In a sweet myopic daze I ambled the length of Grove Walk, Beethoven’s Pastoral swimming in my ears. The suburban streets drew the blood of the city in and out with benign maternal inertia and as a sedate breeze rustled in my hair, my legs carried me through the well-thumbed pages of my journey home.
I could scarcely remember where I’d been. I hadn’t been working nor had I been to the shops as I was well rested and empty handed. I hadn’t been socialising or boozing as I was certain I hadn’t spoken to a soul in days and my sobriety was crisply clear.
There seemed to be a warm white blank being left in my wake. With every loping stride more of the world behind me was enveloped, everything that was and could ever be lay ahead. Home was my terminus but only arbitrarily so, I could have continued my aimless strolling indefinitely. My legs and arms swung gently and of their own will, guiding me safely over the cracks and contours of the pavements surface. My eyes were free to dance over the scenery.
What passed through my periphery seemed a celebration of the mundane, a perfectly painful little suburb. Small front gardens stretching a few feet from the facades of the terrace houses, some neatly kept others not. Each house had two wheelie bins one black and one green displaying the detritus of happy average lives. Young children growing fat on the contents of those bins so they could begin assuming the dimensions of adult humans.
The painted doors and fading drapes of the quieter houses held the musings of the elderly. Half-forgotten lives in reflection. Boney trees were struggling against their concrete collars whilst a pale sharp sun refracted through their auburn plumage (the strains of Beethoven lent this scene an almost comical grandeur).
I drifted easily passed a giant red umbrella which was shuffling in the opposite direction, its little orthopedic feet carrying it on its laboured way. I was still puzzling the fact that it didn’t even appear to be raining when I was disturbed by the voice of a child carrying a cat and pushing a pink and white bicycle. She wore a large foam helmet which was all the more amusing given the pained expression on her face.
“Excuse me! Excuse me! I need your help!”
“What can I do for you?” I asked, suppressing a smile of condescension.
“This cat is sick and hungry and I think he’s been fighting. Look at his ears and how skinny he is!” she spluttered in panicked gasps.
“Hmm…” I inspected the cat and it was in quite a state and filthy too.
“Have you called the RSPCA?”
“No, I just found him. Do you have a phone?”
“Not on me, have you?”
“Yeah but my Mum says it’s for emergencies. Do you think this is an emergency?”
“I’m not sure, I’m not a vet.”
“What shall we do?”
I pondered briefly, have I got time for this manky cat? Out of a sense of growing ill ease I suggested that I took the cat home with me and I’d call the authorities when I got there. The little girl thanked me and cycled off, I waved and mumbled something about taking care before continuing on, holding my new companion.
I put the cat down as I reached the front door of the flat. I hurriedly unlocked it so my stricken charge wouldn’t escape but I needn’t have bothered as he watched me calmly as I fumbled with my keys. Once inside, I placed the cat on a spread of newspaper in the hall, poured it a shallow dish of milk and sprinkled a few flakes of tuna in it for good measure.
Whilst I was searching for the RSPCA’s number, I nervously watched the cat as he inspected my offerings. He drank casually and ignored the flaked fish, I couldn’t blame him. I swear he glanced up at me enquiringly, “Why is there tuna floating in the milk? Couldn’t you have given me two dishes?” At this I said aloud,
“You seem quite malnourished so I thought a sort of milky soup might be appropriate. Y’know…just to get you…started”, I had lost confidence in what I was saying, my voice whinnied.
The disheveled cat paused purposefully before gliding around the corner, into the bedroom and out of my sight. I suddenly realised that I was standing in the exact middle of the living room, phone in hand, like a haunted statue. It occurred to me that I just tried to impress the cat.
A helpful voice on the end of the line told me there was an officer within half an hour of the flat, I thanked them, pleased that I had made responsible arrangements. I then sought out my manky friend in the bedroom to break the news and make sure he hadn’t died on my bed. He sashayed passed me as I stepped into the room and I felt compelled to follow him back into the living room.
“It’s been rough for you since you lost your friend, hasn’t it?” the cat said, over his shoulder.
“Of course it has”, I replied in a monotone whisper.
“Death smiles at us all…”
“Smile back?” I interrupted “Yes, I know that one”
“You’ll be next if carry on like this”, the cat was supine at the foot of the sofa.
“How do you know?”
“The same reason you know”
“I see, well your ride’ll be here soon, do you want any more to eat?”
“No thank you, I’ve already had breakfast”
Quite confused, I jumped when the doorbell rang and when I answered I found a pleasantly plump young woman in a grey uniform carrying a small kit bag.
“Are you Mr. Dove?”
“I am, come in, the cat’s in the living room”
The animal officer gave the cat a quick check up before debriefing me.
“I’m afraid he’s just a very old cat, he’s only got one tooth and his ears have a lot of sun damage. I’ll take him back to where you found him, I’m sure he has an owner as he seems content around people. He probably gets taken in a lot so there’s not a lot we can do. He just hasn’t got very long left.”
She then scooped up the placid feline and turned to leave. As she did I accidently exclaimed aloud,
“I guess you’re next pal”
The officer turned as she reached the door.
“Thank you very much for coming out, hope I didn’t waste your time”
“Not at all, Goodbye”
And they were gone. I closed the door, rinsed out the tuna/milk dish, tidied away the newspaper and sat on the sofa, staring at the wall for what seemed like hours, endless white…
The next day I found myself on Grove Walk again, floating lazily along when I spied a small hand written note tacked to a gate post, it read,
OUR CAT IS NAMED GEORGE.
PLEASE DO NOT WORRY ABOUT HIM,
HE IS LOVED AND WELL LOOKED AFTER.
HE IS JUST VERY OLD.
George! Manky Old George! I had a headache, diarrhea and a strange pain in my side for days after. Also I smelt burning.
On the last day I woke up two hours early, sun in my eyes and dull dread on my tongue. I dressed quietly, bade farewell to my sleeping girlfriend and cast off into the morning, crisp and bright.
Grove Walk carried me like an impatient mother carries a reluctant child. The streets were already filling with the daily trials of school kids, pensioners and office drones. The kaleidoscope of young and old seemed to pass straight through me; cars passed me by like driftwood. I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw Manky George sitting in between two parked cars and he didn’t seem at all surprised to see me either.
“Ready now?” said the cat.
At this, we ambled slowly down Grove Walk into the brilliant white blank which enveloped us and lead me here and here I’ll stay.