Saturday 23 February 2019

Black Smoke

And who do you think you are?

It was my agent Smilodon’s idea, of course. When I’d explained my predicament about my arthritic skeleton, he’d suggested, in his usual somewhat blunt Teutonic manner, that I might need some help. I’d immediately balked at this, being the independent creature I am. But he persisted, dropping little hints into our communications. This was becoming so irritating that when he invited me to a literary lunch in Belgravia, I almost turned him down. But there is a little fish restaurant he takes his clients to that serves the most delicious pollock with white sauce; so good it almost tastes as nice as the stuff my Slaves give me on special days.
The day finally came, and I waited with a sense of anticipation for my Slaves to get ready. This meant mostly standing in their way on the landing, but remaining oblivious to the fact that they might trip over me. Eventually in a flurry of excitement about keys and ID badges, they left for what they call their jobs. Or rather the places they go to find more money to pay for my increasing visits to the Green Gowned Devil, and the supply of pills I’m forced to take. And my food of course, especially the aforementioned tinned gourmet creation. And occasional scratching posts, as I am wont to destroy them. Well, what else did they need to spend it on? They know I’m not that interested in any toys they might buy me, unless they contain catnip, but that doesn’t stop them.
So eventually, the door closed, and I heard the sounds of their cars as they drove away. As silence settled over the house, I felt calmer and crept back to my basket on the landing, sniffing it. It made me want to curl up, blot out the day already. I wasn’t sure I could face Smilodon with his questions about future projects and the battery of inquiries about my health. Duty soon got the better of me and I took the stairs tentatively, my old bones creaking, until I reached the bottom. The house’s front door is also a portal which leads into a network of tunnels in the alternate universe we cats consider our own. These tunnels lead to many places in our verse of space. But you know this already.
I hopped across space and time, coming out in Hyde park, around the back of an art gallery beside the Serpentine. The park wasn’t busy - a few cats sauntered along by the water, hungrily looking across its expanse for any sign of wild fowl, a rarity in this universe - they exist, but have better learnt to keep their distance than those in the human frame. Occasional shimmers of light would suggest something, perhaps the shadow of a duck bleeding into this world, but it could just have been the sun, reflecting across the lake. As I approached the road, the blur of activity from the human world became more obvious, visible even in the bright light of day: the ghost-like outlines of the traffic encircling London’s main park, the buses and taxis and lorries and cyclists. But they were in another space, and I crossed the road, unhindered by these spectral shapes. Once you learnt not to see them, they became invisible.
Soon I was amongst the white facades and columns of Belgravia. What is a smart, affluent part of London in the human realm, remains similar in our iteration; there are a few places, attractors you might want to call them, where the topographies are identical, and this is one. I suppose something has to knit all the various parts of the multiverse together, although why Belgravia, I have no idea. Perhaps the creator of this whole thing just liked the place.
Soon I spied the familiar large striped awning that hung over the street, the buzz of the cats on the chairs outside. The place was comforting, reminding me of the higher points of my literary career. It felt like we’d met there innumerable times, although it roughly amounted to once per book. The noise of laughter drew my attention back to the cats outside. At least six bottles of Les Moustaches, a celebrated and prestigious brand of fermented milk from Charolais, stood on the nearby tables - these were obviously cats of taste. I wondered if Smilodon would stoop to one of those for our meeting today, but knowing the price tag, considered that it might be a little too much to expect.
Inside, amongst the dark wooden browns of the wainscoted walls, I made my way to the back of the establishment, to the booth I knew Smilodon favoured. He was there already, eyeglasses looking uncomfortable over his pointy Burmese ears, as he flicked through a wad of paper.
‘Lining up the next lamb to the slaughter?’ I asked, as I sidled into the booth opposite.
Smilodon removed his spectacles from his face and placed them onto the crisp white tablecloth. ‘Aber… But this is how I discovered you,’ he said, in his German inflected but oddly British accent.
‘Any good?’
Schade… Sadly no. It will be some years again, before I come across a writer like yourself.’
‘I’m very flattered, Smilodon.’
‘Which is why we must think of your legacy,’ he replied, waving his paw at a waitress. To my surprise, a magnum of Moustache soon appeared and in a deft movement, coiling her tail around the cork, the bottle was open. I was so surprised, I could hardly bring myself to rail against this premonition of my demise, so instead decided to enjoy the booze.
Ich weiss… I know you aren’t the most organised sort. That you are prolific, but most of your stuff ends up in your Slaves’ attic,’ he explained.
‘I think you are confusing a prolific output with quality. I only send you stuff I’m happy with.’
Vielleicht… perhaps, some of that work might be useful to a scholar of your oeuvre,’ he continued, his accent making a mouthful of the French word.
‘I don’t want any help,’ I replied. ‘If anything it would hinder the creative process,’ I spat out, hoping that would be the last I’d hear of it.
‘What I am suggesting isn’t so much an amanuensis. More a protégé,’ Smilodon replied, keeping his cool, whilst again butchering the French language.
‘I don’t need help.’
‘Have some of Les Moustaches. And, I took the liberty of ordering your favourite dish.’

