In the few months since the cat arrived as a kitten, he has grown too large for the cat carrier he came home in. Putting him in it is like trying to park a bus in a one-car garage, when the bus has other ideas.
“Shouldn’t he be facing the other way?” my wife says.
“He can turn around,” I say. “If I let him out of there now we’ll never see him again.”
When the cat is finally zipped inside I take the carrier out to the car and put it on the passenger seat. The cat gives me a cold stare from behind the mesh.
“Sorry,” I say, shutting the door and going back inside as my wife drives off. She rings me 45 minutes later.
“Do we need milk?” she says.
“Dunno,” I say. “Where are you?”
“Sainsbury’s,” she says.
“You didn’t wait with him?” I say.
“He’s having his nuts off,” she says.
“I know, yes,” I say.
“They have to go through the whole…”
“The procedure, yes.”
“Anyway,” she says. “I can’t pick him up until 3, so I’m shopping. Check the fridge.”
At 3.30 the cat comes home with a recovery collar round his neck. Once out of the carrier, he walks round the kitchen table in unsteady circles, knocking into chair legs.
“He’s still groggy,” the middle one says. My wife walks in with her phone to her ear.
“No, I just got back,” she says. “The cat’s had his bollocks off, and now he’s staggering around the kitchen with a cone on his head.”
“It’s quite distressing to watch,” I say.
“Yeah,” says the youngest one. The cat heads for the cat flap, but is blocked by the cone.
“Exactly,” my wife says. “If I could I’d get the whole lot of them done.”
The cat stands there, cone pressed against flap, frozen and deeply puzzled.
“I’ve got to go,” my wife says. “Everyone’s looking at me.”
Late next morning I find the cat on the kitchen floor, cone-free, chewing the edge of some rush matting. My wife is washing up, and the youngest is at the table making guacamole, surrounded by a growing mess.
“How is he?” I say, looking at the cat.
“Absolutely fine,” my wife says. “He’s eaten, been outside, attacked the dog.”
“Wasn’t he supposed to wear the cone until Monday?” I say.
“It was torturing him,” she says. “What’s the point of that?”
“I suppose it’s to stop him chewing the stitches,” I say.
“They don’t even bother with stitches,” she says.
“No,” I say.
“It’s true – they just squeeze them out,” she says.
“I mean no to this conversation,” I say.
“I agree,” says the youngest one, sinking the blade of his knife into the avocado stone and twisting.
“I’ll be in my office,” I say.
When I next go back inside the cat is nowhere to be found. I search all the rooms, twice, finding only my wife sitting at her desk.
“When did you last see the cat?” I say.
“Don’t do this,” she says. “You always do this.”
“I’ve looked everywhere, and he isn’t anywhere,” I say.
“He’ll be under someone’s bed,” she says.
“I looked under all the beds,” I say.
“I’m working,” she says.
I search all the rooms again, but there is no sign, no movement. I find the washing machine turning mid-cycle and I think: he’s probably in there – and we won’t find out for another 57 minutes.
I look in the kitchen cupboards and under the sofa. I go to the garden door and call the cat’s name – but not very loudly, because the cat’s name is Giles. I check the washing machine again: still 41 minutes left.
Sitting in the garden, worrying, I see a flash of gray out of the corner of my eye. I assume it’s a squirrel, but I follow the likely direction of travel until I discover the cat behind a plastic water butt, crouching in the dark, rubble-strewn gap between my office shed and the garden wall. He glances up when I peer over, but stays put.
“The good news is, they can only do that to you once,” I say.
The cat stars straight ahead, not moving.
“That’s OK,” I say. “You take all the time you need.”