MankyCat, short story by Richard Prime at Spillwords.com

MankyCat

MankyCat

written by: Richard Prime

 

Introduction

I am a cat lover. Don’t be mistaken, this is not mutual. Cats don’t love us. In fact, they see humans as big dopey kittens that must be trained. When a cat shows you attention, you might believe it loves you. It doesn’t. It is training you. Cats condition us to behave. To obey.

Cat conditioning

A cat sits beside your chair and stares at you. This means, “I want something from you.” They won’t tell us what it is. We have to work that out for ourselves. It could be attention. It might be food. Perhaps they want to go out, they can’t find their favorite toy and they want us to find it for them. They’re hungry. It could be any of those reasons. It’s a guessing game. You might stroke the cat’s head, and the cat will lift their head and press it to your hand. You sit back in your seat, believing you gave the cat what they want. They continue staring, only now they begin squinting, too.

Many suspects that squinting means “I love you.” It doesn’t. What it means is, “You passed the first test, but now you might try harder to think of what I want from you.” You stroke them again. However, moments later, when you relax back into your seat, the cat leaps into your lap. They turn around several times. Then they lift their tail and thrust their bottom into your face. This is a cat thing. Another cat will sniff their bottom, not only to taste what they ate earlier but to recognise them. Cats communicate with their nose. Humans don’t. The cat is waiting for you to sniff their bottom. Instead, you stroke them. It is then they recall that you are a big dopey kitten, and don’t understand the rules yet.

You might reach for a toy. That could be what they wanted. The cat will either play with you briefly or entirely ignore the toy. You have two choices now; feed them or offer a treat. Feed them and that’s it. You won’t see them again for hours. After feeding, they return to their favourite place, a box, a cushion, your bed, the airing cupboard, on the tv table directly in front of the screen, or on the window sill. If they were fed recently, you might offer the treat, a cat treat. Once they have eaten this, they will sniff around looking for other treats. The big dopey kitten in us will offer another treat. They won’t stop, you know? “Do you want another treat, baby?” Of course, they do.

Essentially, these games, strokes and treats are nothing but time fillers and have nothing to do with what they were really after. Not worked it out yet? Nope – me neither.

Several minutes/hours later, when they’ve had what they wanted (it could be anything, seriously) it’s time for a wash. Washing, too, is part of our conditioning. They leap into our lap again, turning around several times, deliberately blocking our view of tv, laptop, mobile phone, book, or whatever we’re paying attention to that isn’t theirs. Then begins the fat shaming.

Fat Shaming

When a cat is preparing to settle, they will go to some lengths to ensure the area where they plan to settle is comfortable. They paw at it, digging their claws in to soften it. Like making their own bed. Unfortunately, if that area happens to be your lap or chest or legs, or your face, it is gonna hurt! It’s a cat thing. Best to always sit with a cushion on your lap. Cats like cushions, and they really enjoy fat shaming them, though it’s not something they do for fun, it’s part of their behaviour to fat shame, and part of our conditioning – the pain is important. Don’t ask me why.

Several hours of sleep

Once we have been sufficiently fat shamed, the cat will curl up. You might think it’s their sleep period. It’s not. It is time for their wash. A wash might last for several minutes, several hours or days, maybe even weeks. Prepare for a long wait. Once the cat is satisfied that they are pristinely clean, they go to sleep. However, they are still alert at all times, just watching their ears twitching.

While the cat is sleeping and you can see its chest rising and falling, this is the best time to stroke it. When we stroke a sleeping cat, it releases endorphins into our brain that has a magnificent calming effect on us. It’s the same for cats; while they’re being stroked, those endorphins are making them ultimately happy.

Who is the owner?

Imagine this; you buy a new house. You decorate, buy new furniture and assortments of equipment; tv, cd player, computer equipment, fridge/freezer, cooker, wash machine, exercise bike and dish washer. This is your new home. The pride of place that you own.

Then you adopt a cat.

You no longer own the house and its contents. All of these things belong to the cat. And so do you.

You’ve been conditioned, my friend. There ain’t no cure.

