We knew each other, Mr. Blackie and I. He told me when I was stroking him too hard or for too long.
Sometimes, I could look after him, he had his cardboard box with his cushion. When he wanted to sleep, and that was lots of the time, he would curl up in his box, look at me, and put his head down, eyes still open watching to see what I would do. If I gave him a tickle under his chin, then quieted him behind the ear with softer and softer strokes, always with the fur not against it, he would purr.
When his purring stopped, sometimes with a deep sigh, I knew to stop and take my hand away so slowly that he wouldn’t feel me going. I would sit by his box just watching. I caught him peeking one time, with just the corner of one eye, when there was a noise. I pretended to be looking out of the window and he smiled and went back to sleep. I watched over him when he slept and he always did the same for me.
When it was my turn to sleep and Mom had tucked me in, he would be pestering her for food or going out to chase other cats away, I would be alone, in the dark, scared of the pattern I could just see on the wallpaper. By day, it was a pattern made up of grapes and vine leaves. In the dim light of night, three grapes became the eyes and nose of a wolf. I would cry, and who would be there first? Mr. Blackie. He’d come in through the little hole in the fly screen that I had secretly made for him to come and go. With that little bit of a meow as he landed on the floor with a thump, I knew he was coming.
He’d rub his cheek against mine, just like I had rubbed his cheek during the day when it was his turn. He’d lick the salty tears from my eyes, tickling me and making me laugh. Then he’d sit, not curl up, on my chest or beside me and wait. I am sure he would wait, too, until I sighed and slept. I never caught him with the corner of my eye, not like he’d caught me. Every time I would try not to sleep just to see if he was still there, he was.
When my baby brother was crying one time, I suddenly realised that Mr. Blackie would know what to do. I ran around the house looking for him. There he was, in his box where I’d left it. I picked up the box, cat and all, and carried him rather wobbly – he was almost too heavy for me. He was a little scared, but held on, not knowing why I had grabbed the box. I ran back to the cot and put the box down. Picking him up, I pushed him between the bars and sat down. Sure enough, Mr. Blackie realised that I wanted him to help Jeremy stop crying, to help him sleep.
After what seemed like forever, Jeremy slept. Mr. Blackie very carefully got up from beside him, looked at me, and as God is my witness, he winked at me, jumped into his box and looked back at me again with a grin on his face. What a great friend! I carried him around from then on, all day – every day, no matter what we children were doing.
When he needed his time on his own, he would disappear, but I knew he’d be back when I needed him. One day he just didn’t come back. The grown ups pretended that he was OK, but I knew exactly what had happened and when – I felt his pain and shock as a passing car hit him on the road outside. I couldn’t even bear to go look for his body. Mom soon got me another black kitten, and yet Blackie Junior never quite had that same feel for me as his namesake. No, Mr. Blackie was my first ever friend, and because I was only three, he will always be my best ever friend. I miss him.