Harry the cat brings us comfort and joy

Since my wife died, the cat she chose for us has been a warm presence

I’m staring lovingly into beautiful deep blue eyes. They return my gaze with frosty accusation before peering balefully back down at the fish dish I’ve placed before them. There’s a moment of calm, then their owner is shooting out of the kitchen into the garden and, without breaking stride, running straight up to the top of a huge maple tree, startling the starlings.

So exits Harry, our beautiful Siberian cat, whose presence is such a joy to Millie, Matt and me. He was Helen’s, chosen after a lifetime of loving cats though she was allergic to them. Sandwiched between chemotherapy, radiotherapy, invasive treatments, grim-faced consultants, her job and the relative beautiful normality of a busy household, she’d found time for a catty fact find. “I really want a cat, Adam. What do you think?” There was only one answer despite my worry that her hopes might be dashed. I’d also done a small amount of research.

“Of course, but be aware that those kittens bred to be hypoallergenic cost a small fortune and there’s a long waiting list.” Neither of us said anything, but it sat between us that “long” might not be attainable given the progress of her cancer.

Then, with the smile that accompanied her whole love of life, Helen continued, “Fortunately, I have an alternative. The Siberian is not only the national cat of Russia but has less of the protein I react to in its saliva. There’s a breeder just up the road.”

It was 80 miles and a waiting list away but Helen was so animated that it was fabulously infectious and we headed off. And we were in luck. The breeder had a litter and someone had dropped out meaning the youngest needed a home. So, as a family, we met a cat and her six kittens. Helen rolled around with them long enough to know she wasn’t wheezing or reacting in any way other than immediate love.

She was so excited. So happy that waiting a few weeks and paying a small king’s ransom was neither here nor there. “I hope he won’t be one of those snooty cats or spend his life hiding from people. I want him to be happy to sit on my desk purring when I’m working … Adam, what’s wrong?” My expression showed a wave of upset that Helen was talking about their future together when such a future was so unknown. Her green eyes met mine in an understanding of the silent pain of my thoughts and it was another of those moments of oneness that underlined so much of our love and lives together.

So Harry came – named by Millie and Matt after the “boy who lived”, a link to a sweet recent past when their mother would read aloud all the Harry Potter books. These stories filled their childhoods and still provide comfort at night listening to audio CDs narrated by Stephen Fry, whom Helen once met and asked about them. She was delighted at his charm and patience, so strengthening the spell his voice had cast over us all.

On arrival, Harry the kitten was a spectacular hit. He hid under the sofa for two days but then gloriously came and stayed out. Better still, when Helen was stroking him, he’d purr like an outboard motor at full throttle.

His paws were huge, rears longer than fronts. Was this usual? Returning to the website Helen used, I read for the first time past the protein point, discovering that different paw lengths were normal and that “The Siberian forest cat is the second largest domestic cat breed and over five years can grow to 25lb!”

We bought a bigger cat flap.

Harry’s size provides a big barrel-chested presence but he’s very gentle. He’s mainly white but has been yellow (poisonous lily pollen), brown (poisonous creosote) and orange (rusty tank in loft) and scrubbed in the bath each time without much complaint. Indeed, he runs his head under the tap for fun, comes when you call, sits when asked and will hunt you out to lie beside you; everything in fact that Helen hoped for and enjoyed in the short but beautiful time after Harry came to us and before cancer took her from us.

He is still Helen’s cat and in Harry we remember her joy in living, furry form. Somehow he anchors us back to being a family of four and is a tree-climbing, picky-eating symbol of our love for Helen. Cat is too small a word for so very big a comfort.

Adam Golightly is a pseudonym



Adam Golightly

The GuardianTramp

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