Four orphaned kittens in an ivy nest, in the shadows at the foot of an old willow tree. Four upturned faces, wide eyes, all silent. Mummy has been gone for 36 hours, her last words to them to be quiet and still. We look down on them, our guilt crushing us. Darryl's bequest to us - her babies.
Of course we took them in. We'd just raise them to eight weeks, and then find homes for them, we agreed. Right. Four-hourly feeding with droppers and evaporated milk, cleaning, frantic searching for information on what to feed and how to raise four week-old feral kittens resulted, not all that surprisingly, in an unbreakable bond.
We had an old cat already. The old man had a contract with us: 'there can be only one!' His expression, when he realised that we'd adopted four kittens, was priceless. Miffed beyond words, he moved out of the house to a broken shed in the garden for two days, where he slept on a pile of rubble. The message was clear: "If you don't want me anymore, fine. I'll stay out here." But autumn temperatures soon overcame his principles, his eighteen year-old bones shivering in the icy winds.
Kittens love to play. What fun to tease their adoptive Grandpa, who was half-blind and quite deaf. Trip him up as he comes around the corner! Jump on his tail, and run away screaming with laughter as he slowly turns! Occupy his sunny spot, and as he ambles up, leap up and bat his whiskers, "Boo!"
The old boy eventually passed on peacefully behind the couch, at the ripe old age of twenty - two weeks after we'd reluctantly consulted the vet about his quality of life (again), and been told that he was not in pain, he was fine.
The vet.... yeah. Four inbred feral kittens, now young cats. Three girls, one boy, all neutered. Innoculations. Top quality food. Of which they rejected three kinds before settling on the most expensive. Two with allergies. One who developed a spreading ulcer which required surgery, twice. One who is now a suspected diabetic. One who was so inclined to wander, neutered or not, that we had a chip implanted. The visits to the vet after fighting other cats, who loved our uniquely dog-free yard. Now start adding up the cost of four free kittens. Not just in money - in worry, heartache, and fear for them. Would we part with them? Not in this lifetime!