A life in cats

My childhood was filled with cats, of all varieties and many personalities – the tame and the feral, the disenchanted and the loving, the broken and the pampered. My grandparents, to this day, run a cattery and boarding kennels in the south; though it no longer falls under their jurisdiction to do so, they would take in stray dogs and cats brought in by the local council workers, and any concerned civilians. I grew accustomed to the sight of a cowering shadow in the back of the white van, specially painted with their company logo, for – when still able to do so – either Nanna or Granddad would go out on round trips of the county, picking up the abandoned results of a call-out, to bring back to the safety of the kennels. There were the dogs who snarled through terror-rippled lips; the cats with needle punctures in their necks, after being used for practise (or fun) by addicts. There were the raw bones and the foamy mange, the ticks and the fleas, the wide eyes and the dry mouths. These were the strays, the unloved animals; some were in much better condition, but bereft of a human companion all the same, if an elderly owner had passed away.

After a visit to the vets, the unfortunates were made to feel at home. There was no discrimination between breeds, except in terms of size – Granddad built everything by hand, and the sprawling outlay formed a warren of runs and kennels and hidey-holes, perches and scratching posts. I can close my eyes and remember it all, so – the moonlight slanting through the small-hole wire, licking off a wary eye peeking back at me from inside a boxy house. Heat emanating from the overhead red bulb on frosty days, and the fitted electric blanket lapping up in woolly waves to the Hobbit-hole entrance. No visitors allowed inside without permission, and then only to keep those who had once known owners accustomed to the smell and touch of humans. That being said, the kennel maids working for my grandparents were so easy-going, I was often allowed inside with them (so long as I kept myself a shadow along the wall) when they went to turn blankets and pick up litter, sweep the granite floors. Those runs and houses were spotless, with no cloth used twice, and each brush head disinfected between shifts, to avoid cross-contamination.

Feet bare on the pocked floor, hands by my sides – often crouched low, because I was learning to read, and had picked up on the fact that animals will trust you more when on their level – I waited. Reaching out a hand, I offered my fingertips to the little pale nose. This is how you must introduce yourself to a cat, with or without the aid of T.S Eliot; scent is the first port-of-call for bonding, and a cat will grant you leave to touch it if the situation appears non-threatening. No staccato sounds or movements, and I had somehow picked up on the fact that cats – like dogs – seem to dislike being stared at. Perhaps this is the real reason why I find it difficult to look anyone in the eye.

My grandparents took to breeding cats and dogs – British Blues and German Shepherds, respectively – and it was through this that I learned about pedigree and bloodlines. I have no preferences, except where personality and coat are concerned. Growing up around larger dogs (trained in the lower fields to perform for shows), I developed a respect for the canidae, if not as close an affinity as with the cats – dogs always came across as being rather wet, easy to read and to please. Slobbery tongues, prone to noise. The cats that wandered about the outhouses and bungalow, on the other hand, were evasive and mysterious as the twilight that made their eyes glow, the tapetum lucidum. They would disappear down sunstruck alleys, over fences into fields of lush green grass, and – try as I might to follow them around the corners of the world – I could never quite squeeze through. A slow, creeping hatred for my own form took hold around age 6-7, and I longed for the curved bones and dexterous spine of the cat, if only to walk where they did – to find those secret places.

Still, there was nothing stopping me from imitation, and I took to wearing the trailing black tail and tall ears, hinged to a headband, that my mother had made for my “cat dance” with the local troupe. What the neighbours must have thought about me hanging around in the bushes bordering their gardens, God only knows; but it was fun to jump out at my older sister when she walked up the drive with her bike, or to swat at her head with a lazy hand while lying along the low-slung branches of the gnarled oak in our back garden. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed. But she also couldn’t climb.

It was on that oak that I taught my babies the fine art of elevation – or at least, that’s what I told myself, aged 7.5 years, the proud “mother” of two scraps of black ‘n white fluff. Chloe and Jess came into the family on the tail of my first cat, a rescue from the shelter, who was originally called “Blossom”; she would through no less than five names in the first week, before my exasperated mother clamped down and decided on “Zoey.” My heart breaks a little to think of her, those lean paws and the streamline tail, the tall ears and bright green eyes, which earned her “Gooseberry” (the third name.) Poor little mite was just over a year old, and had been with us for around six months, when a hit-and-run took her out in the pale morning. It was the day before we would move to the new house (my brother was on the way), and I came home from school expecting to pack the last of my books up – not the cold body of my cat in a cardboard box, to take with us for internment in the back garden. That was the first time I ever saw my father cry, in his quiet way. It’s never left me.

I have one photo of Zoey, eyes ablaze with the flash, stuck into my memory book. It sits alongside cut-outs of the innumerable pictures taken of the cats that would follow her – Jess and Chloe, the afore-mentioned babies, who were brought in to ease the sting of loss. I chose Chloe for the way she put that little triangle face to one side and mewed up at me, the first kitten to come running to the door when we went for a viewing of the litter. My sister chose Jess, curled up in half of a football, fast asleep and twitching her fluffy tail in a lively dream. They grew into crotchety sisters, with feline life imitating human art, and the four of us chased each other up and down the garden on long golden afternoons. Jess developed a habit of sleeping on the compost heap – not useful, given her semi-length coat – and would trail twigs and moss into the house with the sleepy wistfulness of her nature. Chloe was a bit dim; I’m sorry, that’s the only way to put it. She took to watching the washing go around in the machine and walked into the sliding back door more times than I count. Glass appeared to defy her perceptions; but the part that made my sides ache (and still does, in memory) came when she would sit back in stunned silence, before jumping up to do it all over again a minute or so later.

The Birmans were something else entirely.

I had started to collect Your Cat magazine, a monthly publication, the glossy pages of which filled up my childhood with author interviews, articles, problem pages, fiction, merchandise – all devoted, of course, to cats. I learned about kitty hygiene and territories, the various means of marking; and thence to cat shows and breeding, pedigrees, elaborating on what I’d picked up from my grandparents. The British Blues were friendly and loving, with large copper eyes and plush fur, rounded bones; but it was the Birman breed I fell in love with, caught between the pages of the 1995 June issue. An article-interview with a breeder, demonstrating how to wash her blue-point Birman kitten Willow, prior to a show. I was hooked. Those gorgeous baby-blue eyes and slate-coloured face were like nothing I had ever seen. The idea of a cat wearing a mask intrigued me, and I soon learned more about the “Himalayan” points of various pedigrees (usually comprising face, legs and tail.) But what really set off the picture, were those snow-white gauntlets and gloves on her paws. A cat wearing mittens? Too good to be true, surely.

Attending my first show in December (it would become an annual tradition with my father, cats being one of the few things we could agree upon and discuss at length), I was faced with reality – row upon row of it. Cages filled with every conceivable colour and point and coat, with personalities mixed as a bag of marbles. The names themselves are delicious to pronounce – Egyptian Mau. Norwegian Forest (or “Norsk Skaukatt”.) Persian. Siamese. Bengal. Tabby. And of course, the variations in coat markings – tipped, spotted, smoke, solid, cameo. These are the details that have never left me, despite all else I’ve lost grip on. My middle school Maths teacher once remarked that if my sums were anywhere close to the doodles and scribblings in the back of my exercise book – Nile eyes, scrappy poems – I’d be flying ahead. This seems to have been a life-theme.

Determined to become the youngest Birman breeder, by age 11 I was the proud owner (and exasperated “mother”) of a 12-week old Birman. Willow gave me a run for my money, with the sort of intelligence that defies gravity, and systematically reduces nerves to shreds. By her second week in the house, she had learned how to unlatch doors, reach the highest branch of the oak (usually before I was due in school) and had eaten an entire block of Cheddar, roughly the same size as she was. You’d have thought this would warn me off – but I recognized a kindred spirit when I saw it. That bratty kitten wasn’t about to grow up in a hurry, and into her adult life, she continued to give the run-around, by introducing live and half-alive mice to every room in the house.

Fern, her half-sister, turned up a year later. Fern was a sneak; there’s no other way to put it. Stealth lived in her little bones, and because she didn’t grow larger than a stoat, she could get into the sort of places her cobbier companions couldn’t. So we began to lose chocolate muffins and biscuits – listening for the sly munching, we’d find her wedged behind the sofa, wrestling a cake into her mouth as quickly as she could. The best moments came when she had already done the deed, and – when confronted – batted her blue eyes, and declared herself indignantly innocent. All the while, licking crumbs from her flaring whiskers and soggy chin.

The worst times came when she developed FIP, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis. A horrible illness, it generally strikes most cats before they turn four – Fern was three days shy of this birthday when she died, a wraith of her former self (and she didn’t have much to lose as it was.) My last memory of her is that little head resting on the rim of the water bowl in the garden, chin dipped into the water, mouth closed. She was too weak to drink. I took her in my hands and, dipping a finger to the bowl, drip-fed her. She died that evening, under a sky the colour of her golden-cream fur.

A long period of my life passed by without the presence of cats. Anorexia had rammed itself into me, to the hilt. I lived from day to day, barely able to function, let alone care for another soul. So when recovery glinted in dawn-hues on the horizon, and I landed my first full-time job in 2007 – finally well enough to work – how better to celebrate, than to re-establish contact with the feline world?

Kaiser was born of a seal-point Birman father and a silver tabby Persian mother. From the former, he took the beautiful Birman form and his red points; from the latter, the docile nature and gacky tear ducts inherent of certain longhairs. Already too long in the bone to sell easily, he nonetheless had the winning smile of a kitten who knows that his future lies outside the door – curling up in my lap when I sat down, cross-legged as ever, he began to purr.

Take me home with you. Take me home.

I’d had my eye on a four week old bundle of blue-point fluff; a half-brother of the lean, ruddy tom clambering up to paw at my neck. By the time he had started whispering sweet nothings into my ear, that unique kitten-speak of purr and mrrowl, I couldn’t remember why I’d had an aversion to red points before. Some of the cobby lads I’d seen on the show bench had put me off – staggering in their massive sweep of cream and apricot, they seemed at odds with the white socks and startling blue eyes of the breed. Kaiser was different. His fur, even into adulthood, clung low to his body in the manner of a Burmese; Fern’s coat had this texture too, and I do wonder if there are in fact two types of Birman fur, that I just haven’t read about to confirm yet; for it seems the other “type” falls into the “woolly mammoth” style, with less of a silken sheen than a hint of wadding.

Whatever the type, Birman fur sticks to any carpet like cotton wool. My mother forked out on a specially-designed vacuum cleaner, just to bring up those creamy guard hairs, which Kai was fond of scratching out when he’d been into the garden and collected a goodly assortment of detritus. Burrs, caterpillars, leaves, soil – the cat who had once refused to accept that the stairs had a connection with the ground floor, soon progressed into a mini monster with a vast territorial eye. His favourite tree was a somewhat stunted specimen, but its broad sweep of branches meant he could lie low for an afternoon, blinking in the sunlight and keeping a half-eye on the blackbirds, with their cunning beaks and sharp-shine feathers; the pigeons, with their docile skirling swoop over the grass, and the squirrels, who swiftly became his nemesis. Other cats, however, filled him with a fear that saw the monster become a wretched yowling soul, calling from the depths of Dante’s hell; I’d listen to the distant echoes ripple closer and closer, until at last, through the back door and hurrying up the stairs with a bonfire tail, he’d cower on Ma’s bed (or under mine), swearing under his breath. Hunkering down to peer at him, I’d be met by a pair of blue-black eyes, and a breathless little gasp.

Going to eat me, Mum.
No they’re not. You have to stand up for yourself.
But they’d still eat me.
Well, you could choke them on the way down.
Hm.

He was a curious little tom, in all senses of the word. Wrapping himself around my neck, more boa than feather once he’d attained his full weight, Kai would whisper editing tips into my ear as I typed. If you’ve never had a cat insert fish-breath into a sentence, then you’re missing out on a crucial sensory trick. That being said, he did like nibble my hair thoughtfully, or bat at the strands when I paused to think-twiddle them around my fingers. Another quirk of his was less a curiosity than a cunning ploy to keep me young – or old, I never did work out which. When my alarm went off at 5am, I’d crawl around my bedroom with heavy-dark eyes and fumbling hands; he liked to move things just out of reach (keys, make-up, hair bands), while offering me breakfast from his own tray.

Go on, it’s good for you.
I can’t eat that. It’s yours.
D’you want to get up the hill or not?

This, while slipping out of the room with my access card dangling between his teeth. He had something of the canine spirit about his mouth. When Ma introduced him to helium balloons, it became a common sight to see the small apricot body proudly trotting about the house, a coil of shiny ribbon taut in his teeth, the red or blue ball of air bouncing happily above him – occasionally batting against furniture with a sound I imagine to be like sand sifting through an hourglass. Of course, one burst on him – it’s the old biker’s joke, you’re not in until you’ve come off, and got back on. Kai did get back on, though it took a few hours to convince him to come out from behind the sofa, to sniff dispiritedly at the sad little lump of jellied plastic on the carpet.

We bought him a new, extra strong balloon.

If I could be granted one wish, I’d have also bought him an extra strong heart. Things creep up on us without warning; what seemed solid and filled with forever comes apart with the weave of time or irrationality. No one could have predicted that Kai was born with a defective heart – certainly, his breeder hadn’t noticed any problems. I’d first put the raspy little cough, like dry snowflakes, down to his gacky tear ducts – maybe they were impeding his airways. But no, even when clear, he would occasionally put his head down and struggle. This came on with a suddenness that swept away all annoyances, irritations, concern for the world. I no longer called Ma’s house home, and the distance was all the more unbearable for it taking 2.5 hours to get back, a fair wadge of money, and repeated calls to my employer to actually scrape together some time off. I’d started to consider myself jinxed where Birmans are concerned, having already lost Willow to stomach cancer three years before (she had gone to live with my father and brother, to become queen of her own little territory of flower boxes and pristine lawns) and Fern, who had barely begun her adult life before fading out into evening. Still, she had clung on for far longer than the vet’s estimate, and so it was with Kai – fully a year after his diagnosis, he was still with my Ma, though creeping about the house like a little old man, rather than the proud strut of a boy with his string-tow toy. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t there at the end, though – in my selfish way – I would rather hang onto the memories of him, splendid in the sunlight of a windowsill, chittering at the flies and birds with that open-mouth staccato of a hunter. Or watching, waiting for me on the top step when I arrived home, back bent and legs weary from cycling; those ears would appear like twin shark fins, the blue eyes turned to black moons; his spine was a ridged mountain range. I’d hear the swishing tail slipper-slide against the wall. Forgetting my burning calves and thighs, I’d crouch low – lower – and prowl up on hands and knees to meet him –

Receiving a swat from a well-to-do glove for my trouble, and a fiend’s grin, before the red tail sailed like a flag in my face, as Kai dashed into my room to hide under the bed. He tended to forget that I could easily crawl in after (a necessity when he was a kitten, and prone to hoarding food), but I’d give him the goal, since he’d caused me to crease up after a long shift – something only a cat should attempt, and invariably pulls off. Shucking off my bag, I’d listen to him whickering under the bed, pleased with his joke; for a punchline, he’d sometimes dash back out in a whirl of cotton and teeth, to nip at my bare ankle, before plunging back down the stairs with the feet of an elephant.

