Death Before Breakfast
Two wheat biscuits lay limply languishing in a bowl of rapidly souring milk. Unbuttered toast stood stone cold still in the toaster. Sharples sniffed at them both, unimpressed he continued to sit staring at the unopened can of tuna flavoured chunks in jelly. He mewed pitifully at the still lifeless body of one of his favoured feeders.
Sharples waited in what he would call a patient fashion. After a few minutes had passed he conceded he was deliberately being ignored so he left through the backdoor that swung in the breeze of an early summer evening.
The doorbell rang! It rang again and again. “Mrs. Clements” a voice shouted through the letter-box. “Mrs. Clements, can you answer the door, dear?” The voiced had that echo of increasing urgency about it. Then silence except for the hurried crunch of gravel as footsteps paced through the side path. Footsteps followed by a piercing scream to a creator.
Sirens and flashing blue lights echoed around the cul-de-sac, dragging the curtain twitchers eagerly out from behind their veils of drapery. A murder in Baisely Close – now that was something to get excited about.
Sharples looked at them all from the porch roof of number twenty-two, his unnerved gaze resting on the blond six foot frame of Nigel Westbridge from number three.
He, Sharples, had seen everything but no-one ever asks a cat.
All at Sea
That first walk on dry land was heavenly. The rocks were wet from the crashing foam whipped up by the storm as the jagged plank cruised in on a wave. Its passenger dismounted and leapt on to a higher rock that offered some refuge.
Further along the beach, Jones looked around to see if any of the family had made it to the shore. So far it seemed he was alone.
Jones, however, still went about building a fire from the deadwood he found on the beach. His wet butler’s apparel clinging to his skin squelched with every move. Even so he kept adjusting his clothes so as to make them somewhat presentable.
The fire had been burning a few minutes when Millicent was washed semi-conscious to the shore. Jones dragged her close to the fire using his now semi dry jacket as a blanket.
Millicent was the youngest daughter of his family. Now it was his duty to care for her. The beach seemed deserted and as Millicent came round she huddled close to Jones for warmth.
He watched them from the rock. He thought it better to keep his distance and probably safer too. He had got lucky finding a bit of wood to float him to the shore. He looked at the two castaways indeed that is what they want the world to believe they are.
Yes the storm had been a bad one and would cover their tracks. Millicent’s father would be claimed as lost at sea when the boat had crushed on to the rocks and not brutally murdered by his butler.
As Millicent tossed the cat into raging sea she had not expected him to survive. He, Sharples, would remember.
It was one of those winter evenings that bite at the throat with every breath. The clear night sky lit by a radiant moon sharpened the outlines of the houses on Craydon Street. The street itself was silent, with a haunted stillness that descends as people remain inside next to a roaring fire.
He was no different as he stretched out on the thick pile rug watching the flames dance and play in the grate. He felt his limbs absorbing the warmth. Oh the luxury of the sensation after walking the streets on such a bitter night. He stretched a little more – relishing every moment.
Life on the road was all very well most of the year. In fact, he enjoyed it. He loved meeting people as he made his way from place to place. In the winter there was not so much fun to be had. People did not have the time or inclination to stop and chat for a few minutes.
A few days ago he had been sitting on the front wall of the house at the end of the street when Mrs. Johnson had spotted him. ‘Hello fella!’ she had said. He played the game and shied away, watching her from a distance.
The next day she saw him again. This time he followed her for a few yards then shied away again. Each day he followed her a little bit more then shied away until she stood at the door of this house. She offered him a plate of food and he accepted.
Now just a day or two later Sharples looked around him as he stretched in front of the fire, his tongue kissing the last remains of cream from his lips. Yes, he had done very well to find Mrs. Johnson.
On a hot summer’s day there is little to be done. Leftovers from last night’s barbecue make an easy breakfast leaving plenty of morning hours to find the perfect shady spot.
A stroll through the town arboretum capturing the last coolness as the sun gets higher in the sky. There is even time to sit and watch a child with chubby legs feeding the overfed white ducks that loiter on the lake. Those ducks know they only have to hang around at the water’s edge before a human will offer a meal of bread they bought from Tesco’s.
As the last crumbs scatter about on the floor for a babble of hungry sparrows it is time to climb up the manmade hill they call a rockery. Half way up is a bush covered in small yellow flowers. Beneath its outstretched limbs is the perfect spot to keep cool, doze or watch the madness as the sun worshipers from nearby offices eat their lunches stretched out on the finely manicured lawns.
