Gioppi, a small, midnight black cat, came into my life because her Italian family emigrated to Ireland. Considered too old to travel (13) she was left with the vet in the hopes that some kind person would take her away from a bewildering situation to a new, loving home. The kind person (me) eventually came along and packed her up in a smart cat box and took her home.
From the start, Gioppi didn’t like me. She considered me irrelevant in an unsatisfactory situation. Food was scorned. Attempts at affection repudiated. She checked everything for possible escape: windows, walls, fencing, doors, the length of a curtain, the width of a burglar bar. In the garden, she would disappear up a tree and onto a collection of garage roofs where for hours she would assess jumping heights and check yards for dogs. Evenings she would cosy up to the heater, toes extended, and remain unconscious for the entire evening. If she did wake, she would give me a penetrating stare of amazement which translated in my now neurotic mind, to: ‘Just look at her! Look what I’ve got to live with, would you?’
I felt redundant, unworthy – and everyday she made it patently clear that this sense of inferiority was, without question, deserved. Until the day my mother died.
Now they say that animals have psychic abilities – and surely we cannot know what they really know. Cats, dogs, horses and elephants, I’m told, all have talent in this regard. But it’s enough to know that Gioppi had never met my mother who lived some 25 miles away. But on the morning I received the phone call informing me of her death, Gioppi became attached to me like a brooch. She sat on me from morning to night, she slept on my bed, she followed me everywhere. She suffered separation anxiety if I left the house. She talked to me non-stop, began purring if I even went near her. It was suffocating, an incredible nuisance. I thought she would drive me mad. This lasted five weeks. Until the day we interred the ashes.
On that day, Gioppi reverted to form. She become aloof, disinterested, her old condescending self. Affection ebbed away. She even took to spending the day in the storeroom to make sure she didn’t spend any time in the house. In the evenings she took to sleeping anywhere else rather than near me. Now you can say that her sudden change of character was a phase and purely coincidental, but the time span was exact enough to be noticeable. Too exact to be coincidence in my book.
I mentioned this to the vet. He nodded sagely, said soberly: ‘Cats can tell when you’re terminally ill long before you know yourself.’ This wasn’t quite the confirmation I’d been looking for. In light of this comment, I was rather glad that Gioppi had resumed her spiky, ‘up yours’ attitude. But now the neurosis has returned. I will have to watch her carefully for any sign of a change of heart. If she suddenly pays me attention again, I will be making an appointment with my doctor.