Friday, 18 July 2014

Crazy Cat Lady

Today I'm going to share another of my short stories.

This one is called Crazy Cat Lady. I'm not sure why I wrote this except that I was inspired one day to start writing and this is what came out.

I've never done anything with it; I've never published it or entered it in a competition. It's simply a little story that comes from my heart.

I'd like to dedicate it to the lovely volunteers at Gatti di Roma - a refuge for stray cats in Rome, and one of my favourite places to visit while in the Eternal City.

Hope you like it.

Crazy Cat Lady
We have grown old together, you and I. Our joints creak and our limbs are crooked. My eyesight’s getting a bit dodgy and your hearing’s not the best so between us I’d say we’ve got the bases covered.
Eighteen years ago I had newly retired from a pretty demanding job, and as demanding jobs go they don’t come more insistent than nursing. Don’t get me wrong; I loved it.
But I did forty years. Forty under-resourced, under-funded, back-breaking, soul-sapping, years, but yeah, I loved it. The little successes, the smiles of my patients and their families, the occasional wins, and no two days were the same.
When I turned 60 they started making noises about age. Stuff like long hours on my feet, heavy lifting and what-not. Well, I managed that a lot better than some of those youngies. Some of them had never lifted anything heavier than a fork to their own gobs, and couldn’t last five minutes on their feet, so used were they to sitting at a computer. Nope, I was managing quite fine thank you very much.
Two years later, it was technology that did it; advances in medical practices, new and improved ways of doing things and everything on computer – not just the patients’ records – everything. I knew then that retirement was imminent and the prospect was daunting.
Since Alf had left me for a younger, more streamlined version – geeze twenty-five years ago now – I’d lived quite contentedly on my own. But the thought of retirement, my undiluted company twenty-four hours a day, well that was a bit much to think about.
So eighteen years ago, on a sunny Saturday morning, I’d hopped into my clapped-out blue Datsun, newspaper lined box on the back seat, street-map on the front passenger, and navigated myself to Keysborough, to the animal shelter I’d heard about.
I was, anxious. I think that’s a better word because since Alf took Sally, our Yorkie, with him, I’d not had a dog. Yet I was a trained nurse, for heaven’s sake. If I couldn’t take care of a puppy...
Anyway, the kindly lady at the reception pointed through the door to where a row of brick cells stood. “Dogs down there,” she said, smiling and hopeful. “On the left. We’ve so many beautiful dogs and puppies, I’m sure you’ll find someone perfect for you.”
She told me they were all adorable. She warned I should expect to be licked and jumped on. But what she didn’t tell me was that to get to the dogs, I had to pass the cat enclosure.
And there you were. Your skinny little body was pressed against the chicken-wire, black fur sticking through in clumps. You were so young, yet you bore the weariness of a difficult life in the resigned slump of your bony haunches and bowed head.
“Oh,” I said involuntarily, and my feet stopped of their own accord. At my pause your eyes rolled up to my face; green snake-eyes, over-bright and fearful, and quickly lowered.
“Oh,” I said again and you huddled further into yourself as though apologising for the very air you breathed. I crouched before you and you braced for violence.
“That’s Tabitha,” the attendant said behind me. He was a gentle-faced youth and he shrugged ruefully. “She came in last week. We don’t know how she’s gonna go, she’s been pretty badly treated.”
“So I see.”
We watched in silence for a moment, he leaning on his mop and I chewing my lip.
“Yeah,” he went on. “If she don’t come good, you know...We try to rehabilitate them but some people they...well some of the animals that come in here are so badly damaged.” He shook his head.
“Will she let me hold her, do you think?” To this day I don’t know where that came from.
Let me get one thing perfectly straight right here and now; I was not a cat person.
I’d never owned a cat in my life, and friends’ cats annoyed the whatsit out of me with their unfailing ability to target and torment a committed non-cat person.
But when I sat in the plastic chair and they dropped you, taut and trembling, onto my lap I knew you were coming home with me.
I didn’t know what to do for you. I didn’t know what a cat’s needs were. My preparatory efforts had been focused on those items a puppy would need. So your first meal was shredded chicken from my own plate, and you ate it from a ceramic bowl that had Woof! printed on the side. The collar I’d bought was way too big and stiff for your delicate neck. Your basket had a corduroy cushion in it and a collection of squeaky chew toys.
Giving thanks to the Patron Saint of Weekend-Traders, I called in at the shops and bought a litter tray and a bag of the deodorised, clumping variety. The sales girl also recommended a little plastic shovel. “Girl or boy?” she asked. I bought the pink one.
That first night you crouched wide-eyed and timorous, studying my every move as I watched telly before bed. I turned the volume quite low because you jumped with each loud or unexpected sound.
I wondered if you would cry during the night, but you didn’t and the next morning you were curled in a tight donut in a corner of my room and your litter tray, positioned conveniently in the laundry, had been used.
The second night you jumped onto the foot of my bed, but the next morning when I woke and looked at you, you leapt away as though you’d been caught committing some heinous crime.
Over the following days you waited expectantly to be hurt. I could tell by the look in your eyes, so reminiscent of my former patients whenever I wheeled up my trolley of intravenous medications.
But over the weeks I earned your trust and you learned to sleep with both eyes closed. Such a stoic little creature, you were; so brave and hopeful and I would have died rather than let you down. Thus you learned peace and the first time you jumped onto my lap, I froze for fear of panicking you. It was a small victory for you. Your tentative purr was mine, and my bottom grew numb with the effort of sitting in the one position, being loathe to disturb you.
As your confidence grew and your body, undernourished and undersized, filled out, you became a dignified cat with glossy black fur and lovely emerald eyes. And, as your confidence grew, you began to experiment...
You ate my late mother’s cymbidium, you clawed my lounge chair, you shredded my curtains, you tormented the nesting pigeons in the tree outside my window. And all the while I, conscious of the violence of your early life, impotently grew red in the face and waved my arms about like a windmill.
Buoyant with newfound daring, you proceeded to chew up my favourite book, shove ornaments off my shelves, tear my fly-screens, steal fish left out to thaw.
I ranted. I swore. I threatened all manner of non-RSPCA-compliant forms of punishment, but I had done my work well, for a year into our co-habitation you knew you were safe from harm and I knew such episodes of unexpected affection as to revisit the opinion of 62 years.
In the words of the notable writer, Philip Brown, “It was difficult to be vexed by a creature that burst into a chorus of purring...”
And so you did, rapturously and regularly.
I expected nothing of you, but you gave freely a surprising and unconditional devotion, made all the more precious for having been solemnly conferred by such a regal creature who, after deliberation, deemed the recipient worthy.
I recently became what they call an octogenarian. What a hoot! Imagine me, 80 years old! But look at you. Eighteen years have meant more by your calendar than by mine. Were you a person, your life would be starting now: you’d be learning to drive, you’d be legally able to vote and drink.
Yet your back is swayed, your gem-stone gaze faded and I need a stick to help me get around. You’re no longer interested in terrorising birds, and our groceries come home delivered. But we like to sit here, side-by-side on the old bench letting the sun soothe our arthritis, and I’ll pop one of my omega 3 capsules into your dinner tonight, as I always do. We glower at the school kids passing by on their way home because they call me the Crazy Cat Lady, and we both know how wrong they are.
I am not a cat person.
And tonight when we go to bed, you’ll curl at my feet and snore with a rattling contentment that over the years has become my comfort. And should it come to pass that the night falls silent and your body grows still, I pray I don’t see morning for I would not be without you.

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