Chapter 36 – Monty’s Story or the Unbearable Lightness of Being… A Cat
I think you will all agree, that is rather a good portrait of me. It captures the essentials of… Well, being me. Of course it was taken a lot of seasons ago by my human father when I was in my prime. My fur has a lot more grey in it these days and now I have a facial blemish that I got… Well you’ll hear about that later. I hate it because it mars my face, of which I’ve always been quite proud. When I had to go to the vets for my annual check-up and having that hateful sharp thing stuck in me, the Lady vet would say, “Oh what a handsome boy!” They dragged me out of my basket, which I hated and plonked me on the examination table to leave sweaty paw-prints and I couldn’t wait to get back in the basket. Now they say, “Poor old, Monty. You have been in the wars, haven’t you?” I do know and it doesn’t help, lady.
I have no idea where I was born, but I was weaned in a farm. My birth mother was a farm cat and there were four of us catlets, me, a ginger brother and two tortoise shell sisters, I have no idea who my birth fathers were. One of my sisters caught the dreaded leukaemia disease and my mother immediately moved the rest of us to another nest, leaving my sick sister behind. We never spoke of her again, but I often think of her, because she was closest to me when we were in mother. I sometimes wail in sorrow for her.
There was always plenty to eat on the farm as long as you like rat. I’ve always considered the flesh of a rat to reflect their corrupt lives, but the pieces my mother brought home were nourishing. At least the remaining three of us made it through to our eye-opening. Later she would bring us small rats that were still alive. She would encourage us to kill them and rip them open. Now I largely forgo the taste of rat and kill them to satisfy the urge rather than sport or food. It’s part of our primeval urge and the reason why humans, apart from lonely ladies tolerate us. We were once kings and queens and we were embalmed and buried with human kings and queens. The bit about being killed when they died was a bit of a drag. Perhaps sometimes it’s better to be tolerated than worshiped.
I was getting to know my surroundings in the barn and used to enjoy play fighting with my brother and sister. One afternoon a car came into the yard and a human female got out. I’d seen humans before and had come to the conclusion that they were very clumsy and gawky, rolling around on their hind legs. They didn’t even have tails, so no wonder they couldn’t jump and climb like we did. The female spoke to the farmer.
“I’ve come about the advertisement. You have some kittens?”
What are kittens? I asked by sister.
We soon found out when the two humans came into the barn and the farmer scooped all three of us up in his arm.
“Now there’s two boys and a girl. The ginger one has a bit of a wonky eye, but he’s healthy. The female is the tortoiseshell, nice markings and this tabby. They’ve all been weaned.”
The woman looked at us and smiled at me, “The tabby’s a handsome little thing. Could I have him please?”
“Now these is farm cats, so they may be a touch feisty.”
“We need a ratter,” she told him, “We have some out buildings and some unwanted friends. I don’t like poison.”
“He’ll do the job, just give him a few months, don’t feed him too much, but you must feed him some. If you’ve got any kids I’d get his little balls chopped off as soon as you can. Un-neutered cats are great for farms, but not when there’s small kids. Bit bitey and scratchie they are. He’ll still catch the rats, but probably won’t eat them.”
“You may not be saying that when he brings them into your kitchen as a present.”
Before I could even say goodbye to my birth mother, the farmer put me in a shoebox and carried me to what I later learned was a car. The woman got in and drove me away from my family, which I would never see again. I yowled all the way until the car stopped. The woman carried me into what would be my new home and I was inundated with unfamiliar smells. Three more humans were waiting for me, an Alpha male and humanlets, an older female and a younger male. They opened the shoe box and I immediately ran behind the sofa and wet myself with fear.
“Willum, come on, Willum.”
“No, Sarah, the man said. His name will be Monty. Come on out, Monty. Come and meet your new family.”
And eventually I did. They showed me what I would in due course accept as my bed, my food and water, my litter. Fortunately they didn’t handle me too much and over the following days, I scented my new home from my cheeks, but they wouldn’t let me go out. As the days and weeks passed, I became bored with the inside of the house and yearned to go outside. I became angry and driven by some emotion I didn’t understand. Then came a day when I was put in the car and driven to a place of horrible smells, the distress of animals, pain and sickness, even death. They wore nice, clean clothes and they took me away from my mother, my new mother and put something over my nose. When I woke up, between my back legs hurt and I felt sick and dizzy.
I slept, but every time I woke up, I yowled for my mothers and eventually the human one came for me. I now had a wicker basket for transportation purposes. Its appearances meant trouble and would continue to make trouble every time I got into a spot of bother and annually for my sweaty paws experience on the examination table. When I got back to my home, they had moved my bed in front of the hot, metal box with doors.