 

Chapter 1 – How it started

Sometimes I think it all started with the Covid pandemic, but it began a long time before that. My name is John, 34, an analyst programmer with a software consultancy in Cambridge. Five years ago, following a short and passionate courtship, I married Carol. You know the saying: marry in haste repent at leisure. Quite. The first year of marriage was good. It was during the second that she met someone else, though I had no idea. I was too busy being a nerd and working from home which is easy when one is an IT professional. Maybe not so easy as a steeplejack, jockey or deep sea diver. Clearly, I was fortunate in my choice of career.

Carol was, and still is, an English teacher at Cambridge’s Long Road 6th form college. But you see, I missed, or indeed, ignored all the tell-tale signs; working late, weekends away with friends, weddings she went to but, for some reason, as her plus one, I was not invited to. I was happy for her to enjoy the fruits of her career while I was busy with my nose in a book or peering through my spectacles at a laptop screen. There was also her moving into the spare room. Her excuse was that she didn’t want to catch the “infection” from me. How that would happen is beyond me. I rarely, if ever, go out. I’m working from home. All business meetings are held over Skype or iTeam. Other official correspondence by email.

Frankly, it requires a lot of discipline to work from home. You might think it’s like a holiday. Nothing of the sort. The temptation to watch a film on tv, or have a nap, or even to potter about the garden is always there. I wake at 7am every day, shower and breakfast and am at my workstation in my make-shift office, which is in fact a small bedroom but outfitted with desk, chair, book wrack and contents, usually computer or software manuals (which I don’t use, anyway, I have google for that), and a coffee machine. Sadly, I’m not very well disciplined. Most days, should you call, I can be found making coffee, watching a film on tv, washing my car or pottering around in the garden. I came to the conclusion that I required further training in self-discipline, and the resolution to that problem presented itself in strange, magnificent and joyous ways, despite my not realising it at the time.

“But you’re always out!” I complained to Carol.

She flashed me a look as if I were a five-year-old. “Of course, I’m always out. I work!”

“So do I.”

Carol squatted before my chair and said, in a condescending tone of voice, “There’s a huge difference between working out there in the big wide world and working over the internet.”

I shrugged begrudgingly.

“I have friends and colleagues. Real people,” she continued. “You have pixels on a screen.”

“I have friends, too,” I argued.

“When did you last see them?”

“Every day!” Carol was beginning to annoy me. Funny how she moves into the spare room to avoid catching something from me, and yet, the moment she senses an argument she can win, she’s in my face.

“You see them on webcam,” she concluded, ending the exchange. She snatched up her bag and was gone. She was right, though. There was a time when I’d meet friends and colleagues at the Cambridge pubs; the green dragon, sir Isaac newton, castle inn, county arms, the eagle, or the king street run. But the pandemic had put a stop to that. Reluctantly, I resolved to accept her moving into the spare bedroom as a good idea. I might catch something from her.

I needed company. Human company? Nope. Too dangerous. That is why I adopted two cats; Tiger and Lily.

Carol didn’t like the cats at all. She complained they were always sniffing about in her bag, or if she left her bedroom door open, they were on her bed. They left cat toys in her shoes and slippers. “Please keep your cats out of my way!” she demanded. My cats? We were married, I argued, which made them OUR cats.

Carol sued for divorce. I didn’t understand why. I thought we were happy. Six months later, on receipt of the decree absolute, she moved out.

I wonder, did I miss her? I had no time to miss her. Tiger and Lily kept me busy. There were no occasions when I could sit gloomily and feel sorry for myself. The fluffy fur-balls launched themselves at me frequently. Work was nigh impossible; cat on my lap, cat on my laptop, cat on my shoulder, cat climbing up my leg, a cat meowing for food, or for any other infinite number of reasons. Cat wants treats. Cat wants to play. Cat wants to go out. Cat wants to come in. I’d fitted a cat-flap to the kitchen door, slaved to the chip they’d had inserted, disengaging the flap’s lock mechanism when they went through it, either in or out. That way I avoided having all their cat friends climbing over me, too.

Tiger is a black and white cat. The black is in the form of assorted stripes across his body and a Charlie Chaplin moustache. He’s not really a cuddly cat, but he does use cuddles to get my attention. Once he secures that, he’s away promptly. Lily is a brown and ginger turtle shell. A cute little girl cat. She loves her cuddles, but if Tiger should attempt to steal her place, on a cushion, my lap, top of a cupboard or wardrobe, or any of a thousand other places, she swipes him viciously and muscley Tiger backs off in a hurry.

