The Cat’s Tale by Chris Green
Where’s the cat, Zack wonders? And what is that enormous 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. Keeping a safe distance from the beast, he googles big fat yellow snake on his phone. This is an instinctual reaction. He belongs to the internet generation. His phone 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, 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 has not had to deal with many problems in his young life. Although he is twenty-three, he still lives at home with his parents. He has not had the complications that can come with wives and children. However, two distinct problems present themselves here. The first, but arguably the easier to solve, is how to get rid of the snake. He can phone Wild Things. They will send a trained operative out and collect it. 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 will not appreciate it if he has fed the cat to a yellow and white monster. He remembers the conversation 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 worry. Your cat is in safe hands,’ 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 Spanish brandy.’
‘That’s kind of you, Mrs D.’
‘Roger’s more than 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 arrives. Deputy Reptile Manager, Brett Samson, introduces himself. Brett is aptly named. He is 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,’ Zack says. He goes to check. The back door is open.
Brett meanwhile is getting friendly with Arthur.
‘Can you tell if Arthur has eaten lately?’ Zack asks. ‘I’m worried that he might have swallowed Roger.’
‘Oh no! They don’t eat humans.’
‘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,’ Brett says. ‘How big was Roger?’
‘Well. Standard cat size,’ Zack says, holding his hands out in front 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, 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,’ Zack says. ‘I am, was, looking after him for a neighbour.’
‘Oh dear! 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.’
Luckily Mrs D has a framed photo of Roger on the mantelpiece. From this, Zack can 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, he 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, but there is no sign of him. Meanwhile, he gets on the case. 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 half a dozen litters of mackerel tabby kittens available, from which it would be likely he would be able to find one to match Roger’s markings. But Mrs D is only away for a week and this does not give the kitten much chance to grow into a Roger lookalike. There are no fully grown tabby cats 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 he is concerned that too much 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. It brings results. A Vera 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?’ Zack says.
‘How do I do that? I can tell you what Barry looks like.’
‘I would prefer a photo, if you could please.’
‘But I haven’t got a photo of him,’
‘Could you take one on your mobile phone?’
‘But I’m talking to you on my phone.’
‘Or you could email a photo.’
‘Oh, I don’t think I’ve got email, whatever it is when it’s at home.’
Zack manages to talk Vera through how to take a photo on her phone and send it. Moments 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 seems to be an approximate match to Roger. Zack calls her back, takes down the address and tells her he will be up to collect Barry shortly after lunch.
There are several local vets on yell.com. Before setting off, Zack books Barry in for a vasectomy for the following afternoon.
Vera Mundy is 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,’ Zack says. ‘I will take good care of Barry.’
Barry is not happy about being put in a cat box and bounced around in the back of Zack’s Skoda for a hundred and twenty miles. 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 even less happy at being put back in the cat box the following morning and taken to The Affordable Vet.
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, Zack catches up with his missed calls from the previous day. There are eleven, 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,’ Dr Mabombo says. ‘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 charge you for the operation.’
‘I see,’ Zack says. ‘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,’ Zack says. He tries to remember what Vera 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 high at the time.
‘Anyway. I’ve given him another sedative so that you can get him home,’ Dr Mabombo says. ‘But he will be right as rain tomorrow.’
‘That’s good,’ Zack says. ‘Tomorrow’s Saturday.’
When Zack gets the cat back to Mrs Donnelly’s, he 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 google for advice. There are a number of sites like thecatsite.com and consciouscat.net offering post-op advice, but 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 gets 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 Vera 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 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?’ Zack says, 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 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 leaves 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 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.’
Roger’s dramatic entrance through the cat flap at this moment surely owes a debt to the movies. The shark’s entrance in Jaws springs to mind, or The Thing bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. Mrs D is thunderstruck. Before her are two identical cats. Two Rogers. What arcane wizardry can have brought this about?
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved