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" Edgar Allan Poe – ‘The Black Cat’ The Eye of Ra Her mother insisted on calling the cat Dash. The girl agreed because Mum seemed so pleased with herself for having decided on it, but it didn’t suit him. His real name was Peter. It was her secret. She sat crossed-legged on the cracked linoleum by the scuffed wooden kitchen door, gazing at the pale blue saucer she’d placed in front of the ill-fitting cat flap. It had taken many minutes of careful searching before she’d discovered it, dusty and discarded in a corner of the grimy cupboard. She watched the creamy milk shiver in anticipation of that perfect pink tongue. But Peter didn’t come. She thought about her first day with Peter. Roger in her room on that rainy morning the spring before last. Grasping a tiny scrap of black squirming fluff between two large thick hands with square nails. She hadn’t heard him come in – although perhaps somewhere in the corner of her consciousness she’d heard the familiar reluctant creek of the second floorboard from the door. Roger hunkered down reaching out to her with expectant eyes she didn’t quite meet. The scrap of dusky fluff making a scrabbling, scratching bid for freedom, skidding, terrified under her bed. Roger’s brief yelp of anger. Roger’s fat lips sucking at a hairy knuckle. He insisted on her calling him Dad. The girl agreed because he seemed so pleased with himself for having decided on it, but it didn’t suit him. His real name was Roger. It was her secret. She’d waited for ages that first day by her bed, watching the pale blue saucer of milk, placed there to entice the kitten from the succour of his dark under-bed womb. The milk beginning to quiver excitedly in tiny ripples. She remembered picking out the distant guitar rhythms, the syncopated drumbeat and finally the squealing brass cacophony as a freight train rumbled by. The milk sloshing about as the walls shimmied. The kitten springing up in alarm, emitting a thin squeal as it crashed against metal springs on the underside of the bed before plunging into the furthest corner by the wall. The room settling back into a knowing silence.
Lifting the corner of the pale pink candlewick bed cover and coming face to face with a pair of terrified glinting kitten-eyes. ‘Hello Peter,’ she said without speaking. Then softly moving back to give him space, leaving the threadbare cover folded back so the timid creature could see the impatient saucer of milk. Eventually hunger and thirst won out. The perfect pink tongue lapping at the milk tentatively and then eagerly. And afterwards the tiny milky mouth suckling contentedly on her finger. Peter grew up lithe and supple and he could run like the wind. Peter was in a book when wasn’t being a cat. In the book he was a boy. The others made fun of him because he couldn’t play cricket, the bat too unwieldy for his thin arms. Someone said they should use his spindly legs for cricket stumps. But Peter could run like the wind and she followed him through the book almost tripping as the dog-eared pages flipped over, trying to keep up, past illustrations of hedgerows and brick walls and rich ivy-covered houses, until she stopped to watch, heart pounding as he climbed a knarled old oak tree in easy graceful movements. Light and agile, lithe and supple. She loved Peter. It was her secret. Peter was gone. She’d seen Roger in the morning through the crack in her bedroom door. He was naked, flesh wobbling, carrying Peter in his thick hands with the square nails and hairy knuckles, from the downstairs bedroom where he made Mum moan. She felt sick. She watched him in a practised silence that was really a scream, as he tossed the sleek black cat roughly through the kitchen doorway, into the monochrome January morning. Peter light and agile, lithe and supple. Running like the wind. The pale blue saucer of milk waited in silence. Peter was gone. An unwelcome flashback to the day three years ago when Annie’s dad found Eve’s tabby on the railway track.
And behind the wide-eyed Annie, Billy James - a huge Bazooka Joe bubble bursting over his face with a pink splattering pop. Gran arrived in the afternoon wanting to speak to Mum. She was just on her way to Mary Mackay’s funeral Gran said as an aside, as if Mary herself had arranged the occasion - and the catering - on a whim. Gran gave the girl by the kitchen door a kindly yet important look, somewhere between comfort and blame, as she ushered Mum into the living room, where she heard them both crying. The girl prayed that night although she knew no-one ever listened. She dreamed of Peter, lithe and supple running like the wind chasing a field mouse onto the railway track. The rumbling squealing freight train was coming, guitar riffs, timpani and squealing saxophones. The grinding of metal on metal, and metal on bone and fur and soft little tummies that liked to be tickled. The girl raced after Peter in her mind, wedging her childish body between him and the train, stumbling over the wooden sleepers, a sacrificial seductress, feeling the train’s hot, heavy breath on her neck, smelling it’s stench, its iron grip, it’s hardness demanding young flesh. Killer of cats, despoiler of girls. It was her secret. But that night the great sun god Ra heard her prayers and summoned his daughter Bast, goddess of the home and the domestic cat, even though the girl had never heard of them. Peter Skimbleshanks with spindly cricket stump legs. Skimbleshanks the railway cat with an agile leap bounding away from the track, running like the wind, past hedgerows and brick walls and rich ivy-covered houses, until she stopped to watch, heart pounding as he climbed a knarled old oak tree in easy graceful movements. Light and agile, lithe and supple. When the girl woke the low winter Sun bleeding into the room over her bed, drenching it. The eye of Ra. She thought she heard muffled voices outside. The girl leapt from bed to bedroom window. Men in uniform were hauling something on a stretcher from the rail track. Other men were behind. She felt sick. She tried to look away but her eyes were transfixed.
The shape beneath the sheet was small and narrow. She barely noticed the men behind carrying more stretchers, different shapes. Something slipped reluctantly from under the soiled sheet. A familiar thick hand on the end of an arm. Square finger nails and hairy knuckles obscured by blood. The girl sat back on the bed with a thud, her thoughts colourless. A commotion at the front door. A moaning followed by a sudden scream. A white noise of voices and sounds. Words that failed to penetrate, except perhaps one. Suicide. The girl picked at the remaining tufts of cloth on the worn pink candlewick bed cover, and thought about Bazooka Joe bubble gum. A pitter-patter on the wooden floor of her bedroom. The sleek black creature leapt silently on to her lap, light and lithe, neatly licking his mouth with his perfect pink tongue. He curled in a ball on her tummy and in an old cat-memory of mutual comfort suckled milkily at her knuckle. The girl insisted on calling him Peter. The cat agreed because she seemed so pleased with herself for having decided on it, but it didn’t suit him. It wasn’t his real name. His real name? It was his secret. The End Louise Angus January 2011 …………………………………………………………………………………… Cats have been kept by humans since ancient Egypt. In ancient Egypt, the cat god, Bast, was a goddess of the home and of the domestic cat, though she sometimes took on the war-like aspect of a lioness. She was the daughter of the sun god Ra. Bast was also associated with the "eye of Ra," acting as the instrument of the sun god's vengeance.
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