What Can You Do? by Louise Wilford

There’s this cat, see, comes round once or twice a week – has done since it were a kitten. In my opinion, he shouldn’t’ve been let out on his own so young, but that’s people these days. What can you do?

Anyway, this cat comes round regular. First time, I were polishing me backgammon counters – I don’t get to play much these days. Nobody to play with. Anyway, this cat, he liked the look of the counters and started pawing at ‘em, like, made one roll along the carpet, chased it. You know what cats are like. He made himself at home.

Anyway, I give him a bit of me tea, maybe a bit of bacon or tuna. I don’t buy proper cat food because I’m on a pension and he’s not my responsibility, is he? But he’s a bit of company of an evening.

He’s a funny cat, bit stand-offish, does as he pleases. Independent, like.

Anyway, yesterday, I was in the kitchen washing the pots – not that there’s many these days – and I heard a mew. The cat’s in the hall. Normally, it’ll mew like nobody’s business til I give it some snap, but it wasn’t its normal self. It fell over on the hall rug – that one Mavis bought before she died – and just lay there, looking pathetic. It felt hot when I stroked it.

‘What’s up, boy? Has’t ‘ad a bad mouse, eh?’

It just stared up at me wi’ them big yellow eyes, looking pitiful.

I didn’t know what to do. It needed a vet, but I can’t afford vet fees and anyway it isn’t my cat. Nearest vet’s up Penistone and I can’t drive these days, since they said me eyesight’s going. Fat lot they know, bloody doctors, messing you about then taking your driving licence off you. What good’s that supposed to do?

Anyway, I thought the best thing I could do was to find out who the real owner was.

I walked up to the houses round the back and, sure enough, there was a cat flap in one of the doors. Stupid things, them cat flaps. Security risk. You can’t tell young folk anything.

No one in. Typical. Their cat’s half-dead on my hall rug and they decide to go out! I wrote ‘em a note and stuffed it through the cat flap.

I waited two hours. The cat was just the same. He’d lapped up a bit of water but that’s all. I was getting worried, to tell the truth. As a rule, I’m not sentimental about cats – I wouldn’t harm ‘em, but after all they’re only animals, aren’t they? Our Mavis used to be dead soppy over animals, putting bits of bacon rind out for the birds and bowls of milk out for next door’s cat, before it got run over.

I used to tell her, ‘Tha’s not doing t’birds any favours, yer daft bugger – yer just settin’ a trap for ‘em, lurin’ ‘em into t’garden so’s mangy beast can gerrem’. She never understood the laws of nature, Mavis. Too soft-hearted. Wanted everything to be friends.

Course, first time a robin corpse turned up on the lawn, it were tears and upset. You can’t tell some folk anything. It was the same with mice. I used to tell her, me dad used to clobber ‘em with a shovel. I mean, that’s what you did in them days. No messing about, like now. They’re vermin. But people’ve got soft. She used to beg me to shut up when I told her about me old dad and his shovel! I mean, she hated mice, terrified of ‘em she was, but first time that cat from next door brought her the back end of one for a present, she had ten fits.

I mean, you can’t have it all ways, can you?

But this cat was different. He’d got under me skin, I suppose you might say. And anyway he was really poorly. He was breathing heavily, sort of wheezing, his chest rattling as he breathed out. Bit like me in the winter. They tried to get me to have a flu jab again this year, but I keep telling ‘em, it does no good. What I need is a good course of antibiotics. That’ll shift it. And an onion. Me mam used to swear by onions when we were kids and got colds.

But you can’t tell doctors anything. Might as well talk to the cat.

Anyway, finally, this bloke turns up, early forties, shorts and trainers. Sez he’s called Malcolm (‘Call me Malc,’ he sez – must be at least forty-five. Call me Malc!) and he understands I’ve got his cat. I thought he looked a bit casual, but then they all do these days.

‘He seemed fine when we left him this morning,’ sez Mr Malc. I sniff. He’s not fine now, I think. In fact, I might’ve said it out loud.

Anyway, ‘Malc’ takes him to the vets in his car and drops by on his way back to let me know that the cat’s got an infection and he’s been injected with antibiotics.

Then, next day, his lad, only about ten, comes round with a great bunch of daffs to thank me for looking after Fluffy. That’s the cat’s name. Fluffy. Just about as stupid a name as you could think up for a short-haired, bad-tempered black cat, if you ask me.

And I’ve never seen the point in cut flowers, myself. Seems daft, chopping ‘em off at the knees and sticking ‘em in a jar. Been better off with a few tins of beans and a loaf or summat. Mavis was always bringing flowers home. I remember I got her a set of saucepans once – real good ones, a bargain off the market, the man said they were selling ‘em for twice the price in Marks and Sparks – when she came out of hospital, and she burst into tears. Said she’d been expecting flowers or chocolates, not saucepans. Women! Who can fathom ‘em?

But the daffs were nice, though. I had to find out that old cut-glass vase Mavis used to use.

And then the little lad starts coming round regular, checking up on Fluffy if he’s been missing for a few hours.

‘Is Fluffy here, Mr Reid?’ he sez.

‘Mum’s sent you round a few scones. She’s been baking.’

‘Would you mind looking after Fluffy when we go on holiday, Mr Reid?’

‘I thought you’d like to see our photos. I’ve brought you some humbugs back.’

Gets on me nerves a bit, really, always knocking on the door. But what can you do? I’m lumbered with both of ‘em now, the cat and the lad.

Malcolm and his wife must take me for a mug. I mean, baking an occasional scone wouldn’t salve my conscience if half me family were being looked after by the neighbours.

But he’s a bit of company, I’ll give him that. He’s turning out a right little backgammon player, too. Got the knack. We often have a game, sitting face to face over that old chess table Mavis brought back from Blackpool that year Bert broke his ankle getting of the coach. Fluffy sometimes gets in the way, trying to knock the counters off the board, but we put up with him.

I told him about me old dad whacking the mice on the head with a shovel. He said it was ‘cool’. What sort of word is that? They don’t teach ‘em how to speak nowadays. It’s all National Curriculum and Jamie Oliver making ‘em eat cheese straws and curry. It’s no wonder they grow up into delinquents, is it?

But anyway, he can’t be that daft, can he, if he can play backgammon and appreciate me dad’s mouse-killing technique?

Fluffy seemed impressed by that too.

We keep a running total, paid in boiled sweets.

I’m currently down three pear drops and a butterscotch.

Published in Issue #26

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