109. Oedipus the Cat

WHEN WE WERE NEWLY married, before you were born, your father and I had a cat called Oedipus. Normally I’m not a cat person because most cats are dumb and selfish, but this cat was a prince among cats. He was black, with yellow eyes, and smart like a dog. When your grandmother was visiting I could tell him to go and kiss her and he would run across the room to the couch where she was seated and lick her on the nose. That first summer when I was pregnant with you, I would keep the windows of the house open if it was sunny and hot, because the house we lived in at that time was damp and cold all year round. On the rare occasion it was sunny in that rotten climate I wanted to get as much sunshine and warmth into the house as I could. Our car would be parked outside and, as often as not, on sunny days I would also leave the car windows down if I knew I was going to drive somewhere later in the day to stop it from getting too hot inside. Most cars didn’t have air conditioning then and no one in that gloomy, godforsaken village would ever steal a car. Not only did everyone know everyone else but also everyone knew what car everyone else was driving. In fact, that was only the start of what everyone knew about everyone else. Everyone knew everything about everyone else, and as I had only ever lived in big cities it used to drive me crazy. Oedipus was so smart that when he could sense that I was about to go driving on an errand somewhere he would jump out the kitchen window into the street and jump into the car and hide there. Around the time you were born, the following winter, someone – I can’t remember who, maybe Michel Poireau – told me that cats can be jealous of newborn babies, to the point that they have been known to sit on them and suffocate them. As you can imagine, I became paranoid about that cat. If it went anywhere near you, I would scold it to keep away from you. One afternoon, when you were barely two or three months old, you were sleeping in your cot. I went into the bedroom to check on you. You were such a beautiful baby - fat, with blue eyes and golden locks. Your grandmother used to call you her pasha. When I entered the bedroom, I saw that Oedipus was in your cot, sitting motionless next to you and watching you. At that moment, my heart skipped a beat, I can tell you. I ran to the cot and took the cat and threw him across the room so far that he hit the opposite wall. I think it was that day that he ran away, and he never came back. But occasionally, when I would take you in the pram on afternoon walks through the village, I would see him in the distance. I could swear he was following us, but try as I might to approach him he never let me get near him again.