He’s big, he’s ginger and yesterday was his twentieth birthday.
My sister once lived and worked at a local college. She had a flat at the top of the main building and one day, in a very hot summer, she had left her fire escape to the roof open in the hope of a cooling breeze. There was no breeze, instead the enormous ginger tom cat that had hung around the college looking for a free lunch for the last couple of days, wandered in. He has been with her ever since. He was there when she took a pregnancy test and found she was expecting my niece. He was there when she brought home my nephew from the maternity ward. And he’s here on my bed now.
Rufus (so named because he came in from the roof) is huge. Here in the West Country they build cats BIG. Not all of them, obviously, but many are too big to fit on your lap. Rufus is one of those. He’s also very clumsy. He was never one of those sure-footed felines who could land gracefully on a washing line. Whenever there is a loud thump on the floorboards we look around to find he’s missed the surface he was aiming for and landed in a heap. Hence his theme song is I’m Too Sexy as in ‘I’m too sexy for that window sill, or that chair-back, or that car bonnet and that’s why I didn’t stay on it.’ Not that the old chap leaps around much these days but he can still make it to the shed roof when he’s of a mind to.
Rufus is also a tart. He has a mistress. Her name is Betty and she lives next door. For the last decade, Rufus has shared his time between my sister and her neighbour. Betty never feeds him and she sends him home at a reasonable time each evening but Rufus is very loyal to her. In the warm months he will lie under her Hydrangea and in the chilly season he’ll sidle up to her hearth and stretch his considerable length in front of the fire. Every Christmas he sends her a cat-themed gift and a card that he graciously allows the dog and our other cat to sign. He is rarely so considerate to my sister. If she is watching television he will sit in her lap and make sure that she cannot see the TV screen. If she closes her bedroom door he’ll scratch to come in. If she lets him in he’ll scratch to go out. He insists on trying to sleep on her feet and she kicks him off. He gets back up. She kicks him off again. This will go on for some time until, in a sulk, Rufus jumps on her dressing table where (assuming he doesn’t miss his footing) he’ll sit and clean himself noisily. The dressing table rattles, he’s slurping away at his fur, and the noise ensures that my sister will not get any sleep. I think the cat usually wins this battle. My sister has described him as Chinese water torture in orange fur.
But what will she do without him? And Betty? Since Christmas we’ve lived with the worry of his declining health. He’s had many of his teeth removed and he’s sometimes quite unwell. Often we’ve set off to the vets with him and wondered if we’d be bringing him home again but so far so good. He is old and it shows but his health is better, he’s active and, on his really good days, he beats up the other cat so I’m not too worried about his quality of life. He’ll let us know when he’s had enough. Or we’ll find him one day, under the Hydrangea or on top of the boiler, and he will be still. Whenever I see him asleep I stop and watch to see if his chest rises and falls. We haven’t spoken about it but I know my sister does the same. We’ve cried buckets when he’s been ill and my sister dreads having to tell Betty when the day comes. More than that, she dreads the Christmas when there isn’t a present, with a large orange cat-print on it, to be delivered next door.
We suspect, but don’t know, that his previous owners dumped Rufus. A well-kept, five-year-old neutered, tom had to come from somewhere. Did they ignore the advertisements my sister placed? Maybe the cat just wandered off, his owners didn’t see the ads, and they always wondered what happened to him. Maybe his owner died. Whatever the truth of Rufus’s past, their loss was our gain. My niece and nephew have never known life without him and my sister and I consider life in two halves – BR and Annus Feline. We won’t have him for much longer, I suppose, and we must consider every day a blessing. We are sad but that doesn’t mean we don’t laugh when he falls off something (as long as only his pride’s hurt). It doesn’t mean that we overlook the fact that he is a total sod most of the time. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t tease him – like we did yesterday by surrounding him in the garden and singing Happy Birthday. He wasn’t impressed. He got up and stalked away with our three cheers ringing in his (mostly deaf) ears. We did refrain from chasing after him and giving him the bumps, though.
Poor old Doofus, you’d think he’d be fed up by now by but he’s sticking with us and we’re sticking with him. Every few weeks we load him into his basket and drive him to the vet. Each time is a quiet nightmare of asking will this be the trip when the vet says ‘it’s time?’ We’ll keep doing it, though, because he’s worth it. He’s our ginger dude who’s too sexy for everything and we love him. And so does Betty.
And, if you’re worried, Rufus has left a will. He’s listed all Betty’s presents for the next twenty Christmases. So that’s that sorted.