With her pissy, mewling offspring all moved on, we sent our cat to be spayed in late June of 1995. 'Smiler', was the name she came to us with - presumably intended to be deeply ironic, as she wore the mien of a feline who dwelt too often on the sorrows of this world. I learnt a lot from her.
The vet sent her back with the news that she was already pregnant, and we greeted my mother jeeringly and triumphantly at the door with the news, for it was she who had wanted Smiler fixed - aware that our childish desire for kittens didn't extend much into the household hygiene end of things. We would later learn that she had just returned from a meeting where she had been fired. It would be much, much later that I would learn what that felt like.
Three kittens were born in a contained bloody mess in our hot press early one morning. My mother brought them out to the garden with a bucket of water before we got up, eager to avoid the months of urine-drenched kitchen that lay, inevitably, ahead. She hadn't the heart to do it. Or had too much, rather.
One was black and white, like his mother, and we named him Snoopy in a teenaged attempt at subversiveness. The other two were a brindled mix of black and brown and ginger hues, like a tomcat who skulked at the end of our lane. We called them Jacob and Esau, like the biblical brothers. When the vet told us they were female they became the lesser-known biblical sisters Rachel and Leah. I liked this, because I fancied a girl in school called Rachel, but it was Rachel we sent away for adoption, and Leah and her fattening brother Snoopy we kept.
Leah grew a cancerous lump on her leg when she was one, which we had removed. It came back, and we were told that having the leg amputated was the only option. So we did. Her appetite for hunting, previously voracious, was now curbed but she managed life just fine, operating under the sobriquet 'Hopalong' and far more affectionate than ever before.She grew squawky and grizzled as time wore on, and gradually became a toothless little gremlin of a thing, ugly-pretty in the same way that gnarled old men are.
It's early August 2012 and I'm back at the family home, visiting with my wife. Leah is squawking in a different key, and doesn't sound great. My mum explains that the vet has said he'll put her down, whenever they think she's ready. "But I don't think she's ready to go just yet," she says, as we watch her slow-motion lope around the garden. I doubt I was ever told where exactly she was nearly drowned, but in my mind's eye it was more or less precisely where she was at that point, seventeen years on and moving as tentatively as a kitten.
They decided she was ready on Saturday, and buried her by the roses, with Raffa the giddy spaniel in attendance. My dad called and broke it to me with his customary gentleness while I was out in the shops. I sighed and thought I was fine and then didn't feel fine, so took the bus back to my own home to scoop out litterboxes and write something about her.