My Favourite Thing About The Universe

Looking into the future, it was a long four weeks. Looking back at the past, it was a short four weeks. For January – in almost its entirety – the four weeks were generously brief. Now, pulling a mangled feather from my back pocket, her sleeping beside me, the four weeks were an instant. How long would I have waited? It matters not, for she would be worth it. Twenty years, maybe more. She is my favourite thing about the universe.
    Rather appropriately, a Russian woman greeted us at the door, friendly and cheerful, vocally appreciative that we were punctual. The house in north London had a hot heat to it, gravy, steam, and she led us past the stairs to a kitchen where meat was being cooked and a thin man with sunken grey eyes moved beyond us with a plateful of food. All the windows were closed. The smells, a dissonant choir of odours, had nowhere to go but the back of one’s throat. In the middle of it all was what I had come to see: a bedful of kittens. They nestled up against their mother, and mewed at our entrance, disturbed and shifting. Each kitten twitched as the jolly Russian lifted the sole female of the litter up for my inspection. My heart glowed. I smiled and tilted my head. She was beautiful, of course she was beautiful. Around her neck was a pink hairband, loose. ‘Get on the floor,’ the Russian told me, and I knelt down. The kitten was placed on the kitchen tiles and walked towards me, quite of her own freewill, which, everyone in the room agreed, was a good sign. She was so small. I reached out gingerly and stroked her tiny skull. Slowly she dozed herself awake and became excited, as her brothers did the same, leaping from the bed to greet the strangers that had invaded their space. The mother blinked, so much like a monument in the desert. The kittens quickly became boisterous. The brothers climbed my legs and fought, wrestled, darted hither & thither; she joined them, noticeably smaller but still involved.
    Four weeks, said the Russian, after four weeks she will have had her vaccinations. It was going to be a long four weeks.
    I could not sleep. So excited was I that for four weeks I never slept properly. I dreamed of her and she made me smile. When I was low – over & over I was low – I would watch one of the videos of her I had taken during my visit. I convinced myself that I was rescuing her and that she would rescue me. At night I lied in bed thinking of what her name would be; whether she would be friendly, confident, intelligent; how long she would take to get used to me; how safe my apartment was; I thought of all the things that could go wrong.
    Everything that would be hers was stored in a kitchen cupboard that I had cleared of empty wine bottles. There was litter, food (sensitive(wet) for her post-vaccination stomach, kitten (wet) for once she had settled down and kitten (dry) if only because I appreciate variety; researched thoroughly and of the highest quality), a packet of treats, two interactive toys, a poop-scoop, litter tray, a large copper spork, a vibrating mouse, nappy sacks (leftover from when I used an ashtray), a deep bowl for water, a wide shallow bowl for food, and a laser pen. I often opened the cupboard to stare at it all, to smile upon my future. Never before had I been so excited about anything. I was certain that she was going to save my soul.
    The day came. Sunday the fifth of February, the year of our Lord twenty-twenty-three. The Saturday before, I had cleaned my apartment from top to bottom, grinning that she would arrive and turn it all upside down. A change was going to come.
    In the back of the car, strapped into grand seats by the glass, my nieces tidily kept their hands to themselves. ‘Hello uncle,’ they said. En route to my old university, almost two decades old, where the abandoned country manor peeled over a hill and early February purred in dryer sunshine than the start of wet January, my innards squelched and teased, unable to contain an overwhelming nervousness and uncertainty. We arrived on time – my mother asked whether it was okay that the girls come in, too – as the flustered Russian, still jolly, explained to us that she was trying to ready herself for church and a trip, in three days’ time, to India. ‘O, I’m from India!’ said my mother, holding my nieces close. The kitten had been sat on the windowsill and saw us approach. She had on her pink hairband and was still tiny. ‘The vet is happy she has gained 300 grammes,’ but I did not see it. The Russian disappeared into her living room and returned holding the kitten. There was a carrier in my hand. The kitten would not see her mother or brothers ever again; it made a feeling inside of me. The Russian put a worming tablet into the kitten’s mouth, which she swallowed obediently, and applied a flea ointment betwixt her tiny shoulderblades. My nieces gazed on, also in love. I could not believe. Every gland, every hormone and chemical, every signal and receiver in my body did not know how to react or respond. half a capsule sprinkled on food once a day, for one week / 3 times a day feeding / w / read up on worming I wrote in my phone as the jolly Russian dictated. Finally, we left, and I felt the weight of my kitten in the carrier.
    She was my kitten now and I was her human. I named her Franny.
    ‘You ready for this?’ asked my father—‘First thing you have to look after that ain’t your dick.’ I told him I was.
