This is not a post about politics. It is not a post about poetry, either, not that I’ve done one of those for a while.
You see, our beautiful, beloved, black and white cat, Mystery, slipped out of the house a few days before Christmas, and we have not seen her since. Given her age, her health (she was on medication for thyroid issues), and her deep affection for my husband (there is no way that Mystery wouldn’t have come back to her daddy if she had been able to do so), we have to presume that she is dead. We have, of course, letterboxed, and put up posters, and rung vets and visited shelters, and done all the things that one does when a pet goes missing, and we will continue doing so for a little longer, but realistically, we know her chances were never high. If she hasn’t turned up by now, she isn’t going to.
I realise that it is self-indulgent to write Mystery’s obituary here, bracketed by my thoughts on microparties and asylum seekers and the current government, but I figure that thanks to the National Library Archive, this blog is the one thing in my life that I know will survive me. Mystery was an excellent cat, and deserves to be remembered for posterity. Also, I kind of like the idea that some future student, diligently researching The Role of Microparties in Australian Government in the 21st Century, or the Decade of The Seven Prime Ministers, or The Rise and Fall of Blogging in the Early 21st Century will run across this post and be bemused by it.
(To that future student: looking at pictures of cats on the internet is a traditional method of procrastinating in the early 21st Century, so you should definitely read on – this is an important opportunity to connect with the past through re-enacting its cultural rituals.)
(To anyone else reading this, it’s OK. I know you are here for the politics, and I won’t be offended if you don’t read this post.)
Mystery was born in 2003. She was the runt of her litter, and quite shy when we first met her, though, like most animals and small children, she gravitated to Andrew immediately. When we brought Mystery home, along with her sister, Mayhem, she immediately hid under the kitchen table. Andrew spent the better part of a day sitting on the floor next to that table, talking to her. When she did finally emerge, it was as Andrew’s new guardian and patroness. She kept him under close supervision from that day forward, and took her duties seriously. She was particularly concerned about the dangers of bathrooms, and would insist on accompanying him on any visits to this perilous location. If he locked her out, she would howl, unbelievably loudly, until he emerged to pick her up.
Mystery quickly went from being a shy little kitten to being the dominant cat and self-appointed ruler of the household. We nicknamed her ‘Mystery Minerva’, for her intelligence and utter certainty that she was the goddess of the house. She would greet all guests at the door, hopping up onto a low bookshelf so that they could pat her properly in greeting, before she led them into the house proper. On one occasion, she greeted an entirely new visitor by racing down the corridor and hurling herself into his arms. He was won over completely. She was very good at that.
When we were not about, she would sit out the front of the house, chatting to passers-by – Mystery was a talkative cat, with a wide vocabulary of miaows and chirrups, including one that sounded suspiciously like ‘hello’. Whenever Andrew or I were out in the front garden, people would stop and say things like, oh, so she’s your cat – evidently, she was well-known in the neighbourhood. Our next door neighbour told me once that Mystery liked to visit them, and sit in the garden, looking at the aviary. Almost certainly, Mystery was hoping that the buffet would open, if only she waited long enough. She was a patient cat.
It’s hard to know what cats do during the day, but we rather suspect that for several years Mystery acted as a pet therapist for the nursing home on the corner of our street. While we have no proof, she became a lot less picky about her food after the nursing home closed down, so we suspect that she was accepting payment in kind.
Speaking of therapy, Mystery definitely understood that it was her job to look after her humans when they were sick. While Andrew was always her favourite human, I also benefited from her patronage. When I had a broken leg, she would come and sit by me, purring kindly, for precisely half an hour each day. She insisted on accompanying me to the bathroom (and nearly succeeded in breaking my other leg with her extreme helpfulness underfoot), and if she came in wet from the rain, she would sit, perfectly still, while I hopped around her getting a towel and dropped it over her head, giving me time to sit down and then rub her dry. (No such allowances were made for Andrew, who was expected to pat her dry at all times. Mystery always held him to a higher standard.) She even learned to make allowances for my slowness in answering the door while on crutches – I would hear a single miaow, then a pause that was just long enough for me to get to the door on crutches. If I then failed to appear on this revised schedule, she would commence miaowing and bashing the wire door with her paws, her usual method of expressing a desire to come in.
While compromises could be made if a human was truly sick, Mystery also made it clear that one must maintain certain standards of civilised behaviour. When I tried to move her food bowl to a location from which I could more easily feed her while balancing on crutches, however, Mystery rejected this utterly. Food must be served in the proper location to be acceptable.
Of course, where Mystery really shone in the sick room was her generosity in providing nourishing snacks. She only brought in two rats in her entire career, that I recall – once when I was house-bound with that broken leg, the other time when I was in bed with a prolonged bout of conjunctivitis. On both occasions, the arrival of an airborne and not yet dead rat on my bed got me back on my feet very efficiently, though being only human, I failed to appreciate the hard work that Mystery had gone to in providing this important therapeutic aid.
