn, Neil to the north, while Mrs Pepper and Claire walked down the long drive towards the public road and separated, covering a mile in each direction checking drainage ditches and hedgerows.
They kept in contact by mobile. Two other neighbours joined in the search when they met in passing and Mrs. Pepper explained her dilemma. However, and despite so much goodwill, Marmalade remained illusive.
Simon and Claire stayed on into the evening to keep a distraught Mrs. Pepper company, they ordered a take-away and Claire offered to stay the night so that the search could commence next morning. In the evening Mrs. Pepper and Claire designed fliers with a photograph of Marmalade to be pinned up around the area asking residents to report any sightings of the wayward feline. Mrs. Pepper focussed her attentions on finding her beloved animal and with Claire’s help and distraction went to bed exhausted and slept fitfully.
The next day Simon and Neil turned up again and all four extended their search into the villages half a mile in each direction from Goose Barn. They posted fliers on every few lamp posts and any other surfaces they could, and with permission from some residents and some shopkeepers, who were open on the Sunday, they posted them on garden gates, in windows and on shop-fronts.
In her distress Mrs. Pepper recognised the value of good and trusted friends and told them so. They hugged and she knew they genuinely wanted to help her find Marmalade, but by dusk she was still missing.
Although tearful, Mrs. Pepper rustled up a light supper with Claire’s help. A bottle of red wine was removed from the collection Mrs. Pepper had inherited from her mother. They ate and drank in solemnity, with Neil in particular trying to lighten the mood to pick Mrs. Pepper’s spirits up. Claire helped load the dishwasher and after coffee the three friends departed, leaving Mrs. Pepper alone once more.
She knew she had to face work next morning but did not at all feel like sleeping. She sat with Havana on her knee listening to Leonard Cohen as she did not have the stomach even for rubbish TV. She wished she were more of a drinker, which she wasn’t, because it would be a release from her distress to be able to slip into an alcohol fuelled slumber.
She did however eventually drop off to sleep on the settee, waking at around midnight and like an automaton, took herself off to bed.
Next morning she rose, showered, ate a light breakfast with latte coffee, prepared herself for work and did a circuit of the garden calling out to Marmalade, but was met with disappointment again.
After work she drove slowly along the road approaching the housing development, scouring the hedgerows and verges for signs of her missing cat. She parked her car in the courtyard and walked round the site again, calling out constantly for Marmalade. By bed time she resigned herself to the inevitable. She had begun to accept that she might never see Marmalade again but in the back of her mind an optimistic vein still flowed.
A week later nothing had changed other than one phone call in response to the posters. A woman had spotted a cat asleep in her green house in the village, but the description bore no similarity to Marmalade. Mrs. Pepper felt so very disheartened and deeply sad.
For her Marmalade was gone, despite holding on with ferocity to a belief that she had simply wandered off and would soon return. Slowly she sank into realisation. But even so she refused to totally let go.
She began to be concerned for Havana, whom she felt would be lonely without her sister. She telephoned the breeder from whose litter Havana and Marmalade had come to discuss the possibility of taking on another kitten, but she put it on ice as she was consumed with work and spending time trying to locate her kitty.
By day thirteen Mrs Pepper had become numbed. Hope had died and she decided that she must let go the soul that was her Marmalade. Marmalade must be dead in a ditch or a remote outhouse. She rued the decision she had taken not to place collars on her cats because of the risk of strangulation.
She arrived home from work, exhausted, dejected and forlorn. Another Friday evening and a weekend to traverse trying to come to terms with her loss. She stopped at the entrance to the long driveway approach to the converted development, stepped out of the car and shouted ‘Marmalade’ at the top of her voice. She waited a few seconds looking around but anticipating failure again. And so it was. She drove on and into the courtyard, locked the car and unlocked her front door. She stepped inside feeling dejected and forlorn again. Taking off her jacket and hanging it in the cloakroom she went into the lounge. A quick visual sweep told her that Havana was out so she went into the kitchen and switched the kettle on to boil.
