I feel like Job. Everything of significance is being stripped from me. In August my flat in west London was badly flooded; on 25 September I lost my job; on Monday lunch-time, 25 October, my beloved cat Stan, apparently terrified at the sight and sound of me knocking in a fence post, took off and hasn’t been seen since.
In the six years since he came in as a stray, Stan has never spent a whole night out of my bed. He is rather cowardly and weighs a stone and a half, so he is not given to gadding about. On the morning after Stan took off I looked out of the kitchen window to see a massive magpie in the tree outside, sounding off with a voice like a cheap child’s rattle. An emblem of utter doom. Since then I’ve spent hours staring at the back wall of the garden, hoping Stan might suddenly appear.
I seem to spend all my time thinking about him and looking for him. The nights are worst, when every sound from the garden might be him coming back. I lie there longing to hear the snap and clank of the cat flap, the crunch of biscuits. But it doesn’t happen. I go through that melancholy task, dreaded by all cat owners, of trailing round the streets shouting out a name. The answer is silence. No more his eager call. It’s ghastly.
I have to seek help from local people — neighbours, most of whom I’ve never met before. A Geordie security man at the local factory directed me towards Doris, who feeds the local foxes every night. Crouching in the dark among discarded fast-food containers and bags of rubbish, she told me that five cats have recently gone missing from my road and the next, all vanished without trace. Not what I needed to hear. I was so happy with Stan, and the thought that someone might have casually taken him from me is sharply unpleasant.
On my travels I discovered a large wholesale warehouse at the back of my flat which I barely knew existed. Inside it’s bustling, with hunks of wet meat and overly swollen tomatoes changing hands at knock-down prices. Next to it is another cavernous shed where they sell cheap Christmas decorations ‘to the trade’, and lots of other pink plastic things; it might in fact be the hidden vault where all the nasty pink trashy things come from.
My friends have been terribly kind but I’m not always sure about their advice. One of them lost a cat in the Congo. It was trapped and eaten by people from a neighbouring village, who later sent her an apology, saying they would never have done it if they’d known it was hers. She said, ‘Why don’t you see if you can get something on Blue Peter?’
Another friend, who has been in Jungian therapy for years, said, ‘Maybe he has just found something that really works for him at the moment. It’s not personal.’ A commune, perhaps, or even an affair? I’m not having any of that because I know that Stan is utterly dedicated to me. He’d drool in my face every morning as soon as I switched on the Today programme, and regularly brought me furious rats as gifts. I took as much pleasure in them as many a parent does in their offspring’s lovingly executed but incompetent drawings.
The man over the road — a Northerner, who has been flirting with me since we met at New Year — said, ‘Why don’t you get another? They don’t last for ever, you know.’ I had almost become fond of him — he is a creative cook and I was impressed by his use of small, whole onions, but now he can just shove his shallots. You really find out about men at times like this.
In my state of unknowing, I have gone back to something I haven’t tried for years — prayer. I am a very modern Christian, I don’t go to church, rarely think about God, feel powerless against random chance, see no evidence of any guiding hand in the universe and regard Jesus as a historical political prisoner, one of millions over the centuries. That is what I commemorate on Good Friday: Jesus and Archbishops Luwum and Romero, Max Kolbe and Edith Stein. But in my current situation this won’t do, and after trying neighbours, the RSPCA, Battersea, Cats Protection and all the vets in west London, my hope has nowhere to go but up.
It might be primitive but the idea that there may possibly be a higher power who can help is extraordinarily consoling, releasing knots of discomfort and anxiety. But God remains a stranger indeed, so I have been trying St Francis of Assisi. He never managed to influence Mediterranean Catholics into treating animals decently, but I am still relying on him.
If he does bring back my cat, I have promised to make a pilgrimage to Assisi, where I will make some kind of offering at his shrine. I can’t do better than that, can I?