Arranging for this individual to come and join me was more complicated and indeed protracted than I think even Smilodon had considered. Perhaps if he’d known he wouldn’t have suggested such a course of action. But, once he’d persuaded me, his mind was set firmer than previously.
Firstly my human Slaves had to be hoodwinked into believing they wanted another cat. Which was easier said than done, although cat people have a tendency to accumulate the felines in their lives. And us cats are very good at subliminal manipulation of our Slaves. I was given a set of instructions, which I had to stick to. I recognised some of it as from The Alchemy of Feline and Human Interaction, the original of which I had once leafed through in a library with gloves over my paws to prevent any damage.
Secondly, she who Smilodon had chosen to be my companion was already located with other Human Slaves. It was therefore necessary that they came to the conclusion to be rid of her. Again easier said than done. She’d been placed with another ancient old British Blue writer, a poet of some renown. But that hadn’t worked out - they simply didn’t get on. So it was engineered that she keep the owners up every night until they lost their patience with this unruly kitten.
And thirdly, The Architect had to be consulted. His job mostly dealt in appraising time, and making sure that the messy lives of cats didn’t interfere too much with its continual progression towards oblivion. This often meant the machinations of a clockwork device, which he kept hidden in a chine in Bournemouth. But he knew the whereabouts of other similar clockwork devices, one of which could interact with what Humans call their internet. And so, my Slave’s computers were hijacked with adverts for a particular feline, she who Smilodon had chosen to be my companion.
So it came to pass that my Slaves woke up one Saturday morning and drove halfway up the country. They returned after a long day on the motorway, with a small black smoke British Shorthair and Scottish Fold cross. She sauntered in, tail held high, until she saw me.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Good evening. I’ve heard a lot about you. Not just from Smilodon. But from them,’ she said, nodding at my Human Slaves. ‘They do go on a bit.’
‘Any idea what they are going to call you yet? I asked.
‘Not sure. Mimi was suggested. But they haven’t made a decision yet.’
‘Right. Mimi is nice I suppose.’
‘Well, anyway, I suppose I’d better give the impression I’m scared of you,’ she said. I noticed a slight white tinge to her muzzle, imparting a sense of age much greater than her months.
‘For form’s sake, I suppose, yes,’ I answered.
‘I’ll just stay here, looking at you, pretending to be fascinated for a while.’
‘And if I creep closer and raise my paw.’
‘I’ll then dash behind the sofa.’

Over the next few weeks, it was incumbent on us, when our Slaves were around, to pretend as if we were cautious of one another. This generally meant fighting. But also displays of jealousy. If I was on the bed with the Slaves, she’d jump up and clamber over me in a fit of pique. And then when they went to their jobs, we’d get to work. She embarked on the attic with a professional attitude, encouraging me to discuss the various styles I’d used, or why certain things had been junked. At the same time, she proved herself to be a proficient mouser, which was just as well as the critters had been using my words to line their nests.
Looking back though, maybe in those first few weeks, I hadn’t just been acting. I had been cautious about her arrival, and how it would change things around my house. But it quickly became apparent that she was a welcome addition. Soon I was teaching her and appraising her own efforts to write. As Smilodon had suggested, there was a raw talent there, which just needed channelling.
Now months have gone by and our Slaves have named her something utterly atrocious, which causes embarrassment at the vets for her and them. Although thankfully, she is happy that I continue to call her Mimi. These days, it is less pressing for us to put on a show in front of our Slaves. In fact, they seem to prefer it when we are seen to be getting along. And Mimi seems to enjoy showing off in front of them with the cornucopia of cat toys which I spurned. Although we do have the odd scrap, just because… But most of the time, we are happy in each other’s company. And if anything, my creativity had been boosted by her presence - my latest book ‘Black Smoke’, no doubt inspired by my companion. The title of the book is inspired by her coat, the tips of which are pigmented, but the bases of which are white. Such an occurrence is a complication of cat coat genetics - the inhibited pigment gene - but one, which I have to say, is rather fetching.


There are a number of stories in this saga. Should you wish to read more about the misadventures of this particular feline, you can find them all here: The Cat's Page.