December 29, 2010 by markstani
My mother-in-law told me this story yesterday, when I found a cross and a badly made pottery cat at the bottom of their garden. She said it happened a bunch of Christmases ago. It was Christmas morning. My in-laws, whose names are Sue and Bob, opened their curtains to see a car pulled up close by their side-wall. A guy was stood out front holding a dead cat by its tail. Maybe he was about to toss the cat in their yard and drive off. The fact he’d stopped at all suggested at least a little festive goodwill on his part. My in-laws opened the door. The man looked sheepish, said, ‘Merry Christmas.’ He continued dangling the cat like a gift. My in-laws replied, ‘Merry Christmas.’ The man said, ‘it ran out.’ He said, ‘it’s dead.’ My in-laws recognised the cat as one belonging to the folks opposite. Bob cast an arm in the vague direction of their house. He said, ‘they’re away.’ He said, ‘in Portugal.’ Sue said, ‘they’ve got family.’ The three of them gazed at the darked-out windows. The man said, ‘well..’ He looked around for a place to dump the cat. Sue said, ‘we’ll take it.’ Bob glared at Sue. Sue sensed his glare, did not return it. She said, ‘it’s Christmas.’ Reluctantly, Bob took the cat from the man by its tail. The man paused awkwardly, made to wipe his hand down the side of his trousers, thought better. He backed off. He said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ again, then drove off. My in-laws stood in the silence of their yard, the cat dangling. Sue said, ‘on Christmas Day, of all days.’ Bob headed round back.
Some days later, before new year, there was a knock on my in-laws’ front door. It was the mother and two young children from the house opposite. The children were shiny-eyed. The boy held a bunch of flowers. The girl clutched the letter Sue had posted through. It told what had happened to their cat. It said it didn’t suffer, and was given a decent burial. The mother asked if the children could see where their cat was buried. Sue sat them in the lounge. She brought drinks and biscuits, then headed in the yard.
Sue fetched Bob and asked him where he’d buried the cat. Bob’s face drained. He said, ‘I took it down the tip.’ Sue said, ‘we’ve got the family round, want to pay respects.’ Bob sighed. Sue went back in the lounge, had the kids tell stories about the cat. It was called Timmy. They’d had it from a kitten. It slept on the boy’s bed. Bob headed in his shed and knocked up a small wood cross. He headed down the garden and ruffled some soil, planted the cross. Sue led the family down the garden. The boy laid his flower. The girl cried, asked to dig Timmy up and bury him back home. Sue said not, told the mother it was in such a state. The mother touched her arm. Sue told the children they could visit whenever they liked.
Over the next two years, the children came and visited most weeks. They came in mornings and after school. They came half-way through their ruby wedding celebrations, crouched down behind the marquee. They laid flowers. The boy placed a badly-made model cat he’d made in school pottery class. Christmas Days, the whole family came, spent a little longer. One year, they left for good for Portugal. They left my in-laws with a framed picture of Timmy. They left the cross and the model. My in-laws didn’t dare move them. They tell folk who ask it’s one of their own cats buried there. To folk like me who know they’ve never had cats, they tell this story. Sue says without the telling, they’d have probably long forgot there’s no cat down there at all.