Puss died as he had lived, with dignity and on his own terms. Coming downstairs to greet the vet, he neatly skirted round her, heading for the kitchen and a last taste of food, before re-presenting himself. Ready to leave, but not willing to miss out on his last supper. Cupping his head in my hand as the vet gently administered to him he licked my palm, and breathed a sigh as his heartbeat gradually slowed and then stopped.
For 16 and a half years Puss has been a constant presence in my life. Moving into the forefront when Baloo, his companion of six years, died then swimming into even closer view when his care and that of his two new companions was entrusted to me, after my separation. Or rather, when the care of me was entrusted to Puss, for that is what it felt like.
For all these years, Puss has kept close by my side. Invariably on the bed to greet me as I went upstairs to bed, and moving gradually up the covers during the night, ignoring efforts to keep him on the bedspread. If I woke in the night, which was often, I would put out a hand and meet his soft, warm fur. I would sometimes wake in the morning with his head next to mine on the pillow, or his throat on my neck, feeling the vibration from his deep purring, until I pushed him off. If I didn’t wake early enough, he might yowl loudly or nip me on the hand. A nipper from the time he was a kitten, it was a habit he only lost towards the very end and my hands and arms are testament to his attentions.
Working from home, Puss was usually in the office before me, curled up on his basket behind the computer. He enjoyed the heat from the powerful radiator, particularly in the winter when the rest of the house was unheated. Sometimes he would work at weekends, slipping past the heavy Indian curtain to take up his station. He slept while I typed. If I had worked too long, he might sit at the edge of my desk, staring at me with his deep blue eyes, or stepping down onto my keyboard, adding a smattering of random letters and symbols to my page, until I lifted him off. He rarely went quietly, returning persistently until I removed him more forcibly, or surrendered and took a break. He never gave up.
He loved it best when we sat on the sofa and he could spread out between us. Sitting on my lap, his paws reaching out to my partner, claws lightly gripping onto a jumper or pair of trousers. Linking us with his body.
He assisted in building fires, and would often appear as we brought in logs and kindling. Sitting on the carpet, he would watch the process from a near distance, moving closer to the fire as the heat spread. When we moved to the kitchen, he would keep guard, and by his silence let us know if the fire was dying.
He was an eager participant at bath times. Reaching his paws to the top of the bath panel, he would grab a wet arm or hand and lick off the bath water, wrinkling his lip Elvis-style if I had added too many bath salts. In earlier days, he might jump up onto the ledge of the bath and groom our heads with his dry, fishy tongue. His attention was turned to wet feet and legs when we stepped out from the bathtub. In the mornings, he would often yowl outside the shower cubicle until I had finished and opened the door to let him in, eagerly licking the remaining water from the shower tray.
Love hurts. I feel my insides being twisted as I watch Mike digging a hole for his box, tears running down his face. A proper hole, deep and square, cleared of stones and tree root. The rain starts falling as he digs. After weeks of endless heatwave, the weather is changing. We lower his box, weigh it down with heavy stones, then fill the hole with earth. A heart-shaped stone marks the spot under the cherry tree. We stand in silence for a few minutes as the rain gets heavier.
Wherever I was, there was Puss; ever alert to my movements or arrival in a room. Walking into the bedroom the evening after he died, my heart breaks at the uninterrupted contour of the bed. Waking in the night, tears come again as I feel his absence. The house is somehow bigger and emptier. An unfamiliar spaciousness. That close, ever-watchful presence no longer there. I feel alone.
I cannot name the countless ways in which Puss blessed my life. I am starting to understand, now he is gone, how much he underpinned my home-life; the quality and tone that he brought. It was a rich, deep bass, ever-flowing and ever-present. A rare vibration and one that I am blessed to have been touched with. I can feel it now. Softer, and more remote, but a faint reminder of the tremendous Love that is Puss.
Iben av Bergenia, known as Puss, was born in Bergen on 31 January 2002 and died at home in Bath on 20 July 2018.