Bess was 10 weeks old when she came to live with us. It soon became clear that she wasn't at all well. A trip to the vets confirmed our fears. She had cat flu. But she was a feisty little kitten, full of life and curiosity. Sniffles and sneezes were not going to stop her investigating the world around her. There were adventures to be had, and much bouncing to be done! But even the most vital of kittens must eventually succumb to that insidious virus, and so we spent Christmas Day 2002 at the emergency vet. Bess had a raging temperature. She was so hot she was almost glowing, and she could barely move. All her kitten curiosity drained away and she sagged.
But that inner strength of hers pulled her through, and she made a full recovery or as much of a recovery as is possible. "Cat flu is forever," the vet told us. "The virus stays dormant in the body for life. You might notice a resurgence every so often. Sneezing fits and the like, perhaps a shortness of breath." But we never saw any of that. As far as we could tell, Bess was never bothered by the cat flu ever again.
She was always fascinated by water. As a kitten, she would put her paw into the water bowl so as to stop the water running away from her while she drank it. Eventually she grew out of this habit, but her fascination with water remained a lifelong hobby. When Robin watered the garden, Bess was often to be found stalking the stream that flowed from the hosepipe. Sometimes she would leap up and bite it. She always seemed puzzled that it continued to flow after she'd killed it...
Bess loved all the high places of the world. She needed to look down on everyone, both for the sake of safety and for the sake of her personality. She also liked to hide and to observe the world from places where the world could not observe her back. A favourite observation place was the shed at the bottom of our garden. As an added bonus, it had spiders and beetles and sometimes, if she was really lucky, it had wetas.
She felt that the best way to get to her shed was to hurry along the top of the fence that ran down the side of the garden. Naturally it was a high fence, and it was barely a couple of inches wide, but that was fine by Bess and she scampered down it on a daily basis. She always encouraged her brother Porgy to follow her to the shed, promising him untold delights if only he would come with her. Porgy actually preferred to amble at his leisure down the garden path to the shed. It was wider, it was lower, and it was infinitely safer. The top of the fence was really far too scary for him. But when your big sister tells you to walk along the fence, you do what you are told, if you know what's good for you. So many a time we would see Bess bounding lightly along the fence with Porgy struggling slowly behind her looking for all the world as if he was about to fall off in an undignified heap. "Come on," Bess would say. "Get a move on. You really are a slowcoach! Stop wobbling!"
Bess was a hunter. She was particularly good at rats and mice and she had a skilful sideline in lizards. One day she brought home six lizards, all of which I rescued and returned to the garden. At least, I think she caught six lizards... Actually it is highly likely that really she just caught one lizard six times. I began to suspect that this might be the case when I noticed that the last lizard I rescued was looking particularly fed up, almost as if it had been caught in this situation far too many times before, and it really wished that the damn cat would stop carrying it into the house. But whether it was six lizards or whether it was one lizard six times over didn't really matter. That day remained one of Bess' proudest moments.
She put her hunting skills to very good use when her brother Porgy was bedridden with two broken legs, quite unable to do anything at all for himself. She obviously felt really sorry for him and so she would bring him pre-chewed rats to try and cheer him up a bit. Clearly she was not without compassion, and I think that Porgy really appreciated what she was doing for him.
Bess ruled our household with a whim of iron. Everything had to be just so and if it wasn't just so she would curse at us until we adjusted things to her liking. She had a very extensive vocabulary that consisted mostly of swear words. "Rip!" she would say when things were particularly annoying. "Rip!" When she said that to you, you knew you were in trouble.
Her last illness came upon her quickly. Robin and I were with her to the very end. We have had her cremated and her ashes will be scattered around the roses, prickly self-willed plants, just like Bess herself. She'll feel comfortable there. She'll have birds to watch.
And if Robin doesn't keep the flower beds spick and span or if I inadvertently let the grass grow too long, I'm sure I will hear the word "Rip!" carried faintly on the breeze...