From his cool sheltered spot on the hill, Sharples was more than content to leave the intense heat of the midday sun to the mad dogs and Englishmen that sprawled on the grass.
The Brave Warrior
One blisteringly hot June day a new face appeared on the street. He walked with an easy swagger of one who is used to the good things in life. He held his nose high and his aura declared he was a force to be reckoned with.
Sharples watched the stranger from his vantage point on the shed roof of Number 8. Not that he was a nosy cat but he liked to keep an eye on the goings on. The shed roof was a perfect spot to do just that and to take a little nap now and then. He was always discreet and chose it mingle with the clematis that climbed freely over the roof affording a cat of distinction such as Sharples some shelter from the elements.
As he half-dozing, half-watching the pathway he saw the pretty little lady cat from number 18 taking her stroll. Her bluish-grey fur reflected delicately in the sun as she made her way. The stranger started to follow her.
She disappeared into the garden of number 4. The stranger followed her. Seconds later the little grey cat ran out of the gate her hair on end. Sharples jumped down beside her.
The stranger reappeared and the grey cat coiled behind Sharples. The stranger ignored Sharples and moved in on her. Her fur raised even further until she looked like a powder puff as a deep growl echoed from her throat. Her message was clear she wanted nothing to do with the new cat on the block.
Sharples moved between them and howled warningly at the stranger.
There was a brief scuffle of claws and teeth accompanied by the ear piecing wails and squeals. The grey cat ran to the safety of her garden.
Later the stranger was seen limping further down the path his gait a lot less arrogant than before. Sharples watched from the shed roof – he had done his duty.
And the lady cat was telling all she could of the brave warrior, Sharples.
He had been in love once. Love had touched his sullen heart during that hot summer when the beaches were crowded and the streets empty.
The balmy evenings had made sitting out back an essential part of the day. Just sitting in that lazy fashion that enables the mind to listen to the night sounds of nature. Next door’s fountain tinkled into their garden pond, the sound of water meeting water like gentle chimes of fluted bells.
Then one evening he had been lazing and listening when she came into the garden. He watched her walk elegantly across the lawn her head poised gracefully without being snooty. She stepped delicately onto his veranda and introduced herself in the usual fashion.
Normally he would have ignored such an intrusion but something about her piqued his interest. Instead he escorted her on a short walk. As they said a goodnight their noses kissed and he lost his heart.
For the rest of the summer they spent each evening walking or lazing together. Everyone cooing on what a cute couple they were, they knew their time was limited and her family would go home taking her with them.
That first evening alone he knew, she had gone home and taken his heart with her. Sharples would never fall in love again.
Verandas and Cicada
The veranda at the rear of number 8 made the most of the after luncheon sunshine, a gentleman could relax and allow his mind to embrace and enjoy the finer things of life. And he would relax beneath the pull down canvas shelter that like an old fashioned beach umbrella benefited those beneath with deep tree shade protection from the blazing sun while his thoughts wandered to the rhythm of wind chimes echoing on the breeze from across the various gardens. In the short while since he and the old woman had become acquainted the gardens surrounding number 8 had become his domain.
It was on one such afternoon when he had just polished off a luncheon of smoky ham and finely sliced poached chicken and had taken up his position on the veranda that it happened. A billowing white cloud had caught is lazy eyes as it stretched slowly across the open blue sky. The old woman’s sunflowers were dancing merrily to the rhythm of what he called cicada (garden crickets to you and I) when out of nowhere came a great deal of splashing and squealing.
Now he knew next door had pool and at weekends their small grandchildren would scream and splosh about in the clear blue water. This was different. The old couple next door were away for fortnight’s holiday, he had heard them telling the old woman about it and it certainly was not the weekend.
He moved towards the fence covered in wild ivy and listened. Yes, the splashing was coming from next door’s pool all right. Stealthily he leapt up onto the fence and looked over into the garden. Two men were shouting at a woman in the pool. He didn’t recognise any of them. Silently as he had topped the fence he moved back down and went into the kitchen where the old woman was making tea while listening to a story on the radio.
On the work surface she and placed some fish for that evening’s supper. He grabbed it and ran out into the garden with the old lady chasing him. He dropped the fish and looked at the fence. The old woman hearing the commotion next door tickled his ears then picked up the fish before returning to the house. A few minutes later men in blue uniforms arrived and took the shouting invaders away.
