Harry and Kate

harryandkate

Harry and Kate by Chris Green

Black cats are supposed to be lucky, aren’t they? Harry Regis thinks so. What he doesn’t realise is that in many cultures, black cats are seen as an evil omen. Most of Europe, for instance, considers the black cat to be unlucky, a harbinger of doom. Fortunate then that Harry lives in the UK. What with the collapse of his kite design business and Meg leaving him for Trevor, a film extra from Billericay, Harry has had a tough time of late. He feels he deserves a break. It is time things started going his way.

So when one evening a black cat wanders through the back door, explores the house and makes itself comfortable on the shag-pile rug in the front room, he sees it as a good omen. He offers the cat a tin of tuna chunks, which it devours with gusto. And some dried cat biscuits he discovers in one of the kitchen cupboards. The saucer of full cream milk is welcomed too. Although Harry leaves the back door open, the cat shows no sign of wanting to leave. It is still there at the end of the evening after he has finished watching Leif Velasquez’s acclaimed adaption of the postmodern thriller, Shooting Script on Netflix. It is dark outside, and his visitor is curled up on the settee, purring gently. Harry thinks it best to put the animal outside. Although it does not have a collar, it does not look like a stray. It has a glossy coat. It is a well-groomed animal. By now, someone will be wondering where their pet has got to.

The following morning, the cat is once again at the back door. It does not wait to be invited in. It rushes past Harry’s outstretched hand and makes a beeline for the kitchen. It seems to be hungry. Surely a handsome-looking cat like this can’t have been out all night, can it? Harry doesn’t have any pressing appointments, so he pops along the road to the convenience store and returns with a box of pouches of gourmet cat food. On the way, he thinks of suitable cat names. Being a fan of the musical Cats, he toys with Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser, Growltigger and Shimbleshanks, but decides they are too fussy. He settles on Lucky. Lucky is the obvious name for a black cat.

Serendipity seems to work straight away. No sooner has he fed Lucky his gourmet turkey treat than the phone rings. It is Ben Maverick of Maverick Leisure Services offering him the job as General Manager of the new Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre that is opening on the industrial estate. While fridge magnet advice may not have the prestige of kite design, it is a step in the right direction. He needs to keep Lucky around and as he will be out of the house now in the daytime, he fits a cat door so that the cat can come and go.

Kate Dunning-Kruger believes that every cloud has a silver lining. So when she loses her job in marketing with BestFone in their rationalisation drive, she is sure something will turn up. When she is selected to promote a new weather phone app, her faith seems justified. She is over the moon. The new app, she is told, does not merely predict the weather, it can change localised weather conditions. It was created by a whizz-kid in California and cloned by a fourteen-year-old computer geek from Devon. Kate does not need to know how Elements works but, she is told, it has been successfully trialled in one or two places around the county. She is one of a small team who are to start a promotion campaign from a discrete office on Palace Park Industrial Estate. They are hoping to roll the revolutionary new app out nationally soon to those who can afford it. It is by no means going to be a freebie. But before it can be rolled out, she is told, there are cybersecurity issues to overcome. Their IT consultant who goes by the unlikely name of Max Acker is working on these.

Kate is recently divorced and although there are pitfalls in getting involved with anyone new so soon, she can’t wait to get dating again. Her friends wonder if perhaps she is too eager. She might end up making the same mistakes. They point out that Bill was arrogant, self-centred and lazy. She should take her time and concentrate on her own well-being. Kate explains that as a thirty-something single female, there is only so much you can do in a small town. Everything seems to be geared up to couples. And besides, now she has a new job, she will be able to work on her self-confidence.

Kate finds her office housed in a new prefabricated block on the estate, alongside the Bikini Museum, the Mulatu Astatke School of African Dance and The Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre. An interesting selection of enterprises, she thinks, entirely different from working in the corporate environment at BestFone on the fifth floor of the city block, alongside the insurance brokers and tax consultants. Further along the avenue are Balalaika Tuition Centre, Mojo Filter Bicycle Hire and a tall featureless matt black building which has no windows. Nor does it appear to have an entrance. No lettering or insignia to suggest what it might be. Palace Park is a strange environment.

