|‘Just having a look at our territory.’|
When Smilodon first suggested a protégé, I hadn’t really thought that their education would amount to more than the literary. How wrong I was! Having a kitten in the house meant educating her not just in the ways of my craft, but also, more generally in the ways of The Cat. Of course, I’m talking about nurture, rather than nature. You can’t really do much with the latter: in particular, the curiosity and the mischievousness. And it was these feline traits that proved a problem.
The following occurred not long after Mimi had been to visit The Green Gowned Devil for her first check up. It turns out this is a task she takes with much more grace than me. Shamefully, I admit that I have a tendency to howl for hours, wailing at the pain of existence from the moment I am placed in the car, and even before it has moved an inch. The tall Slave usually puts the music up louder to compensate. However, this tactic wasn’t needed with Mimi. According to what I gleaned from the Slaves’ conversation afterwards, she uttered not a peep on the way there, or the way back: she remained completely mute. And even after being jabbed, she clambered all over the vet’s room, as if it were an extension of her home. Now, this all does show me up somewhat.
In any case, she came back chipped, barcoded, numbered: registered in the system. Which it turn meant that she now would be able to activate the cat flap. My Slaves primed the thing, so her chip would be recognised. Which meant pressing the requisite buttons until the light in its casing stopped flashing. And then they pretty much left her to work it out for herself. So of course, I had to help.
By way of demonstration, I went through the flap a few times first while she watched. Then, tentatively, she made her first attempt, gently passing through the plastic doorway, with a click from its mechanism. And then she was back again: another click. Once she got the hang of it, she didn’t seem to want to stop repeatedly heading in and out, each time outside expanding her sphere of influence, slowly creeping further and further into the unknown. By this time, I was also in the garden, sitting on one of the metal chairs, watching her progress with amusement. My amusement soon turned to concern, when in a flash of nictitation, she was prancing along the top of the fence. I’d hardly registered the movement, she’d been so quick.
‘What are you doing up there?’ I asked.
‘Just having a look at our territory.’
‘I never climb up there,’ I replied. Although this wasn’t strictly true. I’d been ushered up there a few times by The Architect. And no doubt would be again. But I didn’t want to encourage this kind of behaviour.
‘I smell something. It isn’t a cat. Something else. Another animal,’ Mimi replied, nosing the air.
‘Probably the local fox. A wild creature which pops by occasionally.’
‘A fox. Sounds interesting. Is it friendly?’
‘It has its moments.’
‘What the…,’ she started, suddenly distracted. I turned to see her gaze fixed on a small sparrow which had chosen to alight on the unruly hedge. The sparrow cocked its head and turned from Mimi’s gaze to instead look at me with its beady black eyes. Deciding that it was probably best not to prolong this encounter, with a flutter of wings, it launched itself into the air again. Mimi keenly followed it across the sky, standing up on her back legs and swiping its retreating form. Until, that was, she lost her balance and disappeared down the other side of the fence. Moments later she reappeared on the precipice, looking slightly rattled, with some foliage stuck to her head.
‘Don’t laugh,’ she said, gazing at me sternly.
‘I told you not to go up there,’ I replied.
Her response to this was to stalk off over the fence, following it around the side of the garden, jumping onto the roof of the shed, and then vanishing from sight. She clearly would not be told what to do. I sighed and went back inside, hoping that my Slaves had put out some of those new biscuits I liked.
I didn’t think much more of her wandering around, until much later on, when I heard my Human Slaves flapping about and calling her name urgently. Of course, they weren’t using her sobriquet Mimi, but her real name. Which sounded ridiculous shouted up and down the terrace and then in the street. They were clearly worried about her, though. Enough to make fools of themselves.
‘I knew we shouldn’t have let her out,’ said the tall Slave, in anxious tones.
‘She’ll come back. She’s a cat,’ said the ever more measured smaller Slave.
‘But what if she… I dunno, roams into a neighbour’s house and gets locked up somewhere?’
‘She’s not stupid.’ This was indeed true, I considered. Impetuous. Wilful. But not stupid.
‘Do you think you frightened her?’ the tall Slave asked, a slight whine creeping into his tone, as it often did when he was a bit annoyed.
‘You’re blaming me for wearing a face mask?’
‘Well, it was kind of scary. I didn’t recognise you.’
And so it went on. They roamed up and down the street, until it was late at night. I heard them speaking to neighbours, who’d come out to see what all the fuss was about. But still she didn’t return. It was well past one in the morning when they finally decided to call it a night, agreed to pick up the search again the next day.
I wasn’t going to give in that easily though. In fact, I waited in the garden, listening to the sounds of the early day: the rustles in the undergrowth as hedgehogs and shrews began their nightly excursions, the high pitched chirps of the bats as they danced their choleric dance through the darkness, the sound of a distant car as it drove to an unknown destination, its engine oddly muffled against the night as if it were embarrassed by the hour. Eventually, The Architect appeared, as I’d known he would; well, to be precise, because I’d asked him to.
‘Evening,’ he said, his bulk perched on the fence for a moment, its structure creaking slightly. Before I’d offered up any kind of greeting by way of response, he’d leapt off, landing silently on the floor of the yard, his graceful movements as ever belying his size.
‘Anything?’ I asked, wondering if he’d picked up any scent of her on the way over. He shook his head.
‘Well, if she left hours ago…,’ I suggested, offering an explanation.
