Of the two kittens that we adopted from a national cat rescue charity, it wasn't Fruitbat that I worried about. Despite her frail appearance - she was the runt of the litter - she strutted around our home like she owned it, and she did, immediately. Fruitbat was tiny, chocolate brown and had massive ears; ears that I joked she would never quite grow into.
It was her much bigger litter mate Scrumpy that I fretted over. He was still recovering from an operation to remove one of his toes following an injury and reeling from the shock of waking from the anaesthetic to find the vet - as all good vets do - had taken his balls as well. Arriving cowering, terrified and covered in his own shit, he shot under the sofa and stayed there for days. When our adult cats padded malevolently towards him, Fruitbat windmilled furiously across the room and punched them in the face. She was a proper East End matriarch and feared nothing and no-one. I loved her instantly.
We had her for twelve days before she died.
Nine of those days were joyous, chaotic. On the tenth, we realised with horror that the crazy-eyed, slightly vacant look she sometimes had wasn't normal when it escalated into a full-blown seizure. Before we could get her to the vet the following day, she had another. There were probably others; I'd puzzled over random puddles of water I'd found around the house, latterly realising - with horror - that they would've been her saliva.
I'd warned my daughter Emilia that Fruitbat might not be able to come home that night, and I wish in retrospect that she hadn't. I should have let her go then. The vet was young, inexperienced, wanted to run a battery of tests on her tiny body. Eventually, with assurances that Fruitbat wasn't suffering when she fitted - "she isn't aware of what's happening" - I took my shaven, bandaged, exhausted kitten home to await the results. I cradled her like a baby that night while she slept and tried to convince myself it would be feline epilepsy, that she would be on tablets all her life like my friend Sheri's portly, elderly cat Barry, but she would be OK. And then Fruitbat began to convulse in my arms and I knew it wouldn't be OK.
It wasn't epilepsy. We ruled out that, diabetes and poisoning, which left the likely cause as a congenital birth defect, which could not have previously been detected. We'll never know for sure as the rookie vet messed up the bloods, but it doesn't matter. It's not her fault that Fruitbat wasn't designed to live for longer than a few months. I explained to Em the next day that the kitten would need to go back to the vet and that she wouldn't be coming home this time. We drove there in silence, only broken by my muffled sobs and the shaking from the cat carrier as she suffered another fit. There was a small hand on my arm. "We're doing the right thing, Mummy." How is it that a seven year old is more pragmatic about death than I?
It was the worst fit yet. They took her away as soon as we arrived and showed us to a quiet room. Minutes later, the senior vet, a gentle-voiced, lovely man called Herman, emerged and had The Talk with me. We agreed what needed to happen and he presented me with a surprisingly broad array of options to dispose of a dead cat. I chose cremation; I wanted to bury her in the garden but Em insisted that we were to scatter the ashes - "Fruitbat needs to run free" - bringing a fresh wave of sobs from me. Em remained stoical throughout, delighted that - for once - none of the adults were reprimanding her for eating all the free dog biscuits.
I signed the forms and Herman brought back our kitten, by now gloriously off all six of her tiny tits on Valium, and we said goodbye to her.
I got enormously drunk that night at a friend's house and raged to her about the unfairness of it all. Thousands of healthy cats and kittens are euthanized every year because unneutered cats breed uncontrollably. Rescue charities are overwhelmed, particularly during kitten season. But that wasn't meant to be Fruitbat's fate. She was loved, she was wanted, she had a home. She probably wouldn't ever have grown into those ridiculous ears, but she should've had the chance to at least give it a crack.
I woke up on the sofa with a thumping head at five o'clock in the morning to find Scrumpy's yellow eyes staring silently at me in the darkness. For the first time, he didn't struggle at all as I gathered up his warm, reassuringly robust body, and took him up upstairs to bed with me.
It's International Cat Day on 8 August, and it will also be three months since Fruitbat died. When we feel ready, we'll adopt again. Scrumpy (below) is affectionate, naughty, happy and well on his way to developing the enormous sense of entitlement that cats have when they know no hardship. We planted a rose bush in the garden to remember Fruitbat by; a miniature rose with delicate coppery blooms. The morning after it went in, we found a massive pile of cat shit at the base of it. I'd like to think it was a sign.
I will always be glad that we adopted both of them; every cat should know what a loving home feels like. Even twelve days matter.