The Queen of the Night hated me from early kitten-hood.
‘Look’, said Andrew, holding out the tiny ball of fluff, ‘she’ll fit into the palm of your hand’. The bleeding stopped eventually, but the emotional damage was done.
Pete, Tarquin’s littermate, was easier to handle, and would follow me like a dog to the neighbour’s house when I went for a drink after coming off night shifts. He eyeballed me with devotion, even when I didn’t have chicken, and would purr if I checked his ears for ticks or his belly for fleas.
Andrew moved the whole pack down from Townsville in his little white van. Lupa the cattle-dog sat on the front seat, Pete lay on the dashboard like some eccentric dash-mat, and Tarquin, above such silliness, sequestered herself in the back and thought dark thoughts about the illusory nature of happiness and the passing of time. Or maybe just about rodents. It was always hard to tell. When they ran out of fuel outside Rockhampton and Andrew had to walk to the nearest roadhouse, he left them all together in the car as he set off into the night. I would have feared a scene of carnage on my return, but Andrew did not, and he was right. The savage guard dog and the tom cat had gone to sleep, but the Queen of the Night was fiercely alert and ready to savage anyone who approached the vehicle.
In the unfamiliar chill of the first Stanthorpe winter, the cats slept in Andrew’s bed, sulking at their removal from the tropics. We debated what basis in fact the old wives tale about putting butter on cat’s paws might have, and in the end we left the windows open, trusting cat-nature to keep them safe.
Pete disappeared when we moved to Liston, and I mourned his absence and suspected the firearm-happy neighbours. The happy-natured dog-cat had won me over a little to the feline side, but Tarquin refused to capitalise on my new appreciation, and remained aloof.
Then Andrew moved to Brisbane to work, and after one or two disastrous attempts at re-locating Tarqui, left her in Liston in the Owl’s care. Tarqui tolerated the Owl, and occasionally let him pat her, although it was me that bore the responsibility for the injuries sustained by the vet when she needed antibiotics for a wound on her leg.
When Andrew died the little cat grieved more than anyone. She stayed in the outbuildings, her big eyes sad and confused, and we thought for a while she might starve to death. Andrew’s brother visited, and she flew out at the sound of his voice, only to realise she had the wrong human. After that, the Owl started trying to lure her into the house, placing a ladder against the window into our room, and feeding her in the spare room, and eventually self-preservation took over and she began to draw closer. She started to sleep on the Owl’s chest, as she had done with Andrew, and crawl under the blankets with him in winter. She would bring him gifts – a bat, lizards, rats, a mouse that she left in his shoe to decompose, bird entrails.
The Queen of the Night was almost fifteen when she disappeared. She had been slowing down for some months, but we had put it down to extreme heat. One night she didn’t come home. After two days we knew she wouldn’t. The Owl looked everywhere, but we knew it was futile. Tarqui would never let anyone find her if she didn’t want to be found.
I’m the last one of the Ross Island tribe now, and it makes me feel exposed in the way that people report when both their parents have died and their generation is next in line. I didn’t think I would miss the Queen of the Night quite so much, or that I would still imagine her fierce gaze upon me as I make the bed or vacuum the study.