The Cat’s Tale by Chris Green
‘Where’s the cat?’ wonders Zack ‘And, what in God’s name is that huge snake doing in here?’
The snake curled up in the corner of the room appears completely out of context and instantly intimidating. Zack is terrified, but at the same time curious. Keeping a safe distance from the beast, he types a search for ‘big fat yellow snake’ into the Safari browser on his phone. This is just an instinctual reaction. He is young. He belongs to the internet generation. He keeps his phone in his hand at all times. It is like an extra limb. The search comes back with ‘Burmese python’. A large yellow and white snake that can grow up to fourteen feet. In the wild, it says Burmese pythons can devour antelopes and monkeys along with rodents and domestic fowl. As far as Zack is aware there are no antelopes or monkeys on the estate, and while there may be rats and mice, he cannot help but worry that Roger is inside the huge reptile. He draws some consolation from the information that pythons do not eat every day, and he had seen Roger that morning when he fed him before setting off for work at the fast food outlet. He draws less consolation from the fact that the huge snake appears to be contentedly sleeping, and in all probability digesting Roger.
Zack may not have had to deal with many problems in his young life. Although he is twenty five, he still lives with at home with his parents. He has not had to deal with the complications that can come with wives and children. However, two problems present themselves to him here. The first, but arguably the easier to solve, is how to get rid of the snake. He can for instance phone Wild Things. They will be able to send a trained operative out and collect the stray serpent. The second problem is not so straightforward. How is he going to explain Roger’s disappearance to Mrs Donnelly?
Zack offered to come in to feed the cat while Mrs Donnelly was on holiday in Magaluf with her friend from the sewing circle. She is not going to appreciate it if he has fed the cat – to a yellow and white monster. He remembers the conversation that he’d had with Mrs D, before she went away.
‘I don’t want to put Roger in a cattery,’ she had said, ‘He doesn’t get on well with other cats.’
‘Don’t you worry. Your cat is in safe hands with me,’ Zack had said. ‘After all, I only live a few doors away.’
‘Thank you ever so much, Zack. You are a good boy,’ Mrs D had said. ‘I do appreciate it and I’ll bring you back a nice bottle of Fundador. You’ll like that.’
‘That’s kind of you, Mrs D.’
‘Roger’s more than just a pet to me, you see. I don’t know what I’d do without him.’
Keeping a close eye on the snake in case it decides is still hungry, Zack makes the call and waits nervously. Within a few minutes, the large green Wild Things Zoo van turns up. Deputy Reptile Manager, Brett Samson, introduces himself. Brett is aptly named. He is simply huge. It takes Zack a moment or two to recover from the handshake.
‘What a magnificent specimen,’ Brett says. ‘Lovely markings. Mature adult male Burmese python. One of the largest snakes in the world, you know. I think this may be the one that went missing from SnakeWorld. He’s called Arthur. You may have seen it on the news. But SnakeWorld is a long way away. I wonder how Arthur ended up here. And how would he have got in?’
‘I’ve got this sneaking suspicion I may have left the back door open this morning,’ says Zack. He goes to check. The back door is open.
Brett meanwhile is getting friendly with Arthur.
‘Can you tell if Arthur has eaten lately?’ asks Zack. ‘I’m worried that he might have swallowed Roger.’
‘Oh no! They don’t eat humans,’ says Brett.
‘Roger is a cat.’
Brett picks up the snake, skilfully heaves it over his shoulder, wraps it around his neck and feels its stomachs.
‘Well Arthur certainly seems to have eaten recently,’ says Brett. ‘How big was Roger?’
‘Well. Standard cat size,’ says Zack, holding his hands out in from of him to approximate Roger’s dimensions. ‘He is a mackerel tabby.’
‘I can’t say for definite what the snake has eaten, I would say that if Roger doesn’t appear within a day or so, then he is not going to. Had you had him long?’
Zack finds it disconcerting that Brett is already talking about Roger in the past tense.
‘The thing is that Roger is, or was, not my cat,’ says Zack. ‘I am, was, looking after him for a neighbour.’
‘Oh dear!’ says Brett. ‘That’s unfortunate. What will you do?’
‘I don’t know. Mrs Donnelly was very fond of Roger. I suppose I will have to try to get a replacement. I’ll have to look on the internet or something.’
It is lucky that Mrs D has a framed photo of Roger on the mantelpiece. From this, he is able to flesh out his shaky recollection of what the cat looked like. It is at times like this he wishes he had taken more notice of Mr Bacon, his art teacher at St Mawgans. Mr Bacon had said, ‘don’t rely on what you think you should see, take a mental photograph of it.’ He had left at sixteen. Art was not one of his five GCSEs.