I never did teach him the fine art of toe-walking.

This month marks a year since his death. The event itself was painful, something I don’t think on, because it stuns me to silence. My Ma called me at work. I remember how cold the bricks were at my back, leaning up against the wall on the stairwell. The wind was whipping leaves, great coppery wreathes. I’d known it was coming – she had warned me over the months, how much his health had deteriorated – but it had been the lengthy process of snakes and ladders. Each time we thought he might go, Kai would suddenly develop an appetite; when it seemed he might see another year, his fur fell away into tired rags. Running a hand over his back, Ma described it as a series of knots. His tail, that ostrich-plume sweep, became a blank exclamation mark. His eyes – those were probably the worst, apart from his heaving ribs. Ma said he would spend hours staring straight ahead, at nothing, at everything, at a world he was leaving, at the place where a cat goes to purr when in pain.

Oh yes, cats purr without pleasure, too; a grim smile of a sound.

My friends on Twitter were unique waves of comfort, keeping me afloat. I don’t remember much else about that day, except how my fingertips turned white when I went out for a walk.

It wasn’t a peaceful end for him. That thought alone turns me pale; heart failure is as shocking, as undignified and full of pathos as any death can be, and I wish to Whoever that I could –
At least have held him.

He sits in an urn now, on Ma’s mantelpiece, still lording it over the fireplace; in front of the rug where – sprawled out to catch the best of the heat, as only a cat can – he would disappear among the pale fluff, with only the occasional twitch of the apricot tail to break up the lines. Ma no longer lives in that house – over a decade, a divorce, my hospitalization, a staggered relationship and finally Kai’s death, she left the ghosts behind. In her new house, with its flag floors and stout doors, sprawling garden and sunswept views of fields, she has a man who has made her happier than I could possibly hope for, a dog and another cat. Arthur is a red point Birman. He has the lean lines of Kai, but the noseguard of a Norwegian Forest. His temperament is best described as Lord of the Manor, with teeth. Less malleable in cuddles – you can’t flop him in your arms, as Kai would loll with his head down – Arthur is nonetheless my Ma’s boy.

I miss the company of cats, for their furred presence and livewire chatter; the introspect of a rainy afternoon, curled up on my bed with a purring bookmark (Willow liked to save pages for me, with a twitching paw, flipping back over to point out useful quotes for school essays. That was her argument, anyway.) The fluid time of a summer afternoon, sprawling on a thin bed sheet with a warm lump at my back, to form a Yin/Yang. The whisper of paws denting an idea into snow, each step another thought
…..

Maybe when I am grown into myself, as a writer, and have earned enough to establish a working space filled with what I’d like to keep about me – Art Deco designs and paintings in Tonalism, seats of cigar-coloured leather that creak with antiquity, a desk scarred by children’s pens and tattoos of old ink, large candles sifting streams of frozen time down wine bottle necks – I’ll own another cat. We’ll hunt each other through the sly shadows of a study, over thick-piled carpet, to perch side-by-side on the moonlight sweep of a bay window overlooking the monochrome lawn. Snow under lamplight, orange haze and talon-trees; blue shadows and the smell of white musk. We’ll watch the foxes hunt rabbits in a light dusting of new fall, breath turning silver against the black – and find our reflections in the glass, one cat, one woman, and a life-age mixed somewhere in between.

baby birman

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Riddle-Speak

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter
It’s isn’t just one of your holiday games…”

So said T.S Eliot, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Three names apiece, one of which “THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess” – I have enough trouble remembering my own, what with all of these trailing diminutives; feathery scraps of childhood.

There are many things to love about the felidae. The light behind their eyes, that tapetum lucidum, so as to to see between worlds. The way they will greet, not with the wet manners of a dog, but with a dry nose and tall tail-tip. There is a certain pleasure to be had in noting the pause, the wavering head, as they watch for your approach with open hands and blue-black tone. Even the most docile feline carries the glint of a smile.

Creatures like the crocodile and the hawk were worked into the pyramid walls of ancient Egypt, were known as gods and goddesses under the papyrus light; surrounded by hieroglyphics simple in their elegance and, at times, complex as data encryption.

sobek horus
http://www.123rf.com

Horus and Sobek and of course, Bastet – the cat goddess, cast in the half-light as both protector and warrior, associated with the sun (as the daughter of Re/Ra) and the moon, via Artemis and the Greeks. Whatever can be taken from this mythology, it’s certainly a truth that cats are crepescular by nature, at their most active in the pale thresholds before conscious thought, when all lines are blurred as a Nocturne.

Firefly Glow
kfrose.blogspot.com

A cat who would speak with you at length, speaks through the riddle-dance that is appealing in its vagueness. Easy to lose yourself between the muted lines, to forget what it was you were meaning to ask. This is a preferable state when running from details, responsibilities, predictabilities, but the adult world is seemingly governed by such tedious moments, when only the finest-nib clarity will do. I’ve caught myself laughing (rueful rub of the cheek) at my own frustration with an Access Denied. Encouragement reaps its own rewards.

Who would go so far as to break his own limbs to walk as a cat, when no cat would wish to walk as a man?

“Whatever the Alchemist had turned itself into wasn’t a cat.
Half clothed in mist, it trudged painfully towards them from some lunar distance, supporting itself on a staff made from the leg of a panther… Lost in a maze of ruptured highways – burning with rage and desire down every wrenched, coppery perspective, tottering through constant darkness towards every gleam of daylight, deluded by mirror-images, led astray by the very mathematics that had allowed it to penetrate the Old Changing Way: deceived, dazed and disorientated – it had begun to disintegrate. Where cat and catskin had once run seamlessly together, all was in rags.” – Gabriel King, “The Wild Road.”

Crippled by his own hand, each limb contorted and tortured into the supple lines of the feral way, the Alchemist is infused with the energy of sacrificial victims. To control the Golden Cat – that symbolic focus of all natural life – he would walk the wild roads, tying them up in agonized knots, to gain power over this world and the next. We know the highways as “leylines”, in folk lore; but King – the pseudonym of writing pair Jane Johnson and M. John Harrison – employs a lexicon and syntax reminiscent of the free will carried in all wild things, taking the audience between transitions of wary poise, spitfire instinct and playfulness. On the ghost-roads, the smallest feline casts a long and sabre-toothed shadow.

