Huddling on the darkening staircase, hugging a relaxed black bob of a cat, called Bobby, she contemplated the approach of her birthday. She searched his eyes for reassurance to the tune of her mother’s voice from the kitchen, calling “Don’t let that cat breathe in your face.” She thought, that’s not fair, I’m breathing in his face. His eyes became slits of green and one lid closed totally. He winked at me, she exulted, and tickled gently behind his ears to the rhythm of the purr which drowned out her mother’s repeated warning. He was called Bobby, because he was given to her by Great Aunt Alice, who lived in Brighton; and although her mother had hidden the kitten in her double-breasted buttoned winter coat as they passed through the barrier at Hastings station, the inquisitive animal had thrust his nose out between the buttons and was espied by the ticket collector, who demanded a shilling as the fare for transporting this cheeky little face from Brighton. (Bob used to be slang for a sterling shilling.)
He was her confidant, lover, and dearest dear. Several times his exile had been threatened because when a storm blew up, Bobby would tear up and down the hall corridor and stairs, finally jumping onto a banister near a dividing wall and, putting paws either side of the wall, claw madly at the wallpaper until it was shredded. The ensuing thunder and lightning was nothing to her parents’ fury. She soothed her dear friend, thinking his manic behaviour was on account of the fact that, as a kitten, he had fallen through the banisters from the top floor to the one below, and as her father laughingly told the story, “He landed on his head – not mine, the cat’s.” Nobody had actually seen it but it was an excuse for his extraordinary behaviour – the cat’s, not the father’s.
Not that she thought it extraordinary. He was her friend, and he could do no wrong. Arriving home from school one day, she could not find the person for whom she always looked first, but was not overly worried, because he was allowed out the back, over the roofs to the greenery growing at the base of the cliff at the back of the house. At tea-time the two brothers nearest in age to her were sniggering, joking and laughing about death and disappearances. Her mother hushed them. Missing Bobby, she became suspicious, “Where is he?” she shouted. It was explained that the doctor had suggested, considering Frank’s asthma, that the household would be better without a cat. So Bobby had been dispensed with at a nearby vet’s. She viewed the world with dismay and wilted under the avalanche of information and her brothers’ raucous teenaged exchanges.