The day always starts this way. I wake before my alarm buzzes on my wrist, and stumble half-blind to the bathroom. Sleepy as I am, I know to watch for a blurring shift in the darkness–a low, sleek shape that leaps out of the spare room and flings itself across the sill of the door. I click on the bathroom light and there she is, legs and belly in the air, paddling the air. I reach down to tickle the warm white fur on her tummy. This is the one time of the day when such liberties are permitted.
I have yet to tread or trip over her but it’s been a close-run thing sometimes, especially on dark winter mornings.
I often wonder if she’s trying to kill me. After my shower she’ll run in front of me as I head downstairs, either winding round my ankles or parking herself full-length on a step just below me. It’s all part of the process of hurrying me downstairs so she can get fed. Come on hooman, Millie wants grub. Keep up, don’t trip up.
You’d think she was half-starved. As I walk into the kitchen she’s already parked at the fridge, giving it a hard stare. If things are really desperate, she’ll resort to the dry food we always leave out for her. But as soon as the bowl of wet food goes down that’s forgotten about. She’ll actually let dry morsels drop out of her mouth as she head-butts the bowl.
Millicent Wickings. AKA Millie Moomin, Moomintroll, Trollface, Squirrel Pants, Squiggy-moo, Floofball, Fatbits and OH YOU HORROR. Provenance unknown, although I suspect there’s a fat chunk of Norwegian Forest Cat somewhere in her DNA. In the winter she develops a ruff that a Dutch merchant of the 1500s would be jealous of. In the spring she sheds it in knotted clumps and dreadlocks. She’s not a big unit by any means, but in cold weather her winter coat means she bulks up very pleasingly. I can never keep my hands off her, and I bear the scars as consequence.
Millie’s a tortie, with all the behavioural quirks that come with the multi-colours. Cute and sweet-natured one minute, a bug-eyed pouncing horror the next. She’s a hunter, regularly bringing in mice and occasional birds, which she’ll happily dismember in front of us. It’s a rare week where there isn’t a blob of half-chewed rodent at the bottom of the stairs or outside the bedroom door for when we wake. Yes, we get it, she’s just making sure we’re getting enough to eat, but couldn’t she bring in a pizza every once in a while?
I said provenance unknown. She’s a rescue, found on the pages of the Oxfordshire RSPCA. She was discovered in the Wendy house of a nursery school, along with a litter of kittens. The kits, wee scraps of ginger and black, were snapped up in moments. Poor mum, who had taken herself to scrag and bone to keep them alive, was ignored. She was, to be fair, a spiky presence, still wary, a survivor. A fighter.
We fell in love with her from first sight. It had been eighteen months since we’d put our beloved Bilbo in the ground, one of the more dreadful days of my life. It had taken us a while to recover. Eighteen quiet months. We tried to kid ourselves about how easy it was to go away without having to worry about how the resident would be fed. Neither of us believed it for a moment. A house without a cat is an empty place.
TLC took the lead, quietly starting to browse the rescue sites when she felt ready, showing me her favourites. Once she found Millie, staring with bold attitude from the screen, we both knew. One visit to the cattery sealed the deal. She’d already bulked up a bit in care, but the attitude was there in spades. Head rubs accepted one minute, punished with a murder-mitten swipe the next. Didn’t matter. She had us. We loaded her into the car and brought her home.
The vet recommended keeping her in one room for a few days to acclimatise. Millie was unimpressed with this. Within two hours she’d shunted the back room door open and gone for an explore. Incurably curious, sure of herself, ready for adventure and a little trouble. From day one we knew what we were getting.
She has mellowed over time. A bit. Millie does laps now, to the point where it can be a struggle to budge her if you need the loo. She has a way of stretching out full length then somehow twisting in the middle so her feet are the wrong way round. It gets me every time she does it.
She is the mistress of her domain, but surprisingly tolerant to other cats, as long as they don’t take the piss. Hers is hers, but she’ll share to an extent. She does, however, take great pleasure in winding up next door’s psychotic collie. If he’s locked in she will prance around by their front window, making damn sure he’s clocked her. He will howl and bellow as if the world is ending. If he could break through that window he would, I’m certain.
She remains herself, however much she’s changed. Equal parts lovable and infuriating, our little sweetheart monster. She will wake us up by nibbling on our toes, or spoil a romantic night in by dragging in a mouse at just the wrong moment. And then she will curl up on your lap, fix those big eyes on you and rev up her purr-motor, and we’re lost. It’s Millie’s world, and we’re lucky to be a part of it.