Cats Have Staff
Sid, the big black cat rules the roost in this short story by new writer GAVIN PIXTON.
I don’t mind wet days. I’ve never minded them. Waking up and it’s pissing down, well big deal. All this crap about ‘Oh, no! It’s raining! My entire day is ruined! Oh God this bloody country WHAT a climate…’ on and fucking on. You’d think it was the end of the world for some people. A few wet days and they’re putting down deposits on houses in France and Spain, for Heaven’s sake.
Well, I’m no better than anyone else, but the way I see it is all you’ve got to do is lighten up a bit. Just turn things around, it’s not hard – ‘Oh wow, it’s raining!’ or ‘Yesss! Rain at last!’ Now, how much does that cost you? Sometimes you have to be kind of Buddhist about these things.
Sid, on the other hand…
Sid’s my Big Black Cat, who wakes me up every morning and tells me he loves me. Unless, of course, he’s banned from the bedroom for being a TAF (Thoroughly Annoying Feline). Occasionally this happens. It’s not that I’m cruel or anything, it’s just that he takes up so much bloody room on the bed, and he parks himself in such awkward places (if you see what I mean) that sleeping together inevitably turns into something like Desert Storm in the middle of the night, with Sid the evil dictator and me the Americans trying to get him out of the way. He’s the only the living thing I know capable of taking the piss at three in the morning.
He’s patient though. In fact, patience is perhaps Sid’s finest quality. On the mornings when I wake up alone, without having my toes attacked by a TAF enjoying some pre-breakfast hunting practice, I take my time to surface, thinking the whole while of coffee and bacon, hoping against pointless hope that the morning news might not be full of the usual death and destruction, and at last pulling on the day’s underwear. I am comforted by knowing that, no matter how long it takes to get round to opening the bedroom door, I will not be pressured by the slightest hint of irritability from Sid. So long as everything goes according to plan. Sid’s plan, of course.
Once the door opens, who can tell? Living with a cat is wonderful – just don’t expect every day to be the same, as this little story illustrates.
On the morning in question, there he is as usual, sitting on his hind legs on the hall rug, looking right at me. You get to know your cat’s moods. Ears back. That means Grumpy. Oh shit. Okay, so it’s going to be One Of Those Days. Well, just remember where the food comes from, furbag. I bend down to stroke his head.
‘Hi Sid! Hi gorgeous! What a boofy boy Squid is this morning!’
‘Well, well’, says he, standing up and stretching, ‘about bloody time.’ If he’d had a watch, he’d have looked at it, just to make the point. Sid’s big on making points. And on scoring them. With a withering look, he ambles off down the hall. Three guesses why he’s heading in that direction. Three guesses, and the first two don’t count. Of his two early morning priorities, Sid has made a clear choice – Out. The other one – Breakfast – he’ll take care of when he’s tired of Out.
We’ve had this before, Sid and I. We’ve even sat down and talked about it. Nothing seems to make any difference. He forgets that, whereas cats only need to yawn, stretch and swear at their owners before disappearing into the Big World to do whatever it is they have to do first thing in the morning, we have to get dressed, or at least chuck a dressing gown around ourselves, before venturing outside.
Oh, and here’s another thing about Sid; it’s not enough to merely open the front door (or in our case the hall door and then the front door). No, He sits on the mat until He Is Accompanied into the garden. Then, once He’s had a good look round to decide which direction to take (a process which can last nearly five minutes), his shivering owner is allowed to go back in. Try to go in before then, and he follows you and parks his arse on the mat again. Best to bite the bullet and get it over with. Very tiresome, you’re thinking, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. You see, dogs have masters, cats have staff. Somebody told me that once, and since then I’ve read it in one of those stupid postage stamp-sized little books, like Twenty Tips For Cats Who Really Want To Fuck Up Their Owners. The thing is, it’s true. You’d better believe it.
So he stands at the door, hoping it’s somehow going to open on its own, twists his head round to that unbelievable angle of approximately 178 degrees and stares at me with his moist green eyes. This could be ‘please, king master
…’ or it could be ‘look mate, I don’t know about you and I couldn’t care less, but I’m busting for a shit here, must be that revolting tuna and rabbit pouch you gave me last night, I only ate it ‘cos I was starving, and I’m not using that litter tray you haven’t cleaned out for a week, so if you don’t open the fucking door I’m going to go right back into the living room and dump in the yucca.’ And he would.
Here we have a tricky situation. He wants out NOW, I’m bare-arsed naked save for a Marks and Spencer’s thong which has seen better days and which I wouldn’t wish to inflict on the prying eyes of the office workers across the road – no way am I going to stand on a bloody mat for ages while he makes up his mind which part of the garden he wishes to fertilise
… Ha! a compromise! It suddenly strikes me that I can stave off my guilt and his longing by opening just the hall door and letting him into the porch, so that he thinks he’s getting out, while I nip into the bathroom and…
Oh please. Give me a break. Neither of us is stupid here. One thing’s sure to piss off a cat, and that’s to try and get one over on him. There’s just no point. And anyway, he can read my mind. I know he can. And I know something else, too. I know that if I want Sid to throw a real shit fit, then just carry on, man, let him get six feet nearer the Big World only to be cut off by another enormous fucking door, just go for it, let him wait until you’re putting on your deodorant (hey, why not run a bath?) so he can sneak back into the living room and knock another seven bells out of the new sofa, £260 cash on the nail, only three months old and the fucker looks like a ragman’s coat. Or let him scatter the potted plants from Hell to Haddington, he’s done that before, oh yes, when Sid’s not happy I’m the guy who pays.
