This is the true story of my wonderful cat Jim. I hope you like it.
I first met Jim late one very cold Monday night in about April of 1985. He wasn't called Jim then. As far as I can recall his owners had blessed him with the very original appellate of something along the lines of "here puss." Anyway, on this particular Monday night Brian and I had got home late, shivering despite our leathers, and trying (unsuccessfully) to park the bikes quietly so as not to wake up the runner ducks. They were noisy birds.
It was only after we'd parked the bikes that we noticed a little tabby kitten, barely weaned, down by the big oak. It was too cold to leave the kitten outside, so we decided to bring him in for the night. We already had five cats, one more would hardly matter. Just for one night. We fed our cats, and the kitten, and built a corral for him beside the cat door. The cat door was just a hole in the wall, it was convenient if the kitten needed the toilet during the night. Or if he suddenly remembered where he lived.
The next morning I took the kitten home, to the neighbours next door. There was a woman there and a small girl. And there was a man. We never liked the man. He was an idiot. He was cruel and stupid. We called him Bum Face. Still, we figured the kitten probably belonged to the little girl, so I took it back, and the lady was happy for me to return it.
The kitten, however, understood an act of kindness, and whenever we were in our back garden, the kitten would come too. It was very funny to see this small determined tabby bundle scaling the two metre wire fence between the properties. The little girl would come and visit and ask for her kitten back, and we would solemnly return it, all the while understanding that the kitten was quite sure of where he wanted to be. He liked our company, he liked our cats, he liked being fed, most of all, he liked us .
One night, after a couple of weeks of this, I sat looking at the kitten. He had just eaten and his stomach was bulging, but there was something odd about that bulge. I found my cat book and in it was a picture of a small cat with a very similar looking bulge, the picture was an illustration of a severe worm infestation. I said "I'm going to worm this cat, and when I do, he is mine."
We continued to give the kitten back whenever the little girl came asking for him. There was no point feuding over him. He knew where he lived. We tried to think of a name for him, both toying with the acronym "BFC" before I finally decided he looked like a Jim. Not Jimmy and never James (not even to improve his bad manners). Just Jim. Partly in honour of a fat tabby named Jimbo who was my cat (sort of) when I was very little, and partly in honour of Original Star Trek. You know, the way Doctor McCoy says "Jim" when he's got really dire news for Kirk.
Jim was a small kitten who grew into a small cat, though he made every effort to be a large cat. Mainly by working on his girth. The other cats liked and tolerated him. Kali the Norwegian Forest Cat (longhaired tabby) was closest in age to him, she was just over a year his senior. Still a kitten herself. They liked to play together. Freckles the [mostly] Burmese liked to mother him. Fritz the ginger tabby was tolerant though a little stand-offish. Kaya the Persian scowled and occasionally used bad language. Puddy was our king of cats, a big black Maine Coon who ate dogs for breakfast. We were a little worried at what his reaction might be to this interloper. Puddy was subtle. He would curl up on a kitchen chair and wait for the kitten to come romping along. Puddy would gaze into the middle distance or pretend to sleep, and when he thought no one was watching he would let his tail dangle enticingly for Jim to play with.
Jim liked to be with us. He liked to cuddle up with my collection of toys. He was like a silly stuffed toy himself sometimes. He would steal soup out of our cups and try to get into the cupboard where the cat food was kept. He would hug us, both paws around our necks and head butt our chins. I had him vaccinated and neutered. I don't know what the neighbours thought of this. It was responsible pet ownership, a concept that I think was a bit beyond their comprehension.
Jim was a constant and fun companion during those days. I think he was a good student too, following Puddy, the great hunter, and learning the skills that bring great mousing prowess. He wasn't quite so bold with spiders, though he made a brave effort. I was in the dining nook turning the page of a calendar and a huge spider fell out from behind it. There are a lot of things in this world that I can tolerate, but I don't like hunties! If you don't know what a huntie (aka triantular aka tarantulope aka huntsman) is, perhaps you have seen the movie Arachnophobia. All those nasty crawlie spiders that kept dashing about and biting everyone were hunties. They're not poisonous. They're worse: hunties are scary. As my Dad has so rightly reminded me many times: "You can go to the hospital and get antivenin for the biting ones, but there's no cure for being scared to death."
