Tell Tail





“What, Jane?”
I was irritated. My hand was in a rubber glove, halfway down the s-bend. Aren’t all 14 year-olds the same? We’d been having breakfast twenty minutes earlier and she’d hardly said a word.
“Dudley just gave me a message” she said. Dudley’s our cat.
“What did he say this time?”

My heart sank.
“The east coast of Australia will be devastated by floods, loads of people will die.”
I turned around, still on my knees. She was lounging against the open toilet door, twisting her hair round and round her fingers. I must have looked at her in a way she didn’t like.
“It’s high summer there now, that’s just not possible…”
“Well I can’t help it if you think it’s crazy, he DID say it!” she yelled and took off thumping up the stairs.
– – –
Dudley has an unremarkable history. He was once run over and we found him in the pound, renamed Bruce. They told us he’d be paralysed and die within days. He came home and lay like a log on the sofa for three days while we all wept, then hopped down and wandered out to his favourite tree. He’s a ginger tom given to us by our neighbour five years ago. We already had Jomo, who was the family darling because he was a cat’s cat. He didn’t need us, it was his unavailability that made him so delicious. He’d tolerate cuddles, but Dudley can’t live without them.
– – –
A year ago Jane said
“Where’s Jomo?”
“I’ve just fed him, why………”
She kept walking through the kitchen and went outside calling him. Unusual, for Jane’s the only one of us who has never picked the cats up for cuddled them. She treats them like cats, but we treat them like one of us. Jomo didn’t come back. After a couple of days Jane said
“Dudley told me Jomo got run over.”

Dan, still living at home then, said
“Janey, don’t tell lies, Dudley can’t speak!”
“Well, of course he doesn’t speak,” she said in a disgusted voice. “He just sort of looks at me and a message comes into my head. He said I’m his familiar, whatever that means.”
Jane plays the violin and paints, but also has a special view of reality. She sees lights around people sometimes.
All of us were shocked. She’d had her tonsils out a week earlier and had reacted strongly to the anaesthetic. We thought it was probably that. Indeed, Jomo never came back despite our desperate attempts. We miss him still.
– – –
The messages sometimes arrived in French or German. Jane was learning both languages and between us we learned a lot more, searching dictionaries for almost every word, then the translation.
“Les Tories jouent avec la bombe européenne ”
“Der französische Patient”
“Les élites refusent de voir la réalité en face”
“But why are WE getting messages, about things that are nothing to do with us?” I asked.
“ He’s what you’d call a political animal…..I think it’s because we’re meant to profit from it, you know, sell the information to interested parties” Bob, ever the marketing man, decided.
“Don’t be a twit, they’re only interested in animals who talk or ride bikes. There’s absolutely nothing to see.”
“He said the other day the Bundesbank was putting up the lending rate by 1% – if money men knew that I could cash in…..”
No reply from me, yet I knew from the way he walked off he was in a world of exploitation possibilities.
– – –

Dudley’s a dreadful gossip. I even found myself having a word with him because I didn’t think it right him telling a young girl that Mrs Tait (at 42) and Mr McBride (46) were having an affair, particularly as we live at 44.
“I don’t mind you telling her you reckon Kate Winslet will marry for the third time and not the last, but please lay off the neighbours. You know the old saying about cats and their own doorsteps?”

He stared back, but I swear he understood.
– – –
A week before the Grand National Bob was begging Jane to tune in and listen hard for the winner. She was dismissive.
“I don’t ASK him anything, he just TELLS me.”
Bob sleeps in on Saturdays, but on the day of the race he crept out of bed before I was awake and didn’t come back. Odd – the man has his routines and sticks to them. I found him kneeling on the living room floor with the Racing Post and the Daily Mail spread out and every horse’s name written on individual cards – and the cat.
“For God’s sake, what are you doing?”
He didn’t even look ashamed.
“He can choose one or two and I’ll back them to win, we’ll make a fortune!”

He was so carried away, I just stood there.
“Here, boy” he said in an unnatural voice.