And Sharples dined on fresh fish that evening.
A Contended Evening
Come live with me, and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove – Christopher Marlowe
He sat on an old stool in the kitchen watching her as she moved around preparing supper. It always amused him how she had cooed adoringly at him from the first time they had met. Even now as she carved roast chicken neatly into slices she was making noises at him, every now and then her hand would reach over and stroke across his ear and he would lean into it, she seemed to like that response.
Her gentle nature had attracted him. And it was that nature that made him stay. Initially he had been shy when she had tried to hold him but now he murmured deeply to be held in her gently arms.
If he could love a woman this surely must be love. He had worked that out when she had gone away for just a few days to visit her sister. For those few days he had felt lost and alone.
Today she had come home and he had never been so happy to see anyone. How closely he followed her around as if he couldn’t bear to lose her again. And she had liked that so much her eyes had leaked.
‘You do love me, you little rascal’
They ate supper before settling down in the living room to listen to the radio. For the first time since they had met he snuggled on her lap and listened to her contented breathing as she stroked his fur. Yes Sharples had found his home.
The night before the party she had hung out her new dress ready. The baptism she called it. The dress had taken her several shopping trips to find. She had delighted in showing me the pale blue silk she had finally chosen. Twirling around the room like a young dancer, the fabric lighting up eyes. I understood how perfect the day must be.
For a few weeks I had felt her excitement. I’d sat on the stool in the kitchen watching her decorate the cake with delicate white sugar lace. I had watched her as her daughter handed her the little bundle as she cooed with delight before I snoozed in front of the fire. Kittens did not interest me but I loved seeing her smile.
After the party she had sat with me on her lap, telling me how the kitten was the only one her daughter would have as she was ill and needed treatment. I felt her deep sadness and touched the wetness on her cheeks with my paw. These were the times I wished I could speak human, but I am Sharples and I am only a cat.
Out of the Ordinary
They say life is about learning. Living with humans more so. In my travels I have met all types from the ones who truly have a heart to the ones who would kick a chap when he is down.
On the streets you meet some heartless folk, only out for what they can get. You learn not to trust and always be alert. I have not always had the good fortune to live in warmth and comfort like I do now. Before my lady found me I lived on the streets of the town. Life was a rough affair. I was hunting for scraps in waste bins, getting yelled at and booted about.
‘He’s just a tramp!’
‘Get outta here’
These are the nicer things I heard as I journeyed looking for shelter. A gentleman would not dream of repeating the worst.
I found my lady and I know I have been a challenge as I showed little trust in her. However as the months of gone by I now understand her. To her I am not just a cat and she is not just a human.
Chip Off the Block
A lot is made of knowing and not forgetting where we come from. It is as if we are the circumstances of our birth and those same circumstances dictate where we can go in life. I know my roots and value them.
My father was a traveller and rarely stayed in one place long enough to make a difference. My mother was a lady and lived in moderate comfort, and still does as far as I know. She came from a known and prestigious line, my father did not.
My mother raised me and nurtured me through my first days of life. She gave me my taste for the finer things in life. She taught me to value the hand that feeds with grace and elegance.
From my father, I never met my father so what can I have got from him. The instinct for survival when the chips are down is in my blood as is the wanderlust I feel at times. I like to think he gave me that.
So what does that make me? I am unique, I am Sharples.
The house I live in can only be described as old-fashioned. A wood-fuelled range for cooking and heating water instead of a microwave and a boiler, wooden beams and open fire places guarded by steel mesh in most of the rooms.
Oh we had electricity but even the lights were chandeliers and not the modern trend for sunken bright spotlights. Thus each room had its dark corners always hidden in the shadows. Perfect for the odd spot of hunting.
Not that there was much to hunt in the house, maybe the odd mouse, but more often spiders. My lady hates spiders and it is only right I protect her from these fearsome creatures.
So it happened, one night whilst my lady was sleeping in her boudoir I heard a rustling from the corner. I knew in an instant that it was one of these wicked eight-legs come to cause trouble. “Not on my watch!” I thought.
I arose from cosy bed and ventured into the darkness. My eyes adjusted quickly and I could see him preparing to attack. Should I just leap and splat this intruder into oblivion? Not a particularly interesting method of kill so instead I opted for the pounce and pull method.