Well this spider was doing its level best to give me a terminal case of the willies, so I called for reinforcements. Jim. He wasn't quite sure what to do, cats like to focus a killing bite on the neck, but this thing didn't have a neck, just a bunch of legs. Nearly as big as him. Still, it ran around in a kind of exciting way, so he pounced on it and played with it for a while. Eventually the spider got its legs tangled in Jim's tummy fur, and clung onto him, like a baby. Jim was not impressed. It was rather a stalemate situation. Eventually we got the spider off, and I covered it with a jar, to await the return of Brian. Jim had behaved heroically, and I dedicated a wind cheater to him, painting him and the spider on it.
We didn't stay living in Tecoma. Our loopy neighbour had become increasingly feral, and rather than start one of those feuds that begins with complaints to the council and ends with...well, who knows what (this one had got as far as the neighbour shooting a fishtank, a watering can and two of the cats...both of whom survived) we moved. I was pregnant at the time, and wasn't prepared to find out what Mr "I have the attitude of a rabid warthog" would do to newborn babies. Of course we took Jim with us.
Nick was born in October of 1986. We did make an effort to keep the cats out of the bassinette, though I don't think it worked all that well. Jim was thrilled by the addition of this new toy. There was plenty of room in the cot for the two of them and they both appreciated the company. As a serious advocate of shared body heat, Jim did his best to keep Nicky from getting cold.
We moved again when Nick was only 6 months old, this time to our house in Selby, where we've lived ever since. The cats settled into their new way of life, accepting the fact that this was where we were going to live. The neighbourhood kids were fascinated by our pets. One day I was in the front garden, the neighbouring kids were there, and Jim was there too. He went shooting up a small tree, his front paws wrapped around the trunk, his tail lashing in excitement. "There he is!" said one of the boys, jumping about and pointing at Jim, "There's the monkey!!" With his short, fat body, round face and almost prehensile tail Jim did look like one of those rotund little new world monkeys.
Jim, more than the other cats, became the mascot of our house. He acquired nicknames. He was Jellicle Jim, just for the sake of the rhythm and alliteration (jellicles, of course, are black and white.) He was Jimeth, Jumbling Jim, Young Jim, Jimette, Jiminy, Jimble and Bim. The children (by this time Nicky's sister Mai was on the scene) were intrigued by him. Of all our cats, Jim was the most tolerant of the children. Kaya had been sent back to live with her original owner (who promptly declared she was a terrible cat and gave her away). Fritz and Kali took to living outside whenever possible and Puddy found the whole business rather beneath his dignity.
I always felt like I was sort of living on borrowed time with Jim, as though Bum Face might someday turn up to reclaim his stolen pet. It never happened, of course. I think Jim was quite well aware that the only reason he's become Bum Face's cat was so that he could climb that fence and be with us. It was Jim who captured everyone's imagination, and was the most asked-after of all our pets. Jim had a kind of folkloric heroism, inspiring us to creative heights. There was Jim Jam, an exotic blend of apricot and plum, melded into tabby stripes and given to my friend Robyn one birthday. There were the Juggling Jims, cat shaped juggling beanbags which Mum sewed for me to give to Brian one Christmas. Emu chicks with their tabby stripes were compared to Jim. Humbug lollies with their stripes were compared to Jim. There were Jims everywhere you looked.
If there was ever a cat to be enticed with string, it would be Jim. Chasing little toys across the floor was Jim. All summer long he would shower us with gifts for which he was roundly chastised. I don't approve of cats bringing in lizards. I like lizards. Many a tailless skink was rescued from Jim's clutches and released back into the garden. Sadly, many perforated bodies were also chucked in the bin. There were also several occasions where dehydrated little carcasses were removed from the house, with scowls being cast Jim's way.
Every time I opened the car door to get the shopping out, Jim would jump in and make himself comfortable on the fluffy carseat covers. Once Jim went missing for a day. As my search for him became increasingly frantic I tried to backtrack to the last time I remembered seeing him. He'd been in the back of our ute, under the cover, helping me unpack some shopping. I opened the cover and there he was, curled up with his paws tucked under. None the worse for wear despite having travelled all about Selby in the back of the ute on what was rather a warm day. I don't know how I got anything done without his help.
He was a major part of Nick's life and abstract thinking. One day I was going to an aerobics class, listening to an interview on the radio. The interview was with some polly or other, and I think it was Jim Bolger. "Now there are three Jims," Nick said, "The Jim on the radio, the gym where you do your exercises, and Jim our cat."
