Sunday, November 24

Side A of ‘Astral Weeks’

MY DAY HAD been a washout—two engagements with friends fallen through, and on such a day when the sun shone so brightly. The second of the two had me walking through the streets when the sun was down and the traffic was piling down Mile End Rd. I cursed my luck as I walked along, so I went to the pub, alone, to watch the football and finish everything with a few cold beers. No-one paid attention to the football besides me and a gentleman with a long woolen overcoat and an even longer chin; just he and I staring up at the t.v. set above the bar. I drank what I could then got out of there and looked in through the steamed windows at the swimming pool with its cool blue water rippling terrific and inviting, but I passed on by. At the entrance to my building a black cat with its eyes puffed open for light gazed up at me. Feeling drunk and friendly, I bent down and stroked it behind the ears.
Upon leaving, I saw that my heels were being shadowed by its black form. I walked along with my new friend. We were quite the team; whenever I opened a door for the cat, it strode on through and then, once more, cast its questioning eyes at me. It had such beautiful eyes. When I got to my flat, my friend was still by my side. Can I steal a cat?
I opened my door and invited the black form in.
Suspicious and careful at first, it entered. I was positively happy at the nothing sound of its paws on my wooden floor. Mean no harm; leave the door open. We both walked through the hallway and into the living space. I turned on some lights—flickering before blowing—and I saw the cat becoming familiar with the place I had lived in alone for just over two months. Don’t forget you’re allergic. The cat—I named androgynous Merlot—rubbed itself against my hand, as if flirting for permission, before agilely ascending the stairs up to my sleeping quarters. I let it go.
Setting my keys down, I put some music on for Merlot (choosing Van Morrison because I didn’t know anyone or anything that didn’t like ‘Astral Weeks’).
I had company, so, of course and without meaning to be, I was nervous. I paced here and there. Merlot was roaming around my bed. Please, no fleas! It stood at the top of the stairs and said—‘You need to change your sheets, but I like it up here.’ It continued to sniff around.
I was overjoyed—at last!—at having company
Merlot came down and we bonded some more. I went to the kitchen and it followed me and watched me put some chicken wings into the oven. ‘I want some.’ ‘I don’t think b.b.q. chicken wings are good for a cat.’ I took a saucer out of the cupboard; Merlot started to meow when before it had only purred. I apologised—for the chicken wings were mine and mine alone—and set down the saucer down and filled it with cold mineral water, which Merlot lapped up before saying thank-you with its big eyes. It sniffed my bathroom and then saw that my front door was open—‘Please don’t go!’—and it pawed towards me, forward of the beer odour on my breath. It snuggled up to me again. I was so happy—and the smell of b.b.q. chicken wings was in the air—so Merlot was probably getting hungry, too.
Merlot went to my seat and leapt up on to it without making a sound. It spun around to find comfort. I went over to it and stroked behind its thin but rigid ears, all soft and svelte. I was crouching down and Merlot came and climbed upon me so that I couldn’t move lest it fall off. I put my fingers all over it. The comforting sound of purring ebbed from its throat all the while, bowling me over with charm and delight. I saw its tiny claws clenched into my jeans. I told it—‘You’ll have to go soon … unfortunately you can’t stay here forever.’
Merlot just purred.
That sound of cats purring, like a pack of playing cards being shuffled.
I could not steal someone else’s cat, and, surely, if I closed the door, whenever Merlot had the chance, it would run. I was sad and wished to buy some wine and chocolate. I turned off the music at the end of the song; one side of the l.p.:
My friend, who lived down in the West Country before he moved to Italy, had a farmhouse and a very ill cat. The cat was as black as Merlot, had a bad case of the cancer within its tiny skull, which leaked puss out of its left ear, and would often stand in the centre of the room trembling and fleas jumping ship on to the carpet. He had ‘Astral Weeks’ on vinyl, so I knew which songs made up each half of the l.p.
Merlot had been in my flat for one half of ‘Astral Weeks’, side A.
I put my coat on so that I could go buy some wine and chocolate. I led Merlot out of the flat and shut the door. ‘What now?’ it asked me. It did not wish to leave. The corridor scene was interrupted by a young couple coming home who, pausing their conversation, were apparently intrigued at how invested I was in my one-way conversation with a black cat.
Embarrassed, I fled, leaving Merlot at the door.
When I returned from the shop, Merlot, forever on my mind, was sat in the entrance to the building. It ignored the couple (so many couples in the place that, yes, my life is brightened by a lone cat walking into my flat!) in front of me, and when it saw me, stood up and walked towards me. I made an awkward hello—‘Are you okay? Sorry, I had to kick you out … you understand? … someone else is probably looking for you … you can’t come live with me … besides, I am very allergic, did you not notice how many times I washed my hands when you visited?’ Merlot just looked at me, the inside of its golden eyes glowing. Trudging up the stairs to my floor, Merlot sat straight at the foot and, watching, did not move but stared.
I was sad to leave it, but it had brightened my evening, and then my flat was just me empty all over again and my skin itched terribly.

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