My boyfriend broke up with me the night before our cat, Ludwig, was going to be neutered. He told me he was going back to Catalonia, where he was from, without us. Early that year, we had spent more money than we could afford on a passport for Ludwig so that we could move from Scotland to Spain together. My boyfriend said he was tired of the lack of sun and the tasteless tomatoes. I had daydreamed about being a cool writer living in Spain like Roberto Bolaño, but my boyfriend was tired of me too. We were both ushers and cleaners at the same dingy old cinema in Edinburgh—that’s where we met. He had little round glasses and a temper and had studied philosophy in Barcelona. I thought he looked dashing in the black Fruit of the Loom sweatshirts with the cinema name embroidered on them. We fell in love and decided to move in together and get a cat.
Ludwig is pale orange, with a white chest and feet. He has a little bit of orange near his nose, which looks like Marilyn Monroe’s beauty mark. His tail is stripped like a lemur. His nickname became Lulu after our friend from Madrid couldn’t pronounce Ludwig.
Ludwig was named after Ludwig Wittgenstein. Male philosophy graduates, I knew, always had a habit of naming their cats after male philosophers. I knew a guy at university in Montreal, a philosophy major, with a fluffy little grey cat named Søren after Søren Kierkegaard. I often just say yes when people ask if he is named after Ludwig van Beethoven, because I am too crabby to explain that my ex-boyfriend named him after Ludwig Wittgenstein. Besides, I love Beethoven. Most of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is incomprehensible to me. My friend Daisy asked if I named him after Ludwig II of Bavaria, also called ‘the Swan King’, an extravagant 19th-century royal who built lots of excessive looking neo-Gothic castles. Ludwig the cat probably resembles him the most in personality, so when I am in the mood I tell people Ludwig was named after an eccentric Bavarian prince.
My boyfriend and I were both surprised, on moving to Britain from our respective countries, to find that most flats are rented furnished. In the flat we took there was a six-foot-long painting of a car wrapped in plastic, that had to remain wrapped in plastic if we wanted our deposit back. In one of the cupboards there was a chest of drawers covered in padlocks. This was the only appealing piece of furniture, though it was locked and probably full of suspicious material belonging to the landlords. The rest was the typical furniture one finds in a British flat: a glass table, a leather couch as big and uncomfortable and cumbersome as a taxidermy walrus, lawn chairs posing as dining chairs and white, easily stained and damaged beds and wardrobes. Almost all the floors were carpeted. It looked as if someone had thinly spread porridge through the flat with a palette. The bookshelves in the living room were lined with fake book wallpaper—as if to say, this is where you put books in case you didn’t know. One bedroom also contained a sort of Indian room divider, quite beautiful dark wood with intricate carved patterns, that Ludwig, from the day we got him, became obsessed with and, over time, as he grew larger, destroyed. I don’t blame him, because it really has no use. It is the sort of thing you could see a Victorian woman changing behind, but of course it is full of fancy holes so nothing is hidden.
We both considered it insanitary for the furniture to be sitting there, embossed with life after life from various renters. In Canada, I would usually find my furniture in the garbage—especially in the summer there was a lot of good stuff on the street—but the fact that it got some fresh air, and that it was my choice to take those particular pieces of furniture, it seemed better. The furniture in British flats was like dirty, apathetic zoo animals, forever trapped by staircases, buildings without elevators, and some unspoken rule that flats had to be furnished.
The paperwork for adopting a cat from a charity in Scotland seemed too daunting and complicated—often requiring letters from a landlord when we weren’t sure that we could have a cat, only that the advertisement for the flat we took didn’t say we couldn’t have a cat. I got anxious that cat charities only wanted people with trust funds and large, magnificent gardens to adopt their cats, so I bought a kitten off of a website called Gumtree. I wanted to get two but there was only one available. I had this big idea that I wanted a male orange cat, and these were all male and orange, with the exception of one grey kitten. I had searched for ‘orange male cat Edinburgh’. Perhaps I was unconsciously preparing for a life without my boyfriend: Officer Ripley going back to earth with Jonesy the cat at the end of Alien, the sole survivors, and Holly Golightly in the beginning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, her orange unnamed cat jumping on the bed where she sleeps alone.
The house I was supposed to pick up the kitten didn’t have a number on it, but before I could figure out if it was the right one or not, the woman saw me idling outside from her window and shouted, ‘KITTENS?’ down at me. She had six children and a Rottweiler, which meant Ludwig was basically fearless. I visited him and his siblings once before he was old enough to take home, though of course I didn’t know which one was Ludwig yet. They all looked the same except for a grey one. One of the woman’s toddlers kept picking them up and squeezing them like balls of dough. I remember the morning she texted me to say they were ready. Two had already been taken by the time I got there, including the grey one. She held the two kittens that were left, with white chests that made them look like orange ice cream lollies that had been bitten into. I am terribly indecisive. The thought of having to choose between two kittens was too much for me. Luckily the woman handed me one and said something like, ‘This one weighs less, otherwise they are the same.’ I said okay as the kitten clung to my shirt with its little nails. This was Ludwig. The runt.