She was struggling to move on and decide what to have for her supper and felt she needed the reassuring meow of Havana to calm her. As if in answer to her plea she heard the cat flap open and close so went to greet her one remaining cat. She looked at her, ready to make a greeting but her overly stressed eyes told her something was wrong, something was different. She stared hard at the beast in front of her which she knew was not Havana, and suddenly and with great joy, she realised it was an emaciated, badly dehydrated Marmalade.
The joy she felt cannot be described. She was overwhelmed with floods of conflicting emotions, relief, elation, ecstasy, concern and disbelief. As she was taking it all in and Marmalade was rubbing up against her, Havana appeared through the cat-flap, unconcerned as she walked past her sister and entered the kitchen to eat. Mrs. Pepper quickly closed the cat-flap as Marmalade wandered round the house reorienting herself.
After a quick call to the emergency vet, she retrieved the cat-carrier from the garage, gently bundled Marmalade inside and whisked her off for a thorough medical examination. The poor animal had lost one third of her body weight and was severely dehydrated. The vet looked her over carefully and administered an enema as she was also very constipated. He prescribed special formula tins of high calorie cat food, Royal Canin Recovery, and confirmed that otherwise she was not injured and in relative good health.
Mrs. Pepper felt her prayers to have been answered. She nursed her beloved Marmalade back to health. She was very weak and sleepy for days but soon began to recover and in ten days was back to normal. To this day no one knows why or where Marmalade was for thirteen days.
One thing had changed though. Having had all of Mrs. Pepper’s attention for all this time Havana was unimpressed with this sudden intrusion and gave her sister the cold shoulder, from then on becoming known as Mrs. Jealous.
Marmalade and Havana
(Cats with personality)
Havana, like all cats, or for that matter all creatures-including humans-was habitual in her nature. She was protective of her territory but shared it with her sister Marmalade. Often they would sleep together in their basket or on the settee. They enjoyed snoozing on the radiator above their bed, upon which Mrs Pepper positioned a faux sheepskin rug for their comfort; but at times Marmalade would creep up behind Havana, nip her flank and chase her off so that she could have it to herself. If Havana was on Mrs Pepper’s lap enjoying a tickle and Marmalade joined in, Havana would go off in a huff, unwilling to share the experience. The sisters often ate together from their bowl on the kitchen floor but if either caught a rabbit the successful huntress took first sitting, the other moving in when she had had her fill.
Cats, unlike the more tamed canine, have an independence, indeed an authority that makes them more in control of the relationship between them and their humans. Cats were never forced into domesticity, they chose it. It was not until a couple of centuries ago that Victorians began to purposefully breed cats specifically for the home. Up until that time cats were not caged nor bred in captivity. This has left them a Darwinian theorised legacy which endures. They are more driven by the laws of natural selection and this has a unique influence upon their distinct personalities.
There are no genetic differences between house cats and wild or feral cats and it is their early introduction to humans, within the first few months of life, that determines their level of socialisation with humans, and for that matter siblings and other animals.
Marmalade and Havana were bred cats whose early life was in the presence of humans and therefore they were not, in the main, phased by humans. If their mother shows no fear of people then they tend to follow suit. And if cats are reared with siblings from birth they will often enjoy a lifelong relationship. Never-the-less they develop different personalities.
In the case of both Marmalade and Havana, both conformed to the colourful personality type, ascribed by experts to the Oriental breed.
They ‘bond’ with their owners and lay claim to them, seeking to socialise and share their lives. In Mrs. Pepper’s busiest moments, both Marmalade and Havana would find ways to interrupt her activities. They both communicated vocally to demand attention, and believe me they could be persistent. When Mrs. Pepper was on the telephone it seemed a signal to one or both to interrupt. Perhaps they mistook Mrs. Pepper talking, thinking she was chatting to them. When Mrs. Pepper arrived home through her front door they would throw themselves onto their sides, stretching their front and rear paws as far as they could and meow until stroked. Mrs Pepper called this ‘going long’ and if she cut the stroking short they let her know in no uncertain terms of their disapproval. Havana had a favourite rug, right in the middle of the living room where she would encourage Mrs. Pepper to follow, where she rolled over, ‘went long’ and meowed until tickling commenced.
When she was eating, particularly crisps, Marmalade would sit on her lap and swipe at the morsels of fried potato slices as they were removed from the packet and began their progress towards her lips. Funnily enough Marmalade was ‘left handed’ and tended to lead with her left paw while Havana used her right paw more.
If Mrs Pepper were tidying away laundry both would climb into open cupboards or drawers curious to know what lay within. On one occasion Havana managed to get into the under bed drawer of Mrs. Pepper’s divan and climb further into the bed frame. Unfortunately she could not find her way out again and meowed persistently until Mrs. Pepper heard her cries, discovered her plight and fully removed the drawer in order to free her.
When Mrs. Pepper was ready to move from the settee one of the ‘girls’ was sure to decide to share the warmth of her lap, provide a comforting purr, and nuzzle her chin as if to say she should just stay put for now.
Both cats eagerly greeted Mrs. Pepper at the door on her return to Mongoose Barn and they began a litany, recounting their day. They knew just when to expect Mrs. Pepper’s car and seemed to be able to distinguish it’s engine sounds. If she was late, they scolded her remorselessly.
Orientals are blessed with a combination of curiosity and intelligence which makes them inquisitive and explorers of their environment, able to seek out solutions to conundrums, such as where Mrs. Pepper hid the feather pen. If they are given attention and affection, which they crave, they would do anything to please. Mrs. Pepper ignored them at her peril as they would relentlessly pursue her until she capitulated.
Mrs Pepper chose her cats carefully. She wanted cats full of personality and feline elegance and Orientals such as Marmalade and Havana were svelte, playful and very spirited, yet loyal, a characteristic which extended into their adult years.
From the tip of their noses to the end of their long, whip like tails, Marmalade and Havana were beautifully sleek and decidedly elegant as they gracefully glided on their tall, willowy legs. The lines of their angular heads flowed into their overly large flaring ears and were complimented by their sweet, engaging almond-shaped eyes. But despite their slight looking frames and tubular type bodies they had surprising weight and muscle tone and are were neither frail nor fragile.
As such Mrs. Pepper enjoyed many years of wonder, enjoyment and satisfaction in the company of her beloved creatures. As an experienced senior social worker Mrs. Pepper had believed in nurture over nature, but as the years passed and she watched her lovely feline companions behaviours, she began to soften towards natures role in the development of the uniquely Oriental, but distinct individual personalities of her two cats.
Marmalade and Havana
(And other animals)
Cats, domestic or otherwise are still ‘wild’ animals. Havana and Marmalade being domesticated from a few weeks after birth, did not have to compete in their environment to survive as true untamed creatures do. Their food and water was provided; in fact their water and food bowls contained food 24 hours a day, to which they had continual access unless asleep or away from Mongoose Barn. Mrs Pepper was punctilious about providing for her feline companions. She made sure every day that enough food and water was available and that the food and water bowls were spotlessly clean.
The two cats had safe and comfortable sleeping arrangements, an in-door litter tray so they did not have to venture out at night or in inclement weather conditions, and each other for company and companionship. In addition the area around Mongoose Barn was relatively safe being some good distance from main roads and thoroughfares.
On top of this they had Mrs Pepper. And Mrs Pepper was, in feline terms, relatively easy prey. If they wanted a treat, as Mrs Pepper provided each evening, they went, together or singly and cavorted around her feet meowing plaintively; oh and cats can do plaintive! They would continue this ‘harassment’ until Mrs Pepper relented and went to the cupboard in the kitchen that contained all things cat and withdrew the Sheba Fine Flakes in Jelly, a wet, tasty snack that they both loved.
If they felt like attention they both had their ways, and being females, they were so well versed in such manipulations. Havana would throw herself at Mrs Pepper’s feet, usually in the vicinity of ‘the tickle rug’, where she would slowly roll from side to side, elongating herself by stretching her paws out as far as she could and call alluringly and constantly until Mrs Pepper gave up what she was planning, knelt and provided the stroking required. Marmalade was slightly less demanding, but she too wanted Mrs Pepper’s attention and knew how to get it.