It was through The Wild Road that I became aware of “narrative voice” as something distinct from my own, or that of authors I admired. The protagonist, Tag, is a Burmilla kitten whose movements leap out from the page in keeping with his thoughts:

“‘Alone”, thought Tag.
He tested this idea until sudden panic swept through him. He ran round and round the lawn until he was tired again. He licked his fur in the sunshine for ten minutes. He couldn’t think what to do. He jumped up onto a windowsill and rubbed both sides of his face on the window pane. “Breakfast!” he demanded. But clearly it would not be feeding him today…
He had a new idea. He would feed himself.
“Eat a bee,” he thought.
He thought: “Eat more than one.”
And he tore off excitedly across the lawn.’ – pg 20

This staccato style would quickly become tiresome in another context. This is a life lived close to the ground, defined by the smallest details: that which only a cat would notice and remark upon. Dappled with feline lore and mythology, the novel is narrated in the singular (Tag) and the plural – the nine lives of the cat – infused with the innocent-arrogance of the species.

“Those families bade us welcome and we went into their homes of our own free will, and stayed on our own terms. They treated us like deities, each cat a god in its own house – gifts and offerings, and prayers for a share in our fertilitiltiy and health, for they were a sickly and superstitious lot.
Before long, they were raising temples, drawing our image on the walls like their ancestors before them. In the new drawings we were guardians of the doors of night, guardians of the realms of the dead. We sat at the frontiers of the shadow kingdom; we watched over the spirits of the dead, to guard them in their long sleep.
The same old fears, the same old hopes.” – pg 172.

Each twisting strand weaves the historical with the modern, passing from Bubastis through London to Tintagel head, along the ghost-roads where nothing is quite what it seems. It hit me between the eyes. Aged eleven, seeking something more than the well-shaped but quaint books that had papered my childhood thus far. They were too obviously human. When Tag chases bubbles around his home, he is “as leggy and unsteady, as easily surprised, as easy to tease, as full of daft energy as every kitten”, progressing from this haven of soft humans and pale light into the wider world; drawn on his quest by a mischievous magpie with an agenda, and a one-eyed black cat with a life layered by papyrus, frost and fire. As even the Majicou knew, through his collective lives as keeper of the roads, the power to move between the primal state and the domestic one comes with a price:

‘”So”, he said, “what am I to tell you, Tag?
That if, as the pretty myth has it, cats are allotted nine lives, I have lived out eight of mine? It would be true to say that. That I am as old as the highways I care for, and which sustain me in return? That cats once got up on their hind legs at night and held not just a parliament but a just parliament with human beings? Ridiculous. No cat has ever wanted to walk like a man. Yet it’s a pity we can’t talk to them, Tag.”‘ – pgs 135-6.

Such a care, to know what you cannot speak of.

Peter .S. Beagle’s story, The Last Unicorn, is a work of art coloured bittersweet with a love transcending shape and time. The scars on the face of a warrior, the marks on a wizard’s hands, map their own stories. Even as the unicorn leaves an inevitable trail along the roads of mankind, so the world of mortality marks her in turn with the necessary lessons of care and regret; a heavier burden for one who had lived pale and distant as the moon.

“The sky spins and drags everything along with it … but you stand still. You never see anything just once. I wish you could be a princess for a little while, or a flower, or a duck. Something that can’t wait.” – Molly Grue.

When changed into a woman by the well-meaning (somewhat undisciplined) magician Schmendrick, to save her from the Red Bull, the wilderness lives on in her eyes, for a time at least; but the grey world heaps dust on the memories of wild beasts and woodlands, and that aching fear for her people which began the quest, begins to fade:

“Now I am two – myself, and this other that you call ‘my lady’. For she is here as truly as I am now, though once she was only a veil over me. She walks in the castle, she sleeps, she dresses herself, she takes her meals, and she thinks her own thoughts. If she has no power to heal, or to quiet, still she has another magic. Men speak to her, saying ‘Lady Amalthea’, and she answers them, or she does not answer. The king is always watching her out of his pale eyes, wondering what she is, and the king’s son wounds himself with loving her and wonders who she is. And every day she searches the sea and the sky, the castle and the courtyard, the keep and the king’s face, for something she cannot always remember. What is it, what is it that she is seeking in this strange place? She knew a moment ago, but she has forgotten.”

She turned her face to Molly Grue, and her eyes were not the unicorn’s eyes. They were lovely still, but in a way that had a name, as a human woman is beautiful. Their depth could be sounded and learned, and their degree of darkness was quite describable. Molly saw fear and loss and bewilderment when she looked into them, and herself; and nothing more.’ – Ch 10.

Yet it is the cat of King Haggard’s castle who knows her for what she is. Bound by his own language to speak through the twisting riddles, of what is and what might be, his truth is never more than an eye-glow.

“How do you know she is a unicorn?” Molly demanded. “And why were you afraid to let her touch you? I saw you. You were afraid of her.”
“I doubt that I will feel like talking for very long,” the cat replied without rancor. “I would not waste time in foolishness if I were you. As to your first question, no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them…. You have very little time. Soon she will no longer remember who she is, or why she came to this place, and the Red Bull will no longer roar in the night for her. It may be that she will marry the good prince, who loves her…”‘

“When the wine drinks itself,” he said, “when the skull speaks, when the clock strikes the right time – only then will you find the tunnel that leads to the Red Bull’s lair.” He tucked his paws under his chest and added, “There’s a trick to it, of course.”

“I’ll bet,” Molly said grimly… “oh, cat, wouldn’t it be simpler just to show me the tunnel? You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know,” answered the cat, with a glinting, curling yawn. “Of course it would be simpler for me to show you. Save a lot of time and trouble.”

His voice was becoming a sleepy drawl, and Molly realized that, like King Haggard himself, he was losing interest. Quickly she asked him, “Tell me one thing, then. What became of the unicorns? Where are they?”
The cat yawned again. “Near and far, far and near,” he murmured. “They are within sight of your lady’s eyes, but almost out of reach of her memory. They are coming closer, and they are going away.” He closed his eyes.

Molly’s breath came like rope, fretting against her harsh throat. “Damn you, why won’t you help me?” she cried. “Why must you always speak in riddles?”
One eye opened slowly, green and gold as sunlight in the woods. The cat said, “I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.”‘

The cat knows what it knows, and will continue to look on our world with a crooked head and a mutable smile. We’re still new to the game, after all.

This writer’s life (holding a compass)

Who am I, as a writer?
Well, I couldn’t tell you that. I have no deep insight into anything beyond immediate experience – which I suppose you could say is true of many of us, I don’t know, I didn’t research it. I read enough to keep my brain fired and fried by turns, but it’s a constant process of catch-up, after over a decade of mental stagnation. Oh ja, I could tell you about the interior of various mental health institutions, and how it feels to see the lights of an ambulance bracket the walls, and the dialling-down spiral of knowing you have disappointed so many people who care about you, who you care for –

But who wants to read that sort of noir life, back and forth, time and again?

I could tell you about counting calories like grains of sand through the hourglass, and how it feels when your heels crack for pacing; what it means to know your grades are failing because you can’t keep up, juggling mental and physical duress –
That conflict doesn’t leave in a hurry, it’s why I have trouble with employment –

But again, how to spin that line to a sustainable cobweb?

