Story Detail

The Trouble with Cats and Dogs
by Scott Carless
Pages: NA
Old 'Crazy Cat' tells his tale. Beware pushing a man too far.
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My cellmate doesn’t talk so much about how he in ended up in prison, or how it was that managed to off his neighbours and their dog with a plastic jerry can full of unleaded petrol. It is more that he likes to tell the story of how they killed his pet cats, Harry and Nina. He does it in this calm and genial manner that makes you wonder if this is really the man who wiped out a couple in their 40’s with every intention of doing so and absolutely no remorse. He’ll tell you the story any chance he gets, usually when we’ve just had new intake and we’re sitting in the canteen, him holding his fork in the same way that a teacher holds a pen, punctuating his tale with little sweeps and dips, kind of like a conductor, you know?

Most of the new guys laugh when he tells the story, which usually ends with his line about the trouble with cats and dogs. Hell, I laughed first time I heard it, and even though I know all about the guy I still find myself wanting to chuckle. It’s the way he does the voices or something. Who’d have thought a so-called cold blooded bastard could be so, well, funny I guess?

Of course, Greg ain’t exactly what you’d call cold blooded. They did in the papers, and on the TV. They got him good and proper: frothing bile and spitting fury of the outraged ‘respectable’ folk. They ticked all the boxes and got all the right tales of him twitching the curtains and watching the kids when they were playing in the street, even though there weren’t any kids living nearby and he was living on a road that had a 40 limit on it. He keeps mentioning that because he said he’d be damned if he’d let the cats out when he wasn’t about. “They’d be run over as soon as I was halfway to the shops”, he’d say, “maybe cats do have nine lives, but I tell you they run out pretty fast under the wheels of an articulated truck.

No, the news had him done up pretty tight. They always do. The kid who gets stabbed on the way back from school is always the star pupil, you ever notice that? People who get hit by an out of control bus when they’re out buying a pack of fags are always special people, good people, the best people, the ‘one-in-a-million’. Starts making you wonder if there’s something about being the smartest kid in school, or the kindest person people know that makes you more likely to wind up dead for stupid reasons. More likely to get iced than all the normal people no one would cry too hard over if they decorated the pavement with their guts. As far as I know there ain’t nothing in it other than your newspapers needing to keep up this sort of tragic act in which all the good people get shot, stabbed, raped, murdered, or flattened by a careless driver. All the bad people, like Greg and me, well then we can just be evil through and through, even when we’re not. Then all the respectable folk can wring their hands, and shake their heads and feel like the difference between good and evil is a line in the sand and they happen to be on the right side of it. Makes them feel better about all the nasty shit going through their own fucking heads. Newspapers need a narrative or something like that. Fuck it I don’t know; I didn’t pay much attention at school anyway.

So Greg, he’ll sit there with his steely grey hair and his cheery smile and he’ll start up his story. It doesn’t matter who we’ve got at the table. They could be the kind of fella who would otherwise turn someone like Greg inside out without working up a sweat, but most of them they listen and most of them they laugh, and every single one of them leaves Greg to his own devices once he’s done telling his tale. Works a charm and I’ve never heard of anyone giving old ‘Crazy Cat’, as he’s known, a hard time about anything.

“I punched out at twelve, just like usual,” Greg will say, “then I headed down to the Links for a couple of beers, nothing too much. I wasn’t up to much those days, just like I’m not up to much these days I guess, but I could still go down the pub at the end of my shift. There wasn’t much else to do. Girl had walked out on me a year or so back and I kept seeing her driving around in her shiny new little fiat. She’d been all dolled up with this skinny streak of piss beanpole she’d run off with. Man! It hurts when a girl leaves, don’t it? Hurts when she leaves and there’s no one else, even if there nearly always is, because you’re like ‘Jesus, I’m so bad she’d prefer nothing rather than staying with me a moment longer.’ It hurts when she leaves you for someone else and tries staying sweet about it all. When they say things like ‘he’s not your replacement’, which of course was exactly what she said to me. Course I thought to myself ‘no, he’s not my replacement he’s just the better option.’ I mean it would hurt if he was some good looking, muscle-bound hunk with perfect teeth, and the kind of hair that doesn’t look like it needs combing. When the guy has got just about nothing going for him and looks like a scarecrow with a pole up its arse, but he’s still a better catch than you are, well, I don’t need to tell you how much that hurts a man’s pride.” At this point Greg always singles out whoever looks like the hardest man in his audience. He has a way of sizing people up without riling them, kind of like those stand-up comics. He’ll point his fork at whoever he’s judged is the bruiser of the group and say something like. “It’d be like if you and me went one-on-one in the ring and I managed to knock you down. I think we’d all agree that’d be a case of the wrong man winning, and it’d hurt your pride a hell of a lot more than if you lost against someone who could actually give you a fair fight.”

