Alan was a tabby of modest looks. His fur was well groomed and he smelled of dusty soil and warm rocks. Did he dream of the desert? Perhaps. He could not abide the cold. He was a pest for food and a lover of company, never happier than when draped over a human. Most of all, he was a homebody, repaying his family’s kindness in taking him in from the streets, just by being his best, purring, happy, self. They looked at him every now and then and felt good about their choices. To have added this small act of goodness to the world’s store; to have changed a life from one of fear and hunger to one of fat contentment. It must count for something. Perhaps they were smug, but where is the harm in that? The universe could have left them alone, even so.

The collar was their downfall. For the first years of Alan’s life, he had managed to resist wearing one, but the children eventually insisted. It was purple, with a bell to mortify him and scare away birds. He tried for a whole afternoon to remove it. The next day, he lay disconsolately about the house with his chin on his paws until everyone went out. When they arrived home, there was a note attached to the collar with a piece of tape.

‘Hi, I think my cat is visiting other homes and stealing food. It looks like someone might have given him this collar as well? Please call if he is a nuisance.  0400927986 Jeff.’

Jeff was a bar tender in his late 20s who lived alone with his cat. He provided photographic evidence that Alan had been his since he was a kitten. They even visited his house one day and found Alan there, relaxing in an expensive cat hammock that was so much fancier than the bed they had made him, lovingly, from a cardboard box and old cushions. They were devastated. Their whole life with him was a lie. What else had they missed?

They started scrutinising their children’s messages, their internet searches, and their school attendance records. One day, their son was grounded for hanging out with friends different from the friends he’d told his parents he was hanging out with.

‘We have to be able to trust you.’ they explained.

He responded by slamming his door and vowing never to tell them anything again.

Their daughter was beyond reproach – perhaps a little too good? They followed her one day to the library, not deliberately, they just happened to be going in the same direction a few moments behind. When she walked past the library and on to the mall, they felt justified. She must be seeing a boy! They sleuthed her, ducking behind walls and lurking in shops. She just wandered around by herself looking at clothes. Maybe the boy had stood her up. They did not like the sound of him. That evening, dinner was a tense affair, as they tried to interrogate her without admitting to their spying. Eventually, the whole family settled into an awkward silence. Alan came in and rubbed up against their legs, one by one, to calm things down. He was not sure why the atmosphere had changed but he considered returning to Jeff’s place for a bit, or maybe one of his other homes. This place had got weird.

Things came to a head the night she visited Jeff’s bar, alone. It was out of character, but she needed a break. After exchanging a few wry words with Jeff about their shared cat, she took her gin and tonic to a quiet corner and settled in. Three sips later, her husband burst into the bar, looking wildly around.

‘Where the hell is she, Jeff???’

She was mortified. He had tracked her phone. They had a blazing, public, row to end all blazing, public rows. Halfway through, the kids appeared in the doorway. They had been waiting in the car, but it had been too long and they were worried. He took them home. She refused to get into the same vehicle. That night she stayed in a hotel and took an uber back in the morning.

I would like to say that this story had a happy ending, but it did not. The only positive outcome was that Alan gained an additional home. When the parents split up, they agreed to live in the same neighbourhood, for the sake of the children. Alan is a regular visitor to both houses.

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