I’m at the cooker stirring the cheerfully bubbling tikka masala when I hear the little cries. Mewls, that’s the word that springs to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard mewls before but standing here listening there is nothing else to describe it. There’s something mewling in my garden and it isn’t giving up. Something is stuck or distressed. I can live with that. It’s dark and I’m sure it’ll sort itself out. Whatever it is.
Then marque 4 comes into the kitchen and hears it too. He alerts the gang. Before I can bellow that the dinner is now, finally, ready they are all outside investigating. They follow the sound. The un-abating mewls are multiplying. They are persistent.
‘Help, help’ they seem to squawk. The boys tip-toe over to the Christmas tree. Yes I know it’s September, and no, we are not ahead of ourselves. Last year’s russet tree lies a-slant waiting patiently to be made into firewood. The mewls are coming from underneath the tree. Marque 2 pulls at the tree a little. Then he lets out a long quivering whimper.
‘Oh my god look’ he quavers. We look and we cannot see. Marque 3 shines a torch from a phone in. There they are. Three teeny tiny new born kittens. Huddled. Sprawled on top of one another. Minutes old, if that. Before I can say ‘ah god, now put the tree back’ marque 2 has lunged forward with a towel and plucked one of them out. It’s legs are splayed, eyes tightly shut.
‘Oh my god’ reverberates around my own head. What next?
‘Put him back’ I say firmly, trying to sound convincing.
‘Put him back?’ one or two or three of them wail. There’s definitely an echo around here somewhere.
‘But he’ll die. We’ve read about it. The mother will only look after one or two. She won’t do three so we need to bring him in’. They all seem to be mouthing this line. This entirely fabricated line. I must seem like a bit of a pushover. My head is spinning from one to the other to the other. I’m in a swirl. I try to slide the door closed while sticking firmly to my line. Any hesitation at all and they’ll have the whole lot in.
There’s a foot jammed in the door. A foot now prising the door back open. Eyes large and pleading, blinking back tears. Tears, if they fall, that will announce the fact that there is a mother around here who cares not a jot about a poor little defenceless newborn. Tears that will say he can’t quite believe he has such a heartless mother. Oh well. He shoves the towel under my nose. Perhaps if I sniff the newness I’ll crumble.
‘Yes, put him back’ I say, looking at my white towel, at what seems to be a patch of blood. Drat.
‘He needs to be fed by his mother. He needs his mother’s milk’.
‘But you could do that’ marque 4 suggests, motioning to my defunct chest, a slight grin forming. He has a clear memory that perhaps he shouldn’t have. They all do. Oh well.
‘Would you have liked it if someone came along and plucked you away from me when you were just born?’ I ask marque 4. He misses not a beat.
‘Yes’ he says laughing. ‘I would’ve liked that very much’. There’s a punishment pending. Suggestions welcome. Then he starts to really think.
‘We should call Nanny 911, she’ll know what to do’ and he sets to it. Nanny 911 is their maternal grandmother. Proud owner of six cats. Yes. Yes, she does fit the stereotype of the old lady living on her own with a rake of cats. All strays, in danger, and rescued by her good self. She will only encourage them, I think, staring at the splayed mite. Weakening myself now a little as they knew I would. I do a Google search, to bat off the encouragement should it come their way. But we are singing from the same sheet. Thankfully.
Put it back, she tells them. It needs it’s mother. Marque 3 has left out a bowl of hamster food for them. It’s all we have. She tells him to remove it. It could attract other animals. The mother cat could be frightened off by others competing for her space. Then she tells them that it is very, very important to put it back quickly as if the mother smells that it has been handled by other creatures she could reject it. Now why didn’t I think of that? Marque 2 is no longer trying to prise the door open to bring in his new pet. He is calling for help with the Christmas tree. Trying to put it back in the exact position he found it.
My own Google search confirms all her points. I’m reading them out. Reading that the very best place for them is to be with their mother. Unless in danger from wild dogs or foxes. Which it isn’t I say.
‘But I saw a fox’ marque 4 says and they are back echoing again about a fox up on the wall spotted by marque 4. I ignore them and their fabrications. I know we’re doing the right thing.
The next morning I spot the mother. She looks about three months old herself. Poor thing. So much responsibility. So young. But she’s taking it in her stride. Chilled out sitting underneath marque 3’s sunflower. She regards me with little suspicion as I approach her offering a bit of ham. She steps back for a second. Then she devours it. So at least I know she’s fed and able to feed. They are so quiet today. I’m afraid to look in really. In case the fox wasn’t a fabrication after all. But I do it. Before they arrive home from school. I’ll have to know. They are sound asleep, on top of one another, breathing fast and well. Rising each other up and down with the strength of their new found breaths. Helping one another to stay in the world. It’s a gorgeous oxytocin inducing sight.
The kids arrive back from school and set to making a fun zone for them. They string things from a table. A silver spanner, a blue Volkswagen Beetle, a Sinead O’Connor CD and a bicycle pedal all dangle enticingly, swaying and tinkling, waiting for the kittens to find their legs and come out to play. They peep in under the Christmas tree. The mother has scarpered to look for more food. She’ll be back later. And if she isn’t, well, hamster watch your back…