My mum used to say that when she died she wanted to come back as a well looked after cat. Two weeks before, for Christmas, I bought her a cat onesie. We assumed she would be spending plenty of time on the sofa with our tabbies – enough for the dog’s suspicions to subside. She unwrapped it in her hospital bed, using her bulging abdomen as a table, like you see on TV. When we picked up her things it took a week to notice the missing bag; after all, when someone dies like that it’s hard to keep track of what’s really been lost.
Creeping down the hard shoulder of the M20, she is thankful for the slippers in that bag. Cats are kitted out for the cold, but no one wants to learn a new body in January. It came as quite the shock to be spat out into the clean hospital room from a Tesco bag, although she’s not quite sure what she expected. Something softer. The nurse silently shooed the new arrival, as if it happened all the time. The woman in the chair by the bed saw through her tears only a hazy shape, hand reaching for the cross around her neck.
A cat’s ability to find its way home puzzles families, veterinarians and scientists alike. From what we can gather, cats navigate with something beyond the five primary senses. Starlings and other migratory birds follow visual cues; salmon use the earth’s magnetic field like a compass; wildebeest follow the smell of rain. But what about cats?
There are two young men in the front room, sorting through boxes, trying on hats they made for Easter fairs and laughing at their Year 2 poems. Nobody told them they’re supposed to keep the curtains closed. They’re drawn at night though, which means she can’t see them smoking weed out the French windows at the back. The young men scratch her behind the ears when they go out, feed her once or twice. First, the house cats are picked up by a logo-ed van, then the dog goes with a muddy coated woman, smiling. As the house empties of sofas and rugs, she begins to think this may not be the house she was looking for.
Matt Alton is a Brighton based poet. He is a current student of The Creative Writing Programme and has recently accepted a place on the Creative Writing and Education MA at Goldsmiths. @MattAltonPoet