a cat in a rocket
Éabha Ní Fhearaíl
‘And three… two… one… lift off.’
The voice is speaking calmly, but the sounds around me are anything but. I am held down firmly. Shiny metal slabs rise up on every side of me, and I wail miserably as one crashes down on top and everything goes dark.
I have a vague memory of being picked up and cuddled, of regular meals from a plastic bag and sunny spots to lie in. Then one day, the woman in charge… what was her name? Lucilla, yes, Lucilla’s mother decided five cats was too many. There were six humans in the house, but I noticed that there were no plans to get rid of any of them.
They opened the door and enticed me out with food, but really I was curious to see what was out there that Lucilla could be crying about. I had deduced that it was nothing – she was only young, after all – but it was too late. The door was closed.
Well, I don’t remember much from that time, but I remember I was heartbroken. I grew thin without the dry stuff from a packet they used to give me. Until I got into my first fight. What were sunny spots compared to this? What was petting and stroking to lashing out and snarling, dry gritty stuff to the energy I felt? I was made for this. I was tired and hungry but I won, and sent that arrogant excuse for a cat back down the alleyway it came from.
That dark smelly alley became my favourite place. I routed all the neighbourhood strays, and as for those fat, conceited house pussycats… they never so much as looked in my direction again.
Scraps of raw chicken, leftover boiled ham, scrapings of tinned fish were my sustenance. I stayed near that alley for years.
One night, I woke up to humans in orange and yellow clothes shouting and spitting at me. I responded in the only way I knew how – by fighting. I bit a hand, scratched an arm, threw myself against a leg… until one – I’ll admit now, she was quick-thinking – picked up a bottle and squirted me, I fled.
I ended up Bastet knows where. Suddenly a shape jumped out at me, a tangle of fur and claws, raking a claw down my leg. I tried to run away, but it bit at my ear. I had had enough. This was too much for one night. I launched in, putting every bit of anger into my fight. It was a long and bloody one, and after some time we both stalked off with no clear winner.
I was a mess. Half an ear was missing, and all over me were deep scratches. I dragged myself up and forced my legs to carry me around. It was nearly light before i found a bin with food. I devoured some scraps of meat, half a block of mouldy cheese, a tuna sandwich, bread, butter, mayonnaise and all, and finally some egg. I curled up behind the bin, uncomfortably full.
My eyes flickered open again to a rumbling sound that stirred something in my mind, something to do with Lucilla. I shut it down again, and peered out of my cosy place. A hulking metal machine was speeding down the road, leaving smoke in its wake. Seconds later, another one came. I retreated back. I had seen someone squashed by one of these. You could hardly tell that they had fur, the poor thing, and its little claws were twisted out of place. The machine had sped on, oblivious.
I ate a relaxed breakfast of scraps and scrapings, then ventured out. Humans turned to look at me – I walked proudly at first, happy that I was receiving all of this attention, before remembering my ear and the blood that was even now drying on my coat. I settled down in a corner for a wash.
I wandered back to the place I had slept that evening. A new load of waste had come out, and I contentedly finished off some ground-up meat covered in something red – i assumed it was blood, but it didn’t taste like that. There was no-one else around, only metal machines screeching up and down and a few humans going in and out of them. I settled down for a relaxing wash, when I was jolted back into the present by a shriek. A young human was pointing at me, an older one came out, saw me, and took something out of its pocket. The young one was pleading, but the older one spoke into the thing as if they didn’t hear. I slipped back behind the bin.
I was woken up from my nap by a pair of hand pushing me roughly, and before I knew what was
happening, I had run into a box and a door was slammed shut on me.
The room they brought me to was hot and full of noise and smells. There was a squawking bird opposite me, at least seven other cats, assorted dogs and rodents… the cacophony was too much. I shrank back to the back of my cage.
Bastet knows how long I spent there. Weeks? Days? Every so often, a bowl of food or water would be pushed into our cages, and even more seldom, we would be shoved out and into a new, clean cage.
One day, something was different. We were all given new cages that smelled even more like chemicals, the pathway between us was brushed, we were given extra food and water, and the lights were turned up, causing howling and wailing and squawking and squeaking to erupt. After an hour of waiting in this din, humans in smart clothes arrived, they walked up and down, pointing and shaking their heads. They stopped at me. One scratched something on some paper. They said something and nodded. They nodded for one other cat and three dogs. Thank Bastet the bird wasn’t coming too. We were forced out of our cages and into darker, plastic ones with a bit of blanket and some chunks of dry, gritty food at the bottom. Then we were loaded into a metal machine and it started rumbling.
We were brought to a clean room with clean cages and clean bowls and clean beds. We were each let into a cage. I was in between the other cat and a dog. They poured wet gloopy stuff into one bowl and sprinkled brown pellets over it. The other bowl was filled with water, and I lapped at it eagerly. I approached the other bowl cautiously, but it tasted fine. Good, even. And I was hungry.
I should have known it was too good to last. As soon as we were finished eating, we were brought to another room. They put us on platforms and scratched things down. They wrapped fabric around our legs, and scratched things down.
They took one of the dogs away. I don’t know where she went. Then they took the other cat. He turned around to look at me in his cramped plastic cage, being swung as it was carried out. They gave us some food, beeped something over us, then scratched things down. Then we were let back to our cages to sleep. Never mind if we were tired or not. I was full of energy. This repeated itself countless times. One day, another dog was taken away. There was just two of us left.
Now that dog is in another dark metal box. The name that the scientist humans gave her is ‘Lottie’. They call her that when they want her to do something. They call me Joey. i don’t let them ‘want’ me to do anything. I do it or i don’t. They got me into this box because I was curious. Then straps snapped over me and I wanted to get out but it was too late. I’m stuck here.
And I know what ‘three.. two.. one.. liftoff’ means. It means I’m going up.
The author would like to acknowledge the work of Roddy Doyle in inspiring this story.
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