    Many hours later, they all left my apartment. The animal would have space. From beneath the bed, Franny emerged and began to explore as I watched from the sofa. She was bold. I would meet her in the middle. After a couple hours, I went and picked her up from my hallway. She struggled not within my hands, but relaxed back to the sofa and I put on a comedy film, Something About Mary, which we watched together. Franny curled in my crotch. On my face was the same sort of dumb and joyful expression that had been on my nieces’ hours earlier. My laughter made her jump, but she got used to it. My sneezes made her jump, but she got used to them. My strokes made her uncertain, but she got used to them. I was so happy that it could not be measured. I spoke to Franny and she heard, maybe she listened. She got into bed with me, not nervous but playful, leaping with claws at the line between my torso and the duvet, drawing little punctuations of blood all over my sheets. I laughed and eventually she, without coaxing, squeezed into my slumberous pose as though I were a bracket and her cursive’s C.
    She was still there when I awoke. She yawned, stretched, scratched, spun, fidgeted, she crossed her paws, made biscuits, she farted, farted again, groomed herself, licked and nibbled, farted once more, snoozed, she purred; daylight came in through gaps in the curtain, it was February and it might have been spring. She was so beautiful. ‘You’re so beautiful,’ I told her. It was only a day but I loved her. ‘I love you,’ I told her. I really did love her. I would do anything I could to protect her.
   Three days off from work, and, so she might become accustomed to my absence, I walked down to the petshop. I returned home and paid her no mind, until she crawled from beneath the bed to regard all the things I had bought for her. I greeted her warmly and she watched me eat a sandwich. She studied me constantly. In the evening, we watched a nature documentary series together about the Serengeti. Franny was stirred by the lions, leaping up and climbing to my television set, putting a paw to the screen. She thinks she’s lions,I messaged my brother, with a photograph. Then she gathered in my lap and watched, wide-eyed, separated from the subject by millions of years but still familiar. She was so beautiful. ‘You’re so beautiful,’ I told her. I did not think I would regret telling her I loved her. ‘I love you,’ I told her. I really did love her more than anything because it felt so much like it was her and me against everything.
    Returning to work, I was sad. Walk down the street hastily, I thought to myself, because then you will get home sooner. Terror filled me that she might injure or kill herself while I was away! My breath was short to think about it! No, she will be fine, said half of me to the other. In some meanness of fate, many old friends were meeting in town. Franny had been alone eleven hours. ‘Come on, stay a while,’ said one. ‘No, I can’t,’ I told him—‘I have to get back to my kitten.’ ‘Yeah, that’s what I heard. I just couldn’t believe it!’ He bellied with his laugh—‘Fuckin hell, you can’t come down the pub cos you have to look after your kitten!’ Sheepishly, I bought him a pint and apologised; Franny was in the darkness now; the sun had set; she was waiting for me. Let them laugh. She was perfect. When I got home, I sat on the sofa and she purred about me. I just wanted her forgiveness, which she offered freely, for she was perfect, like a deity.
    With every passing day, I noted her every change. Her coat became softer. She watched me cook dinner. She learned ‘Down’. She was more agile. She caught the toys that I spun about her paws. A man on the internet told me to blink at her slowly: eyes-open ‘I’; eyes-closed ‘love’; eyes-open ‘you.’ And I would do it to her. She watched this bilingual expression of I love you most attentively, unblinking, but, it seemed to me, very aware of what I was saying. She just was not ready to return the sentiment. She followed me around. She watched me shower. She rubbed her arsehole in my face. She was not ready to tell me I love you.
    Now I sit here typing and she has walked back & forth across the keyboard many times. Its clicking entertains her. She is watching me now when an hour ago she was peacefully yawning across my lap. She farts and I say—‘Franny, you little cunt’ but it’s not as bad as just after her vaccine. We lie in bed and watch The Parent Trap and a lot of the time she watches chess videos with me – John, Jerry and Simon – amused by the movement of the pieces.
    Her eyes are turning green with age. She is the most perfect thing I have ever known. They will get greener. Her coat is blue, her tongue is pink, her eyes are green.  She climbs my thighs until she draws blood. She farts so much and so badly that my eyes water. She is impatient and greedy. She meows for food like she’s in a black metal band. She pushes shitty litter out of the tray and then swipes at the dustpan & brush as I try to clean it up. She eats my dinner when I turn my back. She drinks my coffee and licks my beer from the can. She claws at me as I get into bed when she has the zoomies. She makes me smile, bleed and cry. She is the most perfect thing I have ever known. Now she rests on my lap as we listen to Bob Dylan’s first album and I blow her kisses. Learning a new love is like learning a new language and going on holiday. She falls between my legs, so I help her up and she licks my thumb. It is me and Franny against the world now, however so much of the world will have us with her on my side. She sleeps thinly as Dylan sings ‘My love, she laughs like the flowers / Valentine’s can’t buy her.’ She is the happiness I wished she would be, and more. Her farts smell like death.