There was another rustle, and the fox appeared, parting the bamboo at the back end of the garden, to sit beside us on his haunches. He looked healthy and well fed: his tail was bushy, his fur lush.
‘I brought a ride along… For your old bones,’ The Architect said.
‘How very thoughtful,’ I replied, watching The Architect jump on first. And then in turn, I clambered up behind him.
We set off to first explore the gardens tucked away behind the terrace of houses. Nosing around our neighbours properties. But when we found no trace, we moved further afield, extending out search slowly but thoroughly up the road, the numbers of the houses descending until they became single figures and the road ended. We met a few hedgehogs, which scurried away, or curled up into protective balls as we arrived. And we even met a well-fed tabby cat, whom I had never seen before. There was a flash of white beneath his jaw, like a bib. He looked as us guiltily, before scarpering.
‘Who was that?’ I whispered.
‘Garfunkel. Lives at number 14. For such a big fella, he’s awfully shy.’
Having exhausted all the possible locations this end of the street, we turned around, following our footsteps back to the lane behind the terrace which included our house. The Architect jumped up the fence, just to check she hadn’t returned in our absence. When her continued absence was confirmed, we started back towards the chine. I hoped she hadn’t ventured that far.
We hopped over garden and skirted ponds, we trotted past ornamental gnomes and rusting barbecues. Then, we found ourselves in a larger garden, with a sea of grass rippling slightly in the almost imperceptible breeze. This was of course Athena’s abode. I hadn’t spoken to her for a while, and the place seemed dead, as was often the case when the Rock Star was away touring. No doubt he was being forced, yet again, to bang out that hit which had made him so famous.
I heard the soft fluttering of wings, at first wondering if it was another bat. But it was Athena’s owl, doing circuits of the garden, its jewel-like eyes glowing faintly in the dark. The clockwork device appeared to be bobbing up and down occasionally, as if its wings were faltering; I knew from experience, this meant it was winding down. But its presence meant Athena had to be around somewhere. Then I noticed that the studio at the back of the garden was open.
‘Hang on a second,’ I said, jumping of the back of the fox. The cold grass tickled the pads of my feet.
I pawed the door open and, when I was certain there was enough space for whiskers to pass, wandered in. A familiar scent hung in the air. That of Nepeta. But also, that of both Athena and Mimi. I walked deeper into the studio and found them sitting in an open velvet-lined guitar case, screeching and miaowing at each other in mirth.
‘Athena, I see you met Mimi!’
Athena turned to me, raised a paw and offered me a go on the Nepeta pipe. Mimi wouldn’t meet my eye.
‘You are such a bad influence,’ I scolded, brushing her offering away.
‘Fair enough. More for us,’ she replied, brazen.
‘More for you. Mimi is coming home with me.’ I stared at my companion and pointed at the door, nails bared.
‘Let her do what she wants–,’ Athena started.
‘She is a kitten, Athena,’ I interrupted. ‘You should know better. I’ll have words with you tomorrow.’
In the silence that followed, Mimi meekly stood up. She wandered through the door, her tail brushing the ground behind her. As soon as she got outside, I heard her hissing.
I rushed to follow her, just in time to see the fox bucking and writhing, with The Architect struggling to stay on its back like a rodeo cowboy. Mimi was crouching down on the floor, pouncing after it at regular intervals. Around them, the owl circled, oblivious.
‘Stop it!’ I shouted. And as if in response, the owl’s spring finally wound down and it floated gently to one of the flower borders, coming to a standing stop amongst the blooms. It folded its wings in and bowed its head forward, looking to all intents and purposes like a garden ornament.
Mimi didn’t seem to be interested in the owl, her eyes remaining fixed on the fox, her torso flattened to the floor in fight mode. The Architect had now regained control of his skittish steed, which was looking at us askance, a petrified expression contorting its muzzle.
‘What is it?’ Mimi whispered, her tail thrashing around behind her.
‘That is a fox. Please don’t scare it away: it’s my ride home!’
So we headed back to the garden, following a short cut Mimi had found: where some other foxes had gnawed through a fence. Soon we were left alone in our garden, illuminated by the moon and the ancient glow of stars light years away and the reflections from each other’s eyes.
‘You’ve worried our Slaves sick.’
‘Yes. They spent hours looking for you,’ I explained.
‘And we do have a lot of work to do tomorrow.’
‘I know. I feel guilty. About our Slaves.’
Because she seemed to be showing some kind of remorse about her actions, I ignored her blatant disregard for work. In any case, I knew she’d be bright as a button in the morning, having the gift of youth. It’d be me that would likely sleep through most of the day, as a consequence. ‘I’m sure you can make it up to them,’ I replied, comfortingly.
Mimi was silent for a moment, while she considered this. Then a mischievous grin spread over her features. ’I know! I’ll go and jump on their heads!’ she said. And with that she was back through the cat flap and into the house. I followed her, wearily, looking forward to the comfort of my basket. And the oblivion of sleep.
But sleep didn’t see to come that easy any more. When I heard the click of the cat flap, I found myself beginning to worry. Surely I wasn’t getting attached to this mischievous interloper? But this disappearance marked the start of many such occurrences. And the next time she vanished was much more serious.
Read about Mimi's arrival in the household here: Black Smoke
Or catch up with all The Cat's adventures here: The Cat's Page