The cats changed my routine. No longer did I wake promptly at seven am, but usually between four and five am with a cat’s paw in my mouth, or a healthy wet nose pressed against my cheek, or a face full of cat breath, or a huge thump on the bed as a cat leaped from the top of my wardrobe onto the bed, and usually, onto me. This was their message that breakfast should be served. Half a sachet of wet food in a bowl each and a large bowl topped up with crunchies. I bought a water fountain for cats, too. They were wary of that at first, but once they learned they could drink from it, I could no longer close my bedroom door otherwise they’d throw themselves at the door – bang! bang! Let us in! It wasn’t me they wanted to see. It was the fountain they wanted to drink from. I moved it from the bedroom into the lounge, but the bedroom door had to remain open. Bang! Bang! they went. Same with all other doors. They simply did not like doors being closed to them. I also bought about a million fluffy cat toys; fluffy mice, birds, string like fluffy things, plastic toys full of treats they could access by slapping the toy with their paws, or flashy balls they kicked with their paws and chased around the house. My first task every morning, even before breakfast, is to pick up those toys from the carpet, from between cushions on the sofa, from beneath cupboards, the tv table, and from inside any shoe I left in the lounge, and place them neatly into a basket I kept behind the lounge door. I could guarantee that the next time I visit the lounge, those toys would be everywhere again. It was a game they played and, I’m surprised to say, I play along. Breakfast is difficult, too. I pour cornflakes into a bowl. Add cold milk and sugar. I then returned the milk to the fridge and the cereal to the appropriate cupboard. Returning to my breakfast, I find both cats on the kitchen surface lapping at the milk on my cornflakes. That is why I began having crumpets and butter for breakfast instead. However, instead of my eating crumpets, I dip my fingertips into the molten butter and offer them to the cats who then lick it from my fingers. Slight correction: for breakfast, I began eating cold crumpets.

It was about that time my mother was diagnosed with early onset dementia. I had no brothers or sisters. My father died some years previously. I was all she had in the world. That is why I packed all I had, including Tiger and Lily, into a van, drove to her home in Burwell, north of Cambridge, and moved in. I intended to care for her.

 

Chapter 2 – June

June had four brothers. Most of them are gone now. At school, she was an accomplished sprinter and, upon leaving school, trained as a secretary, a job she pursued for some years until at 19 she met Tom and, desperate to flee home where she found herself raising her brothers – her mother was a seamstress and her father an engineer. As was expected during the 1980s, June, being the eldest, raised the family while her parents worked. Subsequently, she leaped at the chance of getting married and escaping her home life.

I came along seven years later. On reflection, I suspect June was more of a cat than a human being; she conditioned and trained me to do everything the way she preferred; the allocated seat at the dining table, dress code, and friends I was allowed to bring home.

I had no sisters or brothers. It was a lonely life, being an only child. Understandable, when I think about it, Tom and June didn’t particularly like each other and it’s no wonder they only had one child, me. Clearly, there was never an attempt to try again.

There were cats during my childhood; Callisto, Fred and Bob, Castor and Pollux, and Catu (the second cat of a litter, cat two – geddit?). They came. They went. Some were run over, and some ran away and never came back. I developed my love for cats when I was a child. It wasn’t until, as an adult, I realised cats didn’t love me at all, but were training me to behave and obey them.

I left school at 16 and moved up to the sixth form, where I took my A levels, from there, I considered applying to University, but chose instead to enlist, and I joined the RAF.

It was during those years that June was proud of me and was hugely supportive when I messed up, such as missing a train connection and telephoning home from remote railway stations, complaining that I had no money for a fare home from there. June, who had been waiting for me at the local station, and annoyed that I wasn’t on the train as expected, rushed home, only to be informed by Dad that I was elsewhere and needed a ride home. She set out immediately to wherever I was at the time. I drove home. That was the last I saw of her till Sunday. I arrived home, changed out of my uniform and went out. Sunday, after the midday meal, June drove me to the railway station and I returned to the RAF station I was posted to. She never once complained, not even when I decided not to go home at all, and she waited at the station. She waited and waited, but I never arrived.

