We have feral cat visitors in our garden. We welcome them. We leave out water and sometimes food. Then we watch through the French windows as they take their tentative steps towards the old lunch box and munch furtively. The kids delight in it. They make hissy swishy cat encouraging noises. The parents delight in the natural outdoor rodent exterminators. The cats delight in our haphazard garden. They play in the broken tents. They scramble up the trellis and sit on the high wall surveying. They sunbathe on the flat black roof of the kitchen extension. There’s a synchronicity to it all – the cats in their multiplicity with their unstructured free range exploratory play mirroring the values of our family.
We hire a skip to de-junk the garden. Rusty old bicycles, broken plastic cars, burst bouncy toys, un-pitchable tents. An unhinge-able broken old wooden door lies at an angle in the hedge-row. The skip beckons. I lift it and yelp. A pair of stern yet terrified yellow eyes stare at me. She does not move. Nestled in beside her is the tiniest kitten. Eyes closed, days old. The mother looks like a defiant teenager, daring me to continue with my eviction. I place the door carefully back down on them.
There are squeals of delight when I share my news with the brood.
‘You mean they actually live in our garden?’
‘Was the baby born under the door?’
‘Can we keep them, please?’
‘We have pets, hurray! We’ve always wanted pets and the y’ve come to us!’
The skip leaves minus the old door. We call their nest Coombe corner, after the hospital where most of ours were born. The kids scatter dry cat food all over the tidy garden. The parents agree that it would be wise to google it. Taming ferals, diseases, injections, pit falls.
It’s a beautiful sunny spring day when I decide to mow the lawn. I sneak a peek into Coombe corner and there are no eyes staring out at me. I mow merrily for the first time since late last autumn. I stop to empty the grass and admire the transformed space. There’s a loud scurrying noise in the foliage above the blue door. Mother cat is scarpering frantically up the trellis. She has something in her mouth.
It takes me a moment to work out that it is not a mouse, rat or bird. It’s her baby. Eyes still closed. She squeezes through the fence into next door as I call ‘no, don’t go, please, too loud I know, I won’t switch it on again, hissy swishy, here kitty kitty, I’m sorry, come back, baby come back’.
We sit in our tidy mown garden and wait for our untamed pets to return. I peep into Coombe corner, obsessively, compulsively, checking and deflate a little each time at the sight of the empty nest. I think of the synchronicity again – this is a window to the future, and I resolve to enjoy every bit of young family life before I’m peeping into their empty rooms.