“Poor, Monty. You’ll be unsteady on your legs for a bit, but you’ll feel better.”
And I did, and a few weeks later they let me leave the house and I explored. I was particularly blessed. I had outhouses that were dry, relatively comfortable and teeming with rats and mice. I had no intention of sharing my summer quarters with the pointed faced bastards, so I vowed to get rid of them.
Our house was above a field that ran down towards the river. It had nice long grass and sheep occasionally grazed in it. The river was fairly narrow and wound through the flood meadows. There was a busy road on the other side of the river, which I had no intentions of crossing. I knew I could be happy here and almost forgot my birth mother and brother and sisters.
There were other cats in the area, and I picked up their trails and territory marking scents. One morning I came across a white and black female cat. She was much bigger than me, so we went through the ritual of staring at each other, making ourselves look bigger. I caught her eye and looked away to show I meant no harm. We both raised our tails and approached one another to sniff cautiously.
You must be the new catlet. What do they call you?
Bernard Law Montgomery, First Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Monty for short, I said watching her reaction.
You poor sod. They call me Snowflake.
I purred loudly.
Well I think it’s a nice name, she said indignantly, Now we need to come to an understanding as I’ve been here a lot longer than you. I need to go through your territory at least twice a day.
I thought about it, because she was bigger than me, All right, but the sharp faces are mine. And so is inside the buildings.
My buildings don’t have sharp faces, she said in a superior manner. Snowflake and I grew to tolerate each other, she told me about the other cats and which dogs to avoid and where the best places were to ambush the grey, bushy tails. They always got away, but chasing them was fun.
My human family was good to me and looked after me well. My human father wasn’t around much and I missed him when he went away. He used to pretend to be indifferent to me, but when we were alone, he would rub me under my chin, which I loved. While we were alone he would talk to me and it was then that I realised that humans were pretty dumb. They couldn’t communicate like us. They made noises and pulled their faces into silly shapes, but while we could understand them, they just couldn’t understand us, unless we made a noise or cried like their young. They couldn’t even catch things. They couldn’t even see their ancestors. They would regularly walk through the walls as the cottage had been built across an ancient pathway. They were of no substance but real nevertheless and what’s more we could communicate with them, when they decided they wanted to.
“Monty, what are you looking up there at? You give me the creeps sometimes.”
They were so stupid. Hundred passing through the house every week and they didn’t even notice the temperature plummet.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit cold in here tonight love?” My human father could feel something. He called himself Edge, because he was always on it. I loved him with all my little, catty heart. When he came home he smelled of violence and death, cats recognise that, but his soul was so gentle. The problem was his brain wasn’t wired to his soul, yet.
One morning, very early I was down by the river looking for water voles to play with, (kill). There was a little boy sitting on the river bank, the ethereal sort of little boy. He was sitting, holding his knees, looking at the placid surface of the river. It was mid-summer and there hadn’t been any rain for a few days. I cautiously went up to him.
He looked at me with sad, dark eyes, Hello Mr Cat.
I bowed acknowledging the formal way of his addressing me.
I’ve noticed you here on this day for the three summers that I’ve been here.
I died in that river many summers ago.
How many? I asked.
At least three hundred.
You should move on.
I respectably folded my tail around my body and placed the front paws on the tip to stop it twitching. This was serious business. You should head into the light when it comes.
The light frightens me.
It frightens all of us, but that is where your ancestors and the higher one is. You can’t stay here for eternity,
Will you stay with me until the light comes?
I looked at this lost soul, feeling my own fear at my mortality, I will.
I stayed with him, sharing the same space and time, as the sun went down over the trees. The light opened up over the river and we stared at it.
Go on, I coaxed.
I’ll drown again.
Unlikely, I told him.
Goodbye, Mr Cat.
Goodbye, Master Rowe.
He went into the light and the air he occupied filled in with a slight whoosh. The light folded in on itself and vanished. I stayed looking at the placid river and headed back to my home. Something had been lifted from my being and I felt an unbearable lightness.
* * *
When I was six winters old, I lost Snowflake, or rather, my lovely friend was killed. My life was filled with sadness from then on. It was a day when the first frost was on the newly-fallen leaves and they crunched under-paw as I walked over them. I had just been let out and I was sitting by the woodshed when she pushed through my hedge and came up the hill to where I was sitting. I raised my tail in greeting and we touched noses. She smelled of the night and fresh kill.
We sat together and stared at the mist over the river.
They’re getting harder to find now, she told me
The winter is coming, I agreed.
Time for my bed.