I could tell you about the different types of cat coat, the ticked and the spotted, the swimming breeds, the docile v.s. the gregarious. I could go off on one about the many cat shows attended, with the surprising variety of stalls showcasing craft innovation (kitty alarm clock, anyone?) and the cages filled with pacing, bawling, squeaking, hiding, wide-eye denizens of another world that we’ll never know, because you cannot bottle smoke. Even caught behind the bars, those jungle eyes found me, and I wondered who was the real prisoner.

And I’ll tell you what colour your name is, and how to find it in a song; where to weave it into words that might spill over to poetic enjambment, a river-run of themes, time, love, relief, abandonment, chaotic self-delusion. Write what you know.
Know what you write?

So many little things, spun away into an endless world of tomorrows. So many signals replayed. Refrains. I often watch myself in writing and find a wire-grin: “She’s at it again, look – haven’t we seen that before?”

My short-term memory is shot to shit. Prolonged malnutrition tends to inhibit cognition, even years after some semblance of mental and physical health have been restored. I must read and reread what I know, what I thought I knew, until getting into debates and conversations and finding myself tits-up for details … And trying to write essays and articles, when the facts and the words were tucked safely behind my ears, a tapetum lucidum for the eye, but … What did I really want to say? Why will it not come? What is all of this white noise?

Somehow, the latter has grown louder of late.

As a child, I began and finished many things with incredible speed, usually through a lack of consistency than any kind of real talent. Some skills remain – I can move with the grace of a dancer, but to go en pointe is a skill I shall always lack, after quitting aged nine. That time at least, it was not my fault; an old injury. But such things come back to haunt us, and I have rarely completed anything in full since. My parents learned quickly, not to indulge my whimsical side – it is prone to grabbing onto new interests, passing flights of fancy like the gossamer-silk of a baby spider in flight. But we all must land eventually. Boredom is my lesser enemy; envy is the bete noir, my main failing, turning kind regards to spite and a small-minded pettiness. But I am only stringing myself up, losing time better spent elsewhere, and it is (thankfully) not applicable to everyone. Only those I fear to lose.

University – I quit after nine weeks. I blamed the relapse, the lack of coherency in the course. The truth is, I was afraid, as ever, of change. I bottled it, and let anorexia win, because the timetable was hectic and I was unable to engage in “behaviours”. So it goes that, in a slow process of erosion, I have tried many things over the years, and quit out of higher sense of duty to an illness that lives in my brain, subsidizing a life.

I have lose count of the opportunities walked away from, out of fear and self-destruction. God knows where I might be now, with a little more education and ten years of living something closer to a life, under my well-notched belt. A continuous conflict between what I would like to be, and how to get there (since childhood, this certainly predates the illness), with a short attention span and aversion to rules, but a desperate desire to know the world. To read its features and hear its people, and to stay still long enough to show that I actually give a damn.

But if I can recognize these things, why have I not made changes? Why continue to feed the monster?
When does an illness become a lifestyle?

So if you really want to know why I lack motivation and focus, why I do not put my (not inconsiderable) range of skills – shallow graves that they are – to better use, look no further than this.
I am a Tryer, rarely a Doer. Much of what I actually manage to achieve is down to sheer blind luck, and the kindness of strangers.

So, stumbling from one plus to a negative, one mood and one day to another year… that’s how you’ll find me, in late 2014, with as much focus as Pot Noodles and a chestful of hopes and a headful of fears, and a heart … made for lions. Because, with all of this out of the way, I am still proud. I danced ballet, and it welds steel to your bones, laces pearls into your hair.
I do not stop trying. Not because “they” or “it” will have won, but because I’ve nothing better to do. Incidentally, that is what brought me around to recovery.
There’s your motivational poster for the day.

Now I guess I’d better sleep. I’m supposed to be at work in about an hour. Sometimes, the words won’t wait, and it’s then that I know I’m a writer yet. Holding a compass.

Dreaming of Mercy Street

I knew where I was going, once. Had some sort of a plan, a topic, a novel, a vision – and a hell of a lot of rum.

Now, I have two children who are not mine, who I adore but would like to press Mute on for two hours in the evening … and shifts that are sapping the life out of my mind. Blah fucking blah. Same old story.

I want to get out of here. See Germany, see France, Belgium, Austria, mountains chained into diamond teeth, a hard blue sky and fierce-scented forests. I want to break out of this block that holds my head like a vice, out of – what – weariness? Spite at myself? Fear of failure?

It’s the same song on repeat. My past never left, and hunts me still. At least I sleep through the night, for now. The last bout of insomnia was a bitch.

Sorry, this is a protracted whinge. I can’t seem to find the words elsewhere. I use pictures to detail how I feel, and am more reliant on these than ever. It’s 8pm, and I have only just sat down.
Where is this all going?

To sleep, with any luck.

Let down at work. Nothing I can go into, but suffice to say, I’m screaming into thin air. And getting through a lot of chewing gum.

These words at least, come easily enough. Nowhere else to lay them out, to put them down. Glance over and be gone, it’s all one to me. The other blog post will have to wait until … some kind of coherency returns.

I can’t change my style, anymore than I can change my blood type (A-)
I still walk bare foot in the rain on sunburnt tarmac, and look for the last hidden corners of the library, out of the sight of teens and away from the burring computers that riddle up my bones with current. The view from that wide-eye window is magnificent; one of the last I shall remember. The lady cathedral in dexteree, and a sprawling canvas of blue-green towards the silver ocean of sky – planes from the nearby airport, swimming with the dreaminess of carp from one cloud to another.

And to sinisteree, the flat rooftops where cats lollop and play, sprawl and wail, and chase with curved backs, over the baked bricks. I had a dream of following them, once, as a child. There was always time to hide in the hedges, jumping out to scare my older sister; and teaching my younger brother how to wait, silent and still, in the green-black shade of the tallest marigolds you ever saw. Three feet, those damn stems grew to. Only my mother could manage to tame so fierce a jungle in our back garden.

Seven trees, lined up like soldiers – one beech, three larches, two willows, and a stately grandfather oak. It was on the latter that I taught my kittens how to climb – Chloe took to it readily enough, having less fur than her sister, Jess, to weigh down small pinion-paws. Poor Jessie would take a running leap, make it halfway up the trunk (digging into the crusty bark), before flailing back down, arse first, in that inconsistent way of cats. I wished for her to have Norsk Skaukatt in her blood, if only for the long “nose-guard” profile reminiscent of the Viking helm, and that singular way of descending a tree, head-first, in a spiral, as in the way of the Nuthatch bird.

Certain breeds have their own peculiar traits. The Skoggy, with its spiral-descent; the Siberian, with its triple-layer fur, allowing it to become a snow-plough; the Ragdoll with its “flop”; the Siamese its shoulder-riding (although my Kai, a Birman, was also a fan of this); and my personal favourite, the Turkish Van – one of the very few felines who will readily approach water for a swim.

Ja, if there’s one thing I can go off on one about, it’s cats. As a kid, I collected relevant books, ornaments, toys, jewellery, fiction, poetry – wrote some of the latter myself, where did that all go? caught between the pages of some ink-stained notebook, buried in a suitcase – and pretty much lived my life in trees, down in the long grass (running from spiders), in the hope that one day I would wake, and no longer be human.

Still waiting.