Nicky connected most thoroughly with Jim. He talked constantly about the little cat and seemed to think about him all the time. All you had to do to get Nick to laugh was to say the word "Jim". "Bim" was even funnier, apparently. I think we all found it pretty funny when we found the stamp with some kind of jellyfish called a Jimble pictured on it. Getting home from anywhere in the car would mean a greeting of cats running down the driveway. Funniest of all was Jim, whose flabby tummy would swing from side to side as he trotted along in front of the car, he never really lost the peculiar bulge from that worm infestation when he was a kitten. The tan colour of his tummy contrasted with his dark tabby stripes and made it look even more exaggerated. It never failed to raise a laugh.
Jim's hunting prowess grew as he matured. We've always kept chooks, and chooks attract rats. Jim would come down to the chook house with me on cleaning days and just check out the rat situation. Or he would decide not to come in of an evening, and we would say "Jim's gone a'untin' " and sure enough, there would be the carcasse of some appallingly large rodent in the middle of the loungeroom floor the next morning.
Of course, being cats, they didn't always just kill things, and more than once we've had a live mouse in here. The gesture is never particularly appreciated. One night Jim had brought a mouse in. I was angry. I grabbed the mouse away from him and threw it off the verandah. Jim went tearing out and came back five minutes later with the mouse again, though looking a little worse for wear (it's about a 3 metre drop-9 feet- to the ground). After a couple more drops off the verandah, the mouse was dead, but Jim was still bringing the bloody thing back in. Brian took it from him and flung it off the verandah, Jim went tearing after it. I didn't actually witness what happened, but you know how in the roadrunner cartoons, the coyote hangs in midair, just for a moment, while the realisation sinks in, before he plummets? Well, apparently that's what Jim did, too. He didn't bring that particular mouse back into the house any more. Nor, as far as I can remember, has he made any further attempts to launch himself from the verandah.
Mice were good fun. Sometimes Brian found them in his shoes beside the bed. Once I found one squashed flat, under the mat. They would be flung wildly about the place, just as much fun dead as they had been alive.
One morning I came into the loungeroom and was having breakfast. Jim was looking at something on the floor. At first glance I thought it was a long and rather pointy furball. Then I got a second look. It turned out to be a 42 cm (about 16 inches) long black snake. Yes. Poisonous (all the snakes in this area are poisonous). The unfortunate red bellied black snake had probably been attracted by our abundant rodent population. Jim, seeing this, had possibly either been attracted to an animal that was all neck, and could therefore (in his experience) be hunted on any part of its body, or just had a really good play with a piece of self-propelled string. Either way, the snake was so mauled that you could hardly even tell what it was. Jim was very pleased with himself.
Our cat population diminished. Fritz died during an operation to remove bladder stones. Puddy died from a combination of old age and too much fighting. Freckles got older and older, louder and louder, and (despite her ravenous appetite) thinner and thinner. I suppose she had cancer. I didn't want to know. One day she stopped eating, and one cold morning she was gone. Brian found her, eventually, in the cut down water tank that we use for a woodshed. Frail old bag of bones, stiff as a board.
Jim was always doing something that would make us laugh. One night I was lying in bed reading when Jim decided that in order to be at the focal point of my attention, he really needed to be sitting on my neck. Aside from making it very difficult for me to breathe, I couldn't read my book. I wanted him to sit next to me, not on me. He was very persistent though, (he was a very pussistent cat) and every time I put him aside he would climb back on my neck again.
I decided to use trickery, and I was quite sure that if he got a good whiff of Rawleigh's Ointment, with its strong smell of eucalyptus and menthol, that it would make him draw back, blinking his eyes. The trick backfired, though. Jim loved the smell of Rawleigh's and every time I had a cold he could come and sit on my chest and lick the ointment off my fingers, and he'd even lick it off my face if he got the chance.
One night Robyn and I were playing with my animal oracle cards. Jim came into the room and sat in the middle of the reading I was trying to do. No matter how much I tried to move him aside, he kept insisting on lying down right where I wanted to place one of the cards.
I couldn't get him to move, and since the oracle cards are animals, we decided to let Jim be part of the reading too. I placed the card face down on Jim and continued with drawing the cards. When I turned over the card that was lying on Jim, it was the cat card.
I think he must have known.