With some further research, Zack discovers that mackerel tabbies often have an M shape on their forehead just as Roger has and also the same pink nose with peppered black dots. This he feels will help with his search for a replacement. Just in case Roger shows up, Zack takes a day off work the next day, but there is no sign of him. Meanwhile, he gets busy on Safari. He finds from the internet and the local paper that kittens are plentiful. They come in all shapes and sizes, breeds and markings. Even within a radius of a few miles, there are a half a dozen litters of mackerel tabbies available, from which it would be quite likely he would be able to find one to match Roger’s markings. But Mrs D is only away for the week and this does not give the kitten much chance to grow into a Roger lookalike. When it comes to fully grown mackerel tabby cats, there are none whatsoever available.
Zack is beside himself with worry. It is now Tuesday. Mrs D gets back from Magaluf on Saturday. Time is of the essence, so he decides he must adopt a more proactive approach. He places an ad on Gumtree. Urgently Wanted: Neutered Male Mackerel Tabby Cat. He specifies a radius of 100 miles. The rest of the day and the following day bring no response. In the meantime, Zack keeps hoping against hope that Roger will suddenly come bounding up to him when he bangs the cat food tin with a spoon and calls out his name. But at the same time he is concerned that too much of cat-calling will attract attention and make the neighbours suspicious, so he limits his overtures to ten minutes at a time. To make sure he does not miss Roger, should he appear, he stays around the house watching movies from Mrs D’s collection of old films on DVD.
On Thursday, in a desperate attempt to get a result, he amends the Gumtree ad. He adds Un-neutered Cat Also Considered and ups the distance he will travel to pick up the cat to 200 miles. And it brings results. A Delma Mundy from Northallerton has an un-neutered mackerel tabby called Barry.
‘Now that I am in a wheelchair, I’m finding it a struggle to look after Barry,’ she says.
‘Can you send me a photo?’ says Zack.
‘How do I do that?’ says Delma Mundy. ‘I can tell you what Barry looks like.’
‘I think I would prefer a photo, if you could, please,’ says Zack.
‘But I haven’t got a photo of him,’ she says.
‘Could you take one on your mobile phone?’ says Zack.
‘But I’m talking to you on my phone,’ she says.
‘Or you could email a photo,’ says Zack
‘Oh, I don’t think I’ve got email, whatever it is when it’s at home.’
Zack manages to talk Delma Mundy through how to take a photo on her phone and send it. A few minutes later a picture of Barry arrives on his phone. It is not a perfect angle to distinguish Barry’s key features and it is difficult to judge the cat’s size, but Barry does seem to be an approximate match to Roger. Zack calls her back, takes down the address and tells her that he will be up to collect Barry shortly after lunch.
There are a number of local vets on yell.com and before setting off, Zack is able to book Barry in for his vasectomy for the following afternoon.
Delma Mundy is a bit tearful about saying goodbye to Barry.
‘You will look after him, won’t you?’ she keeps repeating. ‘He’s a good cat really. It’s just sometimes he can be a bit boisterous, if you know what I mean. And now I’m in a wheelchair ………’
‘Don’t you worry,’ says Zack. ‘I will take good care of Barry.’
Barry is not at all happy about being put in a cat box and bounced about for a hundred and twenty miles in the back of Zack’s Skoda. He expresses his disapproval with a lexicon of hisses and snarls and claws wildly at his cage for most of the journey. He celebrates his freedom with a lurch at Zack’s neck, which leaves a nasty gash. Zack locks the animal in Mrs D’s utility room overnight. Once again Barry is not happy at this but he is even less happy at being put back in the cat box the following morning and taken to TheAffordableVet.
While Zack does not know what experience Barry has had of vets in North Yorkshire, he is certain that it is not a positive one. No sooner has Dr Mabombo recovered from the first assault, than he has his cheek gouged by a second attack. In desperation, he calls for Zack, who comes to his assistance. Between them, they manage to hold the feral animal down long enough for Dr Mabombo to get the needle in.
While he is in the waiting room Zack catches up with his missed calls from the previous day. There are eleven in all, seven from the fast food outlet, the last of which was probably to let him know when he could pick up his p45, and four from Mrs Donnelly. He cannot face speaking to Mrs D just yet so he sends her a text saying sorry he missed the calls, but that Roger is well and everything at home is fine.
‘The good news is that Barry felt no pain,’ says Dr Mabombo. ‘The bad news is that you have had a wasted journey. Your cat had already been snipped. I suppose that I should have checked before putting him under. But he was kicking off a bit. …… Don’t worry, though, I won’t really charge you for the operation.
‘I see,’ says Zack. ‘I suppose that I should have checked too.’
‘Don’t you remember getting him neutered then?’
‘I’ve only just got him. Until yesterday he was someone else’s cat,’ says Zack. He tries to remember what Delma Mundy had said in their first telephone conversation. He was sure that she had said he was a tom, but there again she may not have. He might have got it wrong. His stress levels were up at the time.