This staccato voice, and aversion to loud faces, and arrogant-innocent nature, are all born out of that child’s dream. There are some mornings when I wake and watch the sky, and feel so much myself again that it seems the world had never moved on, and I had never grown and seen the patterns of my mind shift, the days blur into years. I am walking the highways again, lost in a silver-blue mist that began around my ankles and stirred up to the height of the hawthorns, and there are no thoughts of home. Of paedophiles and murderers. Of watchful, waiting eyes. Of anything beyond recall.

Just the night, and my feet at their softest, and ice-rimed leaves crackling still – because no human could ever learn to walk like a cat.

Not even the Alchemist managed that.

I should reread the Wild Road, really, and find myself again.

the wild road

Well. That’ll do for now.

Living the Dream

When we are small, one of the first questions we are likely to ask of ourselves and others, is “What will I be when I grow up?”

The answer might seem elusive as a bubble for some (like me, easily distracted), chased by a skittish kitten across a slippery floor. For others, ambitions are set early, solid and immovable as the stones found in a riverbed.

I have clung onto only two ideals in life: Writing, and Travel. Both have played their part in my learning experience, as I evolve at a stumble-trip pace, from that child wandering off down a sunstruck Mercy Street, to the frail waif who sought to claw back control in her life and almost lost the latter in the process, to the woman I am now – still a bit unsteady on her feet, but racing to catch up with the world, while the natural order of things seems to be coming apart even as I watch the sky dialling down.

The best we can do, is to seek out what makes us happy and brings us peace, as I did today, wandering through the park and watching the wiffle of tiny fish in the glassy water, where the sun seemed to sleep in its riverbed.

Sun in bed

We are all of us allowed days off from the world. I openly admit to having an obsessive personality, to getting strung up on details, while missing the bigger picture. In this case, it was the fight for a world I have recently rediscovered, grown to love and wish to maintain in its peace, while actually forgetting to stop and watch the glitter of sunlight through new leaves.

Bridge

The best we can do, is to follow what brings us freedom and fire to the soul. I’m still trying to strike that balance.

I read back over old journals from time to time, to remind myself of where I have come from, what I’ve seen and done. Not for a martyr’s song, but to ground myself in the reality of still being alive, after over a decade of anorexia nervosa / athletica; and to help me decide where I am going to next (in a will ‘o the wisp way.) While the experiences gave me a different take on the world, they were bare, blank years, and not something I would wish upon anyone or would readily repeat.

There are too many minute cracks in the crystal for me to tell you where the real split came from, allowing depression to pour itself into my soul, thick and dark as well-bottom water and rot. But one particularly deep cut runs through my writing career, which began – ended – began again, as an emotional outlet. It was the loss of singularity which was my undoing; a feeling of being (yet again) inadequate in the face of society, when I had precious little else going for me.

Upon returning to the UK from Germany and the travels across Europe with my family, I was so far behind my peers in all subjects that it was required of me to attend extra tuition, just to keep up. In particular, there was a special reading group, held by a gentle lady with pebble-glasses and iron-wool hair, and the sort of stoop some tall older people wear, when their spines begin to fade.

It was through her careful persuasion and tutelage that I managed to get past the frustration, to continue picking up the books which others seemed able to skim over like swans on the lake water. Whenever I feel left out, the first instinctive reaction is to stomp off in the opposite direction (I’m working on a more mature approach of standing my ground, though the hot angry tears still occasionally come if I cannot comprehend something which seems perfectly basic to others. Hence the hatred of Maths.)
It wasn’t long before the school library became a quiet haven of stirred pages, a refuge for a developing mind.

The realization of writing as an emotional outlet came with watching a class video about brick-work children, in the factories of Victorian England. I can still remember the feeling at the back of my throat, at the sight of those wide white eyes staring out of dirt-blackened faces, the little chapped hands and the stooped backs. Though of course these were characters played by actors and actresses, the stories were based upon the country’s historical context, as the teacher had told us before the video began. These had once been real lives, real suffering.

The thought of children my age (six years old, at the time) not having the same simple privileges of life which I enjoyed and took for granted – playing outside with friends, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired – was a shocking dart between the eyes. I felt very still and quiet inside, in that way of walking from the cinema after seeing a film that stirred the soul, leaving you in dire need of the emptiest night-streets.

Normally, after watching such videos, the class would then go outside at break-time and re-enact in games what they had seen. I didn’t feel up to it. The company of my peers felt cloying; I couldn’t shake off the weird nimbus-mood.

When I got home, I asked my mother for a few sheets of blank paper. Keeping in mind what I’d seen a teacher do, I asked her to fold it over and staple the edges, to make a “proper book.” This would be the first of many; I still have some knocking around in old files, scribbled dark with biro and pencil. The pictures usually took up much of the page, with the narratives captioned beneath.

That first story took the brick-work children out of their scraping-by environment; away from the flames of the kiln which burnt their skin, and out into the countryside – all via a convoluted map, of course, with contemporary enemies thrown in for good measure (I’m pretty sure there was an electric gremlin somewhere en route.)

In the only way I knew how, I gave those kids a shot at freedom, to take their lives into their own hands – though of course, it all balanced against my developing suspension of disbelief, for I was all too aware that the Victorian children were long gone. But still, that creative outlet somehow worked to appease my sense of morality, a little.

The rest of the story lies in the ebb-flow of this writing career.

Anorexia worked its claws in, around the time when I discovered I was not unique as a writer. There were others who, to a lesser or greater degree, were saying much the same things I was – using the same terminology, tapping into the same ideas, putting up their hands in class to give the answers I would have spoken, had I dared to bother to open my mouth first. More and more, the words What is the Point? ran through my head, a whistle-rush loop to throttle out all creative impulses. Someone would have inevitably done it before, and better – why should I waste my time?

With the loss of identity, anorexia was all too happy to step in and fill that echoing space. But since I wasn’t keen on death, and the grey place I was stuck in didn’t seem to be making me happy or peaceful, the only other way was up, and out. And though my brain was fried for a while, I never stopped writing – even if it was only to do a crossword or four, every day, to keep my mind ticking over; albeit, teeny-tiny ticks, inching about the clock face, counting out the days and the years that were becoming one and the same.

Time is something I wish I had more of – don’t we all? – while it is forever escaping from these pockets, to go rolling off down the street. I hate to feel as though I’ve wasted a moment, especially after leaving hospital. There is so much to catch up on. Once something has caught my interest, it will become yet another crystal for me to look into and through, multi-faceted and in equal parts beautiful and deadly, depending on how self-destructive I am feeling.

My ex partner was always trying to educate me in the glorious arts of Sitting Still and Doing Nothing; he can watch a fish tank for up to an hour before settling to write, while I must barge around like a walking hive full of bees before anything close to relaxation occurs, let alone a creative onslaught on a page. Evenings are my favourite time, when the body is weary enough to let the still-bright mind take over; sitting up in this eyrie-home with my back to to the wall, heart in my mouth and occasionally on my sleeve, watching the speckles of rain and the golden light that reflects off of gathered cumuli. A silence so heavy that the air itself shifts in colour, and it seems as though the world is holding its breath –

Until the thunder-clap and my heartbeat, a reminder that I had something to do or somewhere to be, something to read or write; another thing to learn and recall. I’ve given myself cluster-headaches recently, perhaps trying to do too much at once.
But I’d take it all, the newborn mind and the frantic energy, insomniac nights and the red-eye days, over the stagnancy of before.