Jim continued to hunt, going for bigger game this time. I awoke to small noises in the bedroom, and found Jim and Kali in the rapt contemplation of a very small ringtail joey. I took it from them and was surprised that it survived till morning. I took it to a wildlife shelter. Weeks later, after a long and very tiring day, I was woken at 3 in the morning by a crunching sound. There was Jim, eating the head of an adult ringtail. It's just the kind of thing I really appreciate at 3 in the morning. Especially when I'm getting a good look at this possum's eyeball. The possum was removed and Jim was chastised. A couple of weeks later, again at some charming hour of the wee smalls, Nicky came stomping into our bedroom saying: "I think Jim's got something." Translation being: "There's something dead in my room, please remove it."
Jim had another ringtail. He'd eaten the whole head of this one. In fact, he's worked his way down the thorax so that when I picked it up I was staring down the cavity to its liver. Let me tell you something I don't want to see at three in the morning, it would be: a possum's liver. I so much do not want to see a possum's liver at 3 o'clock in the morning. Or any other time, for that matter. I scowled at Jim for days after that effort. Aside from being revolted by it, I happen to like possums. I hasten to add that Jim's efforts are no threat to the possum population (if they were, I'd hire him out to New Zealand and retire on the profits...)
Jim has always been the most enormous help to me. Through years of loneliness, through the feeling of isolation I got as a new mother, through depression and my back operation, I always knew I could rely on Jim to steal my chair the minute I got up for any reason. There was always Jim sharing body heat with me when all I could do was lie on the bed because everything I did caused pain. There was always Jim, sitting on my hands, and lolling all over they keyboard when I was trying to type. If there was one thing I really needed when I was outside, it was Jim deciding that he should be perched on my shoulder then lacerating my upper body with his claws when he decided that my shoulders weren't quite as broad as he had anticipated. Whenever Jim entered a room I was in, he would announce himself. Not raucously but with a slightly interrogative sounding "mhrrrh?" as though asking after me. He had a great vocabulary of purr words, but he would semaphore his feelings with his ears or a flick of his tail. He had a most expressive face.
Neutering tom kittens is supposed to cure them of the unsavoury habit of spraying, but Jim had taken it up in his old age. Perhaps he liked the way it made the kids laugh when they saw him wagging his tail. Perhaps he didn't like the fact that the house was vacant more and more these days, but we would get home and wonder which vertical surface had been enhanced by Jim. Books and walls were sprayed. The entire contents of the sock drawer had to be hoiked out and re-washed (thank you, Jim). The telephone (thank you JIM) had to be washed, and whole loads of washing had to be re-washed (thank you Jim). The curtains in the loungeroom got more washes in 6 months than they'd had in the past 10 years. Our old tv had been broken for years, and when we finally got it repaired and read the service report, it said "cleared up spilt liquid" and we all just looked accusingly at Jim! He sprayed Brian's towel hanging in the bathroom. After his shower Brian then got the unique benefit of being rescented as he dried himself. On one unforgettable occasion Jim sprayed the intake vent of the ducted heating. I think it was probably the height of his career, having the whole house reeking of eau de Jim. It was getting seriously frustrating. I took him back to the vet.
We first gave Jim Ovarid tablets. He loved the taste, but they had no affect on his behaviour. The second tablets worked a lot better. I nearly got my arms ripped off trying to give them to him, and he would drool horribly, but they stopped him spraying. In fact, they stopped him doing a lot of things. Some days Jim would be asleep on Nick's bed in the morning, and still there when he got home from school. I thought the tablets were making him drowsy. I thought "He must be getting old". It never occurred to me that he might be sick.
I suppose it must have been early December 1997 when we noticed a bit of blood about his mouth. We didn't take much notice, but it was still there. Then he started drooling. Brian said "take him to the vet". So I took him. It was 2 days before Christmas, December 23 1997.
Peter the vet opened Jim's mouth and lifted his tongue. There was an ugly growth bulging up from beneath it. He immediately began talking about testing and expense and Jim's age. He would operate that afternoon. Jim walked back into his carry cage. He wanted to go home.
When the vet tells you to call him at 4, but he calls you at 3, you know it has to be bad news. Still, you've guessed that by now. Who writes a story about an animal that's young and hale? I think Margery Williams understood, and I hope she won't mind if I paraphrase what the Skin Horse said in The Velveteen Rabbit: Having a soul...[is] a thing that happens to you. When a person loves you for a long, long time, not just as a pet, but REALLY loves you, then you get a soul."
The growth under Jim's tongue was a tumour, undoubtedly malignant, inoperable and untreatable. I thought that Peter had not wanted to bring Jim out of the anaesthetic, but he told me to bring the family down that evening. To say goodbye. We stood outside the surgery and told the children what had happened, and Nick, only eleven, screamed "No!"
