The Cat’s Tale

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.’

Ah!’

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

Walking the Dog

Walking The Dog by Chris Green

Ellie and I often see Dog Walking Man passing our front window with his bull terrier. He has a ruddy face, wears his hair short and has a look of determination. Whatever the time of year, he wears the same white zip-up jacket, black Adidas pants and brown boots with yellow laces. At all hours of the day and night, in all winds and weathers, he strides out with his faithful dog by his side. The dog is thickset and muscular, white with a chunky collar and a distinctive brown patch around its left eye.

When we drive to Asda, two miles away to do our shopping, we usually spot Dog Walking Man somewhere along the journey, his purposeful gait giving him away from a considerable distance. Asda does not sell very good wine, and Ellie likes her wine, so to stock up, we shop at Sainsburys, which is three miles in the opposite direction. More often than not, we pass Dog Walking Man somewhere along this route too. I see him on my way to and from work, and Ellie sees him on her way to her art classes. We see him on the way to the recreation centre and we see him walking along the dual-carriageway when we take a trip out to the tropical fish centre. I see him on the way to the match on a Saturday, sometimes even if it is an away game. He clearly covers a lot of miles with his dog.

We can’t keep calling him Dog Walking Man,’ Ellie says to me as he trudges by one evening while we are watching Pointless. ‘He seems so familiar. Why don’t we give him a name?’

What about Ivan?’ I say.

How about Eric?’ she says.

Ivan’s better,’ I say.

OK,’ she says. ‘Ivan it is. Now, what shall we call the dog?’ I see a gleam in Ellie’s eye. She is like T. S. Eliot when it comes to the naming of animals.

Rocky is a good name for a bull terrier, don’t you think?’ I say as an opener.

Rocky is a terrible name for a bull terrier,’ she says.

What about Clint?’ I say.

He doesn’t look like a Clint to me,’ says Ellie. ‘How about Axel?’

Axel. H’mm, Axel,’ I say ‘OK. You win. Axel, it is.’

Ivan always keeps a firm grip on Axel’s studded leather lead. He never lets Axel sniff at the things you imagine a dog might take a fancy to on the verges or at the foot of lampposts. There is no doubt about who is the pack leader. Axel has accepted that sniffing at things is not what a dog is supposed to do. If another dog approaches, they both ignore it. They carry on walking as if the animal isn’t there. Ivan never lets Axel off the lead. God knows when Axel gets to do his business.

Despite the names we have given the pair of them, we still refer to them as Dog Walking Man and the dog. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps old habits die hard.

Ellie and I sometimes speculate on the story behind Dog Walking Man and his dog. Although they make a tough-looking team, we have dismissed our original idea that they could be patrolling the area for a security company. The places we see them are too random and the area too large. Ellie thinks it might be part of Ivan’s Anger Management Plan. I wonder if he is in training for an event. It may of course be that he just enjoys walking the dog.

Ellie and I decide to drive down to the coast. It is thirty-seven miles as the crow flies to the little seaside town. We park the car on Marine Parade by Tropicana and put on our sun cream. We can smell the sea. Gulls are circling overhead. We watch them as they home in on a man sitting on the sea wall eating a pasty from its paper bag. His partner spots the danger and tries to warn him. One gull swoops. The man ducks. Suddenly our attention is drawn away by the sight of Dog Walking Man, stepping out at his familiar steady pace, bull terrier by his side. It is a hot June day, but Dog Walking Man still has on his white zip-up jacket and his trademark black Adidas pants. It is, of course, conceivable that he has a car and has driven the dog down to get a breath of sea air. But, it is just as likely that he has not. We have never seen Ivan driving a car.

The small brown and yellow cat that flies across the front lawn most evenings is a bit of a freak. Ellie and I think it may belong to the people who have moved into number 42. We first noticed the strange cat a couple of weeks ago while we were watching Eggheads. By the way, it streaked past, we thought that it might be chasing another cat, or trying to catch a bird. Perhaps it was being chased by a dog. It turned out to be none of these. It is just the way the crazy animal propels itself from A to B. It doesn’t saunter and stop to look around like other cats. It zips this way and that like grease lightning. It is much smaller than the average cat, about the same size as a rabbit, which makes its appearance even more bizarre. I fear it is only a question of time before Ellie gets out Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to help with some naming. When she does, I’m ready with Bennie and Whizzer.

Are Ellie and I the only ones who saw the spaceship land yesterday? We caught sight of it through the mezzanine window. We had just watched Only Connect and were on our way up the wooden hills. The craft appeared in the western sky in front of the blue hills. We thought it was a balloon at first. As it got closer, we could see that it was shaped like a sombrero. It floated gently down and landed gracefully on the heath. We watched intently for ten minutes. No little green men got out. It gradually faded until it became invisible. We have asked the neighbours, but no one else caught so much as a fleeting glimpse. There is nothing about it in The Chronicle, although they have a lengthy feature on Dog Walking Man. He has won a prestigious national award for his dog walking.

Copyright © Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

The Schrödingers’ Cat

theschrodingerscat

The Schrödingers’ Cat by Chris Green

Each, evening, Mr and Mrs Schödinger liked to walk their salt and pepper schnauzer, Ernst along the Promenade. Mrs Schrödinger would take the opportunity to window-shop in the fashion boutiques while Mr Schrödinger used the time to fantasise about what he would like to do to Hermione Shakespeare in the office where he worked as a designer. Mr and Mrs Schrödinger had not lived in the seaside town in the west of England very long. They came over from their native Austria to follow their leisure interests, there being few opportunities for surfing or yachting in landlocked Linz.