She begins to learn about the new weather app. Although it is in its infancy, there are already reports of its success. Charlie Dixon apparently used it to bring fine weather for the Exeter race meeting when it was raining in the rest of the county. Nick Carr conjured up a torrential downpour to bring a close to a village cricket match when his team were in a losing position to force a draw. The result ensured that his team, Dartmouth Royals retained the title for another year. It appears the app can be activated at short notice. Early indications suggest it works best when activated at short notice, but it now needs to be tested further afield.

Kate discovers the estate is a busy little area. The bikini museum is incredibly popular, there are lots of comings and goings at the newly opened hedgehog sanctuary and The Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre does a roaring trade. Following a favourable article in one of the Sunday supplements, fridge magnets are enjoying a revival. It will be a while though before Kate is fully occupied as Max Acker keeps finding more glitches in the Elements app.

On her third day at work, when Kate is outside smoking her mid-morning cigarette, she catches the manager of The Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre arriving with a new delivery. He looks like a nice fellow, the type that would be kind to cats maybe. And, of course, Bill has left her with four of them.

Hi! I’m Kate, she says. ‘I’ve just started working at Elements.’

Really? I started here last week as it happens,’ he says. ‘I’m Harry, by the way. Harry Regis.’

You seem to be doing well, here Harry,’ Kate says. ‘Lots of interest in fridge magnets, these days, I gather. I can see you are busy, but perhaps one day when you have a quiet moment we could hook up for a coffee at Cuppa Joe along the way there. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.’

Sure,’ Harry says. ‘And maybe a bite to eat. We could meet up one lunchtime. It has been mad here lately with all the new editions coming out. Everyone wants fridge magnets. But there are so many magnets on the market that people don’t always know which designs to go for. The rare album cover ones are popular, of course, and the royal residence ones. They never go out of fashion. We’ve got some new Bake Off magnets and we’ve just had the new Peaky Blinders set launch. And believe it or not, the French symbolist poets magnets are popular too.’

I believe you, Harry,’ Kate says. ‘I’ve always found truth is stranger than fiction.’

Harry and Kate catch up for lunch at Cuppa Joe the following Monday. Not wanting to talk shop, by way of making conversation Harry mentions that he had a new cat called Lucky. Kate has no shop to talk. Max Acker has found a new problem with the app. She wonders if it was ever going to be ready to roll out. Max seems to spend more time trying to chat her up than he does working. Unsuccessfully. He is much too old and she just hates those floral shirts he wears not to mention the way he invades her personal space. Coronavirus may be over and done with, but hasn’t he heard of social distancing?

A new cat?’ Kate queries. Might Harry be the caring type? This is not something she could ever say about Bill. In the flesh too, Harry is much hunkier than Bill. Toned physique and a manly beard. And he has a managerial position. Something that Bill had never had. Bill had only occasionally had a job.

Yes. A black cat,’ Harry says. ‘It just came in one evening and stayed. Lucky is good company too. I was starting to find it lonely in the big house after Meg moved out. We’d been together for ten years.’

Better steer the conversation back on to cats, Kate thinks. We don’t want to dwell too much on Meg.

Cats are excellent company,’ she says. ‘I have four little darlings, Sylvester, Smokey, Tigger and Dave. You must come round and meet them one evening.’

Over their pasta lunch, Harry and Kate discover they have a mutual interest in Scrabble, owls, donating blood, and Game of Thrones. They both like listening to Kings of Leon and Queens of the Stone Age. Harry saw Queens of the Stone Age at Finsbury Park in 2018. With Meg.