Although pampered would be too strong a term to use, Mrs Pepper did indulge her cats. Once a week each was given a good brushing to ensure their coats stayed in tip-top condition. Mrs Pepper used three different brushes, starting with a wire brush to remove hairs and a soft haired brush to finish off.
Mrs Pepper treated Havana and Marmalade like her children although she fully understood them to be pets and wild animals at heart. In fact this was often brought to the fore as they had many encounters with other animals.
Mrs Pepper often recounted to friends stories of the interactions her cats had with other pets and the local wildlife. Such as the two events at the end ‘cow shed’ where Nancy, a single woman lived with her two tom cats, George and Alan. In Nancy’s garden were two small fish ponds of which she was very proud, having designed and created them herself. Havana loved to simply sit and watch the fish in one of the ponds. On one still summer evening she was rooted there memorised by the fish scooting about between the lily pads, the sun glinting from their multicoloured scales. Suddenly her peace was shattered when George appeared from the house and launched himself upon the intruder, spitting and hissing fiercely. Hearing the approaching attack at the last minute Havana instinctively and acrobatically swerved away and took off at pace into the pond where she ended up paddling frantically. George stopped at the side of the pond as Havana reached the other ‘shore’ and bedraggled dragged herself out and literally high tailed it back to Mongoose Barn, feeling rather sorry for herself as she hated getting wet.
On another occasion Marmalade was relaxing outside in the courtyard soaking up the evening sun. Mrs Pepper was going out to place some discarded cartons and tins in the blue recycling bin, situated along the wall by the entrance, when she spotted a fox on her neighbour’s lawn playing with something. At that moment Marmalade spotted it too and sent the fox scurrying as she chased it with ferocity. Mrs Pepper watched her return to the courtyard after the short chase and investigate the object the fox had left behind. She decided to discover what was so interesting to the creatures and, to her surprise, found Marmalade pawing at a stone dead goldfish. She pondered the situation shooing Marmalade away. How had it got there? Nancy was the only resident of the small development with a pond, so how had the fish arrived so far from her garden. She concluded that a Heron, of which there was a colony about half a mile away, had speared the poor fish but dropped it on it’s return flight back to the small lake behind the Cow and Plough at the farm park.
Mrs Pepper found herself in a bit of a dilemma; should she tell Nancy? What if Nancy, in the absence of concrete evidence of Mrs Pepper’s Heron theory, concluded one of Mrs Pepper’s cats had taken her precious fish? She decided not to say anything, after all there was no bringing the goldfish back to life, so she solemnly wrapped the dead creature in newspaper and buried it on the patch of common ground at the end of the drive up to Mongoose Barn.
Rabbits were common place on the land around the small development in which Mongoose Barn was located. Mrs Pepper and several neighbours had had their gardens made rabbit proof in order to preserve their lawns. Baby rabbits were in abundance in the spring time and both Marmalade and Havana were partial to baby rabbit. They often brought home their trophies as gifts for Mrs Pepper or to consume them in peace. On many occasions Mrs. Pepper came home to the gruesome sight of a recently slaughtered bunny which she reluctantly had to clear up.
On the odd occasion live animals were found in the house. On one such discovery Mrs Pepper had been in her garden and on returning to the house she saw Havana dart down the corridor to the bedroom area. On going to investigate she found Marmalade and Havana both sniffing around and pawing frantically under her double bed. When she bent to look at their target she was shocked to see a terrified baby rabbit. She shooed both cats from the room and after some effort managed to flush the poor creature out and trap it in the en-suite. Fortunately it was unharmed so once she had got hold of it she took it and released it into the nearby field.
On another occasion Havana brought home a trophy Mrs. Pepper had never expected. One Saturday afternoon she heard the cat flap rattle and left her place on the settee as the sound was unusually loud. She saw Havana with a brown, low-slung furry creature with a tail. Thinking her beloved cat had caught her first rat she was rather horrified but knew she had to act. As she closed in she realised it was a weasel and not a rat; she also knew them to be vicious and to own razor sharp teeth. She chased Havana into the lounge and quickly shut her in. Luckily the bedroom corridor door was closed trapping the creature in the hallway. She then went and put on her gardening gloves, fetched a square vase from the high window sill in the kitchen, a book and the broom, and using the broom as a prod, cornered the frightened animal, driving it into the vase and immediately shutting off its escape route with the book. The weasel went ballistic and shot around inside the glass trap squeaking loudly. Mrs Pepper slipped on her Crocs, gingerly carried the filled vase to the nearby field, set it down, its mouth still covered with the book, then keeping her distance, tipped it over gently with the broom handle, letting the creature run free into the undergrowth.
