Three cats plus one

It was summer, a long kind summer when the sun shone warmly and life seemed good. My beloved Artemis, a tortoiseshell cat, was in her prime. She loved it where we lived because though it was a suburb, there was grass to romp about on, hedges to crawl through and trees to climb. She could come and go as she pleased through the cat flap.


There were two other cats in the house. They lived on the first floor. They were Popeye, a big grey fluffy male, and Olive. Olive was a tortoiseshell like Artemis but that was where all resemblance ended.

My Artemis was quick and intelligent. She responded appropriately to many words and phrases and was clever at finding ways of expressing her wishes. Olive… well, Olive was strange. If she had been a person, I think the neighbours would probably have called her The Mad Woman. You never quite knew where you were with Olive or what to expect. She would rub against your legs and then hiss at you. She would roll invitingly on her back at your feet and then, as you bent to stroke her, she would rake her claws across your hand. Olive, despite being a neutered female, refused to know her place. I once saw her push the local tom aside to claim her favourite spot on the roof of the garden shed next door. Artemis was a small cat, while Olive was rangy and long-legged.

Popeye was the kitten who never grew up. Despite his size, he was always playful, always looking out for a game. He could scratch you too but in his case it was out of clumsiness, not malice. Whenever he saw Artemis, he would rush up to her and nuzzle her enthusiastically.

Artemis eventually became exasperated at his endless affection and attempts to play and in the end avoided him entirely but during this long summer all three cats got on together and spent hours in one another’s company. I would see them lolling together in the long grass with the satisfied look of school children bunking off from school. They would sometimes stalk birds but never catch anything. Life was fun.

Of course, not all was peace in paradise. For one thing, there was the doberman in the house on the corner. He was uncontrollable and spent long hours in the garden of the house, barking. Worse still, he often escaped and roamed the streets looking for trouble. His owners just couldn’t keep him in.

Once out, he would make a beeline for the cats and his demeanour left no doubt as to his intentions. As soon as they saw him, the cats prepared for flight: I once saw Popeye run up the vertical face of a six-foot high fence to escape the charging doberman. Fortunately, the dog never caught any of them and I think they came to regard him more as a nuisance than as a danger.

Another player in the local drama was the cat we called Stumpy by virtue of the fact that he was missing half his tail. That was not the end of Stumpy’s problems, though: he was also lacking half an ear and one of his eyes was white.

Stumpy could only have been a feral tom. He would appear in our close once or twice a day, following the same path each time, patrolling his territory as we thought of it.

Every day throughout the summer Stumpy would pass through on patrol. The attitude to him of the three cats was interesting. When any other cats appeared on their turf they would hiss and wail in anger but when Stumpy came by, it was as if he was invisible. They acted as though he was not there. Black and white cat? What black and white cat?

One day, however, Artemis gave the game away. The three of them were relaxing in the long grass when Stumpy came by. As usual he went down the path to the garages and passed within inches of the three cats. He could have been invisible for all the notice they seemed to take. None of them so much as twitched an ear in his direction. Then, as soon as he turned to corner and was no longer directly in sight, Artemis jumped to her feet, ran to the corner of the building and peered cautiously around it to watch the departing tom.

Whatever mysterious power Stumpy exuded it was enough to instil respect in the three cats, a respect that they expressed by seeming to ignore him, but they were interested in him all the same.

The long summer at last ended. The seasons continued their usual cycle and summer came again but it was not the same. The three cats found other interests and never enjoyed long hours of sunshine together again. I saw Stumpy a few more times, the weather never being allowed to interrupt his routine, but eventually he disappeared from the scene.

That was many years ago and the three cats, including my beloved Artemis, are long gone too, only a few photographs remaining to remind me of her and of the long summer when they lolled in the sunlit grass together and pretended not to see Stumpy going past on his mysterious errands.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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15 Responses to Three cats plus one

  1. Ancient Brit says:

    This might sound a little “out there” but have you ever tried communicating with your cat(s) – or indeed any cat – by “blinking” at them?

    It’s something Casey picked up on first and I’ve used it ever since. If a cat looks at you and blinks, return the gesture at the same rate. You may end up with an exchange of several blinks each. The cat may even come to you and greet you.

    I’m not sure what the blink is supposed to mean, but slower blinks clearly have a different connotation from quick blinks. One of them I think means “I’m all right, Jack, how about you?” but I’m danged if I can remember which.

    We blink at our cats all the time (aside from talking to them and occasionally vocalising). Sometimes, if you’ve had a scratching encounter with a cat, the blink (especially if you’re determined to get a response from them) can apparently be the equivalent of “I forgive you”; either way, it’s had the effect of reducing the tension in both our cats in the past (we don’t tend to have so many scratching encounters after 14 years now; I guess they’ve decided to put up with us :))

    • SilverTiger says:

      I think a slow blink is intended as reassurance, perhaps like a quick smile among humans. We blink at Freya and on a good day she responds.

      She is also quite vocal. Mostly this is quiet murmurs and chirrups but occasionally she is loud and insistent though it may not be obvious what it is that she wants.

      • Ancient Brit says:

        Our Tom has always been vocal but it’s only recently that Angel has started piping up. I think I’ve worked out that one of her yowls – a sound that she usually reserves for when she’s being taken somewhere in the carrier – can mean “Come and play with me!”

