Porgy the Cat is dead. He was nine years old, which is no great age for a cat. But Porgy had a life full of illness and injury, and his last illness was just too much for him.
However in between the times of pain and fear, he was a happy cat. He didn't ask much from life; just a warm lap, lots of cuddles, yummy food and constant reassurance that his bottom was pretty.
"How does it look this morning?" he would ask anxiously, thrusting his bottom into my face for its daily inspection.
"It looks fine, Porgy. Just perfect."
"Are you sure? I had a feeling that perhaps it was just a little bit asymmetrical today."
"No, no. There's nothing to worry about. It's everything a bottom ought to be."
"Good," said Porgy in tones of deep satisfaction. "Is it breakfast time now?"
"Yes, Porgy. It's breakfast time."
Porgy had one major talent. He was extraordinarily good at identifying the best seat in the house and then sitting in it. The best seat in the house was the seat that I was sitting in. His logic was irrefutable. Alan is in charge of the universe and his choices are always the best. Alan is sitting in that seat. Therefore that is the best seat in the house. Porgy was a very Aristotelian cat who always thought in syllogisms. None of this new fangled Null-A first order predicate logic for him, thank you very much!
If ever I got up to make a cup of coffee or visit the loo, Porgy would invariably be curled up in the seat I had just vacated when I returned. He would look at me through half closed eyes, pretending to be asleep.
"You're in my seat again."
"It's the best seat in the house. And it's particularly good today. You had a little fart just before you got up didn't you?"
"Well, what if I did?"
"It adds a comfortable fragrance. I'm going to sleep now." The eyes would now be fully closed.
I had been out-manoeuvred again! And so I reconciled myself to an evening of watching television from the second best seat in the house; the one that Porgy had just vacated.
I have a habit of stretching out on the sofa when I'm reading a book. I hold the book in my left hand and prop my left arm on the arm of the sofa. This leaves my right hand free to turn the pages and to pick up my glass of beer. Porgy always regarded this as a perfect opportunity for a bottom inspection. He would plonk himself down on my left arm and tickle my nostrils tactically with his tail while he checked out my book.
"Why are you reading this tripe?"
"It's a good book!"
"No it's not." Porgy could be quite scathing in his disapproval of my reading material. He felt that books should be about important and significant things and he was constantly disappointed to discover just how few people wrote stories about mouse hunts and breakfast biscuits and crackly toy snakes with catnip inside them.
Eventually Porgy's 8.5 kilos of furry book criticism would cut off the circulation in my left arm. All feeling would vanish and my book would fall to the floor as my nerveless fingers failed to retain their hold on it. When this happened, I was left with no choice -- I had to slide my arm out from underneath Porgy and then massage the life back into it. Sometimes I would scream with the pain of returning circulation. Porgy was usually a bit indignant when I did that.
"Why are you moving your arm and making all that noise?"
"My arm's gone to sleep."
"I'd go to sleep as well, if only you'd lick my bottom. That's what a proper mum would do."
"I'm not your mother, Porgy. I don't want to lick your bottom. Why don't you do it yourself?"
"Oh all right."
And then, after a thorough bottom lick, he would fall asleep.
He was always quite choosy about where he slept. When he was just a little kitten, his favourite place to sleep was a kitten sized basket with a fur lining. He could curl up in its warm softness and just drift away. He never lost his fondness for that basket, even though he couldn't fit into it any more. No matter how tightly he curled himself up, he could only ever get the tip of his tummy in. The rest of him overflowed its tiny boundaries in every direction. Nevertheless it remained a favourite. He knew what he was sleeping in even if the rest of the world couldn't tell that it was there at all once he'd plonked himself down on it and covered it up completely.
Porgy didn't have many domestic chores, but one duty that he took very seriously involved him supervising my morning shower to make sure I did it right. He would wait outside the bathroom door until the sound of running water stopped and then, while I was briskly towelling my naughty bits, he would push the door open and wander casually in.
"Morning, Alan," he would say. "How was the shower today?"
"Pretty good, thank you Porgy. Warm, wet, soapy. Just like it's supposed to be."
"I still need to check it out and confirm that you did it properly."
Then he would go into the shower cabinet and lick up the soapy residue with the air of a wine connoisseur tasting a vintage unoaked Chardonnay. Except he never spat it out.
"Yes, a definite hint of sweat with an overtone of soap and a finish of unmentionable bodily fluids in the back of the throat. Tastes like you really did clean all the nasties off yourself. I'll let you go to work now."
"Thank you Porgy."
He hated Sundays. I don't shower on Sundays because it's a day of rest. On the other hand, Sundays often found me chopping raw meat for a casserole. This invariably attracted an audience of adoring cats. Porgy always made sure that he got his unfair share of the leftovers. Perhaps there were compensations for the lack of showers that day.
Porgy didn't move around much; that's one reason why he weighed 8.5 kilos. When he was a young cat he broke his back legs and had to have both hip joints surgically removed. This meant that he had to learn to walk all over again and my heart went out to him as I watched him struggle with this.
But he was a courageous cat. He had the heart of a lion, and he never gave up. Slowly, painfully slowly, he learned to support himself again and to put one foot in front of the other. He never re-developed much muscular strength at the back of his body after this, and his rear legs remained very weak for the rest of his life. He compensated (some might say he over-compensated) by developing enormous muscles in his front legs and chest. He used his massive front legs to haul himself along and to pull himself up trees, fences and furniture and on to laps. Both Robin and I have permanent scars on our thighs where Porgy dug in the pitons that he used for front claws so that he could heave the rest of himself up into a comfortable sleeping position. And the mattress on our bed leaks stuffing from the holes he left when he joined us each evening so that he could wrap himself around our heads and purr loudly in our ears all night, thus preventing us from sleeping and leaving us tetchy and bad tempered all the next day. Porgy enjoyed that a lot -- it was his major hobby.
Because he was so hugely strong and wide-bodied at the front and so comparatively thin and weak at the back, he looked a little lopsided and deformed. It was easy to understand and sympathise with his obsessive worry about the symmetry of his bottom.
One of his favourite places in all the world was a hydrangea bush by the side of the house. He could hide inside it and absolutely nobody except me knew that he was there. From this place of safety he could watch the world go by. Unfortunately not a lot of the world went by since the hydrangea was well inside our garden, far away from the street where the action was. But all the things that really mattered to Porgy were always there for him to watch. There were blades of grass moving in the wind and sometimes a bee would bumble by. However the highlight of his hydrangea day was when he noticed legs walking past. If he recognised them (in other words, when they were my legs) he would always chirrup "Hello", so that I would stop and pat him.
And if he kept ever so, ever so still (not a hardship for Porgy; stillness was his default state) he might catch a butterfly or possibly even a mentally defective lizard which he could bring inside the house and boast about.
Once I saw him staring at a hedgehog. It stared back.
"What do I do now?" asked Porgy. "It's got too many pointy bits."
"I don't know," I said. "I'm not well versed in cat and hedgehog etiquette. Whatever you do, don't show it your bottom. Why not just run away?'
"Good idea," said Porgy. And that's just what he did.
We have buried his ashes under the hydrangea bush where he spent so many contemplative hours. The silence when I walk past is deafening; but there is some comfort in knowing that he is still there, still watching over all the important and interesting parts of his world.