Some people collect stamps. My friend Tarryn collects tortoises and an aunt of mine has filled her home with carved elephants ranging from the size of a small dog to that of a pea. “You need to collect things,” Tarryn told me once when I was feeling a little off colour. “It makes shopping fun and gives your friends a clue for gifts. That way you don’t end up with cheap wine or mugs with rude messages on them.” She was right of course. A visible collection of something would add a sense of completeness to my otherwise sparsely decorated flat. It might even make me feel more ‘at home’ and help me to be more content with my own company.
My collection began with a ceramic owl wall plaque picked up for a song at a craft fair. ‘Geisha’ seemed to wink at me each time I opened my front door and indeed became something of a companion. Whilst rummaging through a book sale later I found a small collection of beautifully illustrated poems about owls and only two days later came across an owl key ring at the stationery shop on the ground floor. Soon the word got around that I was ‘into’ owls. After my birthday, my collection had expanded to include cards, several ornaments including a cut glass owl, a framed owl print and a pair of owl slippers. The latter were disgusting.
It had always been my habit to jog around the nearby suburb three afternoons a week during the summer and at least once a week in the winter months. After a while however, I sensed the owls ‘glaring’ at me each time I got home after a run. As the winter progressed they became more cold and unfeeling; even ‘Geisha’ no longer winked at me but seemed reproachful about my undeniable loneliness. I began to long for a real pet; something disallowed by my landlord.
With the arrival of spring I happily increased my hours on the road. Jogging kept me occupied while most people were heading homewards at the end of the day and also gave me an opportunity to reflect about my work colleagues, none of whom enjoyed exercising in any form. So much for forming friendships at work! At least Mrs. Becher shared my interest in travelling and I often enjoyed hearing about her regular visits to game reserves with her family and her occasional foray abroad.
That is my main problem, I thought as I turned the corner near my block of flats: my close friends had all married. Tarryn was the only one not to fuss about me being single and never tried to pair me off with anyone when she invited me to dinner. Her husband, Stuart, liked me too and always made me feel very welcome. I knew that I really needed a companion who would share my dreams, travel with me and perhaps even create a ‘real’ home with me.
As part of my resolution to snap out of the winter doldrums I decided to follow a new route which passed a row of older cottages tucked well away from the central bustle of the small town I lived in. People seldom seem to name their houses anymore, except perhaps their holiday homes at the coast, so I was surprised to see a hand beaten copper plaque, Macavity, fixed to the wooden gate of a small thatched cottage in Fletcher Street.
I jogged that way again the following week and stopped to stare at the ceramic cat perched on the thatched roof. Was it meant to chase away birds? I mulled over that while I ran and as Fletcher Street became part of my regular route I often stopped to stroke the tabby cat sunning itself on the gatepost of the Macavity house. The song Macavity lodged itself in my head each time I turned towards Fletcher Street and I began to look forward to seeing the tabby in its usual place. If it wasn’t there I would feel as if something was missing. I chose that spot as my brief resting place and had even taken to talking to the cat if it was there.
“You seem to like Macavity.” The deep voice behind the creeper-covered stone wall took me by surprise one afternoon.
“Macavity?” I left off stroking the cat and stepped back as a face appeared. I looked at the young man’s tousled hair, his spectacles half-way down his nose and then I noticed a pair of pruning shears in his hands. “You mean the cat? It’s beautiful and quite makes my day,” I answered brightly, acutely aware of my own untidy hair escaping from the pony tail and the warm flush on my hot skin. The perspiration trickling between my shoulder blades and my scruffy shorts made me feel awkward in the silence that followed the broad smile on the face in front of me. “I didn’t expect to see anyone living here. I mean, I’ve only seen the cat before. Macavity, that is.” I swallowed hard and wondered how best to leave before making an even bigger fool of myself.
The man straightened up after carefully placing his shears on the top of the wall. “I’m sorry I startled you,” he said warmly and reached across the low gate to shake my hand. “My name is David Taylor. I often watch you stop at the gate and ‘chat’ to Macavity. He likes that. We both do.” Instead of feeling embarrassed now I sensed that time was passing all too quickly for I had promised to babysit for Tarryn at seven. Reluctantly I ruffled Macavity’s soft neck for the last time and said goodbye.
“Next time stop by for a drink,” David called after me. “Macavity and I will be waiting.”
David’s spring garden was beautiful. I wandered happily along the narrow dirt path winding between the trees, shrubs and flower beds and marvelled at the myriad of colours, the sound of birds, and Macavity of course! I had just settled on the lawn when David brought a tray bearing the most beautiful hand-painted china teapot I have ever seen. It was the shape of a mother cat wearing a white apron over a blue dress and sported a pink shawl.
“This is so beautiful!” I breathed in admiration.
“Glad you like it. It belonged to my grandmother.” David sounded pleased with himself. “I have the father cat teapot too.”
It was well into the summer before David invited me indoors and I was immediately struck by his fascinating collection of carved wooden cats displayed on the windowsill of the lounge, the metal cat towel hook in the kitchen and the hand-painted ceramic cat in the passage outside the bathroom. The atmosphere in his home was one of warmth and seemed to reach out to me. It was no wonder then that our tea was followed with a few glasses of chilled wine and a dish of olives.
“Are you a fitness freak?” David asked one late afternoon as we sat opposite each other on his newly mown lawn. I sniffed at the freshly cut grass and grunted a negative reply. “Then what makes you jog so often?” he asked teasingly.
“Why do you collect cats?” I felt foolish. “At least you have a real cat that loves you and can give you some companionship when you come home at night.” As if on cue Macavity wandered across the lawn to settle near my feet.
“Don’t you collect anything?” David sounded surprised.
I sat up, feeling I was on safer ground. “I used to collect owls. Not that I was ever passionate about them you see, but they were something I began finding more of. I stopped after someone gave me a pair of owl slippers for my birthday. They are disgusting!” I shuddered at the memory.
“You really wanted a pet,” was his matter of fact reply. Then David touched my hand for the first time. His skin felt warm to the touch and his eyes were smiling behind the spectacles.
“I thought I did once, but when you live in a block of flats like I do, you realise that having a pet is out of the question.” I didn’t move my hand, but stared at it as though it had a life of its own. My future, I knew, lay with cats – Macavity had seen to that!