The cat was definitely coming between Jess and Odna and spoiling their relationship.
They had lived together in a shared house with other flat mates for over a year now- it was a sort of artist commune life style, they saved on heating for example and suffered with the cold but this was more than made up for in the summer with the huge cool spacious rooms and large garden.
Jose, the cat; was given as a kitten to Jess a year ago this Christmas by a friend. At first things went well. Jose was an adorable ginger, he was into everything; rolled on his back at the click of a finger, ran every where and got stuck in the drain pipes and constantly fell off the landing- which had no banisters. And he was such a nice cat. He never chased or caught mice, rather he was kind to them and often tried to snuggle up to them, although they never trusted him. And he didn’t touch the birds either although when Robin from the Silver Birch Tree tried to goad him he would fling his head up high and trot away daintily on pointed feet. Yes he was very peaceful and this began to cause problems for some of the housemates.
He doesn’t do anything, one house mate complained. He’s useless as a cat, and we have more mice now I’m sure and all because he won’t catch any.
He just stares at me with these weird soppy eyes, another house mate said. I find it really spooky.
Jess looked at Jose and began to think, yes there was something about his eyes. They were mostly black with a yellow glow and they seemed to pulsate with warmth and something else- she didn’t know what it was- perhaps it was kindness. Still she didn’t mind him not chasing mice or birds and killing them. Secretly she was rather proud in fact, she saw his peacefulness and state of non violence as being a reflection of herself and how she brought him up.
Odna also loved Jose, both her and Jess dedicated themselves to him. Jess cleaned and brushed him and fed him and Odna played with him. He was, it might be said; a well brought up polite cat who didn’t scratch or claw or show any signs of bad temper.
But then things started to change slightly. Odna got another job with more hours and often she found herself working twelve hours a day- she was living a life she did not like but didn’t know how to change it and the small amount of time she was now at home was spent glaring at the wall. And Jess became ill. She didn’t know what it was but a great tiredness and aching came over her. She hated working at the DVD store and often returned home tired, depressed and angry. One night Odna was disturbed from her staring at the wall, Jess was shouting out from the next bedroom.
I’m not coming back, I’m not! You can’t make me! Stuff your fucking job!
Odna tiptoed to Jess’ room and opened the door to find Jess on her knees, her hair amok over her face and clenching her hands as if praying. Her eyes were closed. Odna led her gently back to bed and in the morning said
You’re really run down. Why don’t you go to see your Doctor?
There’s nothing wrong with me! insisted Jess. I just don’t like my job that’s all.
Then change it Jess! said Odna.
Oh just leave me alone! she shouted back. You think things are so easy don’t you?
And stormed out. Odna sat down on the couch in surprise. She looked at Jose and called out
Come on boy, come here!
but Jose ran away. This was the beginning of the change. Jose was no longer looked after so well by Jess. She forgot to feed him sometimes and the nightly cuddles stopped. And because Odna worked long hours there was no one to play with him and he got lonely. So he started bringing in other cats. At first it was just one or two- strays- big beasts with squinting runny eyes who were always ravenously hungry. Jose would give them his food. But then the numbers began to increase and so the house mates started to complain. It wasn’t just the number of strays that were the problem, it was the dirt and the fleas they brought with them. And Jose stopped looking after himself, he stopped preening and didn’t clean his whiskers and was full of fleas. And the kind of company he was keeping- the house mates shook their heads. They all seemed vagabonds and thieves and because they weren’t neutered they leapt onto anything that moved. They also killed, although Odna; returning early from work one day; was sure she saw Jose forcing a much larger cat to let a poor and distressed mouse go free. He seemed to be trying to teach them to behave better.
But Jess seemed oblivious to Jose’s state. If anyone questioned her she said
Oh just stop worrying, he’s just being a cat- he is fine.
But even Odna was forced to admit that Jose was in a terrible mess. He was growing terribly thin, his coat looked moth eaten, his whiskers had got terribly long, he smelt and was disinclined to give anyone eye contact anymore.
Odna put this down to an unfortunate and traumatic event a week ago. Jose, looking for comfort and sensing that Jess needed comfort too, had come to her room miaowing and looking at her with his big soppy eyes. And for no reason except frustration which towards Jose, turned into irritation and contempt; Jess had taken the leg of her chair and brought it down hard on the cat’s hind leg. The cat did not scream- Odna was there and she saw- no he didn’t even cry- there was just a slight widening of his eye and a little bit of wetness in the eyeball and that was it. He held up his hind paw which was squashed, broken and bleeding and limped away.
He was gone for a whole week so that the other house mates were convinced that he had at last left for good. But then he suddenly returned, limping profusely and looking even more battered. The house mates were mortified and took, when they thought no one else was looking; to kicking poor Jose or shoving him down the stairs when they could, or throwing away the food Jess occasionally put down for him. But Jose had become even more loving. The more he got kicked or pushed away the more he came back for the same treatment, begging with those trusting loving warm black eyes. But the reaction was the same, he received just a kick or an exasperated look.
One night Odna was home early enough for her to hear him scratch at her door. She let him in and was shocked at his appearance. His fur was now falling out in huge clumps, his whiskers dragged in front of his paws so that he was constantly in danger of tripping over them or cutting his paws on them.. but it was his hind leg that concerned her most. It hadn’t healed and was swollen and was an open sore- and when she peered in more closely she saw the flesh was moving with worms.
