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The curious incident of the cat in the night-time

March 14, 2011

It was dark when we got home that Sunday night, but not late. It was cold and drizzly, small reflective puddles shone up from the tarmac of the parking area. Usually, if the cat was out, this would be the point where she’d gallop to join us as we got into the flat through the back door. The ring of the bell on her collar would be accompanied by a drawn-out “puuurrrrrrrrrr-meowwwwwwww” as she greeted us/chided us for leaving her outside, apart from her food for so long. Anyway, we slid open the door this night and there was no bell, purr-greeting or cat.

I tried the usual triggers to get her to come in. First was the shake of the dry cat food sack. Second, the shrill call I like to think she somehow associates with home, me and Mr No Skill (although that I expect, at best, is loosely associated with food, her only accepted currency in human-feline interactions). Still no cat.

I pulled my boots back on and jogged through the drizzle to the road outside the flat. She sometimes hangs in trees here trying to catch birds or mice. She also, apparently, crosses the road to the offices opposite. Mr NS has seen her poo in the car park there. A friend who works in one of the offices told me that a colleague came in shouting about how a cat had got into the office. It was her.

No sign of her the length of this road, and I was starting to wonder if she’d snuck into one of the neighbours’ flats, or got stuck inside the lobby. This, too, drew a blank. I wandered around the car parking spaces and strained to see or hear her on the garages. The lid to one of the industrial bins was ajar, I slid it back, hoping really that she wasn’t going to emerge covered in bin juice and peelings. She didn’t. I called her and listened. Was that a meow? I called again. I heard another noise. In a one-woman hot-and-cold game, I covered the car park area methodically. Eventually I realised where she was – in the garage belonging to flat 7.

I bent down and spoke through the crack in the door. She answered with scratching and what sounded like her climbing up the door. I ran round the front of the building to flat 7. I banged on the door, rung the bell, banged on the door again. The door of number 8 swung open a crack and a woman popped her head round. She told me that flat 7’s occupants were on the road to France for a fortnight’s holiday. I started to panic.

The next hour or so was spent in various neighbours’ doorways trying to find out the mobile number of no. 7’s residents (who, tantilisingly, were staying nearby before they got the early ferry the next day) and trying to establish if anyone had spare garage keys. By late evening, we had a plan: to visit the letting agents who were apparently letting the flat while the owners were away. Short of breaking in to the garage, there was nothing else to do. The cat would be stuck there all night. Maybe longer if the letting agent didn’t have keys.

We tried to go to bed. I thought about squeezing food in under the door but there wasn’t room, plus the cat could do with losing a few kgs, according to the vet. I woke up throughout the night, overtaken by visions of the cat eating pesticide pellets or cutting herself to bits on rusty-toothed tools. We have a gardener for the communal garden, I told myself, so hopefully they don’t have anything too potentially deadly in there. When I did sleep, I dreamt of a thousand ways in which the cat was freed, unscathed, but woke up finally to find nothing had changed.

I got up early, dressed and planned to go to the letting agents at 8, just in case someone got in before they opened at 9. Mr NS wanted to come too, so I was forced to wait for him. As he was getting dressed I glanced at the garages and noticed one of the doors was open. I ran outside in my socks and saw an ex-tenant closing the door. ‘Is it yours?’ he asked, as the cat scooted past me towards our door. I thanked him, still not understanding how events had led to this hero with a wallpaper scraper saving the day.

I ran inside and gave the cat a giant cuddle. She squeezed out from under me and ran straight to her food bowl, which she cleared in record time. I don’t know how we get so attached to animals, especially cats, who seem determined to operate in a way that excludes humans as much as possible. I’m glad we do though. I’m also glad that the lady in no. 9 found the number of the ex-tenant of no. 7, and that no. 8 happened to have a wallpaper scraper to hand when he knocked and asked.

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