Monday, November 3, 2008


I have this book called "Collected Cat Stories" by Stella Whitelaw which I accidentally found in a secondhand bookstore in Ipoh. It contains 53 stories about cats ranging from the ordinary to the magical. Here I would like to share a story with those who share my love for cats. This one is called "Joint Custody."

She swept into the police station like a gust of autumn wind. Her streaky brown hair flew about her small round face, rustling like leaves, her bright brown eyes flashing with indignation.

'I believe you've got my cat,' she said, with a touch of haughtiness that added inches to her five foot nothing.

Sergeant Brady was used to strange requests, and they often concerned lost or strayed cats. However, there was a difference in this case, for indeed they did have a cat, a large marmalade cat at present eating fish and chips from the police canteen in the comfort of cell number five.

'A cat, madam? he said slowly, as if he had never heard of the species. Now how do we know if we have got your cat? Perhaps you would like to describe your cat.'

'He's beautiful with long fluffy fur and great big eyes and he can talk to you,' said Lisa all in one breath.

'Not much description to go on so far,' said Sergeant Brady, opening a ledger at a blank page.

'What colour would you say?'

'Russet...every shade from the deepest red mahogany to the palest creamy salmon.'

Sergeant Brady wrote down: 'One ginger cat.'

'Excuse me,'said a firm, aggressive masculine voice. 'But that's my cat you are talking about.'

The owner of the voice was a tall young man, not a single ginger hair on his city suit, carrying a leather brief-case with brass hinges, very expensive-looking and executive style.

Lisa sniffed. He did not look like the owner of a large ginger cat. He looked more like a small dog person.

'I think you must be mistaken,' she said crisply. 'Rubens definitely belongs to me and I've come to to take him home.'

'Although I'm sure you have lost a cat or not, Marmaduke is mine, and I've his travelling-basket in my car to prove it. We could match hairs.'

'Marmaduke?' Lisa scoffed. 'What a name.'

'No more unusual than Rubens,' the man said, dangerously cool. 'It is four weeks since I am home from a business trip and found my cat had disappeared. I will not say stolen. Merely disappeared.'

'Fancy going away and just leaving your cat. Disgraceful.'

'Left in good hands, I assure you, with my neighbours. He may have been lonely, but he was not neglected.'

'It is true that I have only had Rubens for a few weeks, but when I found him, he was lonely, friendless, starving and longing for a little love and affection,' said Lisa.

'Marmaduke is a born actor.'

'I took him in and he immediately put on weight.'

'Starch, merely starch. Now if you don't mind,' said Stephen Randolph turning to Sergeant Brady. 'I'd like to take my cat home.'

'But how do I know who this cat belongs to?' said Sergeant Brady. 'You both seem to have mislaid a large ginger cat.'

'It's definitely Rubens,' said Lisa.

'Positively Marmaduke,' said Stephen.

'Would you care to identify the incumbent?' Sergeant Brady offered, coming round to their side of the counter. He led them down a green-painted corridor and took a key from his watch-chain and opened the heavy-plated door at the far end.

'I always thought that cells were in the basement,' said Lisa, following the burly back of the sergeant.

'Only in films, madam. Our cells are on the ground floor. Number five, if you please. Allow me to unlock the door.'

The marmalade cat was curled up on a blanket on a bunk-bed, the shades of his reddish fur warmly glowing in the electric light. He had opened one eye sleepily as he heard footsteps coming along the corridor. His new home with bars across the window was strange and he did not know why he was there. He was hoping that someone would tell him.

'Oh, it is Rubens,' said Lisa with a cry.

The cat immediately leaped into her arms, hooking his claws into her hair, nuzzling under her chin, purring ecstatically. It was quite moving.

'There,' she said triumphantly. 'You can see he's mine.'

'That's Marmaduke,' said Stephen bluntly, clicking his fingers.

At the sound, the cat jerked his head round and began to struggle in Lisa's arms. He sprang to the floor and twisted himself round Stephen's ankles, arching his back and miaowing.

'Obvious, isn't it,' said Stephen.

They glared at each other, seeing nothing but the struggle for the ownership of a charismatic marmalade cat.

'I suggest you sort it out between you,' said Sergeant Brady. 'We only keep cats a short time and them we pass them on to the RSPCA. We're only waiting for the little fellow to be picked up by the inspector. Why don't you talk it over having a cup of coffee? There's a nice little cafe on the corner of the street.'

Lisa was seething with anger as Stephen steered her towards the cosy lights of the cafe. She crunched through the leaves scattered on the pavement, brittle red and gold under her feet. She tucked her hair into her collar and set her face determinedly.

'It's no use thinking that you are going to make me change my mind,' she said. 'I'm going to keep Rubens. He likes living with me.'

'I can well imagine that Marmaduke likes living with you. He adapts very easily," said Stephen smoothly. 'But the fact remains that he began living with me, and he should return to me.'

They did not speak as they stirred the froth into their cups of coffee. The silence hung in the steamy atmosphere, clinging to the mirrors and curling advertisements on the walls.

Lisa looked at the man carefully through her lashes and through the steam. He looked tired, jet-lagged perhaps. She met his eyes. He had been looking at her, noting the bright defiance in her eyes that hid some kind of hurt.

'Did you notice the way Rubens began to talk to you,' she said at last.

'A noisy devil,' said Stephen, with half a smile.

'I like the way he talks. Makes me feel less lonely. I'm sorry if I've been a bit sharp this evening, but I'm not quite myself these days. Something happened... something personal... and Rubens has been a kind of life-line.'

'I'm sorry,' said Stephen, more gently, but not probing.

'You can have him back. He is your cat really. I guess he just strayed when you were away.'

'He seems to like you... a lot,' said Stephen, remembering the picture of the cat nuzzling in her arms, purring like a steam-engine.

They talked over second and third cups of coffee, and eventually, when the owner wanted to close, they wandered back to the police station. Sergeant Barry had his eye on the clock. He could go off duty in ten minutes.

'Well, whose cat is it?' he asked. 'What have you decided?'

'Joint custody,' said Stephen. 'That's what we've decided.'

'One week Rubens will live with Stephen,' said Lisa.

'And one week Marmaduke will live with Lisa,' said Stephen.

'He's very adaptable, you see,' Lisa added.

Stephen put the cat's travelling-basket on the counter. 'If we could have our cat back now,' he asked. 'I'll give you both a lift home, Lisa.'

'Oh, you can have him the first week,' she said generously.

Stephen shook his head. 'I think you should have him. He'll need a lot of extra loving after his terrible experiences in the police cells.'

The marmalade cat awoke from his terrible experiences and wondered what was going to happen next. He allowed the sergeant to carry him out, leaving ginger hairs all over his uniform.

The two people he cared for most in the world were smiling at each other, and he recognised his travelling-basket. He stepped into it, full of fluffy dignity, handing them his life with implicit trust.