Greg would pause there, letting some of the cons laugh or nod in agreement. Whoever was his chosen bruiser would usually take a second or two to realise he was being complimented and would invariably sit a little more squarely in his seat, making the most of being the hard man of the moment. Greg would twirl his fork in his hand as though measuring a beat and then continue.

“So I’m heading down to the Links, figuring I’ll get a few drinks and maybe wait until my friends finish work at five before heading out for the evening, and I’m walking by the pet shop on the Midhurst Road when I see this little handwritten sign taped up in the window. ‘Two Tabby Cat Kittens – Looking For a Friend’ it reads and I was kind of struck by that, you know. It was a strange way of putting it and I found myself hoping that these kittens wouldn’t end up going to the wrong people. I hoped they wouldn’t end up going to the kind of people that like kittens when they’re fluff and big blue eyes, but then treat them like shit when they grow up into cats. I never could understand people like that. It’s not exactly unexpected is it? Like having kids, people like the idea but don’t get that they’re in for the long haul. A kitten becomes a cat simple as that. What do they think is going to happen? The kitten turns into a houseplant or an Xbox? ‘Hey honey, you know you were fed up with the cat needing food and shit? Yeah, well it’s metamorphosed into a new car and a Caribbean cruise! All I had to do was stick it in the microwave.’ Some people have shit for brains. What gets me is why they have to be so damn cruel in with the bargain.

“So, I’m looking at the sign and I think to myself ‘why don’t I go pick them up?’ I was living on my own in this little place in the back of beyond. Course it was a rental job and I wasn’t allowed pets, but I just thought ‘fuck it who’s going to know?’ There’s a telephone number and an address included, so I took out my mobile, dialled the number, and got this friendly sounding woman on the other end of the line.

“I’m calling about the two tabby kittens, “ I say, “are they still available?”

“They are”, says the woman and you can tell she’s smiling from the sound of her voice, “would you like to come and have a look at them? And suddenly I get this feeling, kind of like a twist in the stomach, and I realise that I really do want to see these kittens, because that damn rented house is fucking cold and lonely and this woman on the phone sounds friendly and kind.

“I’d love to”, I say, “when would be a good time?”

“You can come over this afternoon whenever you like” she says.

I’m all like a kid whose just been told his mate’s got the latest video games console and he can come over and play any time he wants, so I say “is it alright if I come straight over?” and she says that’s fine.

So instead of going down to the Links, drinking a few beers, and then taking the car back home by the back roads so as avoid the Old Bill I end up hopping and driving out to this place right out in the countryside.

“Now of course I’ve already said that I lived out in the back of beyond, but this place made my house look like it was in the middle of fucking London or something. I had to drive down this dirt track that was full of potholes so big that some of them I swear I thought my little piece of pacific rim shit was going to drop into one, me included, and we’d end up in some sort of subterranean world ruled by rabbits and hatters and all that Alice bollocks. It was pretty though, I mean real pretty, the kind of thing you think of when you hear the phrase ‘rural England’: thick hedgerows, rolling hills, and a thousand shades of green. The sun was out and I had the windows open and my  music playing, not too loud mind, because it seemed a shame to make too much noise out there in the peace of the countryside. So, I had Neil Finn singing a lot quieter than usual about how it was only natural; I don’t know about Crowded House it was more like Crowded fucking Car what with all the crap I used to carry about in the back. It’s amazing I could make it up hills. I get to this place and there’s this couple waiting for me at the gate of this beautiful little house. Sarah’s this particularly striking woman, and her husband introduces himself as Martin. He’s tall with a big scruffy ginger beard, looked like a boxer bred with an oversized leprechaun, and they’ve got to be one the oddest looking couples I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Even odder than some of the couples you get in a place like this.” At this point Greg would wink, and a laugh, less comfortable than before, would ripple around the table.

“So they invite me into the garden and Martin kind of shepherds these two kittens out from under a tree where they’ve been sitting, and if I hadn’t been so lonely and they hadn’t been so goddamned beautiful I’d have known then that they were happy where they were. I’d have left them there, because I’d have known that I couldn’t give them a better home than the one they’d already got. Then things would have turned out different I guess. But I was lonely and these two creatures were the most gorgeous creatures that God ever put on this planet. I swear even if you don’t like cats, hell even if you don’t like animals you’d have thought the same thing as I did.

“They come bounding up and they’re mewling up at me as if to say ‘hello’ and I thought they were just perfect. Then Sarah comes out with a jug of lemonade, fresh homemade lemonade no less, three tall glasses with ice and a slice, and we sit there in this little patch of heaven with these kittens playing at our feet. Oddest couple I ever met, for sure, but they were the nicest couple I ever met. She was one of these spiritual types into Reiki and Yoga and Tai Chi and all those things that sound like you could use them to kick someone through a window, but are actually all about meditation and the soul and that crap. He’s a builder, which wasn’t a surprise from the look of him, and they’ve built this bloody meditative retreat together out in India. Imagine a sort of Buddhist hotel in the woods and you’ve got some idea of what I’m talking about.

“Of course, at the time I was young and I was kind of lost I guess. I mean that’s probably a good thing to be when you’re coming up for your mid-twenties without any education apart from a few shitty GCSE’s. When you’ve got no girl, no plan, no structure in your life other than working nights as a security guard watching over a bunch of dead industrial estates near Chichester. If you didn’t think that there was probably more to life at that point then you’re either stupid or dead inside, or both. I didn’t know then that that was essentially as good as it was going to get for me. Gets to you when you’re on the inside looking out that it wasn’t all that bad when you could hop in the car and drive down to the coast at the weekends. Sit on the beach at the Witterings and spot young girls with their titties out. I always used to wonder when there was a group of guys and girls looking like they’re about nineteen or something, and the girls are laughing and joking with these perky little tits out for all to see. I thought ‘why the hell wasn’t I knocking around with girls like that when I was nineteen? Man, girls like that give liberated a whole new meaning.

“That’s the way of it though; usually you think that things are going to get better, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re as good as they’re going to get.

“Either way I felt this sense that I was home. There with Sarah and Martin with these kittens playing about our feet, drinking lemonade on ice in this big green garden in this big green country, I felt like it was home. They’re saying things like ‘you should come out to India. You should stay at the retreat’, and there’s me thinking that maybe I would if I could somehow find the money, and maybe I’d meet some nice Indian girl myself, get married, have a big honking house out in the countryside, and enjoy lemonade on ice in my own garden. I had these two kittens flitting to-and-fro in front of me, and I thought ‘this is what I need: some company, some life, some happiness in the house. It won’t solve everything but hell it’d be a step in the right direction’

Sarah asks me if I’ve thought of some names. There’s a male cat and a female cat, boy and girl if you like, and I say straight away ‘Harry and Nina’. She smiles and says they’re both nice names and I’m left wondering where the hell I’d pulled them from. The only Harry I’d ever come across was Dirty Harry Callaghan on late night TV; hardly a good name for a kitten. As for Nina, well I’ve got no idea where that came from. I wasn’t even sure it was a name.

The afternoon started stretching on and the light started doing that golden thing where it seems to turn bring out the copper and bronze in everything. We all stood up and it was like I’d passed some sort of test. Martin went away to find a box to put the kittens in, so I could drive them back home. I offered to pay them some money for their trouble, but Sarah was all ‘oh no not at all’ and waved at me to put my wallet back in my pocket. We got Harry and Nina into a cardboard box with some cajoling, and then had to tape up the top to stop them escaping. They went wild as you can imagine. They were mewing and crying enough to break your heart, and I had this feeling that I was being cruel in taking them away from where they were. As I said though, I just wanted them, and I wasn’t thinking so much about what was good for them as I was what was good for me. Probably shouldn’t have been so selfish, but I had no idea what was going to happen did I?

“I strapped the box into the front seat and drove home all careful like. I was shushing and cooing these two kittens as I went. Then I realise of course that I’ve got absolutely bugger all by the way of cat stuff. You know what I mean: litter tray, litter, bowls for food, fluffy mouse toy, all those things. By then it was too late to drop in at the pet shop and pick up what I needed so I figured I’d improvise for the time being. I got back home, took the box into the front room, and made sure the doors and windows were all shut up tight before opening it up. As soon as I did, no word of a lie, both these kittens shot out like they were trying to reach low orbit or something. I would have laughed if they didn’t seem so damnably distressed. The bigger one, I figured it was the boy Harry, does a quick run about the room, figures there’s no way out, and then runs like hellfire on steroids straight back into his box. He peers out at me with this look that say ‘Okay! Joke’s over you can take me back home now.’ The smaller one, the girl Nina, she’s more calm. She runs about the room for a while then sits down in the middle of the floor and starts licking her paw as though she’d not all that bothered about anything much.

I spent a good hour trying to make them both feel like they were home and they friendly enough, if a little wary. After a while, I went down to the local village shop. They had a little corner with some pet food, but no litter or anything. When I got back home I just found an old paint tray, then I tore up a newspaper and figured it would do the job for one day. They’d pretty much settled in by the time I went to bed that night. Nina had curled herself into a ball on my shoulder, and Harry was a little more cautious in just sitting next to me, letting me stroke his fur; felt like velvet under your fingers, he was a beautiful creature.

“We had a pretty happy time of it for a while did Harry, Nina, and myself. Not for long, but they were good companions in a way that suited me down to the ground. Cats, you see, they mind their own business and do their own thing. They don’t constantly crave attention, they don’t need walking three times a day, and when they do their business they do it in a litter tray and have the good grace to cover it up. When you live with cats, you co-exist with them. All that crap about them looking down on you or being arrogant is wall- to -wall balls on a stick. Cats ain’t arrogant. They just don’t know how to kiss someone’s arse, and they can exist in their own right for their own sake. It’s the people who think that a cat should come to them and give them attention on demand; they’re the fucking arrogant ones. I mean, if you’re walking down the street and someone comes over and expects you to beg, roll-over, and play dead, then you’d tell them to fuck off, right? If someone comes over and says hello, then you might nod, you might say hello back, you might get into a conversation about the weather, you might even get on so well that you go out for drinks and end up long-life friends. It all depends on how you’re feeling, how the other person might be feeling, and what kind of people the both of you are. So, people don’t get that with cats, but no surprise because people don’t get that with other people. They think that if someone doesn’t immediately like them, or do exactly what they want them to do, then it must be the other person’s fault. It must be that the other person is arrogant, but turn it round and think about how arrogant it is expecting every fucking person to like you, give you time and attention whenever you want it. It’s like expecting the whole fucking world to revolve around you. Well, it’s the same thing with cats and a lot of people just don’t get that. I’ve always been that way with people, so having a couple of cats about the place was pretty much perfect.

“Now, the main problem was cats aren’t exactly suited to being indoor pets. I mean I know the Yanks and the Japs and some of those London fuckers haven’t got a problem with keeping cats cooped up in city apartments, but I’m not that kind of guy. The problem was I couldn’t just go putting a cat flap in the door for them. How was that going to look on my quarterly inspection? What was I going to tell the estate agent when he saw a fucking cat flap in the door? ‘I’ve put in equal access facilities for midgets?’ That probably wouldn’t fly too well, so that left me with the option of chucking them out of the house when I started my shift at stupid past three in the morning and leaving them out until one in the PM when I got back from work. I didn’t like that either. I was just terrified that if they were out of doors then they’d get run over. In the end, I came up with this kind of compromise of letting them outside when I was home. I’d sit on the doorstep, drink a beer, and watch them play in the courtyard. If one of them got too close to the road I’d call to them, and would you believe it they’d come scampering back to me before running off up a wall or something. They were good like that.

So, it was all peachy for a while. Sure, I had to hide them as I had my quarterly come up not long after I got them. I put them in a basket with a blanket over them and hid them in the upstairs cupboard. They didn’t make a sound, and the estate agent only had a cursory glance around the downstairs. I bought them a small bag of fresh prawns as a reward for being quiet anyway. They got into trouble of course. Harry managed to jump in the toilet whilst I was taking a slash one day. There’s me standing there pissing, and suddenly he appears out of nowhere and decides he’s going to jump up a see what’s going on. Naturally he ended up going straight in the bowl and I end up pissing up all over the wall as I try to avoiding pissing on him, but the damage was done and I had to give him a much needed bath, which as you can probably imagine he didn’t take too kindly to. I remember Nina sitting there watching him as he struggled under the shower head, and she had this smug sort of ‘told you so’ look on her face.

I had to keep the door shut at night otherwise they’d keep me up. They cried and clawed up the carpet around the bedroom door so bad that I actually had to get it replaced, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind any of it, because they brightened up my life. I looked forward to getting back from work. I had some company while I was watching my dumb TV shows in the evening and I used to enjoy sitting there on the doorstep, chugging a cold can of Becks Vier, watching them play. It wasn’t exactly joy; it was more a small happiness in life, you know, the kind that makes you feel that maybe it isn’t all that bad.

At this point, Greg would usually poke his fork down to his tray and pick at his food until he found a piece of meat that was substantial enough to spear. He’d chew it thoughtfully for a moment, swallow, and then continue. It was his little way of saying that the first part of the story was over and the second part was about to commence. I’d never once seen anyone try changing the topic.

“Of course, there’s no happiness that someone won’t want to take away from you. There’s some people in this world that can’t seem to be happy unless others aren’t. At least, that’s one way of trying to understand them. I had neighbours and most of them just left me to my own devices. A couple of them even complimented me on Harry and Nina, saying they were the prettiest little cats they’d ever seen. There was this couple though. They lived three doors down toward the road, Mr and Mrs Wainwright. I didn’t have much to do with them, and they didn’t have much to do with me, and that suited me fine because they had a miserable, bitter look about them both. He was the usual little politician type: parish councillor or some other sort of wanker, Tory naturally. Politicians at the top are cunts true enough, but the really nasty types are nearer the bottom of the pile; there’s no one that really keeps an eye on them, you see.

She was some sort of village busybody: Rotary Club, Women’s Institute, Bridge Club...if there was a piddling society with about three members, you could bet your right bollock that she was the Chairwoman. At the time, I had no idea how they could afford to live, but apparently it turned out he’d done his spell in the City and they were living off of the spoils of a decade’s worth of stripping the assets off of anything that looked vaguely productive. They were fucking parasites, who’d made a success out of bleeding society dry and were ‘giving something back’ by sticking their fingers into every community pie there was going, mainly to further their own interests.

So, it turns out one evening I’m sitting on my doorstep with a beer in my hand. Harry, he’s sitting on the wall opposite my front door watching the world go by, and Nina’s sniffing around the flowerbeds at the foot of the wall. I’m daydreaming or something or other when this Wainwright guy comes up from the road onto the path that led up to the courtyard outside my house. I look across and I see he’s standing there with this yappy little dog, which is straining at its lead, because it’s caught sight of Nina snuffling around the flower bed. As I watch, he unclips the lead and lets this fucking little shitter rocket toward the cats. Harry and Nina take one look at this snarling little bastard as he charges up toward them and they both bolt for the door. Before I’m even on my feet they’ve shot past me and into the house. I’ve just managed to make it to a standing position, and this dog belts past into my house, snarling and snapping and making out that he was going to chew them both into so much gristle.

I wheeled around and chased after the dog. Harry and Nina have belted it up the stairs and the dog goes to follow them. I manage to catch up with it and grab it by the collar before it reached the bottom step. The damn thing whipped around and tried to take a chunk out of my hand, but I’d got it right at the back of its collar so it couldn’t quite reach. I hauled it right off its feet. Like I said it was a smallish dog, the small but mean type. Much like its owners really. I stood there for a second, watching it twist, struggle, and snap at me. I’m not ashamed to admit that after a moment of looking at this dumb, cruel, ugly fucking creature I’ve got thrashing around at the end of my arm I turned and hurled it back out of my front door so hard that it hit the ground, skidded, and rolled into the flower bed that Nina had just been investigating. I went after it too. I was intent on kicking the shit that passed for brains out of its dumb doggy skull, but it picked itself up and ran back to Wainwright, howling like, well to coin a phrase, howling like a whipped cur. 

“You can bet your parole that old Wainwright didn’t like that much. Oh no, I don’t even think he’d even known I’d been sat on the doorstep, but I’d seen him let the dog go after the cats. Either way I don’t think he was too chuffed when his bastard dog came flying back out of my front door. He came steaming up to me threatening me with the police, and eviction, and ten thousand types of trouble, but he kept his distance while he stabbing his finger at me. He kept his distance just like his stupid little dog did as it cowered behind him, growling and whimpering all at the same time.

Of course, I was a security guard back then. Before that, I’d worked doors at some of the clubs in Portsmouth, so I was pretty used to people giving me an earful of this and an earful of that. I was used to the usual threats. I’d heard it all before: I was going to get ‘done’ by someone’s brother. I was going to get my legs broken at some unspecified time by the ‘Leigh Park Boyz’... you know there’s a surprising lack of creativity when it comes to threats made against doormen. Someone should document them all and publish them; it might be revealing. I was used to it, so I just stood firm and quiet, kept my head up, stared him down. He blusters away and I’m nodding along like ‘yeah, yeah, whatever mate’, and then he kind of realises that it’s all bouncing off me. He cools down a degree or two and I could see him thinking for a moment; there was this calculating look about him. Then he raised his finger again, pointed at my door instead of me and said ‘If I see your cats anywhere near my house I reserve the right to shoot them’ as though he were saying that he reserved the right to park on the road outside his house.