I don’t think Tom was so interested in family life. He was always working. I saw very little of him. When he died in 2015 of heart failure, June started smoking heavily. Not just heavily, she was chain smoking all day long. The result was a home that stank of stale cigarettes, clothes and hair and everything else smelled, too. I helped her move out of the family home and bought her a 3-bed bungalow in Burwell. She seemed happier there with no memories or memorabilia of her husband in the home. She did, however, continue smoking, often as many as 200 cigarettes a week. It must have cost her a fortune! Indeed, June eventually succumbed to COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; emphysema – and her lungs were a mess, and beyond repair. She began finding jobs around the house increasingly difficult and was often severely out of breath. Her doctor referred her to the hospital where they issued June with a ventilator, an apparatus she kept by her bed and, at night, she wore a mask over her nose, allowing fresh air to flow into her lungs and ventilate them of whatever necrotic crap was there, including nicotine and carbon monoxide.

June’s condition worsened and she was referred to social care services. Home care workers visited her at home, offering to do jobs about the house, feed her, wash her, and assist her in dressing, but June locked the doors and would not allow them in, complaining that she did not want strangers in her home. That is why I moved in with her, to look after my Mum. There was nobody else.

I wasn’t so much concerned about the early onset of dementia. June was a natural chatterbox and would talk to anybody about anything. When I was a child, bus journeys were unbearable, she held court on the top deck, chatter chatter chatter. However, her mother, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, as did my great-grandmother, so it was a possibility, and eventuality. I was more bothered about the emphysema. Mum had chain-smoked herself into a state where even the slightest task left her breathless. There was one occasion, sometime earlier, when Carol and I had visited and June kept passing out mid-sentence. This worried me a lot. Then, suddenly she’d come to, give an embarrassed smile and pick up the conversation where she left off. Chatter chatter chatter. I mentioned this to her GP and she was referred to the hospital. An ambulance took her in. I followed in the car, bought her a phone card and a tv card and a newspaper. It was discovered that the ventilator was faulty. They gave her a new one. She went home. Everything was good again.

I could work from home. I could work from her home easily. It was my house, really. My name on the deeds. I paid all the bills for her. My plan was to do all the little jobs for her that she couldn’t manage; cooking, helping her shower, disposing of refuse, hoover and cleaning up.

Mum complained constantly. She felt her home had been invaded. I was in the way. The cats were under her feet. It’s ironic, I believe; she hated having strangers in her home. Her own son, too, was an unwanted visitor.

Then, one night, MankyCat came to visit.

 

Chapter 3 – MankyCat

One afternoon, I was working at my laptop in my room when there came a loud wailing from outside. I checked. It wasn’t the cats; Tiger was curled up snoozing on my bed, and Lily was curled up in a shoebox on top of my wardrobe. It was part of their routine – wake me, breakfast, play, play some more, second breakfast, wash, sit on the windowsill mimicking birds. Elevenses. There were like Hobbits; hairy feet, six or seven meals a day. I checked and found Mum playing solitaire on the pc in the lounge. It was part of her routine; breakfast at 3 am, start the cryptic crossword in the newspaper. Solitaire or Scrabble on the pc, gardening programs or timegate or the Mentalist on tv. Bed at 2 pm for a nap. Rise at 5 pm and repeat the above until bed at 9 pm. Me, I’d do everything; clean and cook, she’d leave me a list for when I went shopping, work, feed cats, clean cats’ litter, and play with cats.

The banshee wailing stopped as suddenly as it started. I put it out of my mind. The following day was the same – WAIIIIILLLL! Mum was at the lounge window. “Look at that,” she said, pointing at something outside.

There was a black and white cat, long matted, scruffy fur, sitting on the patio and wailing at the top of its voice. Tiger and Lily were out there, too, but keeping their distance; Tiger was hiding under the bay tree, Lily was rummaging among shrubs at the bottom of the garden. She paid little attention to the banshee cat.

To my horror, Mum went outside with a bowl of cat food and was feeding it. Banshee Manky cat was clearly famished, and it gobbled away at the cat food, emptied the bowl, then shot away when it saw me. At that same moment, both Tiger and Lily shot into the house, sensing the coast was clear. I gathered they didn’t like manky cat very much.