Dudley didn’t move, sensing his feline dignity was about to be transgressed.
Bob pulled a handful of cat treats out of his pocket and threw them over the cards. Dudley immediately pounced on one, and the cool operator orchestrating the scene cried in triumph
“Clean this up, I’ve had enough and if you upset Jane you’ll ruin my day.”
An hour later he was off to the bookies, then my mobile went.
“Lizzie” he said in a placating voice “I didn’t write the names down properly. There are two Neptunes – can you look at the cards again?”
I dug them out of the bin.
“…..didn’t I write Neptune Collonges or Neptune Equester?”
I said, very slowly
“There are two cards, each bearing one word only – Neptune. Goodbye.”
He’s whistling around the place the rest of the day but itchy leading up to the race. He hasn’t told me and I haven’t asked……ten minutes later he’s on his feet screaming at the television, expletives deleted gathering darkly around his head. He turns tragically to me.
“Neptune Collonges – bastard! – Neptune Equester sounded equine so I put 200 quid on it! Nobody backed bollocks Collonges . What the hell does Collonges mean anyway….”
I walk away but, risking death, he follows me saying
“It won at 33/1, we would’ve got 6,600 quid…..!”
I disappear to the laundry where I know he won’t follow, the kitchen might be dangerous. There’s plenty of froideur in the house the rest of the weekend.
– – –
In May it’s no surprise when I see on the news that Edvard Munch’s “Scream” sells for 120 million dollars – exactly the amount Jane told us a week ago. We also have a déjà vu feeling when Hollande kicks Sarkozy out of the Élysée Palace.
– – –
We’ve been powering up the whole year but at the end of July it’s finally happening – the great Olympics of 2012. We’re having a street barbeque and I’m in the kitchen when Jane comes in.
“I’m completely fed up with Dad asking me who’s going to win what in every event, so he can bet on it.”
She sees my instant fury but lays her hand on my arm and says
“You’ll love this……Dudley just said that the Queen will be parachuting out of a helicopter into the opening ceremony tonight, odds 10,000/1!”
We both double up, laughing hysterically. A cat with humour!
“Tell your father, go on!”
Five minutes later Bob steams in, lips pursed, his fatherly righteousness in full flow.
“That girl has no respect, what a madam! She gave me some sneering message from the cat about betting on the Queen parachuting into the opening ceremony tonight from a helicopter! You’ll have to get her under control, Lizzie.”

– – –
Dan’s back from university for the week with his girlfriend Evie, and his saxophone. Evie’s a jazz singer with a Dinah Washington type voice, she and Dan live for their music but don’t say much about how their courses are going…so was it ever. They’ve played nostalgic cd’s the whole week – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Grover Washington, Eric Dolphy. It’s great to have so much life in the house again.
“….I thought that was an old wives’ tale until now” laughs Evie “….that cats love jazz.”
“It’s absolutely true” says Dan, uncorking another wine bottle, while Dudley brushes across his legs. “Something to do with their sound range probably – a bit like the low growls they communicate with. He’s followed me round ever since I started playing as a kid.”
Jane’s got a wicked look on her face.
“Hey, Dan, what’s black and brown and looks good on a saxophonist?”

After ten seconds we all give up.
“A Doberman!”
It’s a really great evening but as we all troop up to bed, Jane hangs back a bit and whispers
“Dave Brubeck’s going to have a heart attack and die on the way to the appointment with his heart surgeon.”
“Night, night, Jane” .
– – –

Dudley’s very last message to Jane was a couple of weeks ago.
“Get those Cornish fishing boats out of the Bay of Biscay!”
Well, what he actually said was
“Fuera con los barcos pesqueros Ingleses de la Bahía de Vizcaya!”
Which is pretty strong stuff. Whose side is he on anyway, giving orders in Spanish?
“Perhaps his mother tongue is Catalan?” Bob said, this time out of earshot of Jane.

Jane’s fallen in love. Christopher is a year older than her, they’ve known each other since primary school and it’s serious she tells us. The natural thing has happened at last. Dudley has not said a word to her since then. Adolescence is changing her. She told me yesterday she knows he is just a mog, with no special powers.
I’m sitting here finally sewing buttons on some shirts. Dudley leaps onto my lap for a cuddle. We stare at each other.
“You’re back on your own, Dudders, she’s growing up.”
He blinks understandingly back. I pat him, debating with myself whether or not to have a Mars bar (I’m on a diet again.). A headline comes into my mind, as clearly as if I’m reading it. It says
“Tokyo Devastated by 8.1 Quake……”

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