“Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive like Roscoe,” sing the band Midlake on their haunting, bucolic 2006 song ‘Roscoe’. When my then girlfriend and I were listening to the song in spring 2012 and decided to name our new kitten in honour of it, it seemed vaguely fitting for two reasons – early signs suggested that the kitten, who had the cartoon appearance of a masked feline supervillain, boasted a scrappy tomboy character, and, having adopted a couple of male cats with female names previously, it seemed only fair for me to even the score – but it has turned out to be more apt than we could have ever imagined. Roscoe is the most productive of cats: an animal who, when not asleep, has a permanently businesslike air about her, always seemingly involved in some important hedgerow admin or undergrowth-based clerical work. When I have been in my garden and been lucky enough to find myself greeted by her – often with a double-paw high five – her white paws offer the sense that I am talking to someone very industrious who wears running shoes in order to move more quickly to and from meetings.
Roscoe loves the rugged countryside surrounding my house and roams much further into it than any of my three other cats, but she has not always had an easy time in the two years we have lived here. For the first six months of our adventure in Devon, a big dumb stray ginger cat called George made it his mission to dry hump her. Horrified by this, Roscoe began a series of escapes to my local pub. I found this out on a day when I myself visited my local pub and saw Roscoe hanging out with some rugged-looking men in the beer garden. “I’m afraid it’s not the first time,” a lady sitting on an adjacent table told me. “I’ve seen her up here quite a lot recently, rubbing herself against blokes.”
George went off to live a life of bliss with my parents in Nottinghamshire in November 2014, where, having finally been honest with himself about his true sexual orientation, he met his gay lover, Casper, a sensuous white cat from nextdoor who enjoys nothing more than having another cat’s tongue deep in one of his ears. Roscoe then experienced ten months of respite before another even larger stray, who – largely because nobody could stop me – I dubbed Uncle Fuckykins, began to seek her out with similarly randy zeal. “COULD YOU NOT GET HER ONE OF THOSE FALSE NOSE, GLASSES AND GOOFY TEETH MASKS SO OTHER CATS DON’T FIND HER SO ATTRACTIVE?” my dad has suggested.
From this point Roscoe seemed to have two modes: asleep on my bed, or as far from home as possible. Fleeing from a techno-based party on Halloween in my bafflingly techno-obsessed local town, I was startled to hear a familiar meow behind me on the river path, over a mile from my front door. Roscoe has always had an unmistakable, panicky sort of meow, which seems to me to have never quite fully developed. “Have you learned to meow properly yet?” I have often asked her in the past. To this she has replied “Eweeugh” when in all honesty a simple “No” would have sufficed. Here, so far from her usual territory, near big roads and techno hippies, the meow seemed doubly insufficient. Shaken to see her in this foreign area, I picked her up, held her tight inside my coat, and walked her back to my house, moving off the lane a couple of times to hide in the undergrowth when teenage Halloween revellers came the other way, lest she freak out and escape back towards town. She has always been a wilful and intrepid cat, but I knew this was more than that: she was being driven away from home in terror. The stray cat would have to be caught.
The worst day of Roscoe’s life occurred just over a month after that, when she was viciously attacked: not by the sexual predator Uncle Fuckykins, as I’d first assumed, but by a dog, behind my garden hedge. It was only after she had dragged herself in through the catflap, bleeding, and I’d rushed her to the vet that I remembered how the day had started and began to piece the probable events together: the panting sound of a man behind my garden chasing an animal that had woken me up that morning, his frantic and pathetic shouts of “Oscar! Oscar!” It all seemed a little too much of a coincidence. I got home from the vet’s and found the spare bed, where Roscoe had initially retreated upon getting herself home, covered in blood.
For the next week, the news seemed to get worse and worse: Roscoe’s abdominal wall had been damaged more severely than first suspected; an operation took place to repair it and her intestines were threaded back inside her body; but infection took hold again, and another operation followed. Reading between the lines of what the vet told me, I sensed her chances of survival were 50% at best. I walked and walked, deep into the Devon countryside, not knowing what else to do to stay sane. I managed to trap Uncle Fuckykins, get his microchip read by a veterinary nurse, find out he was actually called Mogs, resist eloping with him and return him to his original owner, seven miles away in the slot machine-orientated seaside town of Paignton. I visited Roscoe at the vet’s. So much of her side and rear and undercarriage had been bitten, then cut into, there didn’t seem a lot left to work with. The vet confirmed this by saying: “There isn’t a lot left to work with.” In the small bit there was left to work with, two unsightly surgical drains protruded from Roscoe’s skin. But when I saw her, she headbutted me with affectionate violence and I clung hard to the hope that this conveyed.
As a teenager, I most admired professional sportsmen, then musicians. Nowadays, the people I most admire tend to be in the medical profession. This feeling has been reinforced since the attack on Roscoe. I am aware not all veterinary clinics are quite as conscientious and kind as my local one and I feel blessed to live near it. Another good thing about the clinic is that it is based in the same building as a local brewery. I did not quite turn to drink during my visits to check on my sick cat, but it was comforting to know the option was available close at hand.
In the two and a half weeks that Roscoe was in this warm and caring cat hospital, the vets and nurses at the surgery got to know her extremely stubborn yet extremely affectionate character, and became attached to her. They became familiar with her headbutts and the special low rumble she makes from her nose when she is being a major dickwad. One of the nurses admitted that, after their works Christmas drinks do on the 22nd, a group of them had gone back to the surgery, purely to say hello to her. Roscoe has always been by far the most independent of my cats, and I had often taken the view that she was “usually off happily doing her own thing” but I was surprised how keenly I felt her absence in the house: the little spaces she occupied so resolutely. What I missed most included:
1. Her habit of burrowing into my side as I slept. Then, when I moved away to try to get more comfortable, doggedly pursuing me to the other side of the bed in slumber, and burrowing into my side even more forcefully – once even to the extent that I fell off the mattress.
2. The way, despite being barely more than half his size, she would twat Shipley in the face with a karate paw when he stepped out of line (or sometimes even when he didn’t).
3. The pillowcases and clothes, previously hung on radiators, that I would find on the floor, after she had reached up to pull them down to the floor so she could sleep on them and soak up their warmth.
4. Her habit of walking on her hind legs when she was elated or hungry, and waving her paws around, as if celebrating a strike in a tiny cat bowling alley.
5. Her subtle love affair with my 20 year-old cat The Bear, which largely manifested itself with her periodically sleeping on his back.
6. Her addiction to the texture and aroma of wet towels, especially when one was wrapped around me.
On Christmas Eve, one of the two excellent vets who had operated on Roscoe, Dermot, said she could come home for a trial period. I was amazed. Dermot said that although the infection seemed to be clear and the surgical drains in her skin had now been removed, there had been a major breakdown of tissue around one of her bigger wounds. I was warned by both him and the nurse who handed Roscoe over that it looked “very gory and gruesome” but they assured me they were happy with the way it was healing. It was not until I got home with Roscoe that I properly had chance to look at it and I was initially convinced that she had sustained an extra, life-threatening injury in the ten minutes we’d been in the car. It was worse than I’d expected: a deep, gouging hole, right into her insides. I was supposed to rub manuka honey and gel into this thing. Surely, if I did, I would injure her further? But no. On Boxing Day when I took Roscoe back to see Trevor, the other vet who’d operated on her, he said he was pleased with the way she was healing. She was healing? The last time I saw something like this, I was watching a Wes Craven film.
This, then, was my festive period: finding stealthy ways to con Roscoe into taking four antibiotics a day, squirting a carefully measured quantity of painkiller over her meals, rubbing ointment in her wounds, getting out – but not for too long – for walks, sitting in her room – which was once my office – and watching her wobble over to me (a little more steadily, each day) and look into my eyes and let out a piercing, bargaining meow. Taking pity on her, I let her sleep on my bed, even though her open wound left unsightly stains on the duvet cover. I watched her stretch herself along the bottom of the radiator, pressing the wound against it, and worried she would glue herself to it with her own blood. When she moved, the wound made a wet, unpleasant noise. As if in sympathy, I burned myself, sustaining a painful wound of my own – though no doubt not half as painful as Roscoe’s – and got ill in a couple of other ways. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but at least it imbued our time of incarceration together with an extra feeling of solidarity.
She returned to the vet, again, three more times, and they told me the wound had shrunk, but I could not quite convince myself it was true. As other cats in the waiting room let out their eclectic meows – stuttering meows, guttural meows, yob meows, spoilt boarding school meows, meows that sounded like Leonard Cohen might, if Leonard Cohen meowed – Roscoe remained silent and newly philosophical. “Shush your whining,” her cartoon button eyes, viewed from between the bars of her wicker prison, seemed to say. “You don’t know what hardship is. I freakin’ live here.”
Roscoe has been energetic and bright for nearly a fortnight now: she stretches her muscles more than she used to, no doubt due to the wear and tear where the surgery took place and her damaged, diminished tissue, but even over a week ago, she was hurling herself enthusiastically at a catnip mouse. Yet it was only on Saturday that I looked at that wound and let myself believe how much it had healed. I had let myself believe before, when I thought Roscoe’s first operation had been a success, then been crushed by the news of reinfection, so I wanted to keep my guard up extra firmly. But now the evidence is incontrovertible: the wound has scabbed over. That skin has done this itself, and it is a miracle. “Isn’t skin amazing?” I keep thinking, as I look at it.
Her bad side – which I have avoided showing on the Internet, out of respect to her – is currently a patchwork of bare skin, stubble, black tufts and scars which, when viewed from a distance, gives her an odd look: part Holstein, part cat, part Batman. The vet tells me the fur should come back, with time, but might not quite look as it once did. But, then, Roscoe has never been vain; she’s always been far too focussed on her career. That Nine Lives folklore about cats doesn’t come from nowhere, but I do wonder if a particular single-minded feistiness in Roscoe is responsible for her recovery: that same single-minded feistiness that means she has never been a cat who’s liked being picked up, that same single-minded feistiness that of an idle afternoon will prompt her to remove between two and six drying items of clothing from their places and turn them into small warm campbeds. On Tuesday she was signed off from the vet, antibiotic-free. This evening, I walked into my bedroom, ready to change the covers on my bed, and found one of the pillowcases I’d been drying on the radiator relocated to the floor, with Roscoe on top of it. It felt like the final solid sign of her recovery, so I left her there. It’s ok. I have another pillowcase.
Roscoe is a total delight right now, who dances out of her room every morning, eager to greet the day head on. She looks at me like I am someone she is grateful to as she plays passionate, silent piano on my shirt. It’s a brand new look. Even when she seemed most keen on me in the past, she always gave the slight impression that I had been responsible for all the hardship in her life, and that at best she only wanted me for my damp towels.
I want this honeymoon period to last but I know what the next stage is. A total stranger has already been along to one of my social network pages and instructed me that Roscoe is to be an indoor cat from now on. I didn’t respond but maybe if the total stranger has had a rabbit who was once sick from eating cheese, I will try to find the total stranger’s postal address and write her a letter to say that I will not on any account permit her rabbit to eat cheese again. I understand the total stranger’s line of thinking, but that’s not the way that this works. A new all-indoor Roscoe is not the future. She’s a free-spirited cat who thrives on fresh air, grass, hedgerows and small rodents. I have become newly wary of dogs since her accident but I also try to remember that not all of their owners are irresponsible tiny-dicked fuckends. Dogs have been walked near my house every day since I moved here and this has only happened once. Part of me wants to take all four cats to a new place where I know they will live life to the full but be guaranteed to be safe in the process but I know that place does not exist.
When Roscoe goes back out into the great outdoors – and it won’t be just yet, because I am being cautious – she’ll find it’s a bit different: it will still have its dangers, but one hulking, ubiquitous tabby one will at least be gone. Hopefully this will make her a bit more of a homebody, a bit more content in the in-between spaces she was previously avoiding. Able to walk around in those spaces authoritatively, knowing she is their Queen and that she does not need to stray beyond them. But who can tell? As I said, she’s a tough, determined, fiercely independent little cat. It has got her into a fair bit of trouble but it might well be the reason she is still here today.