When I noticed it first I thought the cat had scratched me. He’s taken to kneading at me through the duvet at night and sometimes if his claws catch right through the thick tog I am left with small circular marks on my skin. The kneading is new. Otherwise I’d never have let him into the bedroom in the first place. The other cat, the kitten, went missing over a month ago now and though he never seemed to like him much, he must be lonely without him. And so he kneads.
‘Why do cats knead?’ I asked the computer. Because really, who else can you ask? I’m hardly going to call the vet. I’d already called to report him missing, even though he’s chipped and they’d be calling me if they’d heard anything. “Buh? Buhtters? Bootehrs?” said Tony when I called. “No” I said “Butters. Butters.” Tony and I have this conversation every time. Tony answers the phone in the surgery and makes small conversation with people and their pets in the waiting room. He wears a nurse’s tunic, thick glasses and two hearing aids and looks like there might be something wrong with his face. He likes to ask people what age their pets are. He knows what age they’re likely to live to. He is in mourning for his spaniel which died three or so years ago and he has told me twice now how he has kept all of her little outfits. Tony is perpetually wet-lipped with ghoulish compassion and I cannot stand to be around him, even over the phone.
Cats knead for comfort, apparently. Kittens do it when they’re sucking at their mothers’ teats. Adult cats revert to juvenile behaviours when under stress. I am reduced to Yahoo Answers.
I keep picking at it, this little red spot on my left middle finger, expecting it to flake away like a little scab. It’s slightly raised, when I run my thumbnail over it the skin around it puckers and I can feel a little pop when I scrape the nail over its surface. It’s not sore, or even sensitive. It’s just there.
I have others. I have one on my right breast, also red, larger than this new one on my finger. You’d need to be looking for it but if you were, I’d hope you’d notice. I have a cluster of black ones on my right temple. My pen freckles, I call them. I like to be kissed there. I have lost count of the number of times someone has told me that I have ink on my face, or wet a thumb and scrubbed at it, like I’m a grubby child.
‘What are red freckles?’ I ask the computer. ‘Cherry angiomas’ it says, and their number and size increases with advancing age. They’re also called Campbell De Morgan spots. I think pen freckles sound better.
My best friend in primary school was a boy called Shane who lived in our estate and liked dinosaurs as much as I did. Shane had a lot of freckles too and sometimes smelled a bit funny and could be just as cruel as other little boys but when it was just us or, more often, just us and my younger brother, he was quiet and kind and I liked spending time with him. We’d play Dinosaurs of the Lost World or read our books. My brother hated books, thought dinosaurs were stupid and was bored by the afternoons we spent with Shane. I’ve spent all my adult life seeking out the same easy, quiet company. But when we were put sitting beside one another in school, we’d draw on each other with markers. I was an unusually quiet student; diligent, conscientious, shy. The teacher could not understand why my hands, arms and legs were covered in multicoloured dots. Pen freckles.
Long after Shane and I parted ways, I kept drawing freckles onto my hands. In my twenties, unmoored from the bland relationships that had kept my confidence afloat during my teens, I started to mask my insecurities with mindless chatter. Like Tony and his dead spaniel, texting, tweeting, bleating, pressing up against your leg under the table and sliding my fingers into your palm. Embarrassed by myself, I’d ink a black dot onto the back of my hand to remind me how good it feels to be quiet with someone, to be silent and content in their company. I still do it, sometimes, to remind me of something I need to do, or to say, or to be.