”I’ve lost Ming.”
These were the words which greeted me and my brother when we entered the kitchen. I was fourteen or so, and my mother was having tea with an elderly neighbor from about four doors up the street. Mrs MacDonald’s visits were pretty regular because she liked to talk to my mum about her latest medical issues. My mum was a pharmacist so knew a thing or two, in Mrs Macdonald’s opinion.
“Oh, that’s a shame,“ we all agreed. “Not to worry, we’ll help you find him. He can’t have got far.“ Ming was Mrs MacDonald’s Pekingese dog, and not known for prolonged bursts of energy. He wouldn’t walk to the end of her garden path if he could help it. We were ready to mount a search party, this would be a doddle.
“Oh, no. I don’t mean he’s lost. I mean, he’s died.” Mrs MacDonald was clearly upset. My mum topped up her tea and we rearranged our faces into a more sympathetic demeanour.
‘Lost’ seemed to me an odd euphemism to use to say that someone, or something, has died, but it’s common enough so perhaps I’m just being pedantic. Still, It’s not a phrase I usually draw on in such circumstances.
I have lost pets though, often enough, in the literal sense of not knowing where they are. Usually I lose cats because they have a super-power. They can walk through walls and pass undetected within an inch of me, however vigilant I am. A case in point was George the (female) kitten who joined our household in the mid-1990s, a sweet little thing aged about 5 weeks.
One night I was ready to go to bed and George was nowhere to be found. She was still too tiny to go outside so I was sure she had to be in the house somewhere. I hunted all over, but not a sign. I eventually decided she must have climbed into a cupboard and gone to sleep, she’d be around in the morning.
But she wasn’t. I got up the next day, hunted some more, even went around the neighbours to ask if anyone had seen a little ball of fluff. Well, you never know, that super-power probably kicks in pretty early… No one had seen her, she’d just disappeared into thin air.
That afternoon Mr B. was home before me. I phoned him from work to ask if George had showed up yet.
“Oh yes,” he said, “she showed up. Or rather, I found her.”
“Where? I looked everywhere…”
“Well, you didn’t have the advantage of the screams. She must have been asleep when you were looking for her, but she was well and truly awake by the time I came home, and thoroughly pissed off. I followed the din.”
“Ah. And where did the din lead?”
“It led behind the tumble drier, up the vent pipe and into the back of the machine. She was trapped right inside. Good thing you didn’t suddenly get all domestic and turn it on…”
One down, eight lives to go… “Is she all right?”
“Yes, I suppose so. And I put the drier back together again, but there seem to be some pieces left over…”
Well, you can’t have everything.
That was one of George’s earlier scrapes. She had plenty over the years, including getting lost again when she became trapped in a derelict house for three days. Again, she was rescued because she screeched at the top of her lungs.
George used up all her nine lives and more besides, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable at the ripe old age of seventeen. She became very ill suddenly and we rushed off to the vet’s but she died on the table.
As I drove home, tearful, with George’s cold, stiff body on the seat next to me I felt I understood Mrs MacDonald rather better.