        She’s learned that if she goes behind a door that is open wide, she can swat at anything visible in the crack where the door hinges. The trouble is, she also uses the identical yowl when she’s become trapped somewhere, like in a cardboard box where she’s jumped in and the flaps have closed on her.

        Of the two, Angel responds to, and uses, blinking whereas Tom seems to feel it’s beneath him. If we’re lucky, he’ll respond to twenty pointed blinks in his direction with one half-hearted, half lidded blink. Very regal 🙂

        • SilverTiger says:

          Like people, cats are all different personalities. Artemis was very quiet and rarely miaowed. On the other hand, if she spotted the local tom through the window she would growl like a dog, quite a frightening sound the first time I heard it.

          She also used her eyes effectively: if she wanted something, she would turn big yellow eyes on me until I went to see what it was she wanted.

  2. Ancient Brit says:

    It’s cute sometimes the way that Angel will tap us on the upper leg with her paw if she wants our attention when one of us is sat at the computer desk. Very anthropomorphic. Sometimes she will pointedly look in a particular direction and when you follow her gaze, you see whatever she wants to be dealt with.

    The classic though is when she turns her back on us but keeps her ears pointed towards us. We know we’ve done something that’s offended her (usually we’ve paid too much attention to Tom) and we are expected to make amends.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Freya also does the arm-tap. I think it’s an interesting example of putting an action (tapping something for play or to see whether it’s still alive) to a new purpose, communication.

      It’s always worth observing the ears of an apparently passive cat to see where her attention is directed!

      • Ancient Brit says:

        I only have the one example to work from, obviously, but Angel’s tapping behaviour seems to be different for the two circumstances.

        If she goes to tap something to explore it, the focus of her attention is the object and the tapping action is hesitant, as if she’s concerned that it might bite.

        When she taps us to obtain attention, her action is confident and not hesitant, and her focus is on our faces and not the object (leg or arm) she is about to tap.

        • SilverTiger says:

          Yes, intelligent cats can adapt their behaviour to achieve different ends.

          Artemis had a magnetic key on her collar to open the cat flap. She normally came in, as you would expect, head first. One day she caught a bird and in order to bring it in, kicking and screaming, she somehow managed to trigger the latch and, in the few seconds that it remained open, turn around and enter tail first dragging the bird. She had understood that she had to face the flap to release the latch but that she had a few seconds while it remained open to change position and push the flap open with her rear.

          BTW, we rescued the bird and released it. Artemis never learnt how to kill.

  3. Reluctant Blogger says:

    What a lovely piece of writing. I was transported back to sunny days and long grass. We once had a stumpy in the neighbourhood too – but he was ginger.

    Artemis was indeed very beautiful.

    My little cat has been missing since Sunday and I am pining terribly (in between frantic searching and calling that has left me without any voice at all). I have no idea what to do next – have contacted just about every agency I can think of.

    The house feels so empty and quiet without her and it is awful not knowing what has happened.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I am very sorry to hear that. I remember that Artemis went missing once for two days but it seemed much longer. We searched high and low but couldn’t find her. Suddenly, she came in through the cat flap as if she had been gone only 5 minutes. I think she must have got shut in somewhere and then let out.

      My sister’s cat also disappeared once – possibly taken by some people in a car – and returned again some days later, tired, hungry and dusty but otherwise well.

      I hope there is a similar happy ending to your story of loss.

    • Ancient Brit says:

      Likewise sorry to hear your little one has gone missing. We hope you get a happy ending in a day or two.

      I seem to recall that under UK law the legal owner of a cat is the last person to feed it, reflecting the fact that people own other animals but are only servants to cats, who seem to be able to decide to change owners every once in a while.

      Where we live (border of LA and Burbank) there are a couple of packs of coyotes and roughly once a month there’s a flier that goes up in all 22 buildings asking if anyone has seen a pet cat or dog. We don’t allow our two cats out at all because they wouldn’t survive a day, for that reason. In the last few days we’ve seen a group of children frantically calling for their pet (we assume a dog), likewise making themselves hoarse.

      There’s also some statistic that says that cats that are kept indoors are, on average, likely to live considerably longer than those allowed their fredom, and we are selfish – we want to enjoy the companionship of ours for as long as felinely possible. Fingers crossed that you get to do the same.

  4. Reluctant Blogger says:

    Thank you both.

    Still no sign of her but I remain hopeful she will appear.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I very much hope so too.

    • Ancient Brit says:

      Likewise hopeful. Is it possible that she could be returning late at night? If you left out some food/water would that invite rats/other unwelcome guests? There’s the possibility (if you have the equipment or can obtain it) of leaving a camera recording overnight, pointed out of a window into the garden/street (wherever she’s most likely to appear). Then rewind and fast forward to see if anything turns up. Just a thought – trying to think of constructive measures you could take.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Knowing the relationship that exists between the cat and the family, I am sure that if she were free and in the neighbourhood, she would manifest her presence.

      For my money, the hope must be that someone has shut her in, by accident or design, and that she will eventually escape. When she does, I am confident that she will make a beeline for home.

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