Time for some more cat chat, Kate thinks. ‘Does Harry know that Isaac Newton invented the cat door?’ she asks. Harry doesn’t, but he does know that cats spend 70% of their time sleeping and about 15% grooming. He found this out when he was looking for a cat basket for Lucky. The conversation moves on to dogs and other animals. The Lion King leads them to other films they have seen. Although he prefers action thrillers, Harry concedes that he has a secret admiration for Nora Ephron romcoms. Oh no, Kate thinks. He’s going to start talking about Meg Ryan and that will bring us back to the other Meg. She tells him instead that she has a soft spot for Quentin Tarantino films. She has seen them all but Kill Bill is her favourite. Meg’s name doesn’t come into the conversation again. Not that she is interested enough to ask, but she wonders if it is short for Megan, or Meghan. Best to let the matter go.

After lunch, as they walk up the road together, Kate points out the featureless black building.

I’ve been wondering what happens in there,’ she says.

You’ve heard of White Stuff,’ Harry says. ‘Well, that building there belonged to Black Stuff. While everyone associated White Stuff with coke, and although it was a little naughty, liked the idea, everyone associated Black Stuff with coal and didn’t go for it.

Wasn’t Black Stuff tar?’

Whatever! The brand name didn’t work. No-one wanted to buy their stuff. They went broke.’

Probably just not promoted very well,’ Kate says. ‘These things make a difference.’

To be honest, a lot of these businesses are here today and gone tomorrow,’ Harry says. ‘It’s like pop-up land on some of these out-of-town developments. I mean, look! The Pet Rock Counselling Service. How long is that going to last? What’s happening at your place, by the way? Is this new app going well?’

It’s not ready yet,’ Kate says. ‘At the moment, I’m just twiddling my thumbs.’

Teething troubles, are there?’ Harry says. ‘It’s only a phone app, isn’t it? What’s so complicated? What does it do?’

I can’t tell you that yet,’ Kate says. ‘It’s still at the development stage but I’m told there should be a beta version soon.’

Anyway, let’s do this again,’ Harry says.

Perhaps we might go out for a drink, one evening,’ Kate says.

I’d like that,’ Harry says. ‘Since Meg left …….’

You must come around and meet my cats,’ Kate interrupts. ‘How about tomorrow?’

As he drives to work, the following morning, Harry is pleased but somewhat surprised to find that the sun is shining. The storm that went on until the early hours was a violent one, rattling the doors and the windows of the house. Lucky was so frightened by the driving rain and howling wind that he snuggled up to him the whole night. Several inches of rain must have fallen in a few hours. The builder he called about the water coming through the bathroom ceiling seemed puzzled by his call but said he would pop round after five.

To Harry’s amazement, there is not so much as a puddle on the roads. How could a storm be so localised? As he makes his way through the morning commute, he gradually notices that a black BMW with tinted windows and the personalised plate, ACK3R seems to be following him. It tailgates him along Electric Avenue. It seems to be doing its best to force him off the road. Harry has the feeling he has seen this car before. Was it perhaps parked outside Elements where Kate worked? Didn’t she mention someone called Max Acker in connection with the app she is working on? That instead of getting on with work, he is always on her case?

At the Princes Street lights, Harry swings into the left-hand lane cutting up a delivery van to turn into Duke Street. Boxed in, the BMW cannot make the manoeuvre. It carries on straight ahead, towards the industrial estate. Harry dives into the superstore car park where he takes a moment to compose himself. Who exactly is this maniac who was trying to run him off the road? Why was he doing it? He googles Max Acker on his phone and discovers that Max is a fictional character that features in half a dozen stories by the author, Phillip C Dark. Several sites confirm this. Phillip C Dark, it appears, is a speculative fiction writer.

Speculative fiction, Wikipedia suggests, is a broad category of fiction encompassing genres with certain elements that may or may not exist in the real world, often in the context of supernatural, futuristic or other imaginative themes. If the Max Acker tailing him is fictional, then what are the ramifications? Where does that leave him, Harry Regis? Does he, Harry not exist in the real world? Does Kate not exist in the real world? These are not matters that he has had to grapple with up until now. In the flesh has always meant in the flesh. Yet here in the superstore car park, Harry suddenly finds himself in the throws of an existential crisis.