“It’s only a baby!” Mum argued.

“Someone else’s baby,” I retorted. “They should feed it, not you.”

It didn’t make any difference. Each day, Mankycat came to visit and wailed on the patio. It was a signal for Mum to take food to it. She fed the cat. She stroked it. By the third day, she had picked it up.

“Take care,” I warned her, “it might have a disease, look at it, it’s manky!”

“It is not manky!” Mum shrilled. “Its name is Timothy.”

“Timothy!? Are you crazy? It’s not even your cat.”

“He is my cat! He loves me.”

That afternoon, I went to Pets at home, a store in town, and bought a cage. The cage had a spring-loaded gate that was activated by pressure on the base of the cage. A trap! That night, while Mum slept, I placed the cage on the patio with a bowl of crunchy cat food in it and, sure enough, the next morning there was a cat in it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t Mankycat, who didn’t visit that day. Strange that. How did he know? I released the cat and that night, set the cat trap again. That week, I must have caught every single cat on the estate, but not Manky cat.

Mum asked where Timothy was. “He hasn’t been to see me!”

I shrugged nonchalantly. I realised that Mankycat was a clever cat. It knew I set traps for it, and was not going to fall for my ploys. He was a hungry cat, with matted fur, possibly lame and carrying, perhaps, a necrotic cat disease. I knew what I had to do when, and if, I caught him. Manky cat wasn’t feral, he had already trained Mum to feed him. He even had me dancing to his feline games – lay a trap, catch the wrong cat – God’s teeth, he much has been laughing at me.

It took me 3 weeks to catch Mankycat. During that time, he must have been busy conditioning others to feed him. Clever cat! Then, one morning, WAAAIIIIILLLL!

“Why is Timothy in a cage?” Mum asked.

“I’m taking him to the vet.” And I was. My plan was they would examine Mankycat. Cure him of any ailments they found. Locate his human owners. Get him home. Not that it could make any difference. They abandoned him once. They would again. I knew Mum wanted to keep him, but I had two cats in the house already, and they didn’t like him. They were my priority.

The Vet left the surgery and seated herself beside me in the waiting room. “She’s a baby girl,” she explained. “No more than three years old. There are no injuries. She’s healthy.”

“Ok,” I replied, nodding, absorbing this information. “Can we locate the owners?”

“The cat is chipped,” the Vet went on. “but there’s no information on the chip, no cat’s name or contact details of the owners.”

“You can keep it here till we find them?”

The Vet shook her head. “I’m afraid not. The cat is healthy. There’s no reason to keep her in. I suggest you have two choices; 1. take the cat in and care for it until the owners claim it, or 2. release her back onto the streets.”

“The streets? My God – that’s inhumane!”

“I recommend,” said the Vet, “You take photographs of her. Display them on local Facebook groups, and in newsagents and the library. Someone might recognize her and contact you.”

“Well, dammit,” I shrugged. “It’s a long shot.” But that’s what I did. I took Mankycat home, and took photographs. Then I took the cage outside and freed her.

I posted the photographs onto local groups on Facebook, and I took copies to the newsagent and the library. Mankycat continued to wail on the patio at night and in the afternoon. Mum fed her. Stroked her. Called her Timothy.

There were no responses to the pictures I had distributed. People can be so heartless.

My heart softened. She was a baby girl. Abandoned by her owners. Left to roam the estate alone. Fend for herself. The Vet had done all the usual checks – temperature – Mankycat did not enjoy having a thermometer poked up her bum – checked her teeth, although the Vet had already found out just how sharp they were from the thermometer escapade, and weight, etc. After all the checks the Vet declared her fit and well, slightly underweight but nothing serious. Mankycat was given a good wash and brush, and there was nothing to warrant any medical intervention.

She was no longer Mankycat to me, but a beautiful little girl, abandoned and lost. Mum wanted to take her in and keep her. I couldn’t allow that. Tiger and Lily didn’t like her and they were my priority. I realised I must be as sick and evil as the owners, freeing Mankycat onto the streets, but I had no choice.

Days passed. Weeks. The routine continued; WAIIIILLLLLL – every day. I felt awful. Mum fed her. Petted her. She was not Mankycat now. Nor was she Timothy. I couldn’t believe the owners had refused to have her name and their details transcribed on the chip. Idiots!