When I took him back to the flat, he made himself at home instead of hiding under a bed or other piece of furniture the way a cat usually does in a new place. He could fit in the palm of my hand, but slept between us that night. Neither of us got any sleep because we were afraid of crushing him. It reminded me of a dream I used to have repeatedly: nursing a child, it turned into a kitten, then a rat, a mouse, and on and on until it was a flea clasped onto my nipple. I’d lose it, somewhere between sidewalk cracks or floorboards, and become afraid of stepping on it. Perhaps Ludwig was too young, I worried. In the middle of the night he got up, had diarrhoea in the corner of our bedroom then jumped back into bed with us. It was our fault: the litter box was still in the living room. He was so small we had to make cardboard stairs up to the box. From then on he was determined that the corner where he had diarrhoea was his bedroom bathroom.
Over the next few days, he’d stick his bum in our face after going to the bathroom as he expected us to clean it for him. He accepted us as his parents almost instantly.
Ludwig was my boyfriend’s first pet. He took Ludwig’s education seriously, like the professor in Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. He spoke to Ludwig in Catalan, so Ludwig would be bilingual. I remembered my boyfriend telling me that he once brought home a kitten when he was an adolescent and his grandma threw it off the roof.
In my family, cats from twenty or thirty years ago were still talked about, like eccentric great aunts. My Polish grandmother, my four aunts, my cousin and I are all women dedicated to cats. The two men in our family, my grandfather and my brother, are asthmatic. There were four cats in my family growing up (along with an assortment of hamsters, rabbits, leeches, fish, lizards and, briefly, a lamb named Charlotte) and, mistakenly, a dog named Nemo. The first cat disappeared while I was a toddler. She was a grey tabby named Pussy. Next was a small calico cat named Kitty, who we had got from a farm. My mother is a very original, creative person except when it comes to cat names. We lived in a small town, and Kitty would follow my mom to the shops. My mom would put Kitty in her purse, or Kitty would wait outside. She was a great hunter—she brought us birds and rabbits. Cats are the only pets, as far as I know, that bring people gifts.
Kitty had two litters. The first we named after the cast of Hamlet and found good homes for. The second litter was murdered by Nemo, the dog, a little Lhasa Apso who smelled. Nemo hated our stairs, which were uneven, twisted and painted turquoise, some of the steps shaped like children’s coffins. She never went upstairs where the kittens were, but was so determined to kill them she did when we weren’t there, probably pausing between steps to catch her breath. We buried the kittens in the woods, rather than the grave in the backyard which contained an assortment of hamsters buried in shoeboxes. I think because it was a murder. Nemo’s white beard was all red. I ignored her until she died several years later. I don’t trust dogs, because I don’t think they can control their urges. But also, Nemo’s murder of the kittens felt like some sort of obscure punishment from a cat god: it broke the natural way of things for us to get a dog. My mom used to sing a song to Nemo, that went ‘Meow, meow, why aren’t you a cat?’
There was also George, a little black stray cat we started to feed. I don’t think we ever let him inside. My mom’s boyfriend called him Poubelle, which means garbage in French. My mom’s boyfriend was British, but had changed his last name to Verlaine, after the nasty French poet. George disappeared, the way half-feral cats often do.
When I was a teenager, my older brother brought a Siamese Point Lynx kitten home in one of his pockets for my mom and me. It must have not been long after George disappeared. The kitten’s parents and siblings had all died in a fire. We named him Angus. Angus was handsome and difficult, like a deranged hero from Dostoevsky. He once bit my mom’s arm so badly she ended up in hospital, but they loved each other dearly. He vomited a lot because he was so fluffy, and if he were angry at us, he’d do it in our shoes and other inconvenient places. It was always a beige mixture of cat hair and kibble. I once had to pull one of my own long red hairs out of his ass. I suppose he accidently ate it. Angus lived to be 19, his life overlapping with Ludwig’s. He died the week before my boyfriend broke up with me and Ludwig was neutered.
I got lost on the way home from the vet’s on the day Ludwig was fixed. My boyfriend had helped me drop Ludwig off but not pick him up. Ludwig was excited to see me, he was in a ‘groovy’ mood from the drugs. On the way home, I stopped on a bench outside a brutalist library to look up directions and to cry, finding Ludwig’s groovy mood the saddest thing in the world.
Later, I made him scrambled eggs as the vet had told me to do so, serving them on one of the antique porcelain plates I had bought from a charity shop because I have a lot of affectations and didn’t want to buy him regular cat bowls. They look like the type of plates Ludwig of Bavaria would use.
My boyfriend said that because he didn’t want to hurt me anymore than he already had, he wouldn’t take Ludwig with him to Catalonia. He was moving back in with his grandma—the one who threw the kitten off the roof. You couldn’t take cats on the Ryanair flight to Barcelona, or any flight anyway. The only way, I read online, that you could take a cat out of the UK was by boat. In order to get to Spain, you had to take a boat from Southampton to Bilbao, and it only ran during the summer season.
I hadn’t wanted to get Ludwig fixed. My boyfriend did, after Ludwig tried to fuck his arm and other body parts. I liked the way unneutured male cats looked: bulky, their testicles adorable like bumblebees. One of the reasons my boyfriend broke up with me was I wanted children and he didn’t. Now, I was left without a baby, and left without the ability to create endless Ludwigs. He had stitches where his testicles were. He wasn’t allowed in the bath for a month, which was difficult, because Ludwig liked to take baths with me.
Ludwig is now a year old and slightly overweight. Every morning I bring him out into the communal backyard of my building on a bright orange leash that glows in the dark, though I never bring him out in the dark. Walking a cat means crouching in bushes like a creep a lot of the time. More and more I let go of his leash, let him discover things on his own, chase flies and climb trees, though I keep him in my line of vision. I am worried about strange humans beating him up because he is too trusting. The next-door neighbours have a black and white cat named Jonas. Like a lot of cats that are allowed to roam free outside, he belongs to a couple of homes. Whenever he sees Ludwig, his ears go back, but Ludwig is oblivious. Jonas lives on a ground floor flat, and once, seeing him indoors, staring at Ludwig from the window, I put Ludwig on the windowsill to see how he would react to another cat. Jonas tapped the glass with his paw. Ludwig rubbed his butt against the glass before jumping down to chase something more interesting, like a leaf or a fly.
There is another black and white cat I sometimes see in the yard. He doesn’t looked fixed, he has that nice swagger of a cat with balls, so I think he is a stray. I’ve started leaving food out for him and nicknamed him Pasolini. He stares at Ludwig, but not with his ears back. Ludwig is oblivious. Pasolini recently left me a dead mouse with the face eaten off in the yard, near the bowl I use to feed him.
Every morning Ludwig wakes me up by tapping my face with my paw. If that doesn’t work, he pulls my hair with his teeth and bites my nostrils. He likes to jump up on wardrobes, but doesn’t like to jump down. Instead, he taps the side of the wardrobe with his paw until I come, like an elevator, and take him down.
He communicates multiple things to me by scraping and tapping his paws. If he is finished his food, he taps around the plate. Whenever I have a cup of coffee, beer or wine, he taps around it to say he doesn’t like the smell. He never buries his poo. Instead he bangs his paw on a loose board on the bathtub beside his litterbox until I come and clean it up.
Ludwig is not quite sure how cat he is and how cat I am, how human he is, and how human I am. He doesn’t get that he is supposed to fight with other male cats. He cleans my face and hands with his tongue because he finds it disgusting that I don’t.
He loves adult human males. I still think he loved my ex-boyfriend more than me—if for no other reason than that my ex could lie still for long periods of time and had a broad chest that made an ideal mattress—and seeing Ludwig’s heartbreak was worse than my own, to the point I sometimes refer to my ex-boyfriend as ‘our’ ex-boyfriend. Now and then he finds a scarf or jumper our ex-boyfriend left behind and sits on it like a nest that will somehow hatch a new version of our ex.
Angus would hide when men came into my mother’s house. Ludwig tries to smell their balls. When I have male dates over, I have to lock Ludwig out of the room because any sort of movement in the bed is an irresistible game to a young cat. He meows and scratches at the door. After we are finished having sex, the first thing I do is go open the door and let Ludwig in, who settles down in his usual spot on the end of the bed. I need to paint over the marks on the door before the next flat inspection.
Of course, I had to find a new flat mate after my ex-boyfriend left because I couldn’t afford to live on my own. Most people who came to look at the room had multiple cats of their own. Finding a flat that allowed cats was difficult, but I wasn’t going to make Ludwig live with strange cats that might beat him up or sit in his favourite windowsill.
The flatmate I found is English and speaks to Ludwig as one would another adult human: ‘Oh hey,’ ‘Hello,’ ‘Can you move so I can get through the door please?’ She closes her bedroom door so he can’t go in and once threw water in his face after he bit her ankle. After it happened, I gave Ludwig several treats and apologised to him for not being rich enough to afford a place of our own.
I still have Ludwig’s passport. My British visa expires in three and a half years, so Ludwig and I might move to Rome, where I hear they have good cat food. I have a cartoon-like fantasy of us in a ship cabin, Ludwig watching flying fish from the little round window, me reading Proust or Italo Calvino or something in the little ship bunk bed, our worldly possessions scattered around us in Victorian travelling trunks. My ex-boyfriend keeps appearing in the daydream, with his little round glasses like the window of the ship. I don’t know how much Ludwig remembers of him, or of Catalan.