If it turns out he is fictional and at the mercy of his creator, then anything could happen. He has no control over it. He has no free will. What if his creator decides to kill him off? Just when things with Kate were looking up. He has Kate’s number and decides to give her a call before it’s too late. He feels he needs there to be some element of reality to cling to. He is not sure what he is going to say to her. She is likely to think he is going mad. There is no reply. Harry fears the worst.

Further research reveals that despite his work being categorised as speculative fiction, which can often be doom-laden, many of Phillip C Dark’s stories have happy endings. Why would this not be the case? Readers like a happy ending. Happy endings sell books. A majority of fiction in any genre has a happy ending. The author usually arranges the climax to make it look as if all hope is gone before coming up with an unexpected turn of events to save the day. This is known as the denouement. Climax and denouement are key elements of dramatic tension.

In any case, although Max Acker is not a common name, this does not mean there is just the one Max Acker. It’s a big world out there. There are likely to be many Max Ackers. Most likely, Phillip C Dark just picked the name at random. As he watches the shoppers come and go, Harry wonders why he is even thinking this way. He pinches himself. Here he is in time and space, sitting in his car in the car park, to all intents and purposes a sentient being. He must send his paranoia packing. Having placed great importance on the black cat appearing on his doorstep, he feels the need to go home to reacquaint himself with reality. His reality. Work can wait.

As Harry parks outside his house, he spots Kate at the front door. She has Lucky in her arms and is stroking him.

I hope you don’t mind me calling around like this,’ she says. ‘But I heard that Max was out to get you. When you weren’t at work, I became worried something might have happened. I thought I’d better check you were all right. This is a lovely cat you’ve got, by the way. Lucky, isn’t it?’

Harry notices the front garden has dried up already. Perhaps there hadn’t been as much rain as he had imagined.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

The Cats of Ronda

thecatsofronda2

The Cats of Ronda by Chris Green

If you visit the historic city of Ronda in southern Spain, you are likely to notice that the cats scurrying around under the tables at alfresco restaurants for scraps are slender. While you are wondering whether to toss them the skin from your monkfish, what you may not be aware of is that despite their being small in stature, these Andalusian felines possess age-old mystical powers. It is thought that the cats of Ronda originated long ago in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians knew a thing or two about the magic of cats. The ones that made the millennial odyssey through North Africa and came over during the Moorish invasion were probably the pick of the bunch. Down through the centuries, their progeny may have inherited their ancestors’ numinous gift.

On my occasional trips to Spain, I had not come across them. It was not until one evening over dinner during a stay in the fabled city that I began to notice them.

‘That one is called Layla,’ said the stranger in the white linen suit, pointing to the small black cat at the foot of my table. We were outside a small restaurant just down from Hemingway’s famous bullring. ‘She likes slices of grilled squid. I think that if you tipped your plate up and let her have those pieces you have left, you would in some way benefit from a modicum of good fortune.’

‘Ha! You think it’s as easy as that,’ I said, to humour him, more than anything else. Why was this roué wearing that thick gold earring, I was thinking? It looked ridiculous on him. He was much too old for such adornments.

‘Try it, my friend,’ he said. ‘What have you got to lose?’

I felt I was due some good fortune. Things had not been going well of late. The very reason I had come to Ronda was to get over a failed business venture and put a jaded relationship behind me. The sunshine of Andalusia was a big attraction and Ronda, being some distance away from the teeming crowds of the Costa del Sol, seemed to have a special appeal.

Still a little concerned that my fellow diners would disapprove or that the waiter might come over and read the riot act, I slyly slid the slices of squid to Layla. She gathered them up and took them to a darkened corner of the courtyard to feast on them. The stranger meanwhile finished his Mojito cocktail and got up to leave. He shook me by the hand and, with a glint in his eye, said, ‘Layla will remember you now, my friend. You should be on the lookout out for a pleasant surprise.’

