After almost four years together, my partner Jane delivered, entirely out of the blue, the bombshell of a Dear John note, sealed in a we-need-to-talk envelope. Facing facts, I couldn’t deny that the sparkle had gone from our relationship and so, with heavy heart, I agreed that it was time for us to go our separate ways.
We retained a level of civility over the break-up, and sorting out who got what was pretty straightforward; Jane made no claim on my ceramic tile cutting kit and I let the hair straighteners go without protest. There were a few minor quibbles, but the main bone of contention, or in this case bag-of-bones, was who would get custody of our off-white cat, Dumbledore.
We’re both very fond of the little guy, but we couldn’t take a part each like we did with our Star Wars stormtrooper bookends. And so, in a coffee table custody battle that would have given Kramer vs Kramer a run for its money, we each put forward our case for taking over as Dumbledore’s solitary guardian.
My argument was simple, and entirely based on Jane’s own admission that I was Dumbledore’s chosen one, the single human with whom he would have a special lifetime bond. Jane responded with what I deemed a weak counter-argument.
“The name Dumbledore was my suggestion, she said, ” as though that was a mic-drop moment. Her statement was true, although I did object on the grounds that I failed to see how being the name chooser had any bearing on the strength of the custody claim. Two years earlier when we brought the nervous ball of white fur home, the little mite’s foot pads had barely touched down on the settee he would come to love and shred before Jane, a huge Harry Potter fan, suggested we name him Dumbledore on account of that character’s white beard. To demonstrate the genius of her choice, she picked up the startled young beast, held it lengthways up to her chin and uttered in a gruff voice, “One can never have enough socks.”
My own suggestion was that we call him Slinky, not because of any feline grace he possessed (he’s a long-haired cat), but because the day after we got him, he tumbled down the stairs while exploring the landing, turning somersaults from top to bottom. He was unharmed after his scrape, but Slinky was rejected by Jane as being in poor taste, and Dumbledore it was from then on.
Or rather it wasn’t.
One afternoon, while Jane was out shopping, our new arrival gave an early indication of his mischievous side when he pushed a teacup off the kitchen table. As I took the pieces out to the wheelie-bin, the little blighter sneaked out into the back garden (I have since wondered if this had all been planned). His escape caused me great alarm, as my life would not be worth tuppence if any harm came to our little precious on my watch. I began calling his name, but I felt a proper charlie shouting out Dumbledore towards the shrubbery. I took the decision there and then to contract his name to Dumbo, and this is the name I called out.
As I called for the missing moggy, I spied my next door neighbour, Stan, who can be found several times a day on his back doorstep smoking rather exotic-smelling cigarettes. I watched as he tilted his head back and, with narrowed eyes, scanned the sky. Did he really think I was calling in a flying elephant? Probably.
Meanwhile, back at the custody battle, it was clear that neither of us would yield, so I suggested letting Dumbledore himself decide, using an idea taken from an early episode of The Simpsons, which you may remember. It was the one in which Bart and Lisa vied for the affections of their dog, Santa’s Little Helper, by placing him between them and then calling his name to see which he favoured (it was Maggie). So, with Dumbledore lying in the middle of the living room carpet, Jane and I took up our positions either side of him and we began calling his name, pss-pss-pss-ing, and, this may have been deemed cheating, making sudden movements with our hands.
His response was one that those who are familiar with the foibles of felines might recognise. In what I took to be a conscious effort, he lay absolutely statuesque throughout the entire process. As Jane and I became increasingly animated in trying to get his attention, he stayed as still as the Sphynx itself. There was not so much as an ear-flick or a whisker-twitch, just a steely glare towards the curtains. This exercise in futility only concluded when the bin wagon came down the street and a white flash scarpered upstairs to hide.
But Dumbledore’s darting out changed everything.
As he shot out of the room, Jane and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. We retired to the kitchen to drink hot coffee that seemed to melt the ice that had existed between us. That evening we enjoyed a takeaway with wine, and later we shared an afterglow that seemed to fix everything. Some couples stay together for the sake of the kid; we were going to do it for the sake of the kit.
The following morning, with the atmosphere around the breakfast table somewhat more amicable than it had been of late, Dumbledore jumped up and knocked over my orange juice, which spilled onto a form I was busy filling in for work. I had tried to nudge him away to prevent the spillage, and his response was to swipe at my hand, causing a deep cut to the tip of my index finger.
After a change of trousers and the application of a thick sticking-plaster to my finger that would seriously impede my typing at work, I put on my coat and went to leave. Dumbledore sat on the windowsill cleaning his paws. As I passed he stopped licking, and I watched his head turn as his cold, unblinking gaze followed me out of the room.