When I shopped for cat food, I made sure to buy extra for the little girl. I’m not much of a carpenter, but I fashioned together a box for her, complete with comfy rug lining, and she took to sleeping there. The little girl was safe and warm and fed. It was the best I could do.

Mum renamed her Cookie, and she spoke in baby voices when petting her. I hugged Tiger and Lily a little too tightly. How could anyone possibly abandon a baby cat on the streets? Cats are for life, not just for Christmas.

Then came the knock on the door.

 

Chapter 4 – Mom and Dad

They were a young couple. Youngish. About my age, I suspected. That’s if you consider 34 young. They introduced themselves as Jade and Chris. Chris was slightly shorter than my six feet, and much fitter. My excuse is that I worked from home. Less chance to exercise. I wore a few pounds extra and my hairline was receding. Chris must have worked outdoors. Either that or he was a fitness coach, an Olympic bodybuilder, or an amateur boxer. I didn’t ask. Jade was cute; brown hair cascading over her shoulders, slim and she had a wide open face complete with retrousse nose and blue eyes.”

“We’re looking for our cat,” Chris explained, Jade nodding. “We saw your poster in the newsagent.”

“Is she here?” Jade enquired.

“Come with me,” I beckoned them to follow with a wave of my hand lending them around the house to the patio at the rear. They were scanning the back garden, the shrubs and the bay tree, the hedgerows and the make-shift box/bed I’d constructed. Clearly searching for their cat. Maybe Mankycat, maybe not. They could easily have been a couple looking for a cat, any cat, the very type of people who were desperate for a cuddly pet but would soon lose interest and abandon it.

I opened the box/bed, half expecting Mankycat to be there, mostly anticipating it to have fled. She usually did when I was close. Instead, Tiger and Lily were in the box, curled up together and raising their heads to examine the three of us, blinking sleep from their eyes.

“Her name’s Biscuit,” Jade explained. “We used to live next door, at number 13 but moved to a new home eight months ago.”

“You left her behind?” immediately wished I’d not said anything.

“We took her with us, of course,” Chris answered tacitly, “meaning to keep her in for a week or two, but she got out.”

Jade’s eyes were misting up. “We searched and we searched. All I wanted was my baby back.”

Mum was on the patio. “You’re looking for Timothy,” she asked. I shook my head at her and said, “Biscuit.”

“What a lovely idea” Mum led us into the kitchen and offered tea and biscuits while we talked about cats.

WAAAIIIIILLLL! sounded from the patio.

Mum ushered Jade and Chris back to the patio. Jade burst into tears when she saw Biscuit who, on seeing the couple, stopped wailing, meowed and ran to them. Jade picked up the cat and hugged her tightly. Huge tears were falling.

That’s when I knew Jade and Chris were Biscuit’s humans.

“It’s amazing,” I said. Chris cocked his head inquisitively. I continued, “Biscuit must have walked over five miles when she was lost. Seeking out the only home she knew.”

“But we weren’t here.” Chris looped an arm over Jade’s shoulders and stroked Biscuit with his free hand.

“I took her to the Vet,” I told them. “She’s fine. No injuries or illness.” Both Jade and Chris nodded a thank you.

“That’s what the wailing was about,” I concluded. “She was calling for you.”

“No she wasn’t,” Mum cut in. Three heads turned to look at her, waiting for an explanation.

Mum explained, “Biscuit knew they would come for her, but she needed our help. Cats do that.”

“Of course!” it was like an epiphany. “The posters,” I continued. “You feeding her, Mum.”

Jade was laughing. “She trained you both to help her!”

Jade and Chris took Biscuit to her new forever home. A cat’s happy ending.

Cats see humans as big dopey kittens that must be trained. When a cat shows you attention, you might believe it loves you. It doesn’t. It is training you. Cats condition us to behave. To obey.

Richard Prime

Richard Prime

I have been a writer for some years, independently publish poetry and short stories including the genres: children's fiction, action, romance, paranormal, history and fantasy. Following discharge from the RAF, I trained as a computer programmer and spent the rest of my career in computer software development and engineering, until retiring due to ill-health.
Richard Prime

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