I took this with a pinch of salt. Spain, just like anywhere else today, was overflowing with charlatans. But, when I got back to my room at Hotel Farolito, there she was, waiting. A vision of loveliness. Long black hair, little black dress and a smile like daybreak. At first, I assumed I had walked into someone else’s room. I was about to apologise and take my leave when I thought to check the number of the key I had in my hand. 101. It was the right room. No doubt about it. This was Room 101. I was searching for a rational explanation and mumbling something incoherent, when she said, ‘I thought you wouldn’t mind, querido, if I joined you. I’ve put my things in the wardrobe. I hope that is all right.’

While it seemed fortunate that I had booked una habitación doble, first I had to allay my fears that this was a set-up. When you have been down on your luck for a while, it’s only natural to be a little suspicious of serendipity turning up unannounced. Especially in such a dramatic way. Besides, the shady character in the white suit who had promised the good fortune was hardly the sort you would buy a second-hand car from.

‘I’ve read about you and seen your picture in the paper, cariño,’ she said.

This was strange because the only time I could recall being in the papers was when Jimmy Jazz Enterprises ceased trading. Perhaps she was thinking of someone else, I suggested.

Somehow we got over our uneasy start and before long, we were getting along like a house on fire. A man can never be certain of a woman’s motives, but Isabella presented a convincing case that her intentions were honourable. She spent twenty four hours reassuring me in the nicest possible way, after which time I was too enamoured to care.

We talked a little about cats during this time, as you do. Isabella maintained she knew little about them but I was able to do some basic research on my laptop. I found out about the cat’s place in Egyptian society. Cats it seemed were a symbol of grace and sang-froid and because they possessed mystical powers they were considered sacred. As a result, for over a thousand years, Egyptians, the most advanced civilisation on Earth worshipped a succession of cat deities, the most powerful of these being Bastet, Mihos, Sekmet and Mekal. It was important for citizens to own a cat and well-bred felines were exhibited in shows. When a cat died the family would go into mourning and prized animals were often mummified.

I don’t know how we ended up going to the restaurant I had been at the previous evening. It’s possible that it might have been Isabella’s idea. I was not sure what to expect. While I had mentioned the strange encounter to her in passing, I had kept my cards close to my chest with regard to the detail. This time, it was late, nearly eleven, and there was no sign of the stranger in the white suit, but there were plenty of cats still skulking around. Towards the end of our fried calamari in tartare sauce starter, a slinky white one, so white it was almost luminous, came over and sat expectantly at the foot of our table. My thinking, perhaps helped along by the second bottle of wine, was, if black cats, traditionally thought of as a bad omen, brought such bounteous good fortune, then who knew what delights white ones might bring. I tossed a couple of the fried rings down and the cat gobbled them up.

‘You really shouldn’t have done that,’ said a dark figure emerging out of the shadows. He had long, uncombed black hair and was wearing skin-tight black trousers and a ripped black t-shirt with white lettering in an unfamiliar script. He could have almost been auditioning for the part of Bob in Twin Peaks.

‘You will regret it,’ he said as he stepped into the light, his sinewy tattooed face trembling with menace. He continued in Spanish. ‘No todos los gatos de Ronda traen buena fortuna. Ese gato es malo. Muy malo.’

A bad one? I wanted to challenge him on this. Who was he? How did he know the cat was bad? He clearly intended it to be a short conversation. He said I would find out soon enough. Muy pronto. Adios, amigo. He was gone like a thief in the night. He probably was a thief in the night. He was certainly not Santa Claus.

My attention had been so totally taken up with Twin Peaks Bob that I had not noticed it. But, when I turned back around, I couldn’t help but notice it, There was no-one at my table. To my alarm, Isabella too had vanished. I looked frantically around but she was nowhere to be seen.

‘Did you see where the woman who was sat with me went?’ I called out to the young couple at the only other table that was occupied. ‘La señora? Has visto?’

