Jerry the Rat and Candy the Cat
Let’s go back in time a little. The rats arrived first. A month or so later, we were asked to take in a female cat that had fallen on hard times. A risky proposition. If cats and birds don’t mix, then why would cats and rats? No, no, no. We couldn’t get a cat. I put my foot down.
Three days later, we got Candy. I was the proud owner of a cat with the same name as a 22-year-old Las Vegas stripper.
When it comes to the pre-programmed savagery of feline predatory instincts, Candy turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. We introduced the two species to each other gradually. As a test we placed their cage, with the rats safely sealed inside, in the middle of the living room. We were curious to see how Candy would react. If I knew cats at all, I thought, she’ll be making a noise like a rapidly deflating bagpipe, and shaking her ass like J-Lo. Apparently I don’t know cats. Candy gently and calmly sniffed at the cage and then strode off to the kitchen for a shit.
As time went on we got braver. We’d take the rats out of their cage, each in turn, hold them tight, and let Candy sniff them. Again, indifference. Eventually, after a few months, we felt confident enough to let Candy and the rats roam freely around the living room together. All under our supervision, of course. I’ve seen Grizzly Man. If you don’t tread well with nature and instincts, you or your dependants end up like Timothy Treadwell. As cool and un-cat-like Candy seemed to be in the presence of the rats, we didn’t want to come home from work one day to find Candy with Ben, Jerry and Merlin lying disembowelled at her feet: “Good news, humans, I’ve finally worked out what I was supposed to be doing with these guys. HIGH PAW!”
The rats treated Candy like a giant one-of-them, padding around the room after her as she fast-walked away from them, with a look frozen on her face that was somewhere between pissed-off and startled. Incredibly, we discovered that it was the cat that had to work through her fear of rats, not the other way round.
Candy and Jerry were the most affectionate and happy together, which was nice, because Jerry was the last rat standing and being able to play with Candy meant that he was never truly alone. They loved each other, in their own strange way, and became inseparable: always cuddling, competing for treats, darting about, toy wrestling. I’d paired a rat and a cat, and I felt unstoppable. I was ready to phone Tony Blair to ask him to give me a crack at Israel and Palestine.
One night, my girlfriend and I were snuggled up on the couch under our duvet watching the Tom Cruise film ‘Oblivion’. Jerry and Candy were next to us, sniffing each other and begging for treats. They followed that with a play and a chase across the floor, which ended with Candy on her back, and Jerry climbing over her stomach and face. Candy playfully kicked out with her back legs, and padded and pawed at the little rat, her claws safely retracted, a benign look of amusement on her face. And then a strange thing happened…
Candy killed Jerry.
There was nothing in the way of guts, blood, or savagery. Jerry was perched on Candy’s stomach, and as she flopped on to her side, she took Jerry with him, causing him to thud down on to the cold floor. He fell only an inch or two, and the motion was slow, but even still the movement was of sufficient suddenness to cause Jerry to spasm, shake, then expire. Right there on the floor. All within seconds. Gone. In one swift wrestling move gone awry, Jerry ended his life like a little rat version of Bret the Hitman Hart.
I sprang to my feet and tried to stop my mouth from becoming wide enough to swallow a fridge. A laugh jumped from my throat. The moment was so surprising, the death contained within it so sudden, that my subconscious had labelled it ‘blackly tragi-comic’ before my conscious mind had a chance to evaluate my true feelings. I stood like an idiot for another bunch of seconds, a crushing guilt bearing down upon my shoulders. My brain entered judgement mode: ‘Oh my God, your negligence has caused the death of another living creature,’ it said. ‘Oh my God, this is all your fault. All. Your. Fault!’ But I knew it wasn’t. Not really.
It was the fucking cat’s fault, the murdering bastard.
Intellectually, I knew Jerry’s death had been a tragic accident, and no more the cat’s fault than mine. But those guilty feelings were there, and I angrily transferred them onto the cat, who by this time had taken on the dimensions of an evil serial killer.
“Look what you’ve done!” I bellowed. Futile, really, as the cat possesses no real concept of life and death, much less the legal rulings ‘culpable homicide’, ‘manslaughter’ and ‘accidental death.’ We tried to force Candy to smell the freshly-dead body of her once-spry wrestling partner, to help her come to terms with the gravity and finality of the accident, but she misinterpreted our intentions and just thought we were about to give her another treat. After a short while, she strode off into the kitchen for a shit.
I’m generally regarded as a man prone to optimism and unemotional, rational thought, so I was perfectly equipped to soothe my girlfriend’s worries and raw feelings in her time of grief and trauma…
“We’re fucking killers,” I told her. “If that was our child we’d be going to jail. We’re the McCanns. Jesus, that makes our rat Jerry McCann, so the universe knows, the universe knows what we fucking did! We’re going to rot in hell for all eternity.”
Wracked with grief, we watched the end of ‘Oblivion.’
We placed little Jerry upon his hammock, and closed him inside the cage one last time. He could have been curled up and sleeping, like a hundred other nights, but the truth of his death stabbed me like a needle in the heart each time I walked through the room. Why is it when you’re teetering on the edge of emotion you do things that you know will push you over? I hunkered down next to his cage, and spoke softly to him: “I’m so sorry, little guy. You just have a good sleep in… (sniff) your wee… (sniff) bed…and everything’s going to be okay, right?”
Jerry was the last of the rats, and so his demise marked the end of an era. This wasn’t just a goodbye to Jerry, but a goodbye to all of them. Over the next few days we removed from the house all proofs of the rats’ existence: the hammocks, their hidey-tube, the bags of food, their dishes, the cage itself… all gradually boxed up, thrown out or put in storage. The flat seemed empty and silent without them in it, and we in turn felt empty. But life always moves quickly to cement over the cracks left behind by death, and things went back to ‘normal’, as I guess they always do. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you bequeath to the world an empty cage, a string of movies or a stone statue: you’ll always be forgotten, or remembered only in abstract by strangers not yet born.
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