By Brindley Hallam Dennis
Margaret rather embarrassedly explained what Perry was short for, and she went on to explain what it meant, which, of course, a writer should know anyway!
I thought of calling him Odysseus, she said, but people would have called him Oddy, and that would be insulting.
Perry was black all over save for a white bib on his chest, and he had only one eye. Perry was a cat. He’d been re-homed with Margaret. Rescued, she called it. He’d been a feral cat. Nobody’s pet. He’d been living free. He’d lived in woodland, slept under a nearby shed, fed at a back-door saucer left out, until he was caught. The missing eye, luckily, had healed naturally, or at least, the socket had.
Perry had been neutered. He’d been chipped. He’d been well fed to bring him back up to health. He was a chunky cat, with a portly dignity and, despite the lack of a patch, a piratical tilt of the head. He ruled Margaret’s garden with a paw of steel. When he progressed through the flower beds or across the lawn, he was preceded by a fanfare of bird calls: Look sharp! Look sharp! Here comes the king.
She had him years but never as a chattel. Cats are never possession, but at best, guests, VIP ones at that. He deigned to stay and let her feed him. He tolerated her letting him in and letting him out, on demand, of course. Once or twice a year, usually in the spring, he’d take a trip away, simply vanish for a day or three. No warning. No explanations on his return. After a hearty breakfast he’d depart. There might be one sly backward glance before he went, but nothing more. Then, one morning he’d wander back, expecting food, cool as you like, meowing at the door, sauntering into the hall, looking to left and right to make sure everything was as it should be. Cats like to maintain their standards and expect the staff to be ready at any time of day or night to receive them.
At first, of course, Margaret worried about him going like that. She imagined the worst. She checked the local roads and verges. She called his name, both the shortened and the full versions, across the neighbouring fields. She searched the hedgerows. She lived amid farmland, down a gravelled lane, almost overgrown and with a strip of woodland across the tarmac road at the lane end. The nearest not quite village was more than a mile away.
Traffic was intermittent. It was nobody’s through-route. Farm vehicles were huge and thundered through taking up the whole width of the road, but at least you could hear them coming. Private cars came too fast, especially round the bends, and didn’t make much noise, unless they were boy-racers.
Eventually she learned to trust his luck and waited for his return, hoping for the best. I used to worry, she said, but now I know he’ll be back in a day or two.
But then, one spring, two days turned into three and three into four, and four into five, and into many, many more. He was gone for good. She walked the fields again. She walked the roads. She even went through the strip of woodland, following its winding ribbon of path. She called his name. She left out food. Birds and mice, perhaps squirrels and badgers, even rats, came to eat it, but there was no sign of Perry.
He’d not been well for weeks. He’d been off his food. She’d taken him to the vet, crouched and bad-tempered in his travelling cage, claws out and hissing while they examined him wrapped in a towel for safety’s sake. He been prescribed a tonic, tablets that he wouldn’t swallow, even mashed into his food. Nothing had been diagnosed, and it was hard to know his age, what with that history. I’m sure, she said, he’s gone to find somewhere to die.
Two years passed.
Then one day, at the far end of the lane, she saw a black cat with a bib of white. She called out Perry’s name. It stopped. It turned. It sat down and looked at her. She took a pace towards it, and it was gone.
Next morning, from the corner of her plot, she saw for sure, the same cat stalk the hedgerow on the far side of the farmer’s field, and called again. Again, it stopped and turned, and looked. Could it recall its name?
Next morning earlier than dawn she heard him. It was Perry meowing on the back doorstep. She rose from bed, threw on some clothes, and went down. But he was already moving off, padding up the garden path. He must have heard the door. He stopped. He turned his head, then turned away and trotted on.
And then she thought that perhaps he was living as he used to live before; roaming the fields, foraging the hedgerows and the lane, hunting the woodland strip; taking mice and voles and shrews, perhaps even birds, knowing the back-door saucers for miles around. Circling like a stone on a string the place where he was saved, but nobody’s chattel, nobody’s pet, free again.
Brindley Hallam Dennis lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com
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