Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Nacho Cheese

It's taken six weeks for me to be able to even write the words. Six weeks ago today someone ran my Nacho over and left him dead by the side of the road. All day I shouted and looked for him, knowing in my heart something was wrong. He hated the rain, you see, and was never out in the dark but that day he went out around 9am and when the heavy rain started an hour later, I called him, but he didn't come running down my field, a streak of cream fur against the grass as he always did. 

By midday he was still a no-show and as the rain got heavier, I put on wellies and a coat and tried all his usual haunts, mainly in the fields and the woodlands behind my house. I didn't try out front because he never went out front. He never ventured near the road as it scared him and there was so much nature in the other direction.

By dinner time as darkness was falling, I was beside myself. I stayed up all night with the door open and a plate of his favourite biscuits, just in case he'd been locked in somewhere but he never showed. It was a long cold night on my sofa. It was a long, cold, wet and dark night outside. I couldn't imagine my baby out in the winter rain. At 8am I knew something bad was going on. I dressed and got in the car, thinking I'd go straight from my house towards the next village, but at the last second without knowing why, I turned right onto the road through our village. I knew he was a homebody so once I had gone around four houses, they are spaced out, I figured he must just have got locked in somewhere because he would never have gone any further than that, especially not in that direction. I decided to go as far as the inn where Léon works as that is the easiest place to turn the car. And there I saw something; opposite the last house before the inn, lying on the grass verge on the other side of the road was a ginger cat. 

I pulled to a halt and could see he was dead, stiff but unblemished. He was wet so looked ginger, not cream and for a few moments, I almost convinced myself that it wasn't him but a different missing orange cat. The first thing I was drawn to were his toe beans; they were so pale. Nacho's were always a deep pink, whereas Samosa's are pale, I felt hope for a second before I realised that cold and lack of circulation would take their toll. I willed someone else to be dead instead but I turned this wee man over and he had his one black whisker on his left just like my Nacho, next I checked his head and he had an ear tattoo just like my boy, he even had his extra fang. Nacho had five fangs instead of four, having retained a baby tooth on the right-hand side. My world shattered. There I was with his basket, some treats as I knew he would be hungry after his night's adventure and I suddenly I knew he would never be having treats again.

I laid him gently in the car, in the towel I had brought as I thought he might be wet and cold when I found him.

We'd been having a problems with a cat from the next village over the winter. She's a lovely cat around humans but is very territorial and had decided this side of the road was her territory too. Nach, Mos and Smilla, the tortie next door, didn't agree and she was often seen chasing our cats. 

I wonder if she chased him across the road as he just never went that way. He was way too timid to choose the road side when we own 9000m2 of grassland and forest that he happily spent his whole life in. Only something like that could have spooked him out of his routine.

I have been over that morning in my head so many times, asking myself why I didn't tell Thomas to keep them in as the weather didn't look like it was going to be great. I blame myself, I should have known to keep him home, somehow I should have known. I couldn't sleep for weeks as every time I closed my eyes, he was there again, on the verge, cold and wet. My poor darling boy who hated to be wet, who was never out in the cold and the dark before. My beautiful boy who wasn't yet two. Now he lies under an apple tree he loved to climb. It catches my eye whenever I go out with the bin and sometimes I think how beautiful it is to have him near, other times I cry because he is out in the rain or the cold, which he really didn't like.

The night before he died I took a few photos of him on my phone: one, a live photo, loops. He barely moves so all you can see is his breathing. I would watch it over and again, just to see my boy breathing. I had no idea he had less than 24 hours to live. 

He had the loudest purr of any cat I have ever met, now my house feels a little too quiet. 

Samosa had turned one that week and had never been catless for a single night in her life, having moved from her mum and siblings to being Nacho's shadow, following him about, tormenting him, washing him, loving him. She seems so sad and quiet now. She often stares out the window at the neighbour's cat or chickens, looking curious, but not full of anticipation. Then it happened, this morning. There's another cat in the next village, not the one who was causing the problems, but a pale ginger one who looks similar to Nacho, other than his smaller, greener eyes. He rarely comes up here, but when he does the kids call him 'Fake Nacho' as they are so alike. It was him I thought I had found that morning back in March as he is slightly darker and with wet fur, you look darker. This morning Fake Nach was sitting on our lawn and Mos saw him. Her tail started swishing, she ran up and down the window ledge, standing on her hind legs, miaowing and clawing to get out. She saw her brother who she used to sleep and eat with and who suddenly disappeared and she wanted him back. She was so excited it broke my heart in a million pieces. As she ran up and down watching him, I stood with the tears running down my cheeks. How can I explain to her he isn't coming back when she so obviously wants him to? Her reaction was so different to seeing any other animal in our garden.

To help her and to help us, we decided to get her a wee buddy. He would never be Nacho Cheese, but he will be someone else she can wash and play with and snuggle up to. When we recently visited a family whose cat had had kittens, their daughter talked us into taking two instead of one, the little runt of the litter had no home to go to and our hearts melted. For a five-year-old, she'll make a great saleswoman one day! So tomorrow, Mos finally gets her new playmates after six weeks alone. I hope she will come to love them the way she loved her big brother who we all miss every day. 

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