Two feral cats are living in my house. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. However I’ve realised that, while I like cats in general, I don’t much like my own.
We have a spiteful old tabby whose skeleton stripes have long since blurred into one grey smudge, and a jet black scrag fighter who only deigns to come inside to eat. I look at them, and I feel nothing.
Yet, I am entranced, thrilled even, by feline strangers. Animal shelters and Brisbane’s cat cuddle cafes might seem the obvious places to scratch this strange itch, but actually, I prefer unplanned, anonymous encounters.
Like the night I caught the gleam of a moggy’s eyes in my headlights, stopped the car, and cooed until the creature emerged from the shadows. Like the time one of Athens’ ubiquitous strays trailed me to the top of Mount Lycabettus. Like the morning a fat tortoiseshell tomcat turned delighted somersaults at my feet, and I rubbed his tummy till we were both delirious with pleasure.
My own cats bring no such joy.
The grey cat joined me on the couch the other morning. I gently tugged her pink-tipped ears. She closed her eyes, purring, rapturous. Then she opened her eyes, spotted leftover milk in my breakfast bowl on the coffee table, and dumped me for it.
The black cat is no better. The oregano plant is crushed, and dying, because she likes to sleep on it. When I turned on the sprinkler, she made a moue of disdain, but the droplets failed to dislodge her. She clawed at me when I picked her up, thrashing back and forth, yowling, smelling like pizza.
Why are accidental cats so much more appealing? Perhaps it’s the air of mystery, the no-strings, no-vet-bills seduction. It’s hard to feel bewitched when you’re constantly scooping out the litter tray, scraping regurgitated Friskies off the carpet, or prying paralysis ticks out of furry skin folds.
I did dearly love a cat once. Like a dog, this rescue kitten would joyfully greet me at the door. Like the Dreamworld tigers, he would roll in puddles after summer rain. He’d wake me by performing acupuncture on my chest. He’d bring me snakes. He once walked around for a whole day with a feather sticking out of his bum because he’d digested a bird. (Yes, he wore a collar with a bell. He was still an exceptional hunter.)
We buried Sammy under the mango tree more than three years ago. That summer, we had a bountiful harvest, the tree’s branches groaning under the weight of fruit. I told my husband Sammy was sending us love. He told me to get some help.
I still see Sammy out of the corner of my eye some days, and I ache to hold his eight-kilogram weight in my arms. The two remaining cats know that he was my favourite. I think they wanted him dead.
I spot the pair of them, sprawled at opposite ends of the barbecue, sleeping. I call to them, softly. They don’t raise their heads, or open their eyes, but their tails twitch with contempt.
This column was published in The Courier-Mail on 1 March 2017 as as Mutual Felines of Utter Indifference.