I have missed the deadline. A self-imposed one, but a deadline nonetheless, and it’s the first time, at least as far as writing is concerned. The novel, The Twittering of Sparrows, I have spent the last six months writing was meant to be finished, the first ‘final’ draft anyway, by May Day. And it isn’t.
Two weeks ago today, bidding farewell to my husband as he headed off to a job that actually pays, I heard a sound coming from behind the terrace of our Downtown home. Thinking it a bird greeting the dawn, still just a pink promise in the Eastern sky, I ignored it. And then, and then, something made me listen properly.
Loosely wrapped in a dressing gown and armed with a torch, I rushed outside to the communal car park and tried to see what had somehow crawled between our neighbour’swall and a bank of pipes. Unable to see any further than the watery beam from a flashlight in need of new batteries, and unhappy with the rat trap peeking from behind the electricity meters, and a carpet of dried leaves possibly a perfect spot for a snuggling snake, and since the sound had stopped, I decided to wait for daybreak.
No sooner than I had sat down with the Houston Chronicle and a cup of tea, English Breakfast naturally, the noise started again. And like any sound once heard, it became more and more urgent. Leaving my tea to chill and dressing in more appropriate critter-saving attire I returned to the pipes, and day having dawned ditched the torch in favour of a rake.
Nudging the rat trap elsewhere and raking the lingering autumn debris aside I attempted to wriggle into the space. I am no longer flexible due to titanium rods travelling the length of my back, and so with one giant sideways stride I reached, reached a little more, and standing on one leg tipped forward and craning my neck around the pipes saw the noisemaker; a pathetic creature scrabbling on a plastic bag blown in on a winter wind. Frantic cries were echoing around the space as with my oven-gloved hand I tipped, and reached, a little more. Getting a padded finger on the edge of the bag I slid the tiny thing toward me, lunged further and managed to pick it up.
And then, trying to tip myself back I dropped it.
Silence. The first since the rescue operation began.
Shaking off the glove and reaching again for the scrawny half-handful of fur, shock wore off for both of us. Wrenching mewls started up, and I stretched again and closed my fist around the now flailing naked front paws. Preparing to straighten, still standing on one leg, neither wall nor pipe offering anything but resistance, my back rigid, my shoulders tense, desperately trying to hold the terrified animal and with tears of frustration streaming down my face, I realised I was wedged.
Frustration turned to panic as my right, standing, leg hinted at imminent cramp. The left waved around like a struggling funambulist and if I hadn’t been so frightened of dropping the fur covered bones in my hand I might have laughed. And then reason returned and as I calmed, my shoulders and back relaxed and I managed to slither down a little, lower the waggling leg and shuffle backwards through the snake-free leaves and out into the open.
Getting my first good look at the bundle I realised it was only a few days old, ears not yet unfurled and eyes mere slits of fur, it’s pale pink toothless mouth a gaping hole of indignation, hunger and fear. The tiny claws were soft as melted plastic as they scrabbled at my chest, and felt like brushing against a stinking nettle, without the residual pain.
Amazingly a tiny purr replaced the frantic mewling and the frail body relaxed into my hand and then to a towel over a heated pad in a basket.
So here I am two weeks later with a deadline missed, exhausted from a return, after a gap of twenty-six years, of three hourly bottle-feeds day and night, but more importantly a kitten whose ears are now where they are meant to be, with eyes wide open, with calcifying claws and no fear of his captor. His drunken crawl is changing to a tottering stumble as his hind legs strengthen, though there is still an inclination to topple when a full belly redistributes his weight. From a pitiful three ounces, he now proudly carries ten, and by the vet’s calculation he is two and half weeks old.
Thanks are given, and received with pleasure, by deep purrs whenever he sits on my chest to be burped, or as he nestles on his back under my chin pattering my face with featherlike paws. He will survive, of that we are both determined, and he will become a part of this family.
Naturally the blame for missed deadlines lies firmly with the cat; because of course it’s not my fault. It never is.
Oh, his name?
Marley, the Bob cat.