Mystery was a mighty huntress from an early age. Thankfully, she never brought in any native wildlife, but mice were her frequent prey. She liked to bring them into the house so that we could learn from her hunting prowess as she chased them around the kitchen. Oddly, this never really received the applause she was hoping for, not least because she would frequently be so busy looking back over her shoulder at us to check whether we were suitably impressed that the mouse itself would get away. Her preference, always, was for hunting to be a family activity, and on one occasion I came home to find Andrew helpfully moving furniture to assist Mystery in finding a mouse she had lost. Such a good Daddy…
Mystery carried herself with great dignity, and exuded a strong sense of noblesse oblige. She was very affectionate and liked to be picked up and cuddled, and so she made allowances for the fact that her humans were sometimes prone to pick her up when she didn’t want to be picked up. She would always purr politely for a few moments, to encourage the good impulse, before hopping down. A similar feeling that humans should be encouraged in good intentions, even if they weren’t very good at it, came into play at the vet, where she was invariably polite and on one occasion purred so loudly that the vet could not hear her heartbeat through the stethoscope. She knew the vet meant well, even if he did have some odd ideas about the proper ways to cuddle cats. Her medical records frequently held remarks such as ‘nice cat’. Her attitude to medication was similarly tolerant. She would give us this look, which clearly said ‘yes, I can taste that you have crushed up pills and put them in my food, but obviously you mean well, so I’ll eat it anyway.’
She didn’t meet a lot of children and babies, but when she did so, Mystery was again very good-natured in dealing with human foibles. On one occasion, a toddler got within grabbing distance unexpectedly and pulled on her ears. Mystery gave the assembled company a look that stated quite plainly that we would get this ill-mannered kitten away from her Right Now, but she did not lay a paw on the child. In general, if children approached her with curiosity, she would greet them nose to nose, and permit slightly inept patting with great tolerance. She obviously understood that children weren’t fully trained yet, and made allowances.
It really cannot be overstated how much Mystery adored Andrew. She hated him leaving the house, and would miaow operatically if he did so in the evening. As a kitten, she was locked out of the bedrooms, so she would spend hours at night hurling herself at the door. After a while, this evolved into a leap up to grasp the door-handle, followed by energetic full-body swinging to pull the door open. We had to physically lock the door, which led to a lot of pathetic (but once again, extremely loud) miaowing. Eventually, we relented, and Mystery got her way, as she generally did.
Mystery would sleep on Andrew’s chest or his pillow or in the crook of his arm, and would sit on his lap and his lap only (though she also liked sitting between us, on the arms of the sofa and armchair). She would wait outside in the worst of weather for Andrew to come home, and then greet him with a combination of affection and berating. On one occasion, we arrived back in a friend’s car, and Mystery came tearing up the footpath from five houses away, telling us off as she arrived. She then ran ahead of Andrew, stopping every few metres to hop up onto a fence post and tell him off some more as he approached, before jumping down and running ahead of him again.
About 18 months ago, Mystery started losing weight, and was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and a heart murmur. The former was controlled with medication; the latter was thought to be fairly harmless. The heart condition didn’t surprise us, somehow – Mystery was always so excited when she saw Andrew, and you could feel her heart beating super-fast in happiness when she snuggled against him. Still, it was a sign of advancing age, and it was hard to watch her losing weight, even with the medication. A couple of months ago, Mystery suddenly decided she liked laps again, specifically my lap, and she would spend as much time as she could curled up and purring on either me or Andrew. At the time, I wondered if it was a sign – if Mystery felt that she was getting older and frailer and knew that she had limited time left, and wanted to show us that she loved us. I wondered how many Christmases we would have left with her. But for all her thinness, she was still our happy, affectionate, sweet-natured little cat, though, as is the nature with thyroid kitties, always hungry. (Not hungry enough to eat food she didn’t like, however. She had standards.) I did think we would get one more Christmas.
December 22nd was my last day at work for the year, and I came home very tired. We had fish and chips for dinner, which Mystery tried to steal, as was her wont. And a little later, when I went to open the wire door to let the breeze in, Mystery slipped out, brushing against my legs, and letting her tail flick over my knee in passing – thanks, Mum, see you later. I hadn’t noticed the time or realised that the cat door was shut, and when we did realise, and called her, she didn’t answer.
We went to bed, expecting Mystery to turn up by dawn, as she had done on previous occasions (Mystery was quite accomplished at cozening us into letting her out after curfew), but she did not. We assumed that she had got stuck in someone’s garage, and would be back at nightfall, which had also happened before. I went around the neighbourhood calling and listening for miaows (Mystery was the sort of cat who would answer if you called her), but I heard nothing.
Mystery did not come back that evening. We didn’t sleep a lot that night, both of us hearing phantom miaows at various doors, and getting up to check.
And so Christmas Eve was spent ringing vets and animal hospitals and the council and the Lost Dog’s Home, and making flyers, and door-knocking, and letterboxing, all with a sense that it was too late already.
When do you accept that a cat who has disappeared is, in all probability, dead? For us, it was on Christmas night, when we came back from spending the day with my parents to a house that still had only one cat in it. The cool change hadn’t come, and even if it had, it would probably have been too late for our fragile little thyroid kitty.
We have continued to ring around and check shelters, of course, and will continue to do so for a little longer, but the time has come, I think, to say goodbye to our beautiful little Mystery-girl. To acknowledge that our beloved cat is gone, almost certainly for good.
It’s not that I want to shut that door. If Mystery comes back, we will celebrate her return as the miracle it really would be at this stage. But it feels wrong to simply keep going, keep looking, and never acknowledge her passing until it is so far in the past that her absence is stronger with us than her presence was.
We may never know what happened to Mystery, and that, quite frankly, is horrible. We have tortured ourselves with a number of scenarios over the last two weeks, each more painful than the last. I choose to believe that she walked out that night on important cat business (she always did manage to convey that she had important business to attend to when she went outside), and that her loving, excitable, murmuring little heart spontaneously gave out. That she was gone before we even knew she was missing.
Mystery was a wonderful cat, sweet-natured and friendly, and she loved her humans, especially her Daddy, with all her heart. We were lucky to have her in our lives for as long as we did.
We miss her terribly.
Vale, Mystery Minerva.