I’m glad I went on that assertiveness training course all those years ago.
I fix him with a stern gaze, stretch out my hand, palm outwards in what I hope is a calming gesture, and just let him have it:
‘WHAT a good boy! Yes, a clever pie! Just a wee minute, Squiddly!’
At the same time opening the bathroom door the merest crack, reaching round and with a swift practised movement whipping the dressing gown off its hook. Round the shoulders it goes, belt tied in a jiffy, shit! no socks can’t be helped just shove on the sandals and:
‘Sid, you’re the bestest baby!’
He gives a loud ‘miaow’. I pick him up, cradle him under one arm, open the first door, walk past the folded garden chairs, past the jackets on their neat hooks and the coiled length of hose and stretch out my left hand towards the Yale on the second door.
There’s this thing he does that really cracks me up. He helps me open the doors. Kills me every time. Just as it swings towards him, he stretches out a paw to push it aside even faster. Then his head kind of jerks to the left a bit, as he gazes out at the Big World. It’s one of those things that makes you realise you’re holding a super-intelligent, deep-thinking being. Maybe he’s saying ‘come on, man, open the damn door’, or maybe he’s actually helping.
He’s done his trick on the first door and I’m about to open the next when something slightly out of my line of vision stops me. I look up at the glass panes. My heart sinks.
Big spots of it all over the glass. Come to think of it, I can hear it now. And this is no piddling little shower, either, this is a real belter. This is bouncing off the slabs. And if I can hear it, so can Sid.
‘Ooh Sid, it’s raining! Look!’ Trying to be cheerful.
No answer. Uh-oh.
Me, I like to garden. Nothing pleases me more than sitting on the patio in spring and summer, watching the results of all my hard work blooming and flourishing around me. I like to drink a bottle of Merlot and smoke a little dope (well, a lot of dope) with a bunch of friends out there of a summer evening. To have all that, you need the rain. No rain, no garden. So for me, the rain’s a treat. For Sid, it sucks.
I brace myself for a major sulk, and pull open the door. No helping paw this time. He knows, all right. All the tension drains out of his body and he goes sort of limp, as he gazes out at one of the wettest days this year. Drips fall from the ivy above the door, and Sid shakes his head in annoyance as one lands on his nose. A hundred yards to our left the 34 goes past in a haze, barely audible through the constant hiss of the deluge. As I breathe a few short words of thanks to the Great Listener, I can feel Sid’s utter dejection. I look down. And you know what? As I look down, he looks up, right back at me, you might say, and our eyes meet.
Cats can talk. I’m convinced of it. They may not say the words, but they can talk into you, if you see what I mean. I’ll never forget the moment that passed between us right then; it was one of those defining moments in a relationship, when you know, you just know that the two of you are really in tune with each other. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed. He was being like us.
‘Shit, man, all that fuss and it’s raining.’
Now, who said that? Not me; everything I’ve described took place in less than a minute, no ‘fuss’ at all. No, Sid said that. I heard him, loud and clear. Right inside my head.
‘Oh babes, you wanna go out in the rainy-pops?’
It was me that time, as I lowered him onto the mat. Still no response; he probably thought it was this month’s Really Stupid Question.
So we stood there, Sid and I, and looked out at the rain.
We must have stayed there for five or ten minutes. The image that came to me was Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Standing together. Best of pals. The Two Musketeers. That thought made me feel kind of warm; comfortable, homely, all of that good shit. So if the office workers want to stare, well, hey, let them, who cares? Why not throw off the dressing gown and treat them to my wonderful body, thong and all? Sid wouldn’t mind.
I guess he got bored waiting. After a time he just ups sticks and walks back into the hall. My cue to follow him and start breakfast. Sometimes I make him wait till I’ve put the coffee on, but not this morning. I go straight to the cupboard, pull out his grub and fill his bowl.
‘Just you and me, Sid.’ Consoling. Caring. One Musketeer to another.
Damned if he doesn’t take a cursory sniff at the bowl and make a beeline right back to the hall door. Which I have left open, of course. Straight through he goes, onto the mat, sits down and looks behind him. And with that, I shut the door.
‘Though shit, babe. Rain’s good for you.’
I linger for a couple of seconds, watching him through the frosted glass, before proceeding to wash, dress and make my breakfast. Ten minutes later, while carrying the tray into the living room, I see he’s still there.
‘Coming in, Sid?’
‘Nope. Watching the rain.’ Grumpy.
The garden grew a few more millimetres, the house was clean and tidy and Sid was fed. He spent the afternoon curled up on a cushion beside me in front of the telly, sometimes sleeping, sometimes watching the snooker. Sid likes snooker. At one point I stretched out my hand and stroked him under his chin.
‘Poor baby Sid, out in the bad rain.’
‘Oh fuck off’, he replied. ‘Sometimes you have to be kind of Buddhist about these things.’
And he’s right.
Gavin Pixton lives in Edinburgh and is currently writing his first novel.
© Gavin Pixton 2005.
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