‘No había mujer. Estabas solo,’ said the man. ‘Hasta que ese hombre llegó.’

No matter how absorbed with one another they were, how could they have not noticed Isabella?

‘What about the man who came up to us?’ I said, ‘El hombre de negro.’

They had not noticed him either. Were they blind, or something?

None of the staff at the restaurant or any of the neighbouring bars could shed any light on what had happened. I didn’t say anything about the cats, as I was still thinking that there might have been some kind of chicanery and clearly, I couldn’t go to the police. I went back to Farolito hoping against hope that Isabella might be there. She was not. I spent the night worrying about her and about what the man in black had said. Was something terrible going to happen? When would it happen? Could he merely have been referring to Isabella’s disappearance? Maybe I was taking a pessimistic view, but I thought not.

What made me decide to return to the restaurant the following lunchtime, I cannot say. Maybe I thought Isabella might re-appear but quite honestly I had to admit I was clutching at straws. I had not been there in daylight before and although there was the distinct possibility that I was courting danger, there was the possibility that revisiting it might offer some clues as to what was going on. When strange things have occurred there is a natural urge to solve the mystery. I realised that I had either been badly distracted or woefully unobservant because I did not even know what the restaurant was called. As I approached in the light of day, I could see the sign, in bold lettering. It was called Los Gatos de Ronda. This somehow put a different complexion on things. The restaurant was a celebration of the contribution of the cat to Andalusian culture.

If I hadn’t been staring so intently at the display graphics, I might have been aware of the rider of the Kawasaki motorcycle bearing down on me. I might have stepped out of the way and avoided the accident which left me with multiple head injuries. Dr Hernandez thought it was too early to tell if there would be lasting brain damage, but he said I needed to stay in hospital for three or four days so they could keep an eye on me.

While I was lying there, the question I kept turning over and over in my mind was whether there was any justifiable reason to connect the Kawasaki ploughing into me with my having fed calamari to the white cat. No matter what the madman in black had said, such a proposition seemed to belong to the world of hocus-pocus. For one thing, I was not superstitious. I never had been. But, there again, rational thought seemed somehow to have jumped ship at Malaga. Whether there had been a causal connection or not, I could not deny that the accident happened in the wake of his warning. Or earlier that Isabella had appeared shortly after the lounge lizard had said something good would happen.

When you are in hospital, time hangs heavy on your hands, in foreign hospitals, even more so. You hear all this chatter going on around you in a foreign language. Admittedly my Spanish had improved of late, and I could make out some of what was being said, but I felt I needed to talk to someone in English. Out of the people on the ward, Javier was the only one who could speak good English. He had spent many happy months, he told me, as a marketing manager for a biscuit manufacturer in Ashby de la Zouche. He was gay, he said but sadly it was not yet fashionable to be gay in North Leicestershire so he came over to Ronda, where there were more opportunities to meet like-minded people. Javier’s tale of how he came to be in hospital was a strange one indeed.

‘You are probably not going to believe this,’ he said. ‘I’m in here because I fed the wrong cat at a restaurant. A tortoiseshell tabby. It looked hungry and I offered it some of my carabineros. A thug dressed like Benito Mussolini shouted something threatening at me and shortly afterwards I was viciously attacked by a Cambodian monk with a prayer wheel.’

I told him about my experience with the Twin Peaks Bob figure warning me something bad would happen after I fed the white cat and afterwards the Kawasaki running into me. Then I told him about feeding the black cat and the fellow in the white suit predicting good fortune followed by my finding Isabella in my room.

‘That’s uncanny,’ he said. ‘I shared my halibut with an Egyptian Mau cat. Pope Francis appeared out of nowhere and said I had done a good thing and would be rewarded and I found a Marlon Brando lookalike in my room.’

‘Early Marlon Brando, I trust,’ I said.

‘I take your point,’ he said. ‘It was The Wild Ones era Marlon Brando. The Godfather version wouldn’t get me going.’

