He was never really our cat, not exactly. We have a female cat called Kirby, soft, grey and stripey, who briefly went missing back in 2013. She eventually turned up, but as we'd been out and around the neighbourhood looking for her, we noticed a similar looking cat with the same sort of markings, same colour, same long tail. We'd approach the cat, notice his massive hairy nuts, and realise he wasn't our Kirby; and so someone, probably the kid, called him Mr. Kirby.
At some point, after feeding the cats in the morning, I took to leaving the bowls out on the back porch. I'd noticed a few strays hanging around, and it seemed like they might appreciate what cat food was left over when our own bunch felt like they'd had enough. Because feral or stray cat populations tend to stabilise under certain conditions, we ended up with a regular gang of four of five visitors stopping by our house for breakfast every morning - the B-Team as I thought of them. Unfortunately, our own cats sometimes scoffed the lot, and so I inevitably began to buy extra tins for the outside guys. I knew it would all be eaten, and I didn't like the thought of anyone going hungry.
Mr. Kirby of course became a regular.
He was a funny looking cat, and I didn't really know what to make of him at first. He wasn't hostile but neither was he overtly friendly, and he always seemed wary, as though deeply suspicious of whatever motives we might have for dishing up all that free grub. He put me in mind of the young William Burroughs being described by someone's father as a boy with the look of a sheep killing dog. He looked shifty, and I entertained the idea that he might even be William Burroughs reincarnated given that the late author would probably have quite liked to come back as a cat.
Mr. Kirby warmed to us as the years went past, and became such a fixture that he no longer quite seemed like a stray, more like some guy who just happened to live in our garden. We fed him and left out clean water every day. I even built a wooden shelter for the cold weather. Mr. Kirby sometimes wandered into our house, but he had a tendency to spray left, right and centre, so I tried to keep him outside when possible.
Eventually he became so accustomed to us that he would wait to be fed, then start up with his peculiar meow - more like the hooting and honking of a small furry goose - and we got to the stage at which I could pet him as he was eating. He was all muscle, very wiry, and he looked like he'd been in the wars. Had he been human he would have had tattoos, an eye-patch, and a Brooklyn accent. Contrary to the image, I never saw him have even a hissing confrontation with another cat, let alone a fight. If there was food in a bowl and several takers, the others would step back and simply wait for Mr. Kirby to finish without so much as a warning glare. I suspect it may have been something to do with his nuts, which were huge and impressive.
Sometimes he'd fail to turn up for breakfast, occasionally for three or four days, and then he'd be back on the fifth day, gaunt and ravenous having presumably spent the time trapped in somebody's garage; or he'd return with some terrifying injury or disability, a terrible limp, a seeping eye, or one side of his face swollen out of all proportion. On one occasion I attempted to catch him, to get him into a cat carrier so that we could take him to the vet, but he was stronger than me. It was like wrestling a fully grown man. Thankfully his injuries always seemed to clear up of their own accord.
More recently, I suppose you could say we became friends. He greeted me with his hooting meow, and would push his forehead into the palm of my hand when I petted him. He stopped marking the furniture when he came into our house, so I let him in from time to time. Now able to make a reasonably close inspection, I finally realised than he had a minor cut - albeit long since healed - at the outside edge of his left upper eyelid, meaning that when he looked at you, one eye seemed to be squinting, making him appear suspicious. Combined with the distinctive meow and his spotty belly, my wife and I guessed he had both Siamese and Bengal cats somewhere in his family tree.
About a month ago, maybe a little longer, he once again fell ill. He had terrible diarrhoea and a variable appetite, along with what looked like scabies, resulting in scabs and cuts on his head. I treated him for fleas, then added a deworming compound to his food, just in case. I changed the dry food left for the outside cats to a grain free variant, having learned that this is often better for cats with digestive problems. I rubbed an ointment onto his head when I could hoping to treat the scabies, which it did to an extent; and all through this he otherwise more or less seemed his normal happy self, except sometimes he seemed to be drinking a hell of a lot, and his appetite went through the roof - anything up to three tins a day which still left him looking somehow gaunt. I could tell something was wrong, but he was obviously an old cat, and it didn't seem like there was a lot else we could do because we simply can't afford the sort of vet's bills he would chalk up.
Then just a couple of days ago he went from bad to worse, not eating, not drinking, just sleeping most of the time. He would perk up intermittently, but it didn't seem to last. Next thing, I come home and he's laying on the porch in such a posture that I find myself checking to see if he's still breathing. He resembles a corpse and flies are buzzing around him. Over the next couple of hours he moves from one part of the porch to another, but always to end up slumped like a pile of bones. Gus II, another one of the strays, cuddles up to him, and it's breaking my fucking heart. I know he's not coming back this time. I guess that Gus II might also know this.
Bess comes home and we take Mr. Kirby in a box to the emergency veterinary clinic on Broadway. I can't stop crying. Mr. Kirby has somehow become a staple of my existence, and life without him hooting away each morning seems unthinkable.
The nurse gives him a sedative so that he won't feel what's coming next, although to be fair, it's difficult to tell whether he's truly been conscious during any of this. She then gives him something which stops his heart. I stroke him and cuddle him. I'm going to miss this cat so fucking much.
It's over. We did the right thing for him, much as it hurts, much as it feels as though we've let him down.
There's nothing much more to say, but no, he wasn't just a cat.
We're going to miss you, Mr. Kirby.
What a shitty day it has been.