So while at work, I allow my mind to wander freely. My job is high-intensity and very much blue-collar; there are some in my life who have made their opinions known, that I have “sold myself short.” It was their opinion that for someone who is holding three top-grade A Levels, I could certainly be doing better for myself; perhaps earning a better wage, driving a car, renting a bigger flat. Etc.

Should they ever read this, they will know who they are, and I hope that they will understand why I’ve included it here. I will point out now, as I did ten years ago when I took my first job after leaving hospital, that I am in work and I am alive. This is enough for me. I do tend to forget, which is OK in most circumstances, except when I grow complacent and/or rag on at myself for falling short of expectations.

I have few responsibilities and fewer outgoings, by personal preference. Even before the long spells of inpatient treatment, I was suspicious of all things long-term, of that which caused a commitment to be made, a responsibility upheld. When you’ve seen your life hanging by a thread, watching with dulled eyes as it was pulled taut, you become hyper-aware of Now.
Tomorrow, as they say, is just another day.

So I rarely plan anything in advance, and leapfrog from one project to another, with all the enthusiasm and naivety of a woman who has (and probably never will) grow up or grow old. My phone contract alone gives me a cold sweat. It’s probably the longest financial commitment I have to date.

Maybe one day, I’ll feel secure enough in myself and the turning of the world, to lay down roots.

This certainly isn’t the Be-All and End-All of life. The daytime job is just that, for all that I love the interactions with the personnel involved; it keeps a regular flow of cash coming in, and maintains my fitness in ways I hadn’t thought possible before. This is a particularly worthwhile investment for (allowing myself to break a rule) the tough times which may be ahead, if anorexia has a few latent “gifts” to give me when I am older.

The job allows me the freedom to come home and get on with the real career, the writing which sustains me mentally throughout the day; when not filtering through articles found online, researching this and that until my mind whites-out with weariness.

One day, I might actually know enough to write with a valid voice, about the things which engage my interest and are starting to redirect my concerns and priorities. The peculiar importance of the upcoming European elections; the actual benefits for education and global research, which our membership in the EU brings vs. the need for reformations; the rise-fall-rise of UKIP, and their consideration of an alliance with European far-right parties, to form a so-called Right-wing Eurosceptic bloc. Considering what some of the policies of these far-right populist parties are, let alone their controversies, I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with the idea.

I’m not a part of the so-called Metropolitan Elite. I earn just enough to stay alive, and try not to take more than I have earned. I’m only Me, a novice in this arena; but all I ask for, is to live in a country where everyone may go about their business without feeling persecuted because of their skin colour, ridiculed if English is not their first language, or unrepresented if the way in which they live differs to the social majority. It can’t be too much to expect, right? Heaven forbid if several individuals should happen to get together as a group, and to also be Romanian, and moving at speed into a house..

(Mr Farage has since retracted his comments, after a rather messy interview with LBC radio’s James O’Brien, in which I think it’s fair to say that the UKIP leader’s true colours were given an airing. Will it make a difference?
I’d throw a dart at a board. You’d have more chance of finding an answer.)
The Sun duly issued an example of deadpan assertion, just to ratchet up the pressure (via @pawelmorski / @jamesmanning4):

Sun newspaper

Sometimes, it really does come down to a dictionary definition.

I’m still learning as I go along. Still fucking up, backtracking, coming at things from one angle after another (hitting my head.) Always processing what others tell me, and what I witness on and offline. I’m not content with keeping quiet any more, and all of this waiting around, to find and validate my voice … it’s a bit boring. I guess it’ll happen when the train arrives.

To get back to the original point: I’m a writer. I make things happen with words. I may not always be writing what I know, but I know that I’m writing what I feel, what I fear and what I wish to talk about with the world.

Additional: On my school prom night, I was voted “Most likely to strap herself to a rocket in protest.”
Hope that helps.

Blog: “Open Your Eyes (Little Black Kitten)”

For as long as I can remember, I have had dreams in monochrome. Subtle shades of silver and grey, which linger between the stark realities of black and white (which for so many years ruled the waking moments of anorexia.) To sleep is to find another world, away from the harlequin quilt of everyday life, and somewhat similar to the muted shades of the feline eye. It is like wandering through a moonlit garden, wreathed in silver mist and soft with deep shadows, crosshatched over with the raking fingers of a tree flung out over a black-diamond sky.

As a child, I would linger at the end of every sunlit Mercy Street washed over in dust and silence, garbage and sunlight-gold. Aching eyes of heartbreak envy, for being born into a human body; I would watch the tails of the neighbourhood cats, as they disappeared around corners too narrow for me to follow.

Though on occasion, I would try. Squeezing through the green and gold light of trees, through their sticky sap and whispering cobwebs; under scratchy wooden fence posts and over crumbling brown bricks of some forbidden garden
(barbed wire to the cheek) –

To find a place not quite of my world, one I could never hope to know, much less possess with the paws of the inevitable hunter. Instinct wins out over even the most domesticated feline, in the wild-barred haven of some secret glade, in a dim alleyway formed of tired walls and black- gold bracketing sunlight and shadows. Flickering flies, like the embers of a pagan fire.
A mind full of sudden silence.

Back then, it was easy enough to follow the cats through the clock and back to childhood, to a time more innocent – in the sense of being unaware of the dark places of the world, and within.

She pictures the broken glass
She pictures the steam
She pictures a soul
With no leak at the seam
– Peter Gabriel, “Mercy Street”

The world of Felis silvestris catus.

I have often wondered how an adult cat might explain the ways of the crepuscular life to its kitten-child. Would it sing as a nursery rhyme, the lines of Yeats’ “The Cat and the Moon?”

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.

The thought returned again, while stuck in the sterility of last week’s waiting room. Time was making his usual slow shuffle about the clock face, muttering to himself with hands deep in his pockets. I flipped through a stack of books left out on the long table, ostensibly for the benefit of their infant target audience, but most likely well-thumbed through by the adults who, with fidgety fingers and frayed nerves, sought the same distractions.

Little Black Kitten
Courtesy of @CuteAnimal_Pics

Almost unbearably cute. I found this image on Twitter, though sadly have no photographer to credit. There’s the all-important hint of pathos around the eyes, the tilt of the head – typical of those small things in the world, who know damn fine that they will have you wrapped around their paw / little finger, soon enough. The image was simply called, “Little Black Kitten.”
This is his story.

Since children are more likely to respond to stories which feature protagonists who are of a similar age / stage of development, I wondered if the same might be said of a kitten.

There are the physical size / spatial awareness aspects to consider. A kitten is small in relation to the world around it. Everything from the vibrations of human feet, to the soft bumbling forms of litter-mates, will be processed by still-developing senses. The world is large, and full of odd shapes and smells. A kitten audience will find themselves reacting on a sensory level to the observations of a protagonist around their own age, based upon similar experiences – this in turn develops an engagement with the narrative, and an understanding of the plot.

“I can see the big yellow sun smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is blue around him.”
He lifted his pink nose and took a long sniff.
“I can smell the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten.

