The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - John Womer­s­ley Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

I find my cat’s pres­ence very re­lax­ing. He comes in the back door about 17 times a day and the open­ing and clos­ing of the door is a pleas­ant di­ver­sion. He wants food, or a warm place to curl up, or a bit of com­pany, and I can un­der­stand that.

I swirl him up into my arms and am care­ful to sup­port his back be­cause he is so big. He then sits up with his huge paws on my left arm, which I hold like a bumper-bar for him, and he cranes out over the sink, look­ing out the kitchen win­dow to see what he can see in the bam­boo stand at the bot­tom of the gar­den.

I can do a bit of think­ing while I’m hold­ing him, telling him what a lovely boy he is. This morn­ing, about lunchtime, he came in and tried to trip me into giv­ing him some­thing to eat by winding him­self around my legs. “Oh Chris,” I say. “His name is ‘Bax­ter’,” says my girl­friend. I swing him up in my arms, with him ly­ing back look­ing very hand­some, his paws in the air.

“Oh Chris …” I say again. Then I launch into my litany, which al­ways grates with her.

“When you were lit­tle, I used to hold you like this …” My girl­friend comes in on cue. “He was never very lit­tle. He was even big as a kit­ten.” I am un­de­terred. “When he was small I used to hold him like this …”

Then Bax­ter be­gins to wrig­gle and I let him down gen­tly, giv­ing him a long stroke.

“See. He’s sick of it al­ready,” she says. “He knows it’s a load of mush.”

Some­times at night I go out on the front porch when my girl­friend is still watch­ing the tele­vi­sion and smok­ing.

I make lit­tle rustling noises with my feet, and in a few mo­ments Bax­ter will ap­pear, usu­ally from his eyrie on the roof.

He plops down on to the fence, then on to the porch and curls him­self around my an­kles. I swirl him up into my arms in the dark; and it is then that I can call him Chris.

“Oh Chris. I re­mem­ber when I used to hold you just like this.”

I re­mem­ber how my son Chris used to re­act in mock dis­gust at this sop­pi­ness and wrig­gle to be let down: and I would let him down gen­tly.

I haven’t seen Chris for many years now. We had a meal at a seafood restau­rant. I gave him $50, a book of maps of In­dia and a Swiss Army knife to say bon voy­age as he was go­ing off on a six-month hol­i­day. He was nearly 20 then. He came back all right — I have heard — but never got in touch again.

Per­haps it was his way of let­ting me down gen­tly?

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