I'm sorting through old files again... There are a number of novels, some never finished, some finished but no good. It's strange reading them again, with almost no memory of writing these things.
Here is a chapter of "What the Cat Brought In", with the two main characters coming face to face for the first time.
So many new noises.
A bit like the old noises, back home, but different.
They make your ears twitch. Clucking and cooing, humming and clattering, clicking and wailing and scraping all at once, and sounds passing by fast and sounds breathing in the distance, steadily behind these curtains, and it’s a good thing that there’s locks on all the windows because who knows what on earth might be out there.
Lydia double-locked the door.
“This, Cat, is your home,” she said.
Cat walked along the walls, looking into every corner of every room and making sure she touched every piece of furniture with her nose.
“You may sit on the chairs,” said Lydia, “but not on the sofa. Or anywhere else for that matter. I won’t have cat hair on my cushions.”
“Thank you’” said Cat, sitting down on a chair.
“Don’t sit around’’ said Lydia. “Unpack my luggage. You know how to sort laundry.”
“I shall have a bath now,” said Lydia, “That should give you time to get it all out of the way. Just leave my wash bag beside the bathroom door. You will find my laundry basket and wardrobe in the bedroom. And when I return, I want you to be out of there again. Here, take this.” She opened the broom cupboard and got out a small red vacuum cleaner. “If you can’t stop shedding your fur everywhere you go, at least clean up after yourself. This can be your very own pet hoover.”
“Thanks,” said Cat, cradling it.
“Pathetic creature’” Lydia muttered under her breath as she put down her green house slippers by the bathroom door and got into her lavender frottee bathroom slippers.
Lydia had a lot of slippers, Cat noticed as she opened the wardrobe. There was a hanging canvas shelf with three different pairs in it, in different shapes and colours and degrees of fluffiness, and she remembered having seen at least two more pairs in the livingroom, one waiting beside the big green armchair, another just by the door.
She must be scared of floors, thought Cat. That must be very difficult at times.
Lydia turned on the tap. Cat, in the bedroom, listened for a moment. It sounded different from the one at George’s house. Less of a roar, more of a trickle. But still the same thing. She was glad that this house had taps, and walls, and tables with cloths on that could be straightened, and sofas that were not to be sat on, and floors and bedrooms and a place to keep old magazines. She had been a bit worried, deep down, that there would be altogether different things, all over the place, mistakes to be made, questions to be asked about the workings of this and the dangers of that, but things were things were things as always. Cat felt very lucky. She knew that in some parts of the world there were people living in houses made of paper, with no furniture at all, and furry people living in caves, and smiling people living in tall, tall houses that scraped the clouds, and beaked birds living in nests made of grass and spittle under the blue sky. She’d seen all that in “The Wonder Book of Why and What” which George had given her to play with. It was a book about everything there was, but as half the pages had been torn out, Cat knew only half the world. Of some things, like the Electric Eel, she knew only the what, but not the why, and of others she knew the why, but the what was missing, and some things she only knew because though torn out, they were still listed in the index, like pages 67 to 72 - volcanoes of the world. For a while, she had been collecting scrap paper in the book and at night filled in the missing parts with her own pages, using borrowed pencils from George’s desk. A volcanoe, she wrote, is a very long boat, like a normal canoe but longer, so an entire family of savages may confortably live on it for the rainy season. Electric Eels are useful in the house and garden during times of great emergency. Then George’s wife had found the book and cried, and George had taken it away. George’s wife cried rather a lot.
The bath stopped running. Cat shook off the thoughts of her old home and ran to fetch the two suitcases. She pulled them to the bed. Lydia had left the key, and carefully Cat unlocked the first suitcase. It contained worn clothes, which Cat sorted into white, coloured, wool and delicates. It also contained her litter tray, which she put into the hallway, and some papers that she put on Lydia’s bedside table. I wonder if she knows I can read, thought Cat. The papers were mostly letters, written in a difficult scrawl, and some thick wads of stapled sheets full of graphs and other boring-looking things. The only sheet that looked interesting at all was one that had a photograph of Cat herself on it. She came across it with gentle surprise. Why would Lydia keep pictures of her? If she wanted to know what Cat looked like, she could just look at her. It wasn’t like she’d ever go away anywhere. - There was also a list of numbers and words on the sheet which didn’t seem to make much sense at all. Cat decided it was a Non-Cat-thing. Like phone bills and newspapers.
She neatened up the stack and went to open the second suitcase.
“Oh, bother,” said Elliot after he’d taken a deep breath and his eyes had adjusted to the light and he’d seen Cat looking down at him. He jumped out of the suitcase, tangled up in a nylon sock, and took cover, half running, half rolling, hugging his accordion bag.
Cat peered under the bed. She could see him there, right back with the dust balls. She stretched out a paw and tried to bat him. It seemed the thing to do.