‘So you are saying there is something of a pattern.’

‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘Fernando over there fed some of his mackerel to a Siamese and was rewarded with a Euro millions win. But after he let a short-haired Burmese have some of his crayfish, he was struck over the head with an Abba statuette by a dwarf in a wheelchair.’

‘Astonishing,’ I said.

‘I believe the whole ward is full of people who have met with misfortune after feeding cats,’ he said.

‘What do you think is going on?’ I asked him.

‘You must have read about the special powers of the cats of Ronda by now,’ he said.

I confided that I had found out a little.

‘Well! Clearly, there are two distinct groups of cats,’ he said. ‘One group uses its special powers for good and the other uses them for evil.’

‘Good is usually associated with those that are group minded and evil by those who have broken away, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Civilisation is based on rules and conformity.’

‘But this is all subjective. There are different thought systems, different cultures, different religions,’ he said. ‘There is no consensus.’

‘That’s right,’ I said ‘But, within each of these the notions of good or bad are based on conformity.’

‘I can see what you are saying, but this is still a simplistic view,’ he said. ‘Animal instincts promote survival and aggression.’

‘And in our scenario, we are talking about both people and cats,’ I said. ‘So how does it work?’

‘I can’t explain the supernatural elements,’ he said. But, I think that we ourselves might have a bearing on what happens to us. What each of us considers good or bad comes into play. For instance, I have always gone for hunky men like Marlon Brando, so it’s only natural that my visitor should look like Marlon Brando and I was brought up as a Catholic, hence Pope Francis. On the other hand, I have never liked military uniforms, hence Mussolini. Mussolini was obsessed by military uniforms.’

‘So far, so good,’ I said. ‘But, what about the Cambodian monk attacking you with a prayer wheel? How does that fit in?’

‘Good point,’ he said. ‘I can’t work that one out. Anyway, it was just an idea. I think perhaps we have a long way to go before we come up with a solution.’

‘It probably doesn’t help being in hospital,’ I said. ‘We can’t even get the internet in here.’

‘I’ll see what Pedro can find out,’ he said. ‘He has an iPhone.’

Unfortunately, this was the last conversation I had with Javier. Dr Hernandez wouldn’t tell me but I think Javier may have been discharged early. I never did find out who Pedro was.

My injuries must have been more serious than first thought, because each time I asked when they were going to let me go home, Dr Hernandez told me that I was not ready yet, but as long as I kept taking the medication, he was optimistic that it would not be more than a month or two. During this time, I had dozens of conversations about the cats of Ronda. They followed a similar pattern throughout, some good experiences mixed with some bad experiences, all of these happening after they had fed cats. Luis found himself on a paradise island but was then bitten by a poisonous snake and Maria Elena landed a modelling contract but was badly scarred when a UV light exploded. Diego was hit by a train. Diego seemed to have missed out on the good experience or perhaps he just couldn’t remember. I think they had put him on extra strong medication on the basis the injuries he sustained from the collision. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone on the ward seemed to experience complications with their recovery and be kept in for longer than you might expect.

Juan Pablo didn’t think that Dr Hernandez was a real doctor or that we were in a real hospital. He thought that we were being held captive against our will. I told Juan Pablo not to be a fool. Of course we were in a real hospital. They gave us medication every day to make us better, didn’t they? In the end, Dr Hernandez had to restrain Juan Pablo once or twice, which was not at all pretty.

Eventually, I was discharged. It was a fine day and once I had got my bearings and checked back in at the Farolito, I went along to Los Gatos de Ronda. I sat there all afternoon but the strange thing was, despite the menu now consisting entirely of fish dishes, I didn’t see a single cat. What on earth could have happened to them all, I wondered? After my third Alhambra Mezquita, I plucked up the courage to ask the proprietor where all the cats were but he did not seem to know what I was talking about. He told me he had only recently bought the restaurant. He did not even know why the place had been named Los Gatos de Ronda, he said, it was a ridiculous name.

