I suppose I should have noticed the signs earlier. However, being (a) male, (b) quite dim and (c) easily distracted, there was always going to be only one conclusion.
It started when She Who Must Be Obeyed cocked her head to one side and started talking. I should know by now, this combination almost always leads to me getting the blame for something. Or spending money. Or getting the blame for something and spending money.
On this occasion she said, angularly:"Do you reckon Eric ever feels lonely?"
Eric, for those of you who haven't been keeping up to date, is a gentle soul. He is an out-of-work Left Bank Parisian philosopher that lives with us. Currently he is occupying the body of a black cat. In answer to SWMBO's question, I reckon Eric probably feels a number of emotions, although it's sometimes tricky to tell. He's impassive unless food is involved; then he becomes quite vocal.
But lonely? I wasn't so sure. So I said so. "I'm not so sure," I said. I'm good at that kind of thing.
"We're out at work all day," she said, her head having now reverted back to its default level setting. "Surely Eric would like a friend to play with?"
"I'm not so sure," I tried once more, hoping despite past experience that blatant repetition would work. "Cats are notoriously territorial. I don't think he'd like another one coming onto his patch." This at least had some basis in truth. We came into his service as he wasn't getting on with another cat in his previous home.
SWMBO left it there. I thought that was the end of it. But really, conversations like this are like unexploded bombs. They're rarely defused at the first go; they have a habit of hanging around ready to blow up when you least expect it, causing structural destruction and significant loss of life.
I feel I may have overplayed the 'unexploded bomb' analogy in that last bit. Let's move on.
SWMBO had the opportunity to volunteer for a charity several months ago - in this case it was the Cats' Protection League. I realised where this was going and thought I'd head it off at the pass. "Just make sure you don't end up coming back with a car full of cats," I said, trying to adopt a casual, nonchalant air.
"I'll be shovelling cat-crap all day. They probably won't let me anywhere near an actual cat. Don't worry."
She did not come back with a car full of cats. She did, however, come back with a phone full of pictures of cats. Including one of Fleur, a small, delicate little creature with huge eyes.
Time passed. A brief conversation took place. At least one of us had their head on a slant. The earth span a couple of times on its axis. We removed 40 bags of rubbish from the spare room. And then we became a two-cat family. I was stitched up, ladies and gentleman. Stitched up, boxed up, stamped 'Gullible' and marked for life.
We've gone through the whole exhausting New Cat Protocol, where you constantly have to remember where each animal is, whether they have access to food and litter, each other or the outside world. There's no rest; you have to think about whether the cat flap is locked, what happens if you open this door, who's behind it, etc. It's a bit like that 3D chess game they play on Star Trek.
Eric has taken to the interloper with good grace, so far. He tolerates this young furry whirlwind, up to a point, then does the nearest feline approximation of a shrug before going out to discuss matters with Statler and Waldorf, two long-haired black cats that live diagonally opposite. After they have set the world to rights, he'll come back in, studiously ignoring Fleur as she drinks from his water bowl, before placing himself where he can be sure she'll not be able to ambush him. She does that a lot.
Fleur runs up and down the stairs like a dwarf elephant on meth, 24 hours a day. She constantly tries to annoy her elders. She produces a quite startling amount of poo, to be frank with you. You know, I'm not sure if this was a good idea.
Oh. Ok then.