Things escalate quickly. I’m pretty sure most of you know that. Most of the time you’re wandering around at Defcon 5, maybe 4 if you’re on edge, and every now and then you’ll step up to 3 because someone pisses you off enough. It’s not a stage by stage process though, sometimes you can skip several steps and go straight for the nuclear option without having to fill out the paperwork along the way. I heard him say that and, I don’t know, I guess I felt a threat had to be met in kind. So, I said all calm and businesslike that if he took a shot at my cats I reserved the right to kill him. Said it as easily as I might tell him it was half five in the afternoon.

At this stage in the story, Greg would sit back and look around at his audience. “Anyone here ever threatened to kill a man?” he would ask and I’ve seen and heard the story enough times to know that whether or not anyone spoke up he would continue all the same. “You’ll all probably know it ain’t something you say without meaning it. Even if you don’t know how you’ll do it, even if you never do it; you always mean it at the time. I think this shit stick knew enough to realise I wasn’t bullshitting him. He went quiet and his face went white like he was coming down with something. He mentioned something vague about the police and being a councillor and all that, but he didn’t sound all too sure of it himself. I guess he must have realised that there wasn’t all that much he could do; after all if it came down to the police it was his word against mine, and local councillor or not you still need hard evidence when it comes to death threats. He shook his finger a bit more, all shaky, then he backed off and I could see his legs weren’t looking too sturdy as he went back to his house.

There wasn’t much else for me to do other than go back into the house. I think a few neighbours had come to their doors to see what all the fuss was about, but of course they didn’t get involved. They just wanted to enjoy a bit of drama. As far as I knew no one had heard me threaten to kill the guy.

Harry and Nina took a good bit of time to come back downstairs and calm down, and so did I. I was pissed off, and the more I thought about it the more I wished I’d managed to hurt the dog more than I did. I don’t know; nothing heroic in wanting to hurt some dumb little animal, right? I was just fucking angry that he’d got into my house, and fucking angry that the Wainwright guy had set him loose in the first place. Most of off al I was angry at that self-righteous way he’d threatened to shoot my cats; as though they weren’t anything more than pests. If he’d threatened to shoot me I’d have laughed it off, but he’d threatened to shoot the cats, and I could tell from the way he’d spoken that he saw that as being totally legit, kosher, absolutely justifiable. You know, like you’d say to someone ‘if you keep playing music at top volume at three in the morning then I’ll get onto the council.’

So, the cold war began; a cold war over a couple of cats, welcome to small town England. I kept up my routine of watching the cats play and every now and then Wainwright or his wife with her lemon suck face, it looked more like a cat’s arsehole by the day, would walk the dog up the path to their house and throw hostile glances in my direction. They didn’t let it off the lead again, and to be fair I always made sure the cats didn’t venture too close to their house. Of course, Wainwright had tenacity, his type always do; they stick to a rotten cause sure as sheep shit sticks to wool. It wasn’t long before I realised I was getting cold looks from more than just the Wainwrights. I started getting the cold shoulder at the local store, and then all of a sudden their small stock of cat food disappeared. The Landlord at The Ship, which was my local, began  ignoring me as I waited at the bar, and when I finally ran out of patience and asked to know what was going on he simply asked me to leave and wouldn’t say any more. I didn’t bother going back. Even the woman at the local Post Office would pointedly put of serving me as long as was humanly possible, and she was like some kinder, more charitable version of Mrs fucking Goggins.

“Now, I’m not exactly stupid, so I figured what was going on straight away. The Wainwrights had been doing the rounds causing some waves in the little pool in which they were such big fish. Even the friendlier neighbours, who used to stop and chat or stroke the cats if they were about, started avoiding me or giving me those awkward little waves that tell you you’re a social pariah just as much as it does if they completely blank you. Like they were waving at you as you were dragged by the current out to sea to drown, and they just didn’t give a shit. Of course, the estate agent found out about the cat, guess a little birdie must have let them know, and I was hauled over hot coals several times. Estate agents are bastards even when you play ball, but it’s nothing compared to when they’ve actually managed to draw a proper bead on you. I ended up hanging onto the tenancy agreement but losing my whole deposit, about a grand a half, which hurt like hell, especially as I knew that I’d lose the contract the next year and have to look for somewhere else. By then, I’d had enough anyway, and moving away sounded like a good deal. It stung, because the Wainwrights must have been crowing over how they’d taught me a damn good lesson, but by that time I figured I was good as beat anyway. I wasn’t married to the place or anything, so let them crow over it and rule their shitty little world. I had my eyes set on getting back to school or something anyway, so I figured I’d just suck it up and crack on, living well is the best revenge and all that platitudinal shit.

