Difficult Conversations

by Charlie Galbraith

‘It’s hideous.’ So my Gran said, as the cat toppled through the cat flap and limped across the kitchen floor. ‘It doesn’t look well at all,’ she said, and it was true. The cat was lean to the point of emaciation and its fur, once a plush blend of purples and greys, had, for the most part, turned a dull, rusty beige. Its head and neck bore the lingering vestiges of its former hue, so that the animal looked as if it had been lifted by the scruff and dunked in a barrel of bleach. But it wasn’t just its colour that had changed. Even though the cat always seemed to be grooming itself, it had become utterly bedraggled, all matted and mangy. Once my brother found a dead fly mashed into its side; who knows how long it had been there? And the cat didn’t just look bad; it sounded awful too. Its usual smooth meow had mutated into an odd, strangled warbling noise that was both plaintive and confused, especially combined with the glazed, punch-drunk quality that its eyes had taken on in recent months. And the less said about the smell, the better. ‘Shouldn’t you think about putting it out of its misery?’ said Gran.

We – the family, not the cat and I – had had a conversation on the subject a few weeks previous and decided that we weren’t quite there yet. But maybe we were and just refused to admit it. The cat wasn’t living much of a life anymore. It had been confined to the kitchen and the garden for the last six months. The rest of the house was deemed off-limits after it had taken to defecating in the bath tub. And so it spent all day every day to-ing and fro-ing like a tramcar between its food bowl and the old sofa cushion it liked to sleep on.

Still, we remembered the cat as it had been: a proud, sleek, wiry creature; irascible and aloof; prone to unprovoked assaults on exposed ankles; by all accounts, a real piece of work. He was built to hunt and to kill and, when he wasn’t sleeping, that was what he did. An astonishingly diverse array of wildlife met their death at his claws – ducks, bats, moles, stoats, practically anything smaller than he was – all deposited on the ruined, bloodstained carpet in the hall. We had to resort to a wildlife encyclopaedia to identify half of them. And he was voracious too. He once killed five rabbits in one morning and ate every one of them whole, excepting the five little parcels of entrails he left for us to clean up. You could hear the cracking of bones all the way in the kitchen. And he didn’t treat other cats with any more compassion. He ran his sister out of the house after she had the temerity to have kittens by another tom. So we got a couple of new cats in and he took to tormenting them too. He used to hide around corners when he heard them coming, just so he could jump out and scare them. He was really quite vindictive, and this is what we thought of when we thought of the cat; not the pathetic, mewling thing that was here now. But all that was beside the point because the cat had no understanding of the concept of dignity. It had no need for it. The fact was that it seemed happy enough as it shuffled around the kitchen, doing nothing more adventurous than eating and sleeping, because those were its favourite things to do.

Later that day, as I passed my Gran in the hall and she asked me if I’d seen her reading glasses, I thought about how long it would be before we were having the very same conversation about her. They were on top of her head.

Charlie Galbraith likes long walks on the beach and short trips to the fridge.

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