It may have started as a joke, but he was, in a manner of speaking, our first child: we even took two days to decide on his name: he was to be Boris at one point, Bosh at another. But Zephyr stuck and struck everyone. The night we brought him home from Brighton was fiercely windy: it whipped our faces as we walked down the hill with our precious grey and white bundle in his wicker basket. We took the train back to London, but indulged – for us, a great indulgence – in a taxi to our house, to protect him from the wind which became his namesake*. A lofty name with a story for a cat with a beautiful and distinguishable character.
We took him ‘home’ to my parents for our first Christmas and dad joked that we cradled him like a baby. He even took umbrage on realising that the real Bambina Number One was to arrive and showed us this by sleeping in her cot, her pram, having a good snuggle up on fresh sheets and new blankets. He was taken to joining us in the bathroom and basking on the mat when we bathed H.. He was similiarly affronted, though more resigned, when he realised that more trouble was on the way with P. – with a cat’s sensitivity, he understood pregnancy possibly before I even knew it myself.
He acclimatized to the children, though – he knew exactly what was coming when the cot came out for la Principessa – and was indulgent to the point at which H, out of anyone, was able to hold him in all manner of ways – most commonly her arms clutching his middle while his front and hind legs drooped down inelegantly. She was the only person to whom he never showed a claw of anger. Perhaps seeing the moment of her birth itself, in our first family home, predisposed him to softness towards her.
The vets here noticed he was a good boy – a temperament probably vastly different from the fairly wild cats around here – but even in Essex we knew it. When a neighbour acquired an adorable and totally audacious kitten who used to come into our kitchen brazenly seeking fun and frolics, Zephyr would barely bat an eyelid – indeed we fairly had to show him that there was another cat on his territory. He seemed unconcerned by this fellow, seemingly he was indulgent of the youngster’s antics and fondness for larking around.
We have been wracked by guilt for the past few weeks, blaming ourselves for bringing our beautiful and hitherto healthy cat to Italy, arrogantly assuming his strong constitution would stand him in good stead here against unknown viruses. We joked in the UK with the vet that we were spending more money on him pre-Italy than we had in years: he was given every injection and booster under the sun and acquired his own pet passport which itself required a microchip.
To have left him in England would have meant rehousing him, the thought of which felt like rehousing an unwanted child: “You may go now; we have adventures to seek, fun to have, which will be easier without you.” It felt right to bring him with us and it felt right to share our first few months here with him.
But taking our Zephyr to the vet, to ask for him to be put down, seemed to me to be one of the most adult decisions of my life. To make the choice to end a life, for a creature who could not speak for himself. To fathom the unfathomable: that his pain was too great and that this ignominious ending was preferable to the indignity of his suffering. Who am I to choose?
Zephyr brought home to me the essence of vulnerability: he didn’t choose to be brought here and he was not allowed to choose how to die. Was that one more humiliation for an animal so closely associated with dignity? My guilt is fuelled by the thought that he was trying to choose for himself, when he sought a quiet, shady and dark spot under a tree by a small brick wall. Would I have been kinder to have left him there, in a protracted expiration, than put him through the humility of days of treatments and interventions at the vet to try to save a life that I chose to want to try to save? Such questions are far from new, and I am not pretending otherwise. I am also acutely aware that to many, he was and will remain ‘just’ a cat; have I suffered so little that I can mourn his loss so greatly?
But for us, Zephyr was so much more than ‘just’ a cat; in the poignancy of his death, I felt acutely his mute vulnerability; far from ‘the cat who walked alone’, Zephyr walked our lives with us, at our choosing; he was with us at seminal points in our journey as a family, growing and changing with us. He was the first being on whom Tom and I lavished shared love. Saying goodbye to him crystalised for me the ‘lovingkindness’ of Hardy’s poetry: the exquisite pain of loving and being loved in return. Of saying good bye to that love and committing it to a story of memories, a kaleidoscope which will appear involuntarily, interwoven with other memories, beautiful and painful, of love and loss over the years; transient memories, to be clutched at, turned over and indulged.
100 kilometre per hour winds lashed the hilltops here in Tuscany as we buried him under the pear tree.