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The Suicide Cat

Published December 9, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Beth stood at the edge of the cliff, her eyes closed, listening to the waves thrashing against the rocks beneath her, feeling the wind slapping her, and whipping her hair across her face. Thirty-six years had culminated to this resolution. Thirty-six years of struggle and pain and feeling out of place. Thirty-six years of angst and self-torment. Even with her eyes closed, Beth could feel the moon shining a spotlight onto her. This was her moment, her final curtain call, time for that final bow.

She listened to those wonderful waves calling her name. About to take a step forward into the salty wet audience, she stopped herself. She listened again. It was definitely a cat meowing. Confused she opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the moonlight. Taking a few steps back she turned around. Nothing. She could see the gorse bushes pushing against the wind, spiky warriors standing their ground, the blackness of the coast path in front of her, leading to inky blobs of rocks and boulders. It was ten o’clock on a deserted clifftop, her mind must be playing tricks on her, maybe as some cruel final encore. See, you are totally mad, jump off and disappear. A meow again, this time louder.

Beth peered into the darkness in the direction of the sound, still nothing.

‘Hello?’

Another louder meow was followed by two twinkling eyes materialising out from path in front of her. A black mini panther, the size of a domestic cat. The cat meowed again and slinked towards Beth, tail twitching in the air, stopping just in front of her.

Beth crouched down and held her hