Friday, 8 September 2017

The Emerald Dynasty

Emerald was a small black cat who took to hanging around our yard, having noticed that I occasionally left out bowls of food which our own cats hadn't finished. We didn't realise she was a stray because she looked so well groomed, but it seemed significant that we could never get anywhere near her, and that she always seemed to be hanging out with SOF. SOF, standing for Son of Fluffy, was another stray, one presumed to have sprung from the union of our own Fluffy and a female stray to which the kid gave the name Juliet, because even he could see that romance was in the air. I say presumed, but none of us were really in any doubt as to SOF's heritage. We mistook him for Fluffy a couple of times, and even his meow was the same. Unfortunately, like Emerald, he too was absolutely feral and wouldn't let us get anywhere near him.

Emerald became a familiar sight, and enough so for the boy to give her the name because of her green eyes; but still we were never able to get near her, and she'd approach a bowl of food only after we moved away to let her get on with it.

One day as we came home, we spotted kittens over at the neighbour's house. Frasier wasn't home, we guessed, and we went over to have a look. We had no idea where they could have come from. By this point we'd worked out that Emerald was female and probably a free agent, but she hadn't looked pregnant. Then again, neither of us could quite recall when we'd last seen her.

Just by Frasier's front door was a planter formed by three low brick walls running up against the side of the house. There had never been any soil in there, not so far as we knew, and a sheet of board lay across the top. Presumably he used it as storage space. I lifted the board and we had an aerial view of three tiny black kittens scrabbling to get away from the light. They were a few weeks old at most, very much mobile but still clumsy. We picked them up, noticing they were kind of chubby.

'Holy crap,' exclaimed my wife. 'These are some seriously chunky kittens.'

The one she held still had blue eyes and was noticably fluffier than the other two, although the third had vanished into the undergrowth at the side of the house.

'They have to be Emerald's kittens, I guess,' I said, as much a question as anything. 'I wonder where she is.'

'She'll be nearby,' Bess told me. 'Mother cats leave their kittens hidden while they hunt for food. Sometimes they don't even leave them all in the same place.'

Kittens are my favourite thing in the universe, so we petted them a little longer, then returned them and replaced the roof of their temporary accommodation.

Next day they were gone, but Donna noticed that I was looking over. 'Did you see the kittens?' she asked.

'Yes, we saw them yesterday. I guess you weren't home.'

'They been in there a few weeks. Lord knows where she's taken them. They were the cutest thing!'

'Yes, they were.'

A couple of days passed and, as I was washing dishes, a commotion drew me out into the garden, barking and snarling, a horrifying sound so close to the house when neither of our immediate neighbours have dogs. I ran out into the back garden. Shooty the drug dealer's two kid-killing dogs had once again escaped the confines of his own back garden and were now in Frasier's yard. They were going wild on the other side of the chain link fence, trying to get at something. They wanted to kill something. I'd never seen them jump our fence, and guessed they would have found it difficult with all the intervening wilderness, hackberry shoots and the like. I went closer.

Two of the kittens were hidden in the undergrowth, mewling and hissing in a pathetic attempt to scare off their gargantuan attackers. They were on the same side of the fence as the dogs. Only a rock hard tree stump forming a cage of truncated branches kept them safe.

I saw red. Here was a metaphor for all that was wrong with the world, helpless creatures about to meet a grisly end because our local shithead can't keep the violent killing machines he barely cares for in his own fucking yard. In that moment I could have destroyed both  dogs with just my bare hands. I ground my hands into the dirt at the lower end of the fence, underneath into Frasier's yard, and grabbed the two kittens. They hissed and scratched me, or tried.

'Fuck off,' I screamed at the kid-killing dogs with such raw fury that my throat hurt. They barked for a while, but deprived of anything helpless they might destroy, lost interest after another couple of minutes.

I temporarily housed the kittens in a cardboard box lined with a towel, and with a bowl of water. I called my wife at work.

'Emerald will be around somewhere,' she told me. 'You should just give them back when you see her.'

'You're sure about this?'


'I've picked them up. She'll be able to smell me.'

'She won't be bothered. She'll just be happy to have them back. Did you say you only have two of them.'


Neither of us wanted to think about what could have happened to the third kitten.

I waited.

The kittens hissed at me, which was quite entertaining, but seemed unharmed. At length I noticed Emerald watching from the side of the house. She looked pissed off, but then she always looked pissed off. That was how her face was. I set the kittens out on the grass and backed away to watch from a safe distance. She trotted over, picked one up in her mouth, and carried him off, coming back for his brother a moment later. I guessed it was going to be okay.

