Marianne Levy
6 min readDec 31, 2022

‘The cat was playing with the necklaces on your stand and one fell off,’ my husband tells me, this morning, the last day of the year.

I investigate. The necklace fell off because it was broken. Because it had been bitten through.

‘Your gold necklace?’ asks my husband.

‘Well, I didn’t love it,’ I say, adding, if only inwardly, ‘much.’

I have always had cats. The neighbours’ cat that moved in when I was small, despite my parents’ best efforts, and stayed until the end of his greedy, intelligent life. The cats that ventured into a flat I shared with a boyfriend, relationships that endured longer than our romance. When we split, one went to a friend, and the other, the aggressive, sickly one, stayed with me, scratching at and pissing upon that which I held dear. He had to be put down at the start of the pandemic, on the eve of the first lockdown, and for all that he was a grumpy old lump, there seemed no end to my daughter’s tears.

Cats mean hassle. They mean admin and expense and mess and stuff gets broken, important stuff like gold necklaces and children’s hearts, because then they go and die.

I had vowed that I would never get another.

In the last three years, I have friends who have changed jobs, moved house, had a child — even children. For me, though, life has become small.

It began in lockdown, that instinct to reign in, pare back, to pull up the drawbridge. And, fair enough. We have not been safe, anything but. Just this summer we had one death and one near miss, and that’s before we even get to inflation and the climate crisis and sodding nuclear sodding war. I look around at all that I love and think that at any moment it could be gone.

I am lucky and my life is beautiful. And it’s a room, dark and stuffy. The windows are shut and curtains drawn. Bolt the door, go away, leave us alone. Please?

These past three years, maybe longer, I have been living a careful life. A small life.

And it is not enough.


‘What do you want for your birthday?’

‘A cat,’ says my daughter.

‘What do you want for Christmas?’

‘A cat.’

One afternoon we stand and look at the rainbow and I tell her she can make a wish. ‘Don’t tell me what you’re thinking,’ I say. ‘It’s unlucky.’

Also, I already know.

But look. We can’t have a cat again because. Because it’s too much for me, with you and your brother. Because of your dad’s work and my so-called job, our cramped home. We can’t get another cat because I fear that I haven’t got enough patience and selflessness for even the four of us, let alone five. Because we’ll get a cat and you’ll love it and then it will die and I can’t do that to you, to us, not again. I’m sorry.

We stare at the rainbow, my daughter wishing so hard that her whole body shakes, and I think, I’m so fucking sorry.


People scroll Rightmove, or Tinder, or porn. Late in the night, alone, every night for two years, I look online at cats.

Old cats and blind cats. Cats that come in twos and threes. Cats in foreign countries. A friend adopts a three-legged street cat from Dubai. He arrives from Heathrow — rather dashingly — in a black cab.

We remain catless, still.

If I want one (do I want one? No!) then I will have to find it. I will have to do the one thing I do not want to do. I will have to decide.

I look again, this time with a very precise cat in mind.

It will have to be young, but not a kitten, ideally a girl, and spayed. A dark colour, from a household with children, and in urgent need of a new home.

To find such a cat will be almost impossible.

She appears within twenty four hours.

‘We can’t,’ says my husband, when I show him her picture.

‘We can’t,’ I agree. ‘We just can’t.’

You don’t get a cat on a whim, they say. Not because you just fancy one and certainly not for Christmas.

Yet I can’t think of what tipped us over into sending that first message as anything but a whim, a shared moment of maybe-we-could and it-might-be-ok. Call it optimism. Maybe, if you’re feeling florid, you could even call it hope.

Betty is not quite the little darling we have been lead to expect.

‘She bites me if I touch her,’ says my daughter, with the air of one whose dearest wish has become a curse. ‘She’s on my pillow and won’t come off and now I can’t go to bed.’

‘She spatted at me two times,’ my little boy gasps, as shocked and unhappy as I have ever seen him, and I want to say, ‘Of course she did. You let down your guard and try something new, and this what happens.’

The lockdowns might be over for now. Perhaps even forever. I’ve just read that the UK is Covid testing people from China, so then again, maybe not.

Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but the unease of the pandemic persists in my head. Happiness, equilibrium, they feel so conditional. When night falls I move from room to room, a sentry guard, checking, checking. No television and certainly no films, occasional books read in six-minute bursts. I do not dive into sleep but skim its surface.

Something is coming, something bad, and I must be ready.

‘Look,’ says my husband, showing me his wrist. ‘She drew blood. Again.’


Betty, asleep on my husband’s lap. Her head bobbing up from behind my screen. Curling about my children’s’ feet. Chasing a piece of string as my son shrieks with delight.

‘I found her in his room this morning,’ says my husband. ‘When I went in, first thing, they were talking to each other.’

‘Betty’s sleeping on my pillow because she loves me best,’ says my daughter.

‘She put in an appearance at the office Zoom,’ says my husband. ‘Then she trod on my keyboard and messed up all my settings.’

Betty, attacking the Christmas tree; climbing the banisters; getting tangled up in the fairy lights, at risk of both strangulation and electrocution.

When I met my husband, my phone was full of pictures of him and us. Later, we were usurped from my camera roll by the kids.

Now, every picture is of her.

Betty will destroy necklaces and upset the kids and mess up my husband’s computer. She’ll jump onto the worktop and make us laugh at inappropriate moments, tightrope walk the bannisters and curl into my lap. And she will die. And I will love and lose and try and mostly fail and maybe, sometimes, have a success, small and hard-won, and that’s what life is.

The year ends tonight. I look at the broken chain, and at Betty, and she puts her head into my hand. Tomorrow will be a new day, the first in a whole new year.

Who knows what will happen next? Not me.

But this small cat, the cat I chose; I know she is just the start.


My book Don’t Forget To Scream: Unspoken Truths About Motherhood is out now.

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