Creative partner and reader Sarah Butler
There were times – many times – in those years with him, that I wished I was a cat: that I could run out of the back door without a word, walk the streets at my leisure, return without explanation or apology. That I was quick enough, small enough, to dodge the blows; slip between his legs when he blocked a doorway; jump a wall; vanish.
We were married many years. We had three cats. The black tom was my husband’s really. The other two preferred me. A tortoiseshell – a rescue – as timid and nervous as could be. And the calico – a rescue too, but forthright and confident. She saved my life, more than once. Not really, not literally, you say, but I have no other way of describing it. She always knew when things had gotten out of hand, would come upstairs and make sure I was OK. Lick my wounds. Look me in the eye. I couldn’t have stayed without her. I couldn’t have left without her.
I left because I had to and there is nothing more to be said about it. I can’t even really remember the day, or the day after, or the day after that. There is a numbness that sets in, after all those years. The tortoiseshell and the calico had died by then. I left the tom with my husband. Packed a bag. Walked out of the door. Slept on my friend’s sofa until I found a place to start again. There are things that get broken in a marriage like mine. I am still trying to put myself back together.
A few years ago, there was a stray, hanging around at the back of my flat. The office workers fed her, gave her a name, but no one knew who she belonged to. They were going to call someone to take her away, so I took her in. Not forever, I told myself, just a week or so, until her owner turned up, or I could take her to a shelter. Except she was at home as soon as she’d walked through the door, and I couldn’t help but fall in love. She’s a calico, like my old cat, and she’s still here – keeping me safe, keeping me sane. I paint her sometimes, sitting in a slice of sunlight, purring.