Jim lay on the stainless table, still soporific from the anaesthetic. Peter made his prognosis. If it had only been me there, then Jim's life would have been ended that day. Brian was more sensible. "He's not in any pain," he said, "And he can still eat and take care of himself." I told myself he was in denial, but Peter agreed that as long as Jim could eat and was in no pain, why not let him live.
We brought him home later that evening, after the anaesthetic was out of his system. He staggered out of the cage and made a kind of wavering beeline straight to his foodbowl. It had been a long time between snacks and he was hungry.
The next day was Christmas eve, and I had to work. I finished at noon and went to the shops across the road. The previous Christmas we had bought Jim a marvellous present called a "Cat Tickler". It was just a plastic stick with a bunch of coloured feathers and coloured foil stuck in the end. Jim loved playing with it. He loved it so much that most of the feathers had been ripped out and chewed up, all the bits of foil were gone, and the stick was considerably shorter. I went to the pet shop hoping to find another one. A present for his last Christmas. They were sold out though, it was the most popular cat toy on the market. I stood in the pet shop with tears streaming down my cheeks. Jim's last Christmas, and I couldn't get him a present.
Jim showed no concern for lumps or Christmas presents. He threw his dinner about the place, chasing bits of minced beef all over the kitchen. When we unwrapped the presents Christmas morning, he helped a bit with the paper, and then went to sit in the sun on the bedroom balcony. I went out to sit with him and he gazed at me, his luminous eyes filled with the expression of deepest love. I've read all sorts of rubbish written by people who I can only describe as ailurophobes. Who else would fail to understand so utterly the great gift of a cat's love?
Christmas day was warm, but still it occurred to me that the solstice was past now. It seemed to me that I could feel the promise of Autumn's chill in the air, and the inevitable decay of the year into a winter that would envelop us. The ground turning cold, and Jim interred there.
And he will go from this house, fading as cats do. However abruptly a cat's death may occur, it seems to always take them a time before they are able to leave their home. They remain for months and sometimes years in the dappled patterns of sunlight on the carpet, careless heaps of toys or clothing, small movements of the curtains caught by the breeze, half-heard sounds in the night. I think in the strength of their love they find it hard to leave. But Jim will go and he will fade, and in time we will learn to live with that. I only hope he waits for us when he gets where he's going to. Despite what I've heard from fundamentalists about the afterlife, I know he will be there.
Jim died yesterday. He had hardly eaten all week and his bloodstained saliva was smeared about the house. In 40o heat he had not been able to drink. He was frustrated, and pushed the water bowl about with his paws, spilling it on the floor, but not able to drink enough to make himself comfortable. He came into the bathroom with us yesterday morning and jumped up on the vanity. Something he hadn't done for a long time. He wanted our help, but there was only one thing left that we could do for him. Brian called the vet.
I told him that the vet must come here. Jim never liked travelling in the car and I didn't want the last minutes of his life to be filled with the anxiety and the disorientation of being in a strange place filled with the smells of animals he didn't know. We gave him a bath. He really never liked having a bath, and we always had to go through some token lacerations getting him in there, but he stood quietly while I washed him, and I do think he preferred it to being dirty.
We all lavished attention on him after the bath, combing and towelling him, drying his fur with the hair dryer. He loved it, purring and head butting us. He sat on Brian's knee for a long time while Brian read, and then for the first time in days, he ate some food. I kept thinking "the condemned man ate a hearty meal". I don't know that it was all that hearty, but he curled up, still damp, on his towel, and I sat him on my knee and watched a movie with the kids until Christine, the vet, arrived.
I lit candles on my verandah and covered a small cushion with catnip and lavender flowers. Brian held Jim, still wrapped in the towel while Christine gave the injection. Barbiturates, I suppose. I don't know. Jim cried. Brian cried too. I've lived with him for over 16 years and we've seen the deaths of family and friends as well as pets, but I've never heard him cry before.
Brian had dug Jim's grave the day before, and found a large rock to put on top. He would lie alongside Puddy, Freckles and Fritz. I put the cushion in the hole for Jim to lie on. It was stuffed with catnip and wool. I couldn't bear to think of him lying on the cold, hard earth. We wrapped him in old towels and laid flowers on him, I put the tattered remains of the cat tickler, his favourite toy, between his paws. I'm still a little disturbed by the fact that his left ear was scrunched up on the end of the hole. As we covered him with the earth it occurred to me that an awful lot of our life was going into one small hole in the ground.