Their evening constitutionals with Ernst took them past a new pet shop that had opened next to the holistic gifts boutique that Mrs Schrödinger liked. In amongst the mice and gerbils in the window of For Pets Sake, there was a picture of four kittens. Good homes were wanted for these said the advert.

I think we should have one,’ Mrs Schrödinger said. ‘Just look at them. Aren’t they adorable? And a cat would be company for Ernst while we are out on the boat. It would help to calm him down.’

Mr Schrödinger felt that Ernst was calm enough. A more placid schnauzer you couldn’t wish to find.

Some schnauzers can be quite vicious,’ he added. ‘George Pagan’s giant schnauzer, Bruiser would bite you as soon as look at you. But Ernst doesn’t even bark at the postman.

As always, Mrs Schrödinger was able to get her own way. The wrong side of forty she might be but she still had potent weapons in her carnal armoury. So long as Hermione Shakespeare remained no more than a twinkle in Mr Schrödinger’s eye, she would be able to retain her power over him. The mackerel tabby kitten duly arrived chez Schrödinger.

You have probably heard stories connecting the name, Schrödinger with cats, not all of these ending well. Perhaps no more than half of them ending well. Let’s dispel the notion that the new kitten will be subject to a thought experiment. This is not going to happen.

Mrs Schrödinger called the kitten, Lucy, even though it turned out to be a boy cat. Lucy quickly settled into a routine of annoying Ernst. There are so many ways in which a cat can wind a dog up and Lucy quickly mastered them. She even added some new ones. She chewed up Ernst’s soft toys, sat on his head when he was trying to sleep and went to toilet in his food bowl. Once or twice, she even managed to get a bark out of the laconic hound. Lucy was, of course, quickly neutered at Vets4Pets but this made little difference to her delinquency. There was no doubt about it, Lucy was a spirited cat.

She has the devil in her, that one,’ Aura, Mrs Schrödinger’s yoga teacher said. ‘Did you know, cats can see ghosts and angels and even demons?’

One evening, when Mr and Mrs Schrödinger were taking a trip around the bay in their boat, Lucy disappeared. When she had not returned by lunchtime the next day, they began to quiz the neighbours. Neither the Nancarrows next door or the Trescothicks across the street had seen her. Rosey Parker who knew everything that went on for miles around said she had heard nothing. Mr Singh who ran the convenience store on the corner seemed completely disinterested.

Your Lucy will be back in a day or two, Mrs Schrödinger,’ Penny Penhaligon in the hairdressers told her. ‘You mark my words. Cats like to go off to explore now and then. It’s in their nature. My Bruce is always going walkabout.’

You haven’t been here long, have you?’ Salty Jack at the Sailing Club said. ‘You’ll discover all kinds of strange things go on down here in Cornwall once you’ve been here a while. Cornwall is the home of mystery and magic.

The plea they stuck onto lampposts around the neighbourhood offering a handsome reward for Lucy’s safe return brought no response, except for a nimiety of bohemian-types collecting for new-age charities.

Mrs Schrödinger was beside herself. With the inevitable dropping off of her libido, Mr Schrödinger turned his attention once more to fantasies about Hermione Shakespeare and he even started going in to work early in the hope of wooing her. Meanwhile, without Lucy around, Ernst perked up considerably.

On the fifth or sixth evening, Mr and Mrs Schrödinger had just returned from walking Ernst when there was a hesitant knock at the door. An elderly stranger with a hangdog expression stood across the threshold.

I’m really sorry to have to call, like this,’ he said. ‘My name’s Breok. You may have seen me in passing. I live just down the road at number 55. I’m afraid I’ve found your cat at the bottom of my back garden. I looked at the collar and it had your address on it so here I am. I think the poor animal may have been attacked by a dog or a fox or something. Anyway, the cat was dead so I put it in a box. I don’t know what you want me to do with it. Perhaps you might want to bury it. If you do, I will bring the box round.

Distraught, Mr and Mrs Schrödinger identified the dead cat. It was unmistakably Lucy and Lucy unquestionably dead. Several days dead. Tears were shed, then silence prevailed, as a funereal atmosphere descended on the Schrödinger household. Even Ernst went into a protracted sulk.

The following morning, to their amazement, Lucy came bounding up the stairs. How could this be? The Schrödingers looked at one another, both waiting for the other to come up with an explanation. None was available. It was seemingly impossible. Yet, the cat meowing furiously to be fed was definitely Lucy. Exact same markings, same scratch under the left eye where Ernst had finally reacted to her constant agitation, the same Kittyrama collar with her name and address. There was no doubt about it, this was their cat.

Mrs Schrödinger was ecstatic and Mr Schrödinger was pleased as this meant their normal conjugals might be resumed. The previous day’s humiliation when Hermione Shakespeare had slapped his face could be put to the back of his mind. Ernst, of course, was crestfallen that the cat had returned.

Like its counterpart in the famous thought experiment, the Schrödingers’ cat appeared to be both dead and alive. Perhaps there would never be an explanation.

I said Lucy would be back,’ Penny Penhaligon said when Mrs Schrödinger called in for her weekly trim. ‘My Bruce always comes back with his tail between his legs.’

Why don’t we have a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about it?’ Rosey Parker said.

I told you mysterious things happen here in Cornwall,’ Salty Jack said. ‘It’s considered the birthplace of myths and legends for good reason, you know. Theres magic in the air. The laws of cause and effect don’t apply here.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved