My dad, Charlie, bought me this little porcelain cat from somewhere in Berlin, maybe fifteen years ago, probably more – I can’t remember precisely when.
I loved the cat immediately, mostly because Dad bought him for me, and because there’s something of Dad in the cat: sweet, chin-up optimistic, and always a bit abstract. Dad’s favourite artist was Modigliani, with all his beautiful, melancholy angles, and I think if Modigliani ever imagined my dad, he would be this little cat.
The artist who actually imagined him is the Austrian painter and sculptor Rosina Wachtmeister, a prolific creator of cat characters, but I didn’t know that when I first met him. He was just my little Berlin cat, and I called him Jazz Cat, for Berlin and the bright, odd note he strikes just in being.
He’s been with me ever since, always somewhere near – under a lamp by the lounge, on my desk, or on a shelf where he will greet me eye to eye while I am writing. He’s seen a lot. He saw Mum leave us in the summer of 2005, and then Dad three years later; and my real cat, Harold, too, two years on again. He’s moved house four times. He’s survived a few indoor soccer balls, children’s birthday parties, my brother’s crazy dancing. He’s waved me off on my own trip to Berlin, where I saw several porcelain cats in a shop window but none as jaunty or sunny as mine.
When it was time to look for a new real cat friend, I thought it was funny that the one who leapt right at me, taking possession by perching on my shoulder, was called Jazz by the carers at the shelter where we found her. This little cat, a splashy tortie with white paws, has a face that’s half black and half gold. A little abstract. Of course, this was meant to be, wasn’t it? Must be a bit of magic, I thought.
More than a bit, it seemed, a few years on from there, in the winter of 2013. It was July, and a heavy grey storm was crashing all around as I left our house in Orange, half-blinded by tears and in need of a bit of a wander to get my own emotions under control. My husband, Dean, was very ill with end-stage kidney disease and I was terrified. The specialist who was meant to be seeing him that day had to cancel his appointment because his flight from Sydney had been delayed in the bad weather.
I didn’t know where I might go – just out – and I ended up at one of the op shops in town. No-one looks twice at a dishevelled and quietly distressed woman in an op shop, do they?
But just inside the door, above a little table, two Berlin cats greeted me – one with a face half black and half silver, and one that was white with silver stripes. Well, there was a distraction. Still in their original plastic wrapping with euro price stickers, they were signed prints: Rosina Wachtmeister. It was the first time I recall ever having seen her name, but I recognised her style straightaway. I bought both prints for a few dollars each and my smile returned: desperately necessary magic had come cheap today. I would have three Jazz Cats now, and a pretty white, stripey one for extra luck. It somehow seemed a sign, perhaps from my parents, telling me that things would be okay.
Things would work out of course – you can read about our kidney love story here. Black Cat and White Cat, looking down on us from the wall above our bed, looked after us. But this was not the end of the magic.
Last April, when all was blue skies for us once more and we’d finally moved to our little patch of Millthorpe hilltop bliss, a sudden storm swept in. It tore the leaves from trees and swiftly identified a leak in the roof. Over in Orange, about thirty kilometres away, in a lull in the storm, Dean heard what he thought sounded like meowing outside the window of the office where he works. He and a colleague went out to investigate, and found a tiny kitten under a tree there, all alone.
A tiny white kitten with a cinnamon-striped tail and a very large, squawking meow, who we would call Monkey, for he’d seemed to have dropped out of the tree, or some kind of heaven, and into Dean’s hands. These days he’s Dean’s best mate, who follows him everywhere around the property, and who completes our picture here.
Whenever I look at him, or any of our cats, real or imagined, a smile of gratitude curls and stretches inside me, for all those who send the magic of their love into the world. Artists, surgeons, storytellers, parents. What would we do without them?
You can find out more about Rosina Wachtmeister and her art here.