Shambles, p.1Peter Tranter
This is a collection of quick reads.
Copyright © 2011 Peter Tranter
Table of Contents
Family History is Weird
Not the Firefly
The Main Chance
Right First Time.
The Better Bet
Don’t Count Your Chickens
Yes and No
Be Warned by the Path that Walked in the Night.
The Young and Young at Heart:
Why Mum Fainted
Half a Monster Tale.
History: What Really Happened?
The White Ship Disaster
Lord Burley’s Revenge
The Thirty-eighth Play
More Stories by Me
Finally, Are You a Genius?
About three years ago my people settled down in a small village, planning to enjoy a well-earned retirement. Equally deserving, I went with them.
The house we chose was built before the war, now pleasantly mellowed, according to the estate agent. For once we agreed with him. It was a semi-bungalow, all the important rooms downstairs with an extra bedroom in the loft, intended to be used by our younger guests. The garden ran to about half an acre, most of it behind the house, the whole surrounded by mature trees, none of them conifers! We cultivated a small area calling it the kitchen garden, because the back door opened on to it, and dubbed the rest, which was left to run wild, “the paddock.” Planning the eventual civilising of the paddock was just the kind of mild challenge suited to our age and station with the additional luxury of knowing it did not matter if we never did action the plans. Beyond the paddock was a large field where, most appropriately, a couple of retired horses grazed peacefully. Our neighbours on both sides were unobtrusive and friendly.
I know it used to worry me listening to my people discussing how nice it was going to be when they no longer had to work and could live out their days in comfort and tranquillity. Many was the night I would curl up around the camp fire, the stars of the Indian night sky winking above me, and utter a silent prayer that their dreams would not be shattered when we finally returned to England. From time to time I even tried to strike a cautionary note, to minimise the eventual let down, if it came. As you know communication is always a chancy business, especially if the message is not welcome, but if they heard me they took no notice whatsoever. Situation normal.
In due course my people duly retired and I went with them. For the first two or three years--my memory begins to fail me these days--my half voiced fears proved quite unfounded, so much so that I would have forgotten the pessimism of those later Indian days, but for the fact the Colonel regularly reminded me! In fun, of course, everything was fun; and there seemed to be no reason at all why we shouldn’t live blissfully from one happy day to the next until the final curtain was drawn and we transferred from one perfect paradise to the next!
At least, it was!
One bright sunny day in August I was lazing in the garden, the Colonel beside me contentedly puffing at his pipe, occasionally half-heartedly swotting the odd troublesome fly, speculating whether not to mow the paddock next year or not to plant some fruit trees, when the people next door leant over the fence. They waved, the Colonel stirred himself, ambling over for a friendly chat, and my first thought was to leave them to it. The Colonel would convey any important news, over supper perhaps. But, call it what you will, a sixth sense, a premonition, ultra sensitivity to atmosphere, an ill defined but very definite sense of unease filled my being. I don’t shirk problems, which is not to say I like them, so, dutiful but reluctant, I got to my feet and let myself wander over to them.
The fellow next door, young, brainy but damn naive, held aloft a kitten.
“Her name is Shambles,” he told us.
The Colonel took the moggie and stroked it. “Isn’t she a pretty thing!”
The cat, a tortoishell, with a black nose and a small inverted vee of white just below its mouth, which gave it a perpetually angelic appearance no matter what evil lurked in the brain above, preened itself in the Colonel’s arms. The woman next door, young, intelligent but damn cynical in my view, looked on knowingly. The cat purred, loudly.
I felt sick. Normally I like household pets. They’re great fun. I’ve known many a tame rabbit, hamster and canary and got on very well with all of them, although I have to admit the chirruping of the birds does tend to remind one of prattling women. Or is it the other way round? No matter, I make allowances, for the poor things cannot help it, being much less bright than, say, the Colonel and I.
But cats! Cats are different. Cats know better. I hate to say it but their brains are as good as yours or mine. And whereas you and I, or even the Colonel, will voluntarily, without being asked, extend a helping hand when it is needed, a cat never has and never will. Their only concern is for themselves. They don’t give a fig when sharpening their claws if the timber that’s nearest happens to be the leg of a valuable Chippendale. You’re wearing a newly cleaned dark suit and about to go out for the evening? So what. The cat wants to rub itself against your leg. You’re replete after roast pork and crackling and are content to doze by the fire. The cat, even if its belly is so full it is scraping on the ground, will go out and scoop goldfish out of next-door’s pond and leave the mangled remains to decompose in some inaccessible corner of the kitchen. I could go on but suffice it to say that the worse trick cats pull is to escape all responsibility for their evil doings by becoming coy, soft, and as unreachable as the aforementioned fishy victim.
The very first moment I saw this Shambles I knew that angelic mouth and loud purr would confer unbreakable immunity upon it, and, naturally enough, with no retribution, why not commit evil? Worse still, you always get the blame, no matter how innocent you might be. So, I don’t like cats; I don’t trust cats; cats to me are the devil incarnate. When we meet, it is war, and a fight to the finish at that. They know this of course.
Shambles was no exception. She saw me, she knew I saw through her, and immediately reacted as cats do. Her ears flattened and her tail stood on end. She bristled with hostility and before I could say “how d’y’do” she spat right in my eye.
Immediately the Colonel was full of concern. You might think he’d say “What a dreadful thing to do.” or “Unprovoked and unforgivable aggression, and at first acquaintance too!” If nothing else the Colonel knows the value of good manners. But no; it was “Poor little pussy. Did my ugly old friend frighten you? Don’t worry; I’ll keep tabs on him!” And he turned and gave me a severe ticking off. Me! What had I done? I could have strangled that smirking, purring moggie as it draped itself all over him. The young fellow next door thought that was very sweet. People always take a cat’s word and there is nothing I can do about that. I did have an inkling that the woman next door recognised that under the sleek, soft exterior there beat a heart of pure malice backed up by a scheming brain. Perhaps it takes one to know one.
This Shambles soon confirmed my worst fears. Within days she had started to creep up on me when I was enjoying a quiet afternoon snooze in the garden and if I was nearer sleep than awareness she would pounce, flicking out her paws, left, right, so that I was jerked suddenly awake in a most unpleasant manner. On other occasions she took to standing before me, bold as brass and just out of reach, and would make fa
The provocation was quite unbearable. I was lying down, upstairs in the room in the loft as it happens, for it wasn’t quite warm enough to be outside, when, hearing a slight sound, I opened one eye, casually as one does. Would you believe it, Shambles was there, chewing a mouse at the foot of MY bed. The mouse was quite annoyed too, as you can imagine. For me it was much too much to tolerate.
I’m still very quick on my feet when I choose to be, despite my years, and I gave that murdering feline something to bristle about. Before she knew it I leapt from under the covers and went for her. She fled, yowling mightily. I didn’t touch her, she was too quick to escape, but I’d definitely shaken her up. As the mouse sat on its haunches examining the damage Shambles hurtled across the room and through the doorway to the landing. In her haste to escape she realised, too late, that the stairs were right in front of her. Out splayed all four legs, claws scraping on the lino as she skidded along it, desperate to stop, and then, happy day, she was over the top!
I don’t think she touched the first five steps and in negotiating the rest she must have cracked her shins more than once. Bliss! While the mouse rolled about on the floor I went after that cat to keep her going. Panic stricken she tore through the lounge and out into the garden. I followed and soon saw her off the premises.
A good bit of work, that, I thought, as the sun came out. Finding a warm spot on the edge of the paddock I settled down, confident of at least an hour or two of peace.
Wrong again. The Colonel had seen me and that was that! The woman next door rubbed it in, too, complaining she’d had to give her “pet” a great deal of comforting. I was blamed, received no supper, and some very off hand treatment for days. Of course, one expects no less when cats are about and one has to live with that, but the sight of her sitting in one of the trees, out of reach, threatened to drive my blood pressure dangerously high. She was obviously laughing at me and was no doubt hatching another odious scheme designed to make my life hell.
Fight fire with atom bombs, that’s what I say, and I finally came up with an idea that would sort her out. What’s more I planned to get away with it. Did I tell you about our well? Eight feet deep with sheer sides and no bucket on a rope, nor is there a ladder inside enabling one to climb out. A sapling grew next to it. Ding dong bell... You know the nursery rhyme, of course.
The sapling wasn’t much more than a big bush but I knew that that cat would not be able to resist taunting me from it. The day came. The Colonel was out, the woman next door was in, I lay down near by and the cat went up the tree. It was simplicity itself to give that tree a thorough shaking up. Shambles screamed and shouted, desperate to keep her footing but, as the Colonel himself used to say in India, beware for the general who does not secure his base. That cat’s perch was no castle. She slipped and slithered and screeched to the ground, somehow missing the open well; rather unfortunate, that. In naked hate we glared at each other, eyeball to eyeball. Plan “A” might have failed but I was between her and her own place. Beautiful; time for Plan “B.”
Shambles must have guessed what was coming for she hared off across our kitchen garden, disappearing round the house. I found it hard going but I managed to maintain a close pursuit. I’d have her in another stride.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have harmed the paperboy. We were pals. Or, we were. But, that’s the kind of disaster that regularly happens when cats are around. By the time the Colonel returned and was able to effect emergency treatment the cat had gone, I was for the high jump and one perfectly good friendship was irretrievably ruined. I tried explaining, one does you know, even though the effort is entirely pointless, and anyway the evidence was damning. I cannot lie, just to save my own skin, so I had to admit I’d rounded the house and grabbed where I thought the feline villain was, unfortunately colliding with the young lad instead. It was an instinctive reaction to grab him securely to prevent his escape. A moment later I realised my mistake. Horrified, I’d let him go immediately, but the damage had been done.
I’ve had this sad little story written for two reasons.
In the first place it may serve as a warning to the unwary. It is probably a waste of time. Cats are cats, big or small, black, white or any other colour, and nothing anyone can say or do will alter that. You just have to learn to live with it.
And in the second? Do you believe in reincarnation? I want to, desperately. I now realise it is not enough to know one’s enemy. To overcome a deadly foe one must become bigger and nastier than they are. This story is my plea to the gods. Next time I want to come back as a tiger!
In the meantime I don’t go out so much. What’s the point? Why invite other disasters? I shall ignore her and all her kind, and hope she’ll come to a sticky end. I’m determined to try to outlive the beast and so enjoy at least part of that projected, contented retirement. The chance of that happening is remote. Mine, after all, is a dog’s life. Why remote? Surely everyone knows cats have nine lives, and not one of them is likely to fail to take full advantage of an asset as big as that.
Shambles by Peter Tranter / Humor have rating 3.5 out of 5 / Based on39 votes