He startled me that first time. I hadn’t seen him standing by the gate at the bottom of the garden. His unexpected voice, deep and throaty, was spoken in lions’ language: a forthright enquiry with a touch of command.
Surprised, I turned to find him standing proudly by the gate at the bottom of the garden,
head raised, eyes which gazed arrogantly into mine, captivating me.
Mike said he was feral and that if we approached him, he would slash us with his fangs, tear us with his claws, but my children and I were fascinated, and every time we heard his growling call we went outside.
We kept our distance, and he never came to us, but one day when Laura and Paul were prowling the woods they saw him basking by a tree, and Paul walked up to him, scooped him up in his arms, carried him home and diposited him on the sofa, where he curled up happily.
From then on he was part of the family, and whenever he came home from one of his jaunts he would announce his presence by beginning to meow as soon as he crossed the stream that led to the trees, and not ceasing until he reached the back door. We watched him, enthralled by his powerful phisique, his stately walk, his shimmering ginger mane, and felt honoured by his regal presence.
One day he brought home a wild stray tabby with three timid kittens, but they were afraid to enter the house, so, because they were his guests, we fed them from a plate left at a suitable distance.
Every day he brought them to us, and every day we gave them food. Soon, there were only two kittens, and we wondered what had befallen the third. A few days later, there was only one kitten with her hungry mother.
They sometimes showed up uninvited, and Ginger, who had been so keen and kindly at the start, sulked when they arrived. One day he didn’t come home, but it had happened before, so we tried not to worry, but the day became a week, and stretched still further. We had heard that he was still in the vicinity, and were relieved that he was still alive. We concluded that he had tired of the female feline company, and found himself a fresh place to stay.
Now the tabby came alone, having lost her final baby somewhere along the way. I heard unpeasant rumours of cats being poisoned. Soon after that the mother cat failed to appear, and the following day I found her rigored body in the garden. She must have used up the last of her strength to reach the place where she knew she was safe, but it was too late.
She fitted easily into a shoebox. I dug a hole and buried her close to where I had first seen Ginger. We felt pity for that skinny, itinerant stray, who had lost all of her kittens one by one, before being killed herself, but we all hoped that her absence would bring Ginger back, being convinced that he loved us.
We were to be disappointed. We never came home again. We spoke of intimate moments we had shared with him, of his many affectionate and unique traits. We kept thinking that some day soon we would hear his throaty greeting, as he came towards us from the stream, and although he never entered the garden again, we never gave up until the day we heard the sad news of his demise on a nearby road.
Twenty winters have passed since, yet still we speak longingly of him, re-telling the memories, yearning for another to fill his space, but convinced that none ever will.
Dedicated to Judy, who inspired this post.
©Jane Paterson Basil