There is the feeling of bewilderment and fear, which can cause a kitten to cry out in the plaintive mew for its mother, who responds with a reassuring burr/chirrup, distinctive from her normal purr. A typical situation might be caused by seeing the sun and the moon for the first time, and feeling afraid of their size and omnipresence:

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The sun is big and yellow in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the sun.”

The response of the parent is important, both in text and reality. There is a need, not to overload the kitten with information, but to make it aware of the basic facts / positive and negative aspects of its surroundings, in order for it to appreciate the benefits and the dangers:

“But the moon stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “Her white light shines in the dark. She will make your green eyes glow, so that you can see. All of your friends who have been asleep in the day, will come out to play.

But you must never go outside into the garden on your own, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “You might become lost…I will be with you.”

The title, “Little Black Kitten,” was taken from the original tweet on which the image was posted. It has a lovely mnemonic rhythm to it when spoken aloud, due to the presence of consonance and assonance in the /t/ /l/ and /i/ phonemes, respectively. The repetition of these sounds can create a “handle” on which the audience can fix when reading aloud, as a way of “staying in touch” with the protagonist. They are also beneficial for teaching an awareness of eye-rhymes found in prose as well as verse; rather like developing an “ear for music”, this can help the audience to understand how some words sound better together than others, creating a natural “flow” of words, when writing for themselves.

Alliteration, assonance and consonance can form mnemonic patterns when used in stories aimed at a young kitten audience. They can help with learning and remembering names, keywords and high frequency words, which a kitten may use in everyday life when speaking or reading alone / aloud.

In Helen Stratton-Would’s book, “Who Stole the Moon?”, alliteration and consonance are used to create both a memorable and rhythmic “flow” in the protagonist’s name and the syntax:

Bertie Brown is a very lucky boy. He has a skylight in his bedroom, which means he can see the sky when he lies in his bed. He can see birds, the clouds and aeroplanes, but most of all he likes to lie and look at the moon.” – pg 1, “Who Stole the Moon?”, Helen Stratton-Would.

While the presence of complex sentences in the narrative can appeal to more advanced readers – thus broadening the target audience – it is best at this early stage of literacy, to make the story accessible to as many young readers as possible. This means relying more on simple and compound sentence structures, to allow kittens to develop their reading at a steady pace and learn to trust their own initiative, while making progressive gains from one book to another:

“When I say pull, said Dad, “I want you to pull!”
Mum pulled and pulled, but the stump didn’t come up.
– pg 9, “The Old Tree Stump,”, Roderick Hunt / Alex Brychta

“Are you sure?” asked Bertie, unsure that something as big as the moon could be hidden by clouds. “Yes,” said the wise owl. “If you lie in your bed tomorrow night and gaze out of your skylight, I am sure you will see the moon.” – pg 31, “Who Stole the Moon?”, Helen Stratton-Would.

Repetition of words that are key to the plot, can help to imprint the essence of a story on the mind of the audience. For example, the verbs “pull/pulled” and “push/pushed” are used frequently in “The Old Tree Stump”, to highlight the actions taken by the characters in removing the old stump, via oppositional force:

Dad called Mum to help.
“I’ll push it. You pull it,” said Dad.
“When I say pull,” said Dad, “I want you to pull!”
Mum pulled and pulled, but the stump didn’t come up.
– pgs 7-9, “The Old Tree Stump”, Roderick Hunt / Alex Brychta

These verbs, when used in conjunction with one another, would give the kitten-audience a basic understanding of how the words and their relevant actions can have an antonymous relationship (e.g. in weight training, with the lifting and lowering of a weight = the flexion and extension of an arm joint.)

Colours and objects are key words in the narrative. With their repetition, the audience can learn to associate one with the other, in their natural state and habitat (e.g. green grass in the garden, yellow sun in the blue sky, etc.) This helps the audience to connect what they are reading about with their own surroundings, as well as increasing awareness of which colour fits its relevant noun (of particular use here would be coloured fonts in the text, to pick out grapheme-phoneme connections.) Such objects can perhaps be used in word-games such as point-and-name.

While turning this story over in my mind, in that waiting room of Old Man time, there was one feature of the narrative which I kept returning to: the reassuring tone. Planting the idea in the mind of the audience, that to face up to fears does not automatically mean going it alone – though it might seem the more difficult path to take, especially when the easier option is to sleep on, unaware. To keep your eyes closed.

I tried this tactic for a long time. It didn’t work. The world doesn’t go away, nor does it stand still; it moves on, regardless of whether we are looking or not, in the natural progression of things. Change must happen for any progress to be made.
Which was how I found myself that day, waiting to pick up the results of a second biopsy. They were clear, by the way. A cyst, and nothing more appalling than perhaps another needle.

Still, had I not gone for (yet another) checkup, I would have lived with that shadow-burden for a while longer, and – had the results been less agreeable – perhaps a worse outcome.

Time resumed his forward march. I can find the lancing gold sunlight again, walking my Mercy Street, where for a while only shadows had lurked.
Now with one Little Black Kitten, for company.

Children’s Story: “Open your Eyes (Little Black Kitten)”

“Open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “It is morning.”

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The sun is big and yellow in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the sun.”

“But the sun stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “He is big and bright and yellow. His light will warm up the world.
He makes the green grass grow in the garden, for you to sit on.
He makes the red flowers bloom in the garden, for you to smell.

But you must not look directly at the sun, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “He is bright and will hurt your eyes.”

“I like to feel the green grass. I like to look at the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten. “I would like to sit in the garden.”

“Then you must open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat.

So Little Black Kitten put down his paws. He opened his green eyes.
“I can see the big yellow sun smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is blue around him.”
He lifted his pink nose and took a long sniff.
“I can smell the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten.

“Come out into the morning garden,” said Mummy Cat. “I will be with you.”

They went outside into the morning garden. The big yellow sun was smiling down at them. The red flowers smelled wonderful. The green grass felt soft and warm under his paws.

Little Black Kitten smiled up at the big yellow sun.
“I am glad I opened my eyes,” he said to Mummy Cat.

Night-time came. The big yellow sun closed his eyes and went to bed. The red flowers tucked in their petals. The blue sky turned black as fluffy kitten fur.

“Open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “It is night, and time to wake up.”

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The moon is big and white in the sky,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the moon.”

“But the moon stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “Her white light shines in the dark. She will make your green eyes glow, so that you can see. All of your friends who have been asleep in the day, will come out to play.

But you must never go outside into the garden on your own, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “You might become lost.”

“I like to sit in the garden,” said Little Black Kitten. “I would like to play with my night friends.”

“Then you must open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat.

So Little Black Kitten put down his paws. He opened his green eyes.
“I can see the big white moon smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is black around her.”
He turned his ears this way and that.
“I can hear the night animals playing,” said Little Black Kitten.

“Come outside into the night garden,” said Daddy Cat. “I will be with you.”

They went outside into the night garden. The big white moon was smiling down from the black sky. All of the animals that had been asleep in the day, were playing on the grass. It did not look green. The moon made the grass look white.

Little Black Kitten looked at his Mummy Cat and his Daddy Cat. Their eyes were shining green as the grass in the day.

“The moonlight helps us to see in the dark. She makes our eyes glow,” said Mummy Cat.

Little Black Kitten saw his friends waving to him. They called for him to come and play. He smiled up at the moon.
“I am glad I opened my eyes,” he said to Daddy Cat.