She couldn’t reach.
They looked at each other some more.
Then Cat said: “Mouse.”
Elliot humbly put a paw on his chest. “Rat,” he corrected. He held out his paw to her: “Lioness?’
Cat put her chin on her paws and flattened herself against the floor. Elliot could make out the way her fur curled around her jaws and the tips of her hidden teeth in the moonlight, very clearly, like a dream. Her face was huge, a sand-coloured mask with eyes of green glass.
“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” said Cat.
Elliot recognised her kite-string voice. The fear in his stomach turned, like a flag whipped around, to a feeling of excitement that made his toes curl. “I’m not a stranger,” he said. “I’ve met your voice before.”
Cat disliked the idea of her voice going anywhere without her, even as she realised that it must be doing it all the time - seeping out of whatever box she was in, like a smell. Tins don’t smell even if they are full of food. Maybe if she was in a tin her voice would stay put. Maybe everyone could be in tins and the world would be silent.
“What flavour are you?” she asked.
“You know,” said Cat. “Like chunky rabbit, chunky beef, beef in jelly, chunky tuna, chunky chicken, chicken and liver...”
“Chunky rat, I suppose,” Elliot said carefully.
“What’s that like?”
Elliot frowned. He chewed on one of his claws, and tasted the inside of his mouth, and licked his arm. “Furry. Bit musky.”
There, Cat showed an expression. Just a slight wrinkling of the nose.
“I don’t think it’s a popular flavour,” Elliot said.
Cat’s ears twitched - the sound of splashing from the bathroom. Lydia was moving.
“Listen,” said Elliot. “You must remember me. I was outside your cabin. We were singing...”
Cat didn’t seem to understand. Her big face remained unmoved. But there was a low sound now, a purring like a thought.
“For you and I,” Elliot whispered more than he sang. His voice was shaking a bit. “...have a guardian angel...”
“...rrrrdian angel,” went the purring, joining him. Then it stopped. The room was very quiet.
Cat’s ears flicked.
Elliot didn’t know what else to do. He felt he had run out of all the right things to say. So he tried to smile, but he could feel all over his face that he was grinning instead.
Suddenly, Cat’s face disappeared from view. There was a flurry of movement - things thrown on the bed, suitcases snapping shut, wardrobe doors creaking - she was sorting something out in a great hurry. He peeked out from underneath the bed and just saw her leaving the room, taking a big bundle of white laundry out with her.
Almost the same second Lydia came in, wrapped in a bathrobe, a towel piled on her head.
A short glimpse was enough for Elliot - he recognised the old lady who had kicked him all over the ship, doing her very best to kill him.
He retreated, and did not move an inch from his hiding place for the rest of the day, even when Lydia went to bed above him, and not a hair did he move until deep into the night, listening to her breathing and snoring, like a formidable predator, like a dragon.
Then he was thoroughly fed up with being scared, and hungry.
Getting out of the bedroom was easier than he had feared. The door did not creak. The old lady slept soundly. There was a slight catch in her snoring when he carefully, carefully pushed the door shut behind him. But four seconds later, she snored again.
The front door was locked.
Never mind, he could always open a window.
Elliot tip-toed back along the corridor.
Something was swishing, sliding. Swish, swish. Just around the corner.
Elliot walked on slowly, holding his breath.
There was the kitchen. This is what he saw: Moonlight on the white shirts and pants and pillowcases drying on a rack above the cooker. Moonlight on the clean blue and white mugs hanging from hooks. Moonlight on the pale potted sweet pea by the window, the almost withered leaves perked up ever so slightly now it has been watered again. Moonlight on the checkered linoleum - milky white, and black like so many square holes in the floor. And the Cat, in her little dress, is staring at something lying before her: a fluffy slipper. Her ears are flat on her head. Then, suddenly, she is up in the air, and she comes down with all fours on the slipper, and slides right across the floor with it. Swish - she rolls off, catches it in her paws, bats it rapidly back and forth, springs on it suddenly - silence - she backs off and then it begins again. Jump, slide, bat, pause - jump, slide, bat bat bat - jump, slide, pause - jump, slide, bat - bat bat bat -
Cat doing Cat-things. Elliot backed away, his heart trying to race out of his throat and out of this house. Slowly, slowly out of earshot he crawled, then he ran and tried all the windows in the living room, in the bathroom - all of them locked.
He found a bowl of slightly dusty biscuits by the armchair. He took one, two, three, four - no, now it looked like there were some missing. He put one back, and took the rest into what seemed like a good hiding place, behind a covered radiator. There were some things already hiding there - two dry biros, a paperclip bent into a spiral, a number of dead houseflies, sixteen pence and a shilling in small change, and a faded scout badge for campfire lighting and safety.
Elliot ate his biscuits.
Outside, a blackbird started to sing. Elliot tried to make out words, but he couldn’t.