Tim Dowling: I step on the cat again, it makes a noise I’ve never heard before
By a long-standing arrangement, I feed the cat on the kitchen worktop. My wife has never accepted this – whenever she sees the cat on the worktop, she shoos it off and puts the bowl on the floor. Then the dog eats the cat food and the cat stands by the cupboard where the cat food is until I refill the bowl and put it back on the worktop. It’s not ideal, but it’s the system.
Under this regime, the dog gets through a lot of cat food. Eventually we run out, and the cat starts following me around, miaowing at intervals.
“There is no cat food,” I say. “I’ll get some later.”
The cat miaows.
“Also,” I say, “since when am I your go-to guy for everything?”
The cat miaows.
It is Saturday night, and I’m cold. The boiler still hasn’t been repaired, and once the sun sets a chill creeps over the house. I find my wife in the sitting room, watching TV.
“What’s for supper?” I say.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” I say.
“Why are you wearing your coat?” she says.
“It’s freezing,” I say.
“We could have a takeaway, I suppose,” my wife says.
“I don’t mind cooking,” I say, “but I might need to go to the shop.”
“I’ve just been to the shop,” my wife says, holding up a glass of wine. The cat miaows.
“Did you get cat food?” I say.
“No,” she says.
The cat follows me into the kitchen, miaowing.
“I’ll send someone,” I say. “In a minute.”
I set about making supper. The room warms up and the windows steam agreeably. I pour myself a glass of wine, and check the cupboard.
The cat miaows.
“All our agents are busy,” I say. “But your call is important to us.”
I return to the sitting room, where my wife is laughing at an animal doing something stupid on television.
“I need to send someone out for a few things,” I say. “What’s funny?”
“Watch,” she says, rewinding. As I wait for the animal to do the stupid thing, I realise I’ve left garlic frying in the kitchen.
“Shit,” I say. As I turn I step directly on the cat, and the cat yowls. I raise my foot in the air, spin round and lose my balance. I reach for the edge of the mantelpiece, but it’s not there. In order to stay upright, I must put my foot down quickly and in a particular spot – precisely where the cat has chosen to adopt a defensive crouch.
When I step on the cat a second time, it makes a noise I’ve never heard before, like a train braking ahead of a collision. I am suddenly on the floor, on my back, with my wife standing over me.
“Did I kill him?” I say.
“No, he ran,” she says. I feel the spot where the back of my head hit the floor.
“I think I killed him,” I say.
“I saw him shoot through the flap,” she says. “He’ll be back.”
The cat doesn’t come back. The two older boys search the alley in their bare feet while cold air pours in through the open door. I watch from the kitchen window, consumed with self-reproach. I think: stupid cat.
An hour later we hear a familiar plaintive wail. The cat’s head pokes up from the neighbours’ side of the garden wall. The boys try to coax the cat through the trellis, but it won’t move. I call the cat’s name through the door, and all eyes turn toward at me.
“I don’t think you should stand there,” the oldest one says.