She headed towards the road and pushed under my gate. A short time later I heard one of their cars being driven very fast and a thud. The car didn’t even slow down. With a deep dread I ran towards where I’d heard the noise, under the gate. Snowflake was lying by the side of the road, and she was very still. The fur around her white face was flecked with blood and some trickled out of her nose. Her outer eyelids were still open but the inner ones had closed and the light had gone from her eyes.
I pawed at her howling with anguish, because my friend was dead.
I ran to get my human mother, before she dropped the children at school and went to work. I was very vocal with my distressed cry.
“For goodness sake, Monty. What’s wrong?”
I walked to the door and looked back at her, crying in a high-pitched meow. Fortunately she seemed to understand and followed me out of the gate and up the lane.
“Oh no! The poor little thing.”
Moira Mother found one of Snowflakes human family and they all started crying. Snowflake’s human father buried her at the bottom of their garden, under a beech tree. Snowflake’s human sisters would lie little bunches of flowers on her grave, until they grew older and forgot. I never did and laid dead mice and shrews on her grave and used to sit trying to remember her how she was and how we would sit together, watching the river. The beech tree grew tall and strong, its roots enriched by my friend’s little body and my presents to her.
* * *
Edge Father came home for good in my seventh winter. Straight away I could tell he wasn’t happy and seemed to be missing something from his life. He and my human mother seemed to argue a lot and he was drinking the stuff humans use to deaden the pain in their souls.
Humans are capable of great kindness, courage, selfishness and thorough stupidity. When they do bad things, it’s usually because they haven’t thought things through and looked at the likely repercussions of them doing something dumb. We cats call it the law of human unintended consequences. In fact, most bad things are due to human stupidity and their trying to cover it up. However, in the first summer after Edge Father came home, I met someone who was truly evil. Someone whose soul had plumbed the depths of wickedness and depravity and had decided to remain there.
Edge Father was away at a place called Saint Ives and was staying overnight. Moira Mother said he was dropping off some tractor bits and pieces and animal feed, whatever they were. The children were at school and Moira Mother was not at work, something to do with the furnaces, she told my father. She promised him something nice when he got home. I sighed. Sometimes they’re worse than our females are when they are on heat. I was picking up burrs and couch grass in the meadow, when I heard a vehicle go into my yard through the gate from the lane. When I got closer I saw it was like a big car with an open bit on the back.
A man was standing next to the vehicle, looking over my cottage. He was a big man, hard physical work was stopping him from running to fat and he had very dark, curly hair. As his gaze swept around the property, his eyes fixated on me as I came through the hedge.
“Puss, puss, here kitty,” he said clicking his tongue, but I knew there was nothing friendly about him.
His eyes were empty and he emanated evil. He was the first, living, truly evil man that I had ever seen. I backed through the hedge and watched him. He seemed to grow bored with me went up to the door and hammered on it. I was afraid for Moira Mum and skirted round the house to get in through the window in the scullery that was always kept a little open. I jumped up lightly and slipped through the window, which I’m rather good at. I taught Edge Father everything he knows about getting into buildings and he makes a lot more noise than me. From my OP behind a flour jar on a shelf, I could see most of the kitchen.
“For God’s sake, I’m coming,” yelled Moira Mum. She had been upstairs tidying my brother and sister’s bedrooms. They needed a lot of tidying. The hammering at the door was becoming insistent.
She went into the hall and was lost from view when she opened the door.
“Oh, it’s you. What do you want, Daz and what are you doing here?”
“Your old Dad asked me to keep an eye on you, seeing as how Mark’s away for a couple of days.”
“As you can see, I’m fine. How did you know I wasn’t at work?”
“Like I said, your Dad asked me to make sure you’re OK and here I am, making sure.”
“I’m truly grateful to both of you, now if you’ll excuse me.”
“I’ve driven all the way from Tiverton and I could murder a drink, Moira.”
She hesitated and I could hear the doubt in her voice.
Don’t be so stupid!
“Just a quick cuppa,” he wheedled.
“You’ll have to make it quick coz I’m very busy, Daz.”
“Thanks, it’s hot out there and I’m parched.”
Moira Mother put the kettle on and dumped a teabag in a mug. I could feel her fear and unease. The evil man made himself comfortable at the kitchen table. He stretched out his legs and looked round the kitchen, a supercilious smile playing on his lips.
“Very nice, Moira. Very Joanna Trollop. I notice you’ve even got an Aga as well.”
“I prefer Kathy Reichs as an author. Much more in tune with darker side of human nature. How do you take your tea?” she asked as she poured the hot water into the mug.
“Milk and three sugars, just to keep me sweet.”
Get rid of him, Moira Mother! I know what’s coming.
“Thanks, love,” Daz said as she dumped down the mug. He sipped it, “Mmmm nice, just how I like it.”
“Daz, I need to get on.”