She often recounted the tale of the vole on steroids. One dull Sunday morning, before breakfast, Marmalade returned to Mongoose Barn with her live catch. A field vole, a delicacy both she and Havana were both partial to. On this instance Marmalade had decided to toy with her captive before killing and devouring it. She brought it in through the cat-flap and set it down on the foot mat, sitting back upright on her haunches in a satisfied posture to observe its behaviour. It lay dazed for a few seconds but as Mrs. Pepper came out of the bedroom corridor she saw it right itself and Marmalade stretch out a teasing left paw and give it a gentle swipe. The vole lost balance but soon righted itself, and to Mrs. Pepper’s surprise and delight it turned towards Marmalade, who by this time had squatted down with her nose an inch from the poor creature, stood on its hind legs and nipped the unsuspecting cat on the nose with its sharp rodent teeth. Marmalade recoiled from the unexpected pain long enough for the vole to scurry down the corridor towards Mrs. Pepper who skilfully scooped up the fleeing animal but lost control of it as it tried to avoid capture. Before she could close her fist, and she intended to be gentle, it had squeezed through her fingers, run over the back of her hand and darted up the sleeve of her fluffy dressing gown. Instinctively she quickly shed the gown onto the floor and bundled it up with the vole still buried deep within the folds, took it to the front door and threw it onto the path.
By this time Marmalade had recovered but had lost sight of her erstwhile prey and was sniffing its trail back up the corridor to where it had disappeared into Mrs. Pepper’s garment. Mrs Pepper closed the door, secured the cat flap and watched through the small window set in the front door. After a few moments she saw a slight movement and then a small brown flash of colour as the escapee left the comfort of its hiding place and took to the undergrowth. Mrs. Pepper gave it ten minutes to make itself scarce then retrieved her dressing gown from the ground, shut the door and ensured both Marmalade and Havana were kept inside for the next hour or so to allow the courageous rodent to make good its bid for survival.
Marmalade and Havana
Pets, as pet owners, including Mrs. Pepper would testify, are both a joy and a constant worry. Owning cats brought so much pleasure to Mrs. Pepper but over the years their antics and experiences left Mrs. Pepper worrying constantly in the back of her mind about their safety and welfare. Both Marmalade and Havana had been in scrapes which at times had left Mrs. Pepper with her heart in her mouth, and relieved when each incident was settled and they were both at home when she secured the cat flap and toddled off to bed each night.
Nothing was more worrying though for Mrs. Pepper than dealing with a poorly cat. From time to time both would show signs of ‘being under the weather’. Mrs Pepper had pet insurance to mitigate the cost of vet bills which could soon mount up. And she ensured they had their recommended annual vaccinations, check up, and every three months gave them worming tablets.
But nothing prevented nor prepared her for the shock of arriving home from a weekend away to discover Havana at deaths door. As she unlocked the front door sure enough Marmalade was there to greet her and scold her loudly for leaving them but, unusually, Havana did not appear. She thought it curious but no more than that as she decided Havana might have gone to the kitchen to eat and drink. She put her weekend bag down in the hall, took her shoes off and went to the cloakroom to hang up her light jacket. She then headed for the lounge with the intention of giving her Felidae friends attention to make up for her absence. Marmalade ran ahead of her excitedly, anticipating as much. As she went into the lounge she spotted the dark fur of Havana just visible in the cat basket. The usually frisky feline was motionless and did not stir to the sounds or voice of her mistress. As Mrs. Pepper crossed the room she could just make out the slightest rise and fall of her ribcage and thus she knew her to be alive. She bent and gently put her hand on her cat’s head but apart from opening her eyes momentarily Havana did not move. In fact Mrs Pepper could tell that she did not have the strength to lift herself out of her collapsed position.
