Michael Harding: The cat was wailing like a banshee. We’d been watching The Last of Us

People who know better have assured me that it’s an artistic masterpiece, but I couldn’t bear to go beyond episode three

I’m convinced the cat got a bit depressed recently. I was eating a lump of cheese on a cream cracker left over from Christmas when he came through the flap in the door and walked up to me and let out a squeal as plaintive as if his hind legs were being run over by the wheel of a car.

At first I thought he was saying: “I smell food, so get me something fast.”

But then I thought he could be complaining because Jack, the wild cat who sleeps in the shed, might have pooed in his favourite spot again.

He continued to wail like a cantankerous banshee, and I sensed it was far deeper than just discomfort about food or pooing. This was an existential wail; the despondent cry of a cat in despair.


Then I remembered that we had been watching The Last of Us at the weekend – three long episodes back to back – and the cat was glued to the screen for most of it.

The Last of Us is a drama that streams on Now. A frightening experience and a dystopian metaphor for humankind’s ultimate destiny, it foresees a future where humans are eaten one at a time by a fungus that gets into their heads and then grows wiggly extensions like worms that emerge in clusters from the humans’ mouths. People who know better have assured me that it’s an artistic masterpiece, but I couldn’t bear to go beyond episode three.

If we had to watch any more of that dystopian sh**e on television I’d be on tablets myself

Instead I flicked over to The White Lotus, a slightly more consoling picture of life on Earth. Admittedly it depicts a world of fractured relationships where men masturbate to pornographic images after the morning jog, instead of daring intimacy with their beloved, but apart from that it’s funny and cheerful and set in Sicily, which provides necessary visual stimuli for someone who has spent a lifetime in Leitrim.

But there’s nothing as terrifying as the wail of a depressed cat, so when I finished my coffee and cheese I led the cat into the garden.

This is not difficult, since he follows me everywhere and sometimes even shows off by running up a tree in front of me, as if to say, look what I can do.

I sat on the old garden bench and the cat leaped on to my lap.

“I know you’re sad,” I said as I caressed his head, “and if we had to watch any more of that dystopian shite on television I’d be on tablets myself.”

I pointed out the buds coming on the cherry tree, and the sap already turning the sally rods green. I pointed out the catkins on the willow and the daffodil shoots beneath the beech trees and I suggested that maybe it was time we planted the apple tree which arrived at Christmas as a gift.

He didn’t disagree, so I got a spade and dug a hole near a broken down fence which was erected years ago when we were trying to make a paddock for a pony. The cat sat on a stone nearby which marks the grave of Miss Daisy, a previously cherished cat.

When the hole was dug I popped the base of the apple tree out of its plastic container and slipped the web of roots effortlessly into the ground while the cat scratched at loose soil as if trying to finish the job.

It was all done in 20 minutes, and I retired to the bench and the cat returned to my lap and he stared at the lake again, perhaps noticing the light of spring on the surface. I reminded him that it would soon be time to visit Huberts’ Well on the far side of the lake to collect some holy water before the beginning of Lent. He purred so softly that I felt he was in complete agreement.

I know my cat doesn’t actually understand English, and I am not a psychotherapist, but there is something so emotionally entangled about our relationship that maybe by sharing the garden with him for an hour I had healed him of his mysterious melancholy – just as he has so often released me from a desperate unease that rises sometimes out of nowhere, about the fragility of Mother Earth and the impermanence of beauty. And maybe that’s the key to friendship with any animal – it’s a two-way street.

But one thing is certain; neither of us will be watching The Last of Us ever again.