“Some people though, it’s not enough just to win. They’ve got to make sure you’re beat the fuck down. Old Mr and Mrs Wainwright, well they’d be about sixty now, and they could have been crowing on to their Rotary Club pals how they chased some young upstart out of the neighbourhood with a clever campaign of sending him to Coventry. They could have milked that one right into the grave, but somehow I guess they thought it just wasn’t enough.”

Greg would use this point to pause, push away his tray with most of the food uneaten, and then take a few sips of his coffee. He was a large man by nature, but his years inside had reduced him to a hollow looking, gaunt-faced figure. The cheerful look gave way to a distant, slightly blank stare. I’ve seen it before and it looks all too similar to shock. It is a definite change in demeanour, and I’m not sure whether it’s acted or unintentional, like a habit. Whatever it is it has the effect of drawing his audience in.

“They got Nina first, and they got her first because she was more adventurous than Harry. It was my own damned fault for leaving the window open before I left for work. I’d always been good about it, but I was getting run out of town and that tends to leave you feeling pretty tired and beat up. You get tired and beat up and you start making mistakes. So, I got back from work one afternoon to see a little bundle of fur lying on my doorstep. I’d left an upstairs window open and she’d probably climbed down the ivy that fronted the house. She must have crawled back and collapsed outside the shut door. I could hear Harry crying from inside. She was still alive but she was badly hurt. I scooped her up in a blanket and drove out to the nearest vets. They did what they could and I didn’t spare any expense. Hell! I even tried praying for the first time since my mother died, but if He wasn’t going to step in for her there wasn’t much chance he was going to step in for a damned cat. So, in the morning I picked up a dead cat and a bill for hundred pounds. I drove back to my house and then realised I didn’t even have anywhere to bury her. In the end, after letting Harry see his sister one last time, I took her out into the hills and buried her somewhere with a nice view. Buried her good and deep so that the foxes wouldn’t get to her.

Naturally, the vet told me she’d been run over. Yeah, she’d been run over a couple of times apparently, but I knew and he knew that was bullshit. She hadn’t been run over she’d been kicked, kicked repeatedly, and I had a feeling I knew who it was who’d put the boot in. I spent a few days trying to believe it really had been a car. In the end, I think I convinced myself more out of not wanting to have to do anything about it than anything else. Guess that’s cowardice of one sort or another. The Wainwright’s said and did nothing. The cold looks continued and I thought I could see a smirk behind them, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t be, and the way I felt, well, it was better if I tried to believe the crap the vet had dosed out. It went on for a week and I can tell you anyone who says cats don’t care is spouting out and out crap. Poor old Harry didn’t eat, hardly slept, he just kept sitting in the front room looking at the door as though he was waiting for Nina to walk back in. If I’m honest I kept thinking I saw her about the place, you know like out the corner of my eye, but that’s the way of it; takes you a while to get used to something not being there anymore.

“Then, naturally, they got Harry too and that sealed it. I’d been sitting on the doorstep one evening watching Harry mope about in the courtyard. I watched him go over and sniff the flowerbeds and then I noticed he was chewing on something. I was curious for a second; I thought he’d caught a mouse or something, but then he came back looking sheepish and I figured he’d been chewing some grass. He goes back inside, and I finish up my beer, last beer I ever had when I think about it. I get up and go inside to make some tea and when I come into the lounge I see that Harry he’s in lying on his side looking like he’s in a bad way, and suddenly it all comes together. I rushed outside and dug around in the flowerbed and sure enough I find cat treats hidden away in there, except they’re soggy and don’t smell right; they smelled of windscreen wash”

Invariably, Greg would cast a hand over his eyes before continuing. “I rushed him to the vets just like Nina, but there wasn’t much they could do. I even took some of the cat treats along with me, like it was an episode of Stargate SG-1 and somehow they were going to reverse engineer a cure or something, but there’s not much anyone can do for a cat that’s been poisoned with Anti-Freeze. I spent what was left of my month’s wages having him put to sleep. As they always say it was the kindest thing to do.

“They did call the police over that one. They had to. I drove back home and started battering on Wainwright’s door and hollering for him to come out so I could make good on my threat. Wainwright declined the invitation. He must have known full well that if he’d gone out I’d have beaten him to death there on his doorstep. When the police arrived, I’d calmed down just enough to get the caution.. I’d dealt with the police enough times in my job to know how to talk to them. There I was with all the neighbours looking out their windows and the Wainwright’s hiding behind their lacy fucking curtains, and I backed down, said it was all a misunderstanding, and went back home nice and quiet. The coppers decided their job was done, so they hop in their car and scoot off.