After an initial few seconds of panic, where thoughts of digging a grave and burying her dearly loved feline flooded Mrs. Pepper’s imagination, she started to go through a process of logical deduction.
Havana was alive. She was breathing, although it was barely perceptible. Therefore something could be done. She rushed to the garage and retrieved the cat carrier, placed the faux sheep-skin inside and carefully lifted the debilitated cat and placed her carefully inside, before turning the securing catches. She put on her coat and shoes and put the carrier in the front passenger foot well of her car, before setting off for the vet’s surgery.
When she arrived she explained to the receptionist her cat’s predicament and was ushered in to an examination room within a few moments. The vet examined Havana by weighing her, looking at her coat, her eyes and ears and her bottom. She inserted a thermometer and took a reading. She asked Mrs. Pepper several questions about Havana’s general health and diet then took a blood sample before withdrawing from the room.
After about ten minutes she returned telling Mrs Pepper that Havana had an infection, was dehydrated and needed to be kept in the surgery over night to have intravenous antibiotics and rehydration.
Next morning when Mrs. Pepper arrived to check on her adored cat she was fearful of the worst. But when the vet called her in she told her that Havana, who was in the room and back to her normal self, had suffered a pyrexia of unknown origin and that the fluids and antibiotics had worked. She gave Mrs. Pepper some prescribed medication and Royal Canin Recovery, a special tinned cat food high in nutrients. She thanked the vet and with a sigh of relief hugged her ‘moggy’, carefully squeezed her into her cat carrier, got into her Volvo and headed for home.
But nothing could have prepared Mrs. Pepper for what happened a few months later. It was October. Mrs. Pepper was preparing to go sailing on a two mast wooden Turkish Gulet, cruising the eastern Mediterranean, and had ‘broken up’ from work. It was a Friday evening, the weather was warm and dry and she and her friend Simon had arranged to go to see a French film in town. Marmalade had just recovered from an ear infection and her vet had commended Mrs. Pepper for her diligence in nursing her through it. Havana was asleep in the cat basket when Mrs. Pepper sealed the cat-flap as she was about to leave. Marmalade followed her to the front door. She stooped to stroke her and whispered,
‘Love you Marmie.’ Mrs. Pepper’s ‘pet’ name for her.
She shut the door, locked it and made her way to Simon’s waiting car.
They had an enjoyable evening. Mrs. Pepper felt good at patronising the small independent cinema as it was a charity that also worked with a local university, supporting its film and media courses. Mrs. Pepper ate in its restaurant on a regular basis, taking advantage of the film and dine offer they marketed. By the time they had watched the film and had eaten, it was ten o’clock in the evening by the time they arrived back at Mongoose Barn.
Mrs Pepper said her goodbyes and thanking Simon breathed a sigh of relief as she was always content to return to the comfort and sanctuary of the home she shared with her cats. Havana was still asleep in her bed and rose to greet her owner, meowing and stretching herself out on the ‘tickle rug’ expectantly. Mrs Pepper obliged and stroked the happy creature for the regulation four to five minutes before the puss got up and nonchalantly sauntered off to the kitchen to graze and sup some fresh water.
Mrs. Pepper smiled at this and turned her attention to locating Marmalade. However her second charge was nowhere in sight. She looked around the cottage and when she drew a blank concluded that her lovely Oriental had exited as she herself had opened the door and turned to lay her keys down on the window ledge.
She prepared herself for bed then went to the front door and called out to Marmalade. She waited and listened and on getting no response she went to the side door and repeated the exercise, again to no avail. She went back to the lounge and sat and watched TV programmes in which she had no interest, on low volume. At just after midnight she found herself drifting towards sleep. She shook herself awake, made a thorough search of the cottage and went off to bed recalling the time Marmalade had gone missing previously and hoping, like then, she would turn up safe and sound. Never-the-less she had a deep sense of unease in the pit of her stomach.
Her sleep was fitful and she awoke with a start from a dream in which she looked over the side of the bed and there was Marmalade lying in a running posture. She got out and scooped her up in her arms, exclaiming’
“There you are!”
