Ester Krumbachová's cat

The third in a series of letters by Ester Krumbachová.

LETTER TO MY CATS, PRAGUE, 5 JULY, 1985


Cats, cats, cats of mine,

I saw you being born and I saw you dying. I saw your lives in their entirety; you were the companions of my life. I saw your little paws learning how to walk and I saw them being slowly turned into a piece of rock as you were dying. I saw your beautiful and wild eyes sparkling when they opened for the first time and I saw them fading out and closed forever. I saw you healthy and joyful and young and I saw you getting old and ill, feeble and pitiful. Your eyes were shining until the last moment, sight fixed to a place somewhere beyond the life we spent together. I stroked your fur when you were little kittens and I stroked your fur before I duly buried you in the ground.

I saw your gentle sense of humour and fun loving characters and how much reserved hope you put into me. When I was too busy I chased you away when you were hungry for a touch of my hand which was always as tender as you were. You, cats of mine, have taught me many, many incommunicable things. I saw how you craved for a wild hunt, a prey to be caught, a murder determined by nature to be done. You did not get this chance when you lived together with me; you had no chance to live the lives for which you were born, the lives that have true meaning. You were deprived of the animal beauty, of the cruelty, which was nothing other than a word, because you were born as beasts of prey ready to hunt and it was me who deprived you of this. I wish I could have offered you this opportunity! But I was not able to do so.

I was leaving you and you were suffering because you were faithful and honest as every animal can be; as every beauty in the jungle of life. You gave me hope in horrible sleepless nights. Whenever you sensed with your miraculous internal devices that I was feeling deadly miserable you walked to me silently on your silky feet to ask how long this would last. You put your heads in my palms when I was sleeping and I could feel your tenderness as well as loneliness. You were lying on top of me waking me with a faint noise as if you were calling to me: get up and walk! You worried about me, my dear friends, my sweethearts. You pushed me to be more responsible and care better for my own life.

And this was our joint action, our common deal. My dear cats! You have accompanied me through all my life. Your eyes were full of sparks and question marks, they were filled with tenderness, sometimes you turned them away when I felt too unwell to be able to co-exist with you and reciprocate in the same way you looked at me—you always understood and sustained, you cats of mine. I love you with all my heart and soul. I love you more than anybody else I have ever loved. I have always been faithful to you because I have never been, and never will be able to betray you. I imprisoned you in my flat—a prison of love. I hope you never understood that it was a prison. You were dying and until the last moment you knew you were the loved ones—or perhaps you knew that in the cat´s prison for life I was the nicest prison guard, didn´t you???

One day I´ll find out. I wish someone would stroke me like this when I would be dying; in the same way I stroked your bodies . Or better not. I do not wish this, I don´t need it. Nevertheless I do believe, my dear pets, that I have done all I could for the love we shared; I did everything my heart told me to do because it has been and always will be yearning for such a big devotion, like between you and me. Cats! Cats! You were the most faithful, shy, bashful, reserved, loving, offended, defiant, funny, sad, healthy, old, tired of life and diseases—each of you made up your own world, each of you was a remarkable character, each of you had your own way to approach me, to get closer to me, to play, to make fun and raise hope that together we would make it and survive.

You pressed against me so hard that it woke me up from my exhausting sleep in those days when I felt really down, however, I knew you felt even worse because you were passing away and only came to experience once more the moment of trust, hope and love. My dear deceased friends who would count how many you were? You are not dead when you have gone, it´s me who has gone with you. When I saw you in my dream, little Snail, you were running to me, turning away so shyly and timidly as if you were not sure whether you wanted or did not want to be stroked; I cried when I woke up and called at you to give my regards to Beanie who died of grief when you had died because she was unable to live without you and died one morning in your favourite place, where she used to lie down. I´m sure you´ll pass my message to her. Wait for me there when I have to go too.

