Charlie: my nemesis.
I can see him now. I mean actually, not as a figment. He’s out on his driveway with that old heap of a silver car. Both are engulfed in a sea of parcels. The Hermes lorry has just been.
You’d think Charlie and I would be the best of friends. I suppose in a way we are since he’s the other Cat Person in this road. He’s the only other one that rescues cats rather than trying to chase them away with a pitchfork and/or murder them. We have this much in common – eccentric, misfits, shabby, shy and surrounded by rescued animals.
And then there’s Felix. Felix is one of the loves of my life, cat-wise – I can’t say the love, cat-wise, as there was once another.
Charlie got Felix when Felix’s owner died. I got her other two cats, Rufus and Missy. I didn’t mind giving them a home – really – and no one else would have had them. Missy is fluffy, grumpy and spherical – God knows how she got to be that shape – and has an odd left eye – looks like the iris has broken and spilled out all over it. Rufus is ancient and bony. He’s a biter and has an odd right eye – all brown and permanently weeping. They hate each other.
I wanted Felix.
Felix isn’t fussed who he belongs to. He spends much of the day in my back garden, birdwatching / killing, but reports back to Charlie of an evening. When we all occasionally meet up in the middle of the road Felix tangles himself around our legs, chirping up at both of us in a diplomatic, non-committal fashion.
But Charlie always seems to set something off in me – some terrible primal Anxiety and Bewilderment. And he’s always either losing his own cats or worrying about strays. Yesterday lunchtime he buttonholed me returning from a trip to the tip with garden waste. My heart sank as the familiar, shambling figure approached. I wound down the car window. He leant in, slightly too far. Onion sandwiches.
‘Av yer seen the ginger cat recently?’
You need to be always a couple of steps ahead in a conversation with Charlie. He’s not the greatest supplier of information.
‘E’s got very thin?’
‘Oh, the ginger and white one. Tom, unneutered, quite grubby?’
‘Yus, the ginger one that’s got very thin. I ‘aven’t caught sight ‘im for quite a while. Used to see ‘im out and about, down the other end of the village, up the hill. ‘Aven’t seen ‘im. Reckon Something Dreadful’s ‘appened to ‘im.
‘E was a nice cat, too. I thought maybe you’d rescued ‘im?’
‘No, sorry.’ I seem to have rescued all the other stray cats on the Island, apart from the ginger one. Possibly they are now bussing stray cats in from off-island. In the dead of night the doors swish open and a stream of them alight, with their little suitcases, right outside my front door.
He shakes his head mournfully and shambles off over the road. I wonder how he keeps those few long strands of hair in place. I wonder how his trousers stay up and whether he ever washes.
But now he’s set me off. Now I can’t stop thinking about the ginger cat. I put some food out. Poor thing’s probably decaying in a ditch somewhere or locked in someone’s garage, but now I’m glued to the patio door and the view down the back garden. Every time I pass that view I look out. Where is that Lost Ginger Cat? I am getting obsessed. I put more food out.
I put food out again that night. In the morning the dish is polished clean, but that’s not good. That’s what the hedgehog does. I put out more food for the sun to burn down on and bluebottles to lay their eggs in. I am still glued to the view down the back garden. Where could he be, the Poor Ginger Cat? And then that evening I catch sight of him en passant. He looks thin, but no thinner than before. He sniffs at the various food dishes dotted around the lawn and ignores them all. He’s about important business. He is en passant and will not pause.
I must let Charlie know. He’ll be overjoyed.
Charlie is deaf and never comes out when you knock, so I wait until the Hermes lorry comes along knowing this alone will winkle my neighbour out of his house. I watch from behind the net curtains till the Hermes man has finished flinging a huge stack of loose parcels and canvas bags containing other parcels from the back of his lorry into the road. I watch as Charlie starts to drag stuff up onto his driveway. The canvas bags are almost as big as he is.
Timing it to perfection, as the Hermes lorry begins its long, beeping reverse I skip out. Guess what, Charlie. I spotted the ginger cat. Yes, at seven o’clock last night…
Ginger cat? Charlie does not look up. He is surveying the monstrous heap of parcels on his driveway and scratching his few remaining wisps of hair. He’s visualising his route, I guess. He’s Anxious and Bewildered, trying to work how long this lot is going to take him to get rid of, assuming he can get them sorted and stuffed into the car by mid-morning…
Ginger cat was yesterday.