Mrs Thatcher walked out of the house one morning after breakfast and didn’t come back for tea. Mark took it all badly, but these things happen. I made a wee joke that she was missing the big smoke and maybe we’d find her by the M6 at Gretna, trying to hitch a ride south. He told me to shut up. I wondered when he had decided that it was fine to speak to me like that. She turned up at his old place in England a month later. The couple who live there now found her sitting at the end of the bed with a starling in her mouth. They were nice enough to let us know. We’d given her up for dead. It was three in the morning by the time Mark got back from picking her up. The next day she disappeared again. And the night after that, Alfie started wetting the bed.
This time, I suggested we all go down together. The three of us, me in the back. I thought we might stay the night in London and do some sightseeing. Mark said Alfie grew up in London and he’d seen the sights. In any event, when we got there and saw the state she was in, I thought it best we go straight home.
“I think she’s dead,” Alfie said, somewhere in the North of England, where there were tall chimneystacks and little towns with terraced brick houses.
“Don’t open the box, Alfie. Do not open that box. Give it to Grandpa.”
“Maybe we should pull over,” I said.
We weren’t far from some services. The cat was breathing. That’s about all she was doing.
There was a little arcade and I sat with Alfie on one of those driving machines until a teenager came along with money who wanted to play it for real. We had left Mark outside with a woman – a vet – who had seen us crowding over this limp furball and had offered to help. Mark told her the improbable story of Mrs Thatcher, The Homesick Cat. This woman was about his age, with a kind face. It hurt a bit to see my boy, a man, so awkward with her.
When we found him, he was alone and sitting on a bench with the cat in his lap.
“She’s gone,” he said. At first I thought he was talking about the vet. “We should bury her here and go home.”
“We need to take her with us,” Alfie said. Mark exhaled, put the cat back into its box, put the box on the bench and went inside.
Alfie and I waited in the car. When he was a teenager, Mark would run out in the middle of dinner and not come home until his mother and I were in bed. This was like that. I suppose he needed some time to gather his thoughts. After half an hour, I saw him coming across the car park with a newspaper and a bottle of ginger. I thought it best not to ask him where he’d been.
He got in the car, started the engine, and he turned to Alfie and said, “Are you alright, mate?” and Alfie nodded.
We got back after midnight but we buried Mrs Thatcher in the garden and I made the three of us a cup of tea before bed. A week or two later Mark bought a dog. We called it Major.