Arrivals

I gave birth to a cat. It happened last afternoon. I wasn’t aware that I had been pregnant in the first place. And in a way I hadn’t. The cat jumped out of my head as if copying Athene’s mythical coming into the world as I was busy planning Christmas shopping. Like her predecessor, she was a grown up the very moment she arrived, fully formed in shape and with a definite set of ideas concerning the world functioning as well as her own personal tastes, as I was soon to learn. - I’m going to sleep in this bed – she said, jumping on my Chinese pillow, testing its softness with her apt paws. She was beautiful, her fur the colours of autumn with some signs of winter. Her sharp ears resembled those of a lynx. - No way, darling - I stood up to prove it. – This has always been my place. We’ll organise you something. - I won’t go for anything of a second rate, like the floor or a rug under your bed – she purred, jumping on the window sill overlooking the street. A plate on the building announced Furrows Lane to nobody in particular. I followed her look and noticed his ominous umbrella the colour of the mud just the moment it was disappearing in the front door. A moment later there was a knock on the door of my room. - Quickly! Under the bed! She disappeared in the nearest possible place of rescue as the door opened witout waiting for ”Come in”. She’s fast, I thought with appreciation, having witnessed her gracious swoooosh. I patted the duvet and sat on it in a pose of a perfect pupil. - Good afernoon, Mr Butchers – I forced a smile. Without bothering to answer the greeting, he sniffed the air. - I smell a cat. A grimace of condemnation moved across his ugly face like a lightning. - That’s impossible, Sir – I looked him straight in the eye but didn’t manage to hold the look. – You know you don’t allow cats in this house. - I don’t, do I but perhaps some of the people living here have forgotten. He made a gesture as if he was about to bend and look under the bed. For a second I stiffened, but he suddenly moaned and then straightened up, gradually, massaging his back. He was getting old but not a bit less mean. - Listen – he said, and there was a quality of a bulldog bark in his voice – if I happen to find any member of the feline species in this room, there’ll be no mercy for it and neither for you. Understand? I nodded but he was already gone.

- Who’s that old prick? - She seemed really amused. - The meanest landlord that has ever lived. I mean it. - Why do you tolerate this? - She nestled in an armchair. I pretended I didn’t notice her sitting on my favourite Nepalese shawl. In fact, I didn’t mind that much. I'd already started liking this peculiar cat. There was something sweetly and irritatingly nonchalant about her, the way she was acquiring the room without asking me, or anybody, for giving her any rights to it. - What do you mean? - I didn’t quite grasp it. If there was ever an option of not tolerating Mr Butchers, I never managed to notice that on my own. - The way he decides who’s let in and who’s let out. The way he talks to you. The way he looks. - But that’s the way he is – I protested, partly on his behalf. - Or you just got used to him being like that –she said. – We’ll sort him out. - Don’t talk like that. I tried to silence her, so outrageous she sounded to my ears. The very thought of sorting out a person like Mr Butchers gave me shivers. - I’m used to talking my mind out loud – she announced with a smile. Her whiskers moved with delight. - Where did you have a chance to master this skill if you just appeared in this world? She smiled again. - In your head, darling.

- Now, here’s the plan. – The cat was sipping cream out of my favourite blue mug. Its colour deepened the hue of her eyes. - We won’t stay in this grim place this Christmas. We’ll go to Hawaii instead. - But I don’t have money for the plane ticket. And my parents are expecting me to come to their Christmas dinner, like every year. - If your parents agree on your living under the same roof with the Mr Monster, then they deserve to miss your sweet company as a part of a Christmas celebration this year – she decided. – Besides, you cannot put me in danger of encountering that beast. In fact, we need to leave today. You’d better start packing. - There’s no way to do it your way – I suddenly borrowed some of the cat’s bossy quality. – I have things to do, I have obligations, I have... – I was trying to add something really solid, really convincing – here, I have my Christmas shopping list. The cat laughed out loud, really loud. I’d never believe cats are capable of this all. But I did have her in front of me. Flesh out of my flesh, thought out of my thought, apparently. But what’s funny about the shopping list? - Who’s laughing like that? – we heard through the door. Heavy steps running down like thunder followed the question. - Oh my goodness, under the bed! - Mia. My name’s Mia, a short form of Miaow. - She didn’t move an inch. - This is not the best moment to introduce yourself, Mia. My name’s Alice. The last sentence came out quite contrary to my intention. - I’m going to teach you a lesson, Alice, as gently as cats can – she said slowly, as if she had all the time in the world at her disposal – while teaching him his, as hard as cats do. Mr Butchers kicked the door open with a roar. - What’s this nasty beast doing in my house?! – There was an axe in his hand. - Some of us have a habit of talking to themselves – Mia noticed. She was sitting at the very centre of the bed, casually examining her paws and barely giving Mr Butchers a look. – Some members of the human species are really amusing, aren’t they, Alice? – The claws kept coming out and hiding. There was a certain irresistible rhythm to it. Deadly silence filled the room. Time stopped for a moment. Mr Butchers eyes narrowed. - You – will – pay – with – your - life – for – this – outrage. - We’ll see – Mia yawned, then stretched her body as if that was the most indulging, most pleasurable and most proper thing to do.

That moment I got split, internally, into two. Part of me was still present in the room, taking its part in the events, but another part withdrew to the safe place of a distant observer, a person to tell the tale should I not come out of that room alive.

And it was just in time.

With a shriek Mr Butchers dashed forward. That instant, Alice snapped the Chinese pillow and threw it just where Mia had sat. Of course, the cat jumped out of the bed with a perfect timing. The axe cut the pillow into two halves and Mr Butchers disappeared in a cloud of Chinese feathers. Alice snatched the blue mug from where the cat had left it. There was an echo-less thump as the mug landed on the landlord’s bald head. The loud Auuuutch! cut the air. It was half angry and half helpless. White droplets of cream marked the duvet initially, then soaked into the fabrics. - I told you to pack your things – Mia reminded – but you wouldn’t listen. – Now there’s no time to spare. You’re not staying here, are you? Alice gave the room the last look, as if scanning its content in search for somehing specific, then caught her Nepalese shawl from the armchair. The cat had already had her only possession – her fur – on her. They ran out of the door, then down the stairs and out into the street, the young woman and the cat, first giggling, then laughing and finally roaring, the sound of their voices rolling down the street. Some people turned their heads. - Let’s catch the taxi – Mia waved the paw.

- I’ve never seen hummingbirds – Alice observed on the way to the airport. - Neither have I – said Mia. – This is the very opportunity we’re not going to waste, isn’t it?

Back at Furrows Lane, a white piece of something clung to the doorstep. A passerby stopped to pick it up and have a look. It said Christmas shopping list on top but was otherwise empty.

I don't know where the Alice that had started the list went. The Alice that gave birth to the cat moved to Hawaii and became a writer, and lived happily, here and there, ever after.

And if you want to know more, visit her website if you come across its address.

 

Joanna Kania