“Well don’t let me stop you. You know you could have made the perfect wife for someone. Like me for instance. And now you’re home alone. Your no-hoper of a husband is away and that’s how we all like him, because he’s useless. It’s only a matter of time before your dad gets rid of him. You made a mistake marrying a thick Pongo, when you could have had me.”
Moira backed against the sink, “Well at least he’s a proper man who does a good job, unlike you Mr Hair-trigger man. A quick in and out and off you’d go. Not that you’d notice coz it was so small.”
He stood up, the chair legs scraping on the flagstones, “I’m going to have you again, you bitch.”
He pinned Moira against the sink, trying to ram his knee between her legs. She tried to hit him and he grabbed one of her breasts and twisted.
When she screamed I went into action like a coiled spring. I jumped from the scullery shelf, knocking over the jar of flour which smashed on the floor. I jumped up on the table and faced the two of them and hissed at him in my especially ferocious way.
The jar smashing startled both of them and Daz relaxed his hold on Moira as he looked round. He saw the snarling, hissing cat on the table and laughed, but Moira was able to reach for a breadknife next to a board on the work surface. Edge was experimenting with bread making, but his loaves seemed to turn out with the density of composite armour. Moira ate the offerings to be polite and the Edge loaves needed a very sharp and robust knife to cut through them. The knife was now pressing against the skin of Daz’s throat.
“Get out of here before I kill you, you fucking bastard!”
He sneered at her, but there was something in her eyes that frightened him and she rammed the knife into his throat, breaking the skin. Blood trickled down his neck and he pulled back, putting his hand to his neck.
“I’ll kill you for that.”
Moira gave a demented scream and went for him, the knife held straight ahead, thumb on top of the blade, meaning deadly intent. He sidestepped to grab her knife hand, but she was too quick and slashed the flesh over his volar wrist ligaments.
“You’re fucking dog meat, Daz,” Moira hissed advancing slowly, her left arm in front in defence, the knife hand tucked into her body, the blade forward and level with his abdomen, “Edge says gut wounds are the worst, you piece of shit!”
At this point, I swung the battle, crabbing sideways, my tail like a fox’s brush, jumping up to rake his forearm with my front claws. He swatted me away and Moira slashed at his left upper-arm, tearing his shirt, still advancing.
“Fucking bitch! That’s my best work shirt. I’ll kill you!”
But Moira had the knife and the red mist. She kept coming.
Daz looked at her twisted face and felt real fear, “You’ll pay for this.”
But he went out and we heard his truck/car drive down the lane towards the big town on both sides of the river. Moira Mother dropped the knife on the table and she was shaking with fear and unused. Adrenaline. After she had stopped being sick in the sink I nuzzled her with my head.
“Oh, Monty. You were so brave. But we must never tell Edge, otherwise he will be a murderer. I just know that he’ll kill him.”
I purred, my little heart bursting with pride, but I knew that Moira Mother was making a mistake. That evil man would come back again some time. There could only be one way of exorcising him from our lives.
* * *
Things really went wrong just after mid-winter and for me they would never be the same again. The house had been empty and Edge Father came home in the early hours, reeking of alcohol and with a terrible wound to his forehead, the same place that I have my M for Monty mark. He had a skin flap, which he went upstairs to stich, but he was drunk and concussed and he made a right old mess of it. I watched over him all night while he lay on the sofa, semi-unconscious through drink and a head wound. Moira Mother and the children didn’t come home for a number of days and when they did, the atmosphere in my home was poisonous.
Moira Mother wasn’t telling Edge Father the whole truth about what had been happening and as a result he filled in the gaps with his own narrative. Things just kept getting worse and the essentials that bound us together as a family unit unravelled. Edge Father got a new job on the sea or near it because I could smell it on him when he came home.
That spring there was an especially big row and a few days later, Moira Mother came with a man with a van and loaded lots of stuff from our home into it. I was dumped in my hated, wicker basket and put on the back seat of the car. The van and Moira Mother’s car following it drove away. She was crying and so was Francis Brother. We headed north and we all found ourselves in a big house at a place they called Bishops Tawton. The house belonged to the father of Moira Mother and I hated it from the start. I wanted my own territory and to sit under the tree next to Snowflake. I was soon to find out that I was in terrible danger as long as I stayed at that house.
© Blown Periphery 2020
Ed. I have been pressed by a number of puffins concerning helping with BP’s publication costs. If you’d like to contribute small amounts do so via the usual GP PayPal account with the text ‘Pub Cost’, or if you’d like to contribute £50 or so get in touch via the usual email address and I will get back to you with details.
WAR CRIMES FOR THE POLITICAL ELITE soon to be available from Troubadour.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file