My dear cats! You will wait for me there, won´t you? We will play: little Snail will sit on the mighty branch of a paradise tree and will gently swing the way he always liked to, pretending he doesn´t see me. All his naive face will radiate strange inner sadness and at the same time there will be a light, shy smile. Beanie will play with her own tail, getting ready for a party. Petinka will look at me with his eyes the colour of frosty grapes of early autumn, stepping from one leg to the other while his sparkling eyes, filled with tenderness, will welcome me. Johánek will stare at me. Starlet, who died after a cruel veterinary intervention and did not bite my hand even though she felt the need to bite something because of the pain, will look at me in a way resembling a lost kitten. She remembers I was holding her in my lap when the pain got unbearable and I stayed awake with her till morning when she passed away. Uki will laugh and run back and forth, his tail coiled into a funny question mark, and he will be shy as he is the true son of Snail; he will pretend that he wants to run away but eventually he will let me stroke his tummy as he used to in the hall at a place I called Uki´s Stroking Corner—as Hyde Park Speaker´s Corner. Mauglí, pompously walking around, will shout at the others as she always used to when she lived, to tell them she is the first one. The poor Misha will be shy and timid. I lost him because he was killed. Someone must have been shooting, particularly targeting cats, to uphold the moral in the world. There is no place for cats because they hunt. And the shooter ate roasted goose, duck, chicken, and perhaps as he was shooting he stuffed his mouth with veal; all were animals born to this world. And then many other cats will join in, my friends whom I gave a bit of hope to or found new homes for. My cats, cats, cats! The companions of my life! Because of you I never dared to leave for a longer time as it might have been unjust—nonetheless it did happen because I was short of money. When you welcomed me after my return you were worried and nervous, even though you had been looked after by a girl living in; you worried whether it was really me. And it was me who called from New Zealand where, among all strangers, I worried about you every day I stayed there, and wanted to know whether you were still alive, whether nothing had happened to you; you, my dear cats, couldn´t have known all this. But you knew very well when I was coming back. They said you had been sitting at the door three days before my arrival, patiently waiting. I was citing the big prey on the plane: cats of mine, I’ll come back to you in three days time. You will wait for me, won´t you? Grass will grow everywhere around and together we will have a lot of fun.

What do you think, Johánek, whom I found on the street? What do you think Starlet, Uki, Misha and my dearest Petinko—I used to call you Van Gogh because you were so special, unique, ginger and white—I even wrote a book about you, hopefully someone will publish it one day. And what about you Mauglí, you will pompously walk in, wagging your broken tail as a doggie; your eyes will sparkle like ocean lagoons again, won´t they?? Death is only a thin veil. I´ll come too and I will be attractive and will run happily towards you, my cats. We will do the best gigs together; I´ll be pulling the string or the Bad Toy which always gently hits your noses or ears because it has a rubber band. Oh, I have forgotten Piggy who vanished when I left home a long time ago. When I returned from a trip to stay for a short time only, Piggy greeted me and then lay down in his basket next to the bed watching me with a painful, reproachful and questioning look. After my next departure he left for ever. Piggy, you will be there too, won´t you? You were a brave lad who jumped out from the first floor straight onto the street to play with the sweeper´s broom. Piggy the prankster, the joker. You were a poor and dirty street cat. I picked all your fleas with my fingers—and then I had to leave, my poor little boy. I still have a bad conscience because of what I did to you, Piggy, but I had to earn money; I was a student in those days.

As you know, my cats, my inspiration, my great love and Muses, I had to leave you from time to time; I had to leave your eyes. When we are together again somewhere it will be easy to explain everything; you will forgive me, won´t you. Do you remember, Petinko, when you wanted a cuddle, I often used to say: Esterka your friend must work now so Petinko has something to EAT. This referred to you, Petinko; children were throwing you half dead on a heap of coal in the yard next to the house and you, a ginger and white, skinny kitten, were close to death and therefore you needed to be fed a lot. When you were sitting next to me on a chair by the fridge with your little front paw lifted, watching me with your grey green eyes full of question marks, I couldn´t resist their beauty and took an immediate decision that you would never ever again encounter fear and misery; then in your whole life you never wanted to go out, to the outside world, am I correct or not? When we were laying next to each other close to the electric heater, and I longed so much to be a child again, I was telling you fairy tales and you were laughing until you recovered, even though the vet had not given much hope. I loved you so much; you were scrawny and lame and I laid you down in a little armchair and covered you with a blanket so that you felt cosy as if you were in a bed and I fed you with egg yolks and wine sugar on the tip of my finger. Later you became a strong and big tomcat and whenever I was working you could not wait till I finished so that we could BE TOGETHER again. When in bed we were watching each other solemnly. First I called you Petrushka and later Péti. Be there too, please, I´ll come to join you. And don´t be jealous of little Snail, as you know, he was a lad from the forest, the son of a semi-wild cat; you used to bully him and Snail was such a shy guy. Mauglí loved you and after you had gone she was moaning for nights at the place you used to lay down. Her grief broke my heart. She was missing you so much even though Snail fathered her kittens; well, sit down next to Mauglí as you used to once upon a time in the kitchen and wait until I come. Will you?

Mauglí was survived by two offspring, the brothers Crayon and Bajaja. They love each other in the same way that you, little Snail, was beloved by Beanie who loved you as if you were her son. And there is also Aran, an intelligent and beautiful calico cat, who I found at the next door cemetery on a cold day when she was a tiny kitten. All of them will be gone before me, at least I hope so. I´ll be able to cope with the grief. They are old. Me too.

Cats of mine, please make a guard of honour for me when I pass away. I beg you. I don´t have better company; I would write such a letter to nobody other than you, my pets, my friends, saviours from despair in the worst times. Come and meet me!

My best regards to all of you. We all discovered the incommunicable within ourselves, we found each other and we loved each other.

Sincerely Yours

Ester


Originally published by MAP Magazine, in conjunction with the exhibition and film programme A Weakness for Raisins | Films & Archive of Ester Krumbachová.