On awakening she felt an acute sense of agitation. She searched the house from top to bottom once more. Havana was her usual self, demanding and insistent on being petted. She stroked her for a few moments but in her distressed state she did not have the concentration or patience to continue. She could not face breakfast, not even a tea or coffee. She quickly dressed and went outside to start her familiar search of the garden, shed, garage, immediate vicinity, and even though it had just turned eight thirty, to knock on the door of the neighbours she felt comfortable with.
Having drawn a blank she telephoned two friends, Simon who had helped the last time Marmalade went missing, and Bijal, Mrs. Pepper’s closest friend, who travelled down from her home in a Market Town to the north of the City.
They decided to make a search of the lane which ran along the bottom of the farm track, linking the city outskirts to the village. They set off in opposite directions, Simon heading north west along the lane and Mrs. Pepper and her friend Bijal south east. They knocked on doors asking people if they had any sightings, Mrs Pepper showing a photograph on her mobile phone and Simon a picture that Mrs Pepper kept in a frame in the hallway of Mongoose Barn. They once more drew a blank and after two and a half hours reconvened at Mongoose barn for a light lunch and refreshment.
As they were finishing up and preparing to carry out the wider search they had agreed over cheese and pickle sandwiches and red wine, there was a knock at the door. A woman from the lane, who they had earlier questioned about sightings stood there.
“My son was raking leaves on the verge outside our house and he found a dead cat.” she stated. “I am sorry but it looks a lot like the cat in the picture. I’ll show you were she is” she concluded.
Mrs Pepper thanked her, fetched a black plastic bin liner from under the sink and dispatched Simon to confirm the finding. She could not bring herself to go, hoping by doing so, and feeling guilty for the thought, it would turn out to be another cat.
When Simon arrived at the scene, directed by the resident from the lane, there was Marmalade, obviously dead. She was stiff and frozen in a running position. Simon carefully picked her up and placed her in the black bag, carrying her carefully back along the lane and up the long farm track leading to Mongoose Barn. When he arrived Mrs Pepper and Bijal were in the courtyard awaiting news. Mrs. Pepper knew the worst immediately on seeing Simon with his bundle, and ushered him through the house to the garden where he laid his package on the grass and carefully exposed the feline corpse. Mrs. Pepper was distraught but in her concern for Havana, she had read that animals who have companions who have died need to see and inspect the body for peace of mind, she scooped up Marmalade’s sister and brought her out. Havana simply sniffed the cadaver and gave it no further attention.
Mrs Pepper shed a tear as she stroked her cold body. She noted that Marmalade had a swollen neck and blood coming out of her ears, but she appeared otherwise intact. They concluded that she had been struck a glancing blow from a speeding vehicle and died instantly, given her posture. That provide a small element of comfort to Mrs. Pepper.
She fetched a towel in which to wrap her beloved cat and Marmalade’s favourite cat toy. Simon took a spade from the shed and they set off to a nearby plot of communal land within the development where Simon dug a hole in the stony ground, lowered into it the now towel wrapped dead feline, and placed a plank of wood to mark the spot.
After saying her goodbyes, Bijal and Simon helped a sad and distraught Mrs. Pepper back to her cottage. They finished off the bottle of Merlot, toasting Marmalade and wishing her well in her new life in the cattery in the sky.
Simon and Bijal shed a quiet tear too as they had both known Marmalade for many years and really felt for their close friend. They stayed another few hours, keeping the distraught lady company. Mrs. Pepper relayed her dream from the previous night to them, and postulated that Marmalade had died at the very time she was dreaming that she had seen her.
When Simon and Bijal finally left Mrs. Pepper snuggled Havana on her knee, laid her head on the arm of the settee and howled and sobbed until she slipped into an exhausted slumber.
It took her months to begin to settle into acceptance and even then she felt the loss of one of her ‘children’ very acutely. Havana continued to bring her joy every day and she continued to care for her as if she were her true offspring. The love she felt for her cats never diminished and for the next few years she still felt the pangs when she thought about Marmalade and how much she missed her.