“Even then, I don’t think Wainwright really understood what he’d done. I think he thought he’d played some sort of game of neighbourhood chess and won. If he’d had any sense he would have taken his wife and his dog, and he’d have the left the house that night. As far as I know, he probably enjoyed a glass of red wine, and chuckled at my impotent rage and the impending end of my tenancy; ‘you don’t fuck with Mr Jerry Wainwright, Parish Councillor (Con)’ or something like that. Then he probably went to bed next to his shrivelled fucking wife thinking ‘I might not have had an erection for the past four years, but that’s the last we’ll be seeing of the oik and his cats.’

“That was his mistake I guess. It always is with people like him. They think they’ve got the right to push and that others can’t or won’t or just ain’t allowed to push back. They think that if they strip a man of the few odds and sods in his life that help him get through the day, then he’ll just roll over like a chastised puppy. You see it in business, you see in politics, you see it in everyday life: you’ve always got one lot on top who are busy taking as much as they can from the fuckers on the bottom. They take one thing and they get away with it, because they’ve got the upper hand, so then they take something else, and something else after that. Then they say ‘Hey! You’re not allowed to get angry. You got to stick to the rules. Then they poke at you for the fun of it. They don’t seem to understand that you can push someone too far and that they won’t just push back, Christ no! They’ll tear your fucking arms and legs right off.

I made my mistake in not understanding the depth of that fuck’s pettiness or the extent of his cruelty. I think it’s fair to say he didn’t understand what those cats meant to me. It wasn’t difficult getting hold of the petrol, and it was an old house he lived in, perfect bonfire material. I made damn sure they were in. Easy enough when you know how, and fire safety isn’t something that old houses are particularly good on. I watched it burn that night and I listened to Wainwright and his wife scream their fucking heads off. I stood there amongst all the neighbours as they were milling about wringing their hands and trying to get ladders up, but they were all clueless white-collar pricks, so they were as useless as a tit job for a fish. I listened to that little rat dog yapping and yipping and then squealing, and I saw someone trying to get out of a top floor window, but no dice on that one, because like I say an old house like that goes up quicker than you’d think. Not that I know for sure, but I have a feeling it wasn’t the smoke that did for them, if you catch my drift.  Yeah, they got theirs, and I think it fucking hurt when it came calling. ”

If he’d timed it right, which he usually did, Greg would have just about wrapped up his story by the time the canteen bell sounded for the next sitting. There were never any questions; just a kind of painful silence as it suddenly dawned on his audience what he had done. It was against the weight of this silence that Greg would round off his performance with his routine closing lines. “It just goes to show that’s the trouble with cats and dogs. A cat leaves a dog alone; a cat’s not interested; a cat just wants its space. A dog doesn’t understand that; a dog hounds a cat and won’t let up; hounds it until it ain’t got anywhere else to run, and then acts all surprised when the cat turns round and tried to claw out its eyes. There’s the trouble: the irreconcilable differences don’t have to be about politics, religion, which scraggy arse end of nowhere country you were squatted out in, or fucking football teams. No, take that all away and we’ll still find a reason. We’ll always find a reason for hating each other. It’s animal, it’s instinctive, and it’s as natural as dogs chasing and cats running.”

I’ve seen this performance more times than I remember. I think maybe Greg’s gone a little crazy and this is his mind stuck in some sort of loop, because I’ve heard him crying at night afterwards, softly so that it’s difficult to really tell. I think he relives the whole thing each time he tells his tale. Sometimes, I look across at him when I’m brushing my teeth in the evening. He’ll be sat with his head in a book, looking engrossed in it, and I can almost picture him twenty years ago. I see a young man sitting in his house trying to figure out what to do with his life, and next to him, I swear I almost see them: the ghosts of two long-dead tabby kittens that led to him winding up here with no future worth talking about. It’s times like those that I feel something approaching the same hatred for Wainwright that he must have felt himself. I wonder why the dead man had had to push him so far. It’s times like those I wonder what Greg might have gone on and done with his life, if not for his run-in with a neighbour’s dog two decades ago. Then, I taste the toothpaste sour in my mouth, and remember that my cellmate roasted two people alive in their home. I spit, rinse, and then go lie on my bunk and stare down the ceiling until lights out.

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