Weeks passed and we began to see them around, marching in a little line across the garden, tails aloft, or Emerald supervising as her kids swarmed up and down the trunk of the pecan tree. Occasionally we got close enough to pick them up, which they seemed to tolerate, but mostly we left them to it. Sometimes we'd see Emerald finish off a bowl of cat food in the porch, with two tiny black faces watching her from around the edge of the door, coming no closer because they could see that we were there.

They became bolder over time, and grew bigger. One was  turning into a fluffball, with a chocolate complexion which seemed almost red under a certain light, so Bess named him Jack in oblique reference to Jack Ruby, because rubies are red. His shorter-haired brother became Tony because we'd been watching The Sopranos. We couldn't really get close to Tony, but on the other hand he didn't quite seem afraid of us, although Jack still ran up into the walnut tree every time one of us came near.

Eventually Tony plucked up the courage to enter our house in search of food.

'He wants to be our cat!' Bess squealed happily, and it seemed like he really did.

'We already have about four-hundred,' I pointed out, exaggerating but not by much.

Tony vanished into the kitchen and was using the litter tray, like a workman whom you employ to fix your roof coming in to use the lavatory. The line between what we might describe as our cats and cats we just happen to feed was becoming intangible, and Tony became a part of the family, or at least a welcome relative.

Apparently he told his brother, because the previously timid Jack transformed overnight into the world's friendliest cat. We noticed also that he had tufts of fur between his paws, like a Maine Coon. We remembered how often we'd seen Emerald hanging out with SOF and realised that Jack was therefore almost certainly Fluffy's grandson. Unfortunately the two of them didn't get on, necessitating frequent incidents of my scooping Jack up and taking him outside to safety, away from grumpy old Granddad; following which he seemed to have decided I was his daddy. Wide green eyes full of admiration may have been just anthropomorphic thinking on my part, but on the other hand, he'd occasionally reach up and take hold of my hand between his two front paws whilst giving me that look, as though beseeching me to help drive the bandits away from his village. Bess occasionally referred to him as Jacques, and so he became our French cat.

Meanwhile, Emerald was pregnant again, a black silky pumpkin  waddling onto the porch to finish off another bowl. We vowed to catch her and get her fixed once this new lot were born.

The new kittens were sighted, with Jack and Tony now nearly fully grown, our back garden swam with black cats. We watched the new kittens grow, and occasionally managed to hold them so as to acclimate them to human company. As with Jack and Tony, they weren't really our cats as such, but my wife nevertheless named them Enoch and Jessie after characters in Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad. We'd had a Pekingese called Enoch when I was a kid, so I thought my wife had made a good choice. The first Enoch had been small, black and apparently named after racist Conservative politician Enoch Powell, which I believe was something to do with my dad's sense of humour.

Enoch, like Tony before him, wasn't backwards in coming forwards. He wanted to be our cat, and we let him because we couldn't say no. He had us at a disadvantage. He had the softest, darkest fur, the sweetest nature, and the loudest meow of any cat we'd ever encountered, and it didn't take too long to work out that his dad was almost certainly Mr. Kirby, one of our feral friends distinguished by a peculiar hooting meow. Enoch would stroll in, meowing loudly, and it sounded almost like singing, someone playing saxophone or guitar solos with heavy use of wah pedal.

'What is it, Enoch?' we asked. 'What do you want?

'Waaaeeooohhwwwaaahhheeaahhhooo,' and he'd wander off down the hall as though looking for something. Then he'd come back and take up residence on a lap, purring like a tiny motorbike. Scratch the back of his neck and he'd tip his head back and it would seem as though he was grinning. Sometimes I did this and I'd whisper Bob 'Oskins to him, because that was who he reminded me of, and he seemed to like it. We began to refer to him as our perfect cat, because he was wonderful.

Enoch was about a year old when Jessie, his brother, was hit by a car. Jessie had remained feral and unapproachable but it was still a sad day. Then Emerald was suddenly pregnant again and still unfixed, and our golden age of black cats came to an end. They disappeared one by one, excepting a cat we think is probably Tony but who keeps his distance these days. We suspect the third pregnancy was probably too much for Emerald, and we still have no idea what became of Jack or Enoch. Their stories may have had some unfortunate end, but given our neighbourhood, it seems just as likely that someone took them in. So that's what we tell ourselves.

My journey once again interrupted by our French cat.

No comments:

Post a Comment