The oversized chandelier, ornate bathrooms and servants’ quarters on the third floor didn’t quite match the nicotine stained walls, broken window frames and three write-off cars that lay in the driveway. The house had a tragic beauty to it that, at the time, I adored. I was a 20-a-day smoker and whilst I never really liked using the stuff, I loved the smell of weed, so it made no odds to me that my new housemates, new landlord and even my new walls reeked of the stuff. I’d found the house on a spare room website and had made up my mind, before I even arrived, that I’d take it. The location was great, the room was huge and a large portion of my housemates were musicians; the pièce de résistance was discovering that they actively encouraged me to make as much noise as possible. The Grade II listed property, once a place of un-rivalled charm, had been run down over the last decade; there was subsidence towards the back and missing tiles at the front; the windows had no double glazing and the basement flooded, however, with all its faults and for all the times I and my housemates would moan, we loved the place. The manor pulled you in and had a way of making you fall in love and nothing seemed to be able to stand in its way.
On the day I moved in, I let my bag thump to the floor of the hallway, half of the contents instantly sprawled across the floor. Catching something in my peripheral, I looked up and there, sitting quite majestically, atop the wooden radiator cover, was a little, yellow cat, who I later found out was called Sub. Just like the rest of the house she, too, had been tinted with the smoke that billowed from bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. I instantly went to say hello. Moving as slowly as I could, with my hand out stretched, I barely got halfway across the distance between us before she bolted for the door. Every day we would follow the same routine; she would set up camp and wait for me to see her, I would try to make contact and she’d run. She only really got on with Jonathan, I know you shouldn’t have favourites but I completely understood why that particular housemate was hers. I quickly grew to be openly jealous of the affection that she showed him; I loved cats and she was terrified of me, I reminded myself not to take it personally, after all, she ran from most people.
She’d been brought to the manor, with her sister, by an ex-tenant, who, upon leaving, had left the pair behind. Her sister had been re-homed, leaving Sub on her own, she was petrified of the next door neighbour’s cat but that didn’t stop her spending most of her life outdoors. It didn’t help that the manor was an abrasive environment. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t an immoral disposition in sight, but there also wasn’t a clean, sober or sensible person among us. With a cocaine dealer in-house and a weed dealer who visited regularly we were a far cry from your perfect neighbours; parties would go on for days, sometimes stretching a week, and the base would shake every pane of glass in the house. Sub, as a result, would disappear for an impossible amount of time and return with a couple of extra ribs showing. Jonathan would feed her but she never kept the weight on and she had a permanent, unhealthy, greasiness to her coat. Things took a turn for the worse when Jonathon left and not long after, the dog arrived; whilst he was adorable with humans, he would chase her across the garden and back the moment they locked eyes. She was withdrawn, miserable and jumpy; sometimes I felt like she was living the cat version of my life except she got more sleep.
I was still at the manor house when I got sober. My room got cleared of alcohol, it was no longer frequented with strangers lolling on the floor or snorting God-know-what off of my dresser. It became my safe-haven, I filled it with candles, cushions, I cleaned it within an inch of its life and regularly aired it out; I even gave it a lick of paint. It didn’t smell of cigarettes anymore and when I shut the door, bar the vibrations, you could be forgiven for thinking I was the only one home. Sub wanted in. She would appear, mewing at my door, whenever they upped the volume. She’d take refuge on my bed, in the warm, quiet and clean aired space and I would join her. She was my companion in the evenings, before I could trust myself enough to go out. If my boyfriend wasn’t busy, she was happy to third wheel. Over time and with a lot of ice cream-based-bribery she began to let me hold her, pick her up and give her a proper cuddle; as her hard shell softened to me as did mine to the world in general. On days when I was struggling I would think about getting home to her, I would spend money on cat treats instead of booze, if I wanted to go downstairs and join the party I would make myself feel guilty for contemplating leaving her all on her own and if I had a craving for alcohol, I would think how much Sub would lose if I went back out there.
When the time came for me to move I knew I couldn’t leave her. Luckily my Landlord had no problems with a cat-free home. My friend and I picked a house that had a garden, specifically for her, it was surrounded by space and I knew she’d love it. We moved in April and by summer, Sub had lost all the yellow from her coat. She is no longer slick and greasy but white and fluffy and nowadays, she’s capable of inflicting snow-blindness when she lounges in the sunshine. Jonathon has come to visit us in our new home and even he can’t believe it’s the same cat; she’s forgotten all about her outdoor ways just as I have forgotten mine; she couldn’t teach you to hunt any more than I could tell you how much a double at the local costs. Sub epitomises my recovery and how I feel inside; she no longer runs and hides from people, she’s still and calm and happy, if, perhaps, a little spoilt.
When I’m struggling, I think of her, I’ll seek her out, sit, fuss her and give her a quick health check and remind myself that whilst she played a massive part in saving my life I think I might have saved hers.