Oh Jose, she said. To have got like this.
And anger rose up in her at Jess, for allowing this state of affairs, and rose up in her too because she felt a little contempt for Jose, for his pitiable state; for his longing for love which was in his eyes and the pain the she saw there which he all too readily allowed her to see, for his inability to hate the other bullying house mates and Jess for hurting him- for his inability to stand up for himself and protect himself.
He needs to go to a vet, said Odna. And after that a loving home.
For Odna was full of reason and of the divine law. But Jess disagreed. Secretly the Jose’s terrible state pleased her. It mirrored her own state which was by now pretty dreadful. She’d stopped washing and changing her clothes and since losing her job, spent her days sitting at the kitchen table and chewing her hair.
Jose is alright! shouted Jess. Fucking leave me alone and stop interfering.
And Jess slammed the door on Odna and all the other house mates and kept Jose with her so that no one hardly ever saw him. She would only let him out at night when she thought everyone else was in bed.
One night though Odna heard a curious thump thump on the stairs outside her room. Thump, drag, thump it went. She opened her door a crack and peered out to see Jose dragging his hind leg which was now almost as big as him. Thump drag thump drag thump he went on down the steps, all the time looking back at Odna with calm beseeching eyes.
Are you OK Jose? said Odna kindly though with a sickness in her.
But at that moment Jess came to the bottom of the stairs.
Jose? Come on Jose, you come to mummy, you come to mummy darling!
That night Odna lay awake all night thinking about Jess and Jose. Why was Jess keeping the cat when she obviously didn’t care about him? The next day Odna took the day off work and waited for Jess to emerge. But Jess shrank away from Odna.
Go away, said Jess.
I want to talk to you about Jose, Odna persisted. Why are you keeping him Jess when you can’t be bothered to look after him?
Shall I tell you why then? said Odna, when Jess made no reply.
Because he’s a projection of yourself and the state you’ve got yourself into, you want to keep him trapped and dirty and unkempt and unloved because that’s how you’re feeling and that keeps you secure in yourself. Because you’re not moving on and developing and are in this prison, you’re determined to keep him in the same state too.
Anyway, Odna continued; I have a friend who says he will take him to the vet- may be you can’t afford it I don’t know so he will pay- and then my friend has another friend who runs a cat home and he says she’s willing to take Jose.
There was a pause and then Jess, in her dirty nightdress and with a dirty face; turned around to Odna.
You always interfere and shall I tell you why you are doing? Because you yourself don’t want to face your own life! And how shitty your life is. Don’t think I don’t know you just sit in your room staring at your wall all the time you’re in, I do! And in order to save yourself from having to think about yourself and how you are failing you instead focus on me and Jose. Well I’ve got news for you, me and Jose are just fine OK, just fine. So fuck off.
Oh no, that’s not it at all, Odna protested. You’ve got it so wrong! I’m just trying to help!
But Jess walked off taking Jose with her.
Oh well, what can I do? thought Odna.
But the next day Jess phoned the RSPCA herself. The truth was her guilt over Jose’s paw was eating away at her like the worms in his flesh. She had to invite the law in against herself.
But why have you done that? asked Odna. You could have just left him anonymously at the vets if you had wanted, that’s all you had to. You are just using him to get attention for yourself.
For a guilty man always seeks out the law against himself eventually.
But when the RSPCA Inspector arrived Jess refused to acknowledge she was the owner. The Inspector stood looking aghast at Jose.
He’s going to have to be put down you know, he said. Who does he belong to?
But at that Jess grabbed Jose from him and tried to run to her room.
Odna however had other ideas and held onto Jess, trying to wrestle Jose from her.
He was such a nice cat, she shouted; letting it all out. So loving and kind and warm and look at what you’ve done to him! You’ve got to be rational and accept that you can’t look after him!
Get off, screamed Jess back. I need Jose, I need him; I love him- leave me alone and surrender to how it is with Jose and me.
And as they struggled, Jess began to cry like a helpless small child. And all the while Jose kept very quiet and very still.
And then a terrible thing happened.
The two girls had been struggling so much they didn’t notice they were pulling his limbs between them. He tried to meow to warn them but no sound came out. And then suddenly, he snapped in half. There was a wrench and a release and Jess fell back clutching half a cat’s head, flank and back leg. And Odna was left with Jose’s spine dangling in her right hand.
There was complete silence. Jose hadn’t even cried out, there was just a snap and then nothing.
The Inspector immediately took out his mobile phone and photographed the two girls for evidential purposes. And Jess and Odna just stood there, each holding a half of Jose.
Oh God, said Odna. Oh God I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was about to happen.
But Jess just stood there frozen still, Jose’s head grasped in her hand. She looked a sorry mess now, her nightdress was full of holes, her hair hadn’t been brushed for months and was full of knots. And she’d lost any faith in anything she’d ever had. You could see the end might be near for her.
He was a bad cat, she said suddenly. I never really knew him, I never saw him really. I can barely remember what he looked like.
And with that Jess turned into the house.
And you missy? asked the Inspector, looking at Odna. Who owns the cat really?
Oh you know, he was just a cat, may be a stray? I work an awful lot, I rarely saw him. Nothing to do with me really, She said; her eyes glazing over, looking away.