Mabel Made This Family

When someone leaves, it’s because someone else is about to arrive — I’ll find love again.

~Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

Before Mabel, there was just me. I was thirty years old and single. The long-term relationship I had invested all my energy in for the last five years had broken down. My heart had a big crack in it, not entirely broken, but not in perfect working order, not capable of real trust. I felt cold on the inside, so I went to warm clubs and danced with sweaty people. I was lonely and sought company.

In this manner, I ended up with a heart that was not only still cracked but also tired. It was tiring to try to connect with people when I was trying to protect myself at the same time. If I went on a date with a handsome young man and he asked me reasonable questions about myself and my life, I would come up with evasive answers. I would hear myself trying not to let him know me. When, after two or three meetings of this nature, he didn’t call again, I would sink into a new layer of my old sadness.

When my elderly neighbour passed away, I grieved for that loss, too. She had been like a grandmother to me. A magical sort of little old lady, she’d also been a cat breeder. One or another of her five Abyssinian cats would climb across me and leap onto her shoulder while we chatted, while the other four sat contentedly on shelves and windowsills, grooming their sleek, sandy-coloured coats or cocking their large ears at noises from the garden. When I heard that she had died I needed some comfort, so I went to visit my friend Alex.

I didn’t know how many cats to expect to meet when I went to see Alex. There was always Lucy, her gorgeous Tortoiseshell, but there were also others. Alex worked for a charity that rehomed feral cats. The cats would be rescued from the city streets, neutered and either re-released or brought to Alex for socialisation. Some of these cats had never been touched by a human before. Upon arriving in her apartment, the cats would invariably hide under the bed, where they would stay for as long as it took for trust to grow between them and Alex. There was no one more patient than Alex.

That day, I said hello to Lucy on her armchair, and then Alex introduced me to the beautiful ginger kitten who jumped up onto the coffee table. She explained that he was just about to be adopted by a couple who were on their way over. He was a real scamp, full of life and energy. “The mother was brought in just before she had her kittens, so these guys have been an easy case,” she said.

Then I saw the other one. She was sitting off to the side, watching me. She was mostly gray, but when I looked closer I could see patches of orange and white beneath the smoky coat. “That’s Mabel. I thought her name was Marble because I read her papers wrong, but she looks like a marble, doesn’t she? She’s a Dilute Tortoiseshell.” She picked her up and put her in my arms. The purr that started up was like a small engine, and I held her against my chest. I felt my shoulders relax as a smile spread across my face. I rubbed my cheek along her spine. She twisted her body to see me, and I looked into her sparkling green eyes. She blinked slowly and then held my gaze again. I didn’t want the moment to end. But she was full of life, too, and she clambered up to my shoulder, just like my elderly neighbour’s cats. She perched up there, her purr idling in my ear until the doorbell rang and she jumped down.

The young couple fell in love immediately with Mabel’s ginger brother and coaxed him into the carry case they had brought with them. While Alex was explaining his food and preferences, clearly having a bit of trouble saying goodbye, Mabel reappeared. She sat on my feet. She stared up at me. She said to me quite clearly, I am going home with you.

A few days later, I was back at Alex’s with my own carry case. This time, the parting was joyful. Alex would be able to keep in touch with Mabel. They would always know each other.

I took Mabel home and let her out in my bedroom. She explored every corner, climbed on every surface, pounced on the toy mouse I had bought her and patted at it playfully. She leapt onto the windowsill and swiveled her gray ears at the sounds from the garden. She seemed to be satisfied, and my cheeks ached because I was smiling so hard.

Then, as though she had done it a thousand times before, she lay down on my pillow. She stretched her front legs out past her whiskers and sighed. I lay down beside her, my arm around her soft, little body. Her purr started up, and I felt tears slide across my face. For the first time in a long time, I felt my love received and returned. Mabel’s warmth was like hot tar, finding that old crack in my heart and sealing it up for good.

Within six months, I met Eddie. By summer, we were talking about the future. By autumn, he had proposed. After a really special weekend together, Eddie started packing reluctantly. He threw his bag on the floor, and when he turned to put in his dirty socks, Mabel was sitting inside the bag, staring up at him with her emerald eyes. Eddie laughed and called to me to come and see. I picked up Mabel, and the pair of us held her between us. “So, you like him?” I said to her. “Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere.”

We got married and moved in together. Mabel had just found a spot on our new windowsill when I became pregnant. Now she lies against my big, warm belly. I tell her that the baby will be here soon, and she blinks slowly and knowingly. My family has come into being because of Mabel. I let myself love her, and then I let myself love the man who became my husband. I am so grateful for this spirit, Mabel, who looks like a marble. She sat on my shoulder and my shoes, and mended my cracked heart.

— Jessica Parkinson —

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