Twenty-Three Cats, a Beatle and a Ragdoll


They say that you are either a cat person or a dog person. “Who are they?” I
thought, as I got out of the car, adjusted my tunic and offered my cap to the
back of my head, pulling it forward by its peak. “Why send me to this incident,
they know I can’t stand cats?”
Johnny Gordon, the RSPCA guy had phoned it in. As I walked up the path to
the 1950’s council house, Johnny opened the door, grimaced and flicked his
head back and to the right, directing me towards the hallway.
“All right Bryan?” he asked. “I don’t know how long she’s been dead but I
count 23 cats in there that are all very much alive.”
Johnny and I only met up occasionally, through work – we’d known each other
since we were at school. If ever I’m asked where I was when John Lennon
died, I’ll immediately think of Johnny. The two of us had sat in the 6th form
room, in December 1980, feeling numb all over – Our favourite Beatle had
been murdered on the doorstep of his apartment, beside New York’s Central
Park. The teachers had left us to it.
“You really hate cats, don’t you, Bryan?”
“Give me dead bodies anytime, Johnny.”
A letter on the sideboard was addressed to Mary Brown and in the absence of
any evidence of other occupants, apart from the feline residents now circling
the room, I concluded that the old lady, sitting in the winged chair, was Mary.
It seemed pretty clear that Mrs Brown had died of ‘natural causes’. There was
a cup of tea and piece of Battenberg cake with a bite out of it, on the table
beside her. She looked quite happy, her eyes were closed and she had a hint
of a smile on her face. I guessed that she was about 85 but you can never tell
these days.
The formalities were over. The doctor had been and gone. Johnny had
explained that he had been following up on a call about the number of cats at
number 43 and that he had seen Mrs Brown through the window and was
concerned when his knocking couldn’t arouse her. The back door had been
open, so he’d gone in to see if she was OK. We sat in his van and he talked
me through his plans for the now homeless pets. I’m sure he knew that I
wasn’t interested but it was that or John Lennon – we didn’t have much else in
common.
“All you need is love, da di da di da,” I sang as I drove back to the station,
quickly realising that I couldn’t remember any more of the words. “I suppose
those cats must’ve been company for that lonely old lady,” I mused. “But so
many in one house! It gives me the creeps.”
My shift was over for the day and I was glad it was. I’d put the thought of
being surrounded by cats behind me and I was getting myself ready to see
Heather again. She’d invited me for dinner and it would be the first time we’d
been alone since we first met.
It was a modern apartment in Crouch End, one of London’s more ‘sought
after’ areas. As I approached the entry phone, I worked hard to compose
myself, trying to hide my nervous excitement at the thought of getting to know
her better.
She buzzed me in and was waiting at the top of the stairs. She looked
stunning – I couldn’t take my eyes off her face until a movement at her feet
snapped me out of my hypnotic trance. The off white creature was rubbing its
cheek on her turn-ups. “Oh no!” I heard myself scream, but was relieved to
find that I hadn’t uttered a sound.
“Hi Bryan, I hope you like cats. Bobby’s the love of my life.”
“Hello Heather, he’s got amazing blue eyes,” I replied, as I followed them
inside, noticing how pristine her home was.
She poured two glasses of red wine and we sat opposite each other on the
sofas positioned in the centre of her elegant living room.
“So, what kind of cat is it, I’ve never seen one like it before?” I forced the
question out.
“It’s a Ragdoll. An American breed that’s known for its placid temperament
and affectionate nature.”
As if he knew we were talking about him, Bobby leapt onto the back of my
sofa, walked along its ridge and plonked himself down, right behind my head.
Almost immediately, he relaxed and all four legs hung loosely over the sides.
I tried to ignore his furry presence and focus on our conversation. It didn’t take
long for Heather to make me feel completely at ease. She asked me about my
childhood and my work. She told me about her love of this and her love of that
– I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. She saw that my wine glass
was empty, stood up and eased it out of my hand.
“I’ll put some music on, do you like the Beatles? She asked, heading for the
iPod dock on the bookshelf.
“It’s funny you should say that,” I said and told her about seeing Johnny today
and about our moment of joint sadness nine years earlier. I didn’t say too
much about the cats.
Heather brought me another glass of wine and announced her plan to get the
dinner underway. “Will Bobby and you be able to ‘entertain yourselves’ for a
while.” She said, smiling and pointing at his back leg, which was now resting
loosely on my shoulder.
She left the room and as if prompted by her departure, Bobby stood up,
arched his back and stretched, like a yoga teacher demonstrating the easiest
of exercises. He jumped down beside me, stepped onto my lap and began to
purr. It was as if he’d started a small engine in his throat.
I persuaded myself to stroke him and was quite surprised by his soft, silky
coat. I looked towards the kitchen door and imagined Heather working away
in there, oblivious to my inner conflict.
“Don’t be silly Bryan, you don’t like dogs that much either and you really like
this girl.”
“I think Bobby likes me.” I shouted through to the kitchen.
“It’s just as well, I’m hoping that you two will be seeing a lot of each other.”
Heather shouted back, over the sound of a whirring food mixer.

John Slater