In a swift move I held him down and pulled two legs clean off and watched in mild amusement as he ran round in circles. After a short while it was clear he was going no place rather rapidly so I pulled another leg off then playful batted him from one side to another as he circled faster and faster.
So it went on until I had had my fun, and a few minutes later I left his flattened remains a bloody spot on the carpet and returned to my bed assured in the knowledge my lady was once more safe and secure from intruders. And I, Sharples, remained her vigilant assassin.
If am absolutely honest, and one should be honest in one’s memoirs, I have never been much of a team player. Typical of my kind I am far too conceited even to consider sharing the glory of my successes.
However, long ago when I was nearly drowned and I made my way from the sea to the town I did meet a few fellow travellers on the road. Thomas was a lifelong tramp and he shared some invaluable lessons with me in those early days. His companion, Miss Jemima, had been deserted a year before, and Thomas although a rough and ready sort of fellow to the casual observer was a gentleman and made it his duty to be her guardian.
Then there was the other chap, Winscott, a scruffy bedraggled mutt of a chap whose sly and conniving ways made him a moderate living as he roamed from place to place. I learned much from him too.
We were a motley crew as we walked up from the coast and over the days and weeks we developed a kinship. In towns and villages Thomas taught me how to hunt in the refuse bins for morsels and Winscott taught me how to charm the local folks into giving us food.
It was at one such town a family took a liking to Miss Jemima and tried to make her their pet. Indeed she was taken inside their house whilst the three of us were left to make do with the old garden shed which let in the elements.
The day after Miss Jemima was sat in the window her coat shiny and groomed all polished off by a diamante collar with a tag. The tag read Felix, no wonder she had a face that could have soured milk.
Thomas said we should leave the garden but not go too far, just far enough to make the family think we were gone. Winscott was not convinced but agreed to go along with the plan. He just didn’t think humans could be that stupid.
Oh but they are. Within a day of us leaving the family let Miss Jemima out of the house and within an hour of doing so we were on our way again leaving a broken diamante collar on the kerbside. Humans are indeed prone to stupidity and need our superior feline intelligence to protect them.
I mentioned the friends I travelled with and again they feature in an event that happened on my way here. It was late summer and we had been on the road for a week or so when we came to a coastal town. It was balmy evening when we got to the town and the streets leading away from the beach were alive with holiday makers on a night out. It meant easy pickings for us from the busy bistro restaurants and fast food bars.
Within an hour we had eaten as much as we could and were just strolling around enjoying the ambience. Suddenly some doors opened and a group of men fell out onto the street. They were loud and aggressive and clearly arguing about something.
None of them seemed to be able to hold his balance but it did not stop them pushing their fists at each other. They continued shouting and seemed to roll in a zig-zag fashion along the street. We had to dive into a shop doorway as they past us.
When they reached the corner several policemen rounded them up and put them in a white van with flashing blue lights. On policeman said they were in for the night which I now know means a police cell rather than a hotel. Thomas tutted ‘what a state humans get into!’
‘They won’t remember in the morning’ said Miss Jemima.
To this day I have never really understood why human males have a liking for intoxicating liqueur but then I am just a cat.
Now I live a more settled life and have a home, I have no need to wander. In the winter I spend as little time as possible outside as I like my creature comforts and curled up in front of a roaring fire is a perfect way to spend the dark winter months waiting for spring.
Spring is a time of anticipation for the summer days when I can wander to the nearby town arboretum and catch the shade under the shrubberies while watch the town’s folk take too much sun. Humans really don’t get the need to stay cool.
What I really look forward to is strolling home in the late afternoon, just after the gates have been closed. This is when the wandering feline community comes alive. It is a time of meeting old friends and new, catching up on the mews and for friskier toms the battle for queen rights.
I did think humans would understand this need to converse with one’s own kind as they stop and chittychat all day every day. Not a bit of it of course, they are intent on making us fit in with their world that is governed by tick-tock machines. If they catch us sharing the mews they shout and complain – really they just do not get it.
Evenings in the arboretum are different, the humans are safe in their houses doing human things and we can get on with doing what we need to do without interference however well intended it may be. Other animals understand it and even do the same thing.
I know it concerns my lady if I am out late at night as she fusses and tsks over me. I do not like her to worry but I am a cat and need to do cat things.
© JG Farmer 2014/5