‘I have a painter coming in to change the sign,’ he said. ‘I’m going to call it La Cocina de Pescado.’

I was not sure of the exact translation but it was to do with fish. Something about it was definitely fishy. …… Perhaps all of it.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

CAT

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CAT by Chris Green

Ralph is at least nineteen years old. He is what’s known as a mackerel tabby. My ex-partner’s friend, Junko found him as a kitten at Catbrain Quarry and brought him round to the house.

‘I’ve got a new cat for you,’ Junko said. She knew our old cat had run away the previous week.

My daughter, Echo took to Ralph immediately. She laughed at the way he would run up the walls to chase a fly and she loved the way that he would nestle down on the dog’s head. It was Echo who gave Ralph his name, after Ralph Lauren Polo. Echo used to think that Polo was the designer’s surname. She was eleven.

What? You don’t believe there is a place called Catbrain Quarry? Look it up on the map. It’s near Painswick in Gloucestershire. Painswick has the largest number of cats per household in the country. No, it doesn’t. There are hardly any cats in Painswick. I made that up. How about this instead? This is true.

Following an online poll in 2013 the cat was named as the new Monopoly token, replacing the iron. The cat received the most votes on Facebook, beating the diamond ring, the helicopter, the guitar and the robot. It joins the wheelbarrow, shoe, race car, top hat, thimble, Scottie dog and battleship as tokens in the standard edition of the game. Other retired tokens over the years include the horse and rider, the cannon, the bag of money and the train.

There are variations. The world edition has a staggering twenty four tokens: a cowboy hat, a pretzel, an Egyptian head mask, a rickshaw, a Canadian mountie, a kangaroo, a London black cab, a Chinese dragon, a safari hat, a NASCAR race-car, a boomerang, a windmill, a camel, an Inca mask, a Sumo wrestler, a matador, an Inca statue, a surfer, Russian dolls, a baseball glove, an African mask, an Easter Island head, a football, and a koala. Where are onion Johnny, the dreadlocks rasta, and the oil sheik?

There are numerous collectors editions including the Shrek Collectors Edition, Nintendo, Coca Cola, Star Trek and The Muppets, not to mention The Simpsons and South Park editions. The John Wayne Collector’s edition has yet to adopt the cat as a token. It is singular in its focus. Its tokens are cowboy hat, belt buckle, cowboy boot, “Duke” the dog, John Wayne’s director’s chair and Stagecoach. In the spinoff, Ghettopoly, the tokens are: pimp, ho (whore), 40 oz malt liquor, machine gun, marijuana leaf, basketball and crack. The four railroad properties from the original are replaced by liquor stores. Other properties include a massage parlour, a peep show and a pawn shop. Promoting as it does ruthless capitalism most countries have adopted the Monopoly format and there is probably a localised Monopoly featuring the town you live in. Most likely it will now have the cat as a token.

I noticed early on that Ralph liked to listen to music. Along with bringing home mice and depositing them on the dining room table, musical appreciation seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes. He liked The Cocteau Twins especially and, quite surprisingly I thought, Led Zeppelin. He jigged his head to REM and Everything But The Girl and liked to sing along to Fleetwood Mac. A friend of ours at the time told us that his cat, Dave, liked listening to Handel and Vivaldi. We tried Ralph out on Water Music and The Four Seasons. His ears pricked up at first but as the music wore on, a bored expression came over his face and after a while he slunk off to the corner.

Recently I discovered a website, musicforcats.com They claim their music is based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats and is written in a musical language that is uniquely designed to appeal to the domestic cat. Kitty Ditties are playful and quick incorporating stylisations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats. Cat Ballads are restful and pleasing. Feline Airs is based on the pulses of the purr. As the mp3s were really cheap I downloaded them all. Ralph was unimpressed. He didn’t so much as cock his head to listen. He knows what he likes. He established his musical tastes early on. If I want a happy purring cat I have to put on Automatic for the People or Rumours.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved