Copyright 1995, Sarah Hartwell

Familiar warm fur wound against her legs, the throbbing purr vibrating against her skin. Elaine reached down to stroke Cass's round head, her fingers finding the gnarled ear, legacy of a fight with a feral tom; the tom which had probably also given her precious Cass Feline Leukaemia.

Cass purred, his deep-throated throbbing resonating through his body and Elaine's hand. He head butted her hand demanding more vigourous stroking and a cheek rub. Elaine sighed and withdrew her hand. There was no warm familiar fur against her leg, no gnarled ear or throbbing purr. Not since Thursday when brave Cass lost his fight against the deadly Leukaemia virus and its attendant secondary infections, eased from life with a pinprick injection.

"It's time," Elaine had told the vet, "His gums are too sore for him to wash or eat properly and I think the growths are getting larger as well."

The vet nodded sagely, he knew it was time. Cass was a fighter and had taken three years to succumb to the virus, but not even Cass's brave spirit could triumph over the minuscule saliva-borne invader injected into his system during that fight.

Cass had purred his throaty purr until the anaesthetic overdose claimed him and he sighed, eyes glazing and body relaxing in Elaine's arms. A peaceful end compared to what the disease had to offer.

Now there was no fur against her legs, just a breeze from the cat flap; a breeze which sometimes made it clatter as though Cass had walked indoors. There was no loud and loving purr, just the steady drone of the washing machine, the thrumming of the fridge and her imagination. No gnarled ear beneath her fingers, just empty air filling Cass's space at her ankles.

Yet ... the fur beneath her hands before she had remembered Cass was gone had been warm and vibrated steadily as the round ear-chewed head had pushed against her hand.

That fateful Thursday she had returned with the empty cat basket, leaving Cass's towel-wrapped form to be collected from the vets by the cremation firm. She'd run upstairs to fling herself on the bed, crying bitter tears and railing against the general unfairness of it all. But as she'd walked into her bedroom she'd seen him, sitting statuelike on the bedside cabinet in his accustomed place between the lamp and the phone. Then as she simultaneously acknowledged and denied his presence, Cass was gone.

That night she'd heard him pad across the carpet to her bed; the soft whoosh-doof as he landed on the duvet, circling once or twice to make a comfortable hollow before settling down to sleep. His warm heavy form had leaned against her legs and forgetting the events of the day Elaine had slept, comforted by his presence.

A breeze brushed against her legs and the cessation of sound reminded her that the washing machine had finished. Was it memory and habit and wishful thinking which had created the soft kiss of fur and vibrating purr earlier ... or was there something else at work? Things happen, she told herself, just because they've never happened to me before doesn't mean they don't. Don't question, just accept. She reached down and her fingers brushed the arched back, the upthrust tail quivering in delight. Warm fur wound silkily against her legs and a hard forehead butted her knee as she sought and fondled that knurled ear which Cass loved her to rub. Just because I was ready to let go doesn't mean that Cass was ready to leave, she thought, no longer questioning his presence.

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