‘Cat Shelter. Can I help you?’
It was the first call of the day after throwing the answer phone switch to ‘off’ and, although human contact was a necessary part of the re-adoption process, it was a duty that could be easily substituted for more valuable time petting and caring for the cats.
‘Is Annie available?’
It was a puzzling question for, having worked at the Shelter for the past three years, she was sure no one there was called ‘Annie’. And there’d been no new workers for over three weeks. Even amongst those who’d left, there’d never been anyone she’d known by that name.
‘Have you got the right number?’
‘That’s the Cat Shelter, isn’t it?’
‘Then Annie should be there. She’s in Room Four.’
This was just a little unreal, surreal almost, for, if Annie wasn’t there, she couldn’t now be in a room. Non-existence had to mean non-presence and, unless the Natural Order of the World had suddenly changed in the past half hour, there was no way Annie could have materialised into a room when she hadn’t even come in through the front door.
Unless this was a Thursday, of course. Strange things always happened on a Thursday.
But it wasn’t. The calendar said so in bold tones, accompanied by a picture postcard view of some seaside resort or other that one of the staff had been to the previous season. Without cats – not even the slightest hint of one was in view which, as this was a Cat Shelter, seemed rather odd.
Perhaps it was a Thursday after all?
‘There’s no one in Room Four,’ she replied, hoping that this would satisfy the enquiry.
It wasn’t long before the next question provided another dilemma.
‘Is she somewhere else?’
Again, non-existence meant non-presence. She decided quickly on a different tack.
‘Can you describe her to me?’ she began, ‘I can’t think who you mean.’
Lee cleared his voice and began recalling the image from his memory, ‘She’s small, quite thin for her age – I mean, I would’ve expected her to have a belly on her by now but she probably is off her food…’
Well, there was one worker who was small to say the least but she was a teenager. The description continued:
‘…and she’s got black stripes on her legs and the cutest little ears you’ve ever seen.’
This was getting highly personal – what workers got up to in their private lives was their own business, but for their boyfriends to ring up and describe their physical attraction in such graphic detail was something that she disdained. This sort of thing just shouldn’t happen. There must be some Natural Law against it, she decided.
Then it hit her, as if the clouds had parted and a shaft of illumination was cascading down on her shoulders.
‘Er,’ she began, ‘we are talking “human”, aren’t we?’
Puzzled, Lee stammered, ‘Er, n-no. Annie’s a cat. She’s in Room Four.’
‘Oh, why didn’t you say so…’
But, that was still all to happen in the future…
…let me start from where the story began.
The first time I set eyes on Lee and Kath, I thought that the Circus had come to the Cat Shelter, perhaps even that the local hospital was short of beds and had decided to discharge them both into an unsuspecting world. It wouldn’t be long, I assured myself, before there were flashing blue lights, scampering feet down long corridors and over mesh barriers into abandoned alley ways, men talking in two-way radios and truncheons raised over heads.
But appearances can be deceptive and they wandered round the room offering a hand and a stare at each cat they came in to contact with. When Lee sat beside me, he took off his glasses and gave me ‘the eyes’.
That heavy-eyed slow blink that, in humans, would mean ‘I’ve just had the fourth bottle of vodka, I’m gonna be as sick as a dog in the morning’ but, to us cats, meant, ‘I think you’re very special, fancy making friends with me?’
You might call me rather sassy, that I’m anyone’s if they flutter their eyelids but, well, it had been such a long time since a stranger had come in and wanted to get to know me rather than to see if I wanted to play – he wanted to know who I was rather than what I did – that I took the plunge and stretched and slid my way on to his knee, getting a very gentle caress under the chin, behind the ears, across the forehead and – hey! – you missed a bit on the left side of the neck!
Now this I could get used to.
Having spent twenty minutes on his lap, curled up trying to get some shut eye – and being disturbed by a kid who tried to outstare me and who I honestly would have spiked had I not been so comfortable – I noticed Kath sat close by, so I slithered over and was instantly surprised at how little knee she had.
Perhaps it was genetic?
She was obviously a very different design to the other humans I’d known so I stretched out across her chest, head rubbing lightly underneath the chin and started purring.
This, apparently, was what decided it for her – that I had chosen them and that they had to work out a way to accommodate me as soon as I became available.
And I knew – as only cats can – that I’d see them again before very long, even if it did take them a couple of days of chatting it through before they finally decided.
Now all I had to do was wait…
Ready to read more? Continue to The Memoirs of Dalriada McPherson: Second Contact