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 as 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.