I had cats while I was growing up. I’d talked about it previously, but the first memory I have is of my sisters taking me up to the Garage, peeking into the attic and seeing this fumble of kittens surrounding our cat, Blackie. Blackie was this old, feral thing that my sisters got before I was born. Her fur was this jagged concoction of brown and blonde, most of which was drowned out by black.
The kittens had just been born. Too young to walk or open their own eyes. We weren’t allowed to pet them until they had gained their strength. I remember there were four of them in the beginning, but I only ever remembered two of their names; Furry and Jigsaw.
Furry was our first ginger cat, we’d have an entire line of cats with his name. Jigsaw was like Blackie in that he had whole splotches of colour on his fur. Kind of like a jigsaw. My next memory would be of the two of them first leaving the Garage to go outside. It was the first time the kittens had left the attic. First time they’d seen the sun or been out in the fresh air.
I think the other two died, or ran away or something happened. It didn’t matter, we’d two cats of our own. I think Jigsaw was the one that’d followed me to Primary school. He’d climb up under the pipes of the car and hold on for dear life as my Ma drove to pick me up. For some reason that day I felt the urge to check under the car and- there he was.
He did the same thing back in Halloween when we all drove to Derry to see the fireworks. Or maybe that was another cat. It’s hard to keep track.
At some point Jigsaw was gone, I don’t remember what happened to him. Furry died after getting run over by a tractor. His own fault, he was roaming in someones field while they were plowing. But it didn’t matter, when Ma told us me and my sister cried- my sister especially cause Furry was her favourite.
My Ma told us that she picked Furry up and buried him in the forest beside the house, made a little grave-site and all. In reality she just threw him in a ditch and got quiet when ever we asked to see it.
We’d a new line of kittens soon enough, including a new ginger cat- Furry II. We’d them for a few weeks and one Sunday morning we found them by this old frying pan we’d use as a saucer, drowned in milk.
Have you ever seen a dead kitten? Something so young and beautiful and full of promise, snatched away like a goddamn candle? I don’t even remember if they were old enough to open their eyes, but when we found them they were closed. Fur soaking wet, lips bloated, their mouths were open. They were the size of mice.
Da said he’d bury them but in reality he probably just threw them in a ditch. I don’t know why, but I think this was my first encounter with death. It shook me a little. Rocked my faith in the world at a time when all you could was believe. Believe in God, the tooth fairy, people- anything.
But we had more cats soon enough. A few more Furry’s, both Furry III and IV grew to adulthood but either died off screen or left. There were some cats that showed up from time to time. Fully grown and feral. But then again all our cats were feral, we never let them into the house, even in the dead of winter.
There was this one white cat that showed up one Winter, we called her Bubbles. She’d climb up through the cars pipes and find her way into the engine, to shield her from the howling winds. Most cats would have just climbed up onto the tires but she found a way into that engine. Every morning Ma or Da would have to go out, open up the engine and take her out.
There’d be splotches of oil on her white fur. I’d call her Engine Oil but the rest of the family opted to call her Bubbles, cause oil bubbles.
I remember when I was walking up the snowy lane to catch the bus to school, she’d follow me up. As I stood by the road, she’d climb up my leg and find her way on my shoulder- sometimes even stand on the top of my head. She’d stay there until the bus would come and then I had to go. Other kids loved the sight of it. But as soon as that Winter was gone, so was Bubbles.
At some point Blackie would get pregnant again, but she stopped bringing them to the house. Figured they wouldn’t live long if they were around us. She’d hide them out in one of the forests near the house, venturing back and forth with the food she’d find. She was a mean old cat. Hardened by harsh Winters and other horrors of nature.
I think she just saw us as a means of an end. She’d come to our back door every day, pawing the window in hopes we’d give her scraps of food. We would. Soon enough her sons would do the same, maybe even some other cats as well. Everyone would come and go, except for Blackie. She stayed with us till the end.
One morning I remember going to the front door and finding this other cat, a male, awkwardly climb up on top of Blackie. It was a strange site and I really didn’t understand it, but I assumed this was how she’d get so many kittens.
Weeks would go by, I don’t think I’d seen a kitten in years at this point. Only cats that would pop up would be either Blackie or one of the Furries. There were so many Furries, it was hard to keep track. I remember one morning I was at the table, eating breakfast and as I looked out the window I saw either Furry V or VI pin his mother down to the ground and begin humping frantically.
Feline rape is a bit of a weird sight to behold when you’re trying to have your Weetabix.
I think about that sometimes. How Furry became this feral monster, like a rapey Oedipus Rex. Tragedy being that this probably wasn’t the first time something like this happened to Blackie. If anything, it was a regular occurrence. Some cat would come along, bigger and stronger than her, and then he’d be on his way again.
I wonder if she even has the mental faculties to understand or cope with it. Would it traumatise her or would she look back on it as a thing that had happened. I wonder about pain and whether it’s meaning depends on contextualisation, or even just the ability to remember it. All the animals and human beings who’ve trudged along this earth for millennia, are they driven mad by their suffering or do they see their ails as just something bad that happened a long time ago?
By the time I finished Primary School, my sister wanted a dog. Our older sister had a fear of dogs but now that she was moving out we were allowed to get one. I wasn’t really into the idea because, y’know, we already had cats. But we got one anyway, a Jack Russel named Lara.
The dog and the cats didn’t get along. Soon as Blackie and Furry would come around, Lara would start howling at them. Scaring them off. If she wasn’t tied up, she’d have probably chased them until they were dead. Soon enough both cats stopped showing up all together. I assumed that the dog had driven them away.
I found out years later about what actually happened to Blackie and Furry. Da had the same mindset as me, dogs and cats just don’t get on. You can’t have both, so one has to go. He lured them into the car, drove them out to Dungiven and dumped them in the middle of the street.
Took a few more years before my sister found out. She hated him for it, just like I had hated him. But they were never really pets. They were feral cats that showed up for food and we would play with them. We grew up in rural Ireland, you don’t really have pets like that. I get confused looks from farmers whenever they see me walking the dog.
These people, people like my Da, see these animals more like tools than pets. Dogs keep away foxes and herd sheep. Cats keep away mice and rats. That’s their job. You don’t let them in the house, you don’t buy them toys or give them baths, they’re just an animal that you hold dominion over.
But cats are weird because we never really tried to dominate them, not like dogs or horses or any other type of animal. Cats live around us, living their own separate little lives. Going from place to place in search of food and shelter.
I remember one time I found some kittens around the pipes under our house. They were the first ones I’d seen in years, some of Blackie’s lot. I don’t know if the two of them were stuck or if they were just hiding from the sun, bit they were squeezed together inside this pipe, meowing.
I left them there. Years later, when I laid in bed on a still night I could hear them. These cats outside, in the walls, in the pipes, meowing. Looking for someone to help them, anyone. But I have to remind myself that there are no cats here, and there never will be again.