‘Anyway. I’ve given him another sedative so that you can get him home,’ says Dr Mabombo. ‘But he will be right as rain tomorrow.’
‘That’s good,’ says Zack. ‘Tomorrow’s Saturday.’
When he gets the cat back to the Mrs Donnelly’s, Zack puts heavy duty gaffer tape over the cat-flap. He wants the cat to stay indoors overnight. He carefully examines the sedated cat, comparing its markings to the photo on the mantelpiece. He satisfies himself that there is a reasonable likeness. He leaves a large bowl of dried food and a saucer of milk and takes the cat box back to his dad’s shed.
After a sleepless night, he arrives in the morning to feed Barry-Roger, ha, ha, Badger for short. There is hardly a whimper. The animal is still groggy, a complete contrast to the feral pre-op beast of yesterday. Whatever sedative Dr Mabombo used must have been powerful. The dried food and the milk that he left last night have not been touched and the animal isn’t interested in the fresh bowl of venison Gourmet he puts out for it. He comforts himself that Mrs Donnelly won’t be back until three o’clock. This gives him plenty of time to perk the animal up.
Zack looks to Safari for advice. There are a number of sites like thecatsite.com and consciouscat.net offering post-op advice, but most of the advice seems to concentrate on the effects of the surgery, not the sedation. He cannot find any instances of the cat being put under anaesthetic and not operated upon. A flash of inspiration comes to him. He remembers reading somewhere that cats respond to music. Perhaps it was an article in his parents’ Daily Mail.
He goes to get his boombox and connects it to his phone and tries out different genres from his Spotify account, pop, classical, jazz, reggae, soul, indie, hip-hop. None of these seems to do much to animate the sulky animal. Badger remains curled up on the basket of jumpers. In a do or die attempt to get the cat moving he sets the playlist to heavy metal. This is something of a longshot as the cat can’t have heard much of this sort of music at Delma Mundy’s. To his amazement, Badger starts to show signs of life. His ears prick up to Axl Rose’s screaming vocals. He’s up on his feet and is joining in with the chorus of Paradise City, meowing spiritedly. And inspired further it seems by the wailing guitar he makes it over to his food bowl. What an unusual animal he is, thinks Zack. What is he going to do to surprise him next?
Mrs D phones to say that she is in the taxi from the airport.
‘Is everything OK? she says. ‘What’s that dreadful noise?’
‘Noise? Oh, that’s just some music I was playing. I’ll turn it down.’
‘You haven’t been having parties have you, Zack?’
‘No, Mrs D. I was just listening to a new song on my Spotify.
‘I know you haven’t, pet. I was only joking. You’re such a good boy, looking after my Roger. How is my little treasure?’
‘He’s fine. He’s got quite an appetite sometimes, hasn’t he?’ says Zack, watching Badger demolish the bowl of Gourmet and then set about the dried food.
‘I hope you haven’t been overfeeding my baby. I don’t want him getting fat.’
‘No Mrs D. Just what you said to feed him.’
‘I bet he’s missed me. I can’t wait to see him. Look. I’ll be back in half an hour. We’re stuck in traffic at the moment. I’ve brought you back a sombrero for all those sunny days that The Express says we are going to get.’
Zack starts to remove the gaffer tape from the cat-flap. Badger eyes it up planning his escape. Zack decides to leave the rest of the tape on until he hears the cab pull up outside. Badger spits and snarls.
‘Anyone home?’ calls Mrs D.
‘In the kitchen, Mrs D,’ Zack calls back, making a ball from the remaining gaffer tape while blocking the cat’s exit.
Mrs D joins them and plonks some bags down on the kitchen table.
‘Are you sure that Roger is all right?’ she says. ‘He looks different.’
‘That’s because you’ve been away, Mrs D. Things always look a little different when you come back to them.’
‘And he doesn’t seem all that pleased to see me. He normally comes bounding over when I come through the door.’
‘He’s probably just a bit upset that you went away. Cats are very sensitive, you know.’
‘I suppose you are right, Zack. Thank you for looking after him, anyway. Do you like your sombrero?’
‘It’s fantastic, Mrs D. I have always wanted one.’
There have been many dramatic entrances in films. The shark’s entrance in Jaws springs to mind, Darth Vadar’s in Star Wars perhaps, or The Thing bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. Going back further, what about Orson Welles’s emergence from the shadows in The Third Man? Perhaps Roger had been primed by famous movie scenes. Maybe Mrs D watched a lot of her old films with him on her lap or left the TV on for him when she went to the shops. Whichever, for its shock value, Roger’s sudden entrance through the cat flap at this moment seems to owe a debt to the movies. Both Zack and Mrs D do a double take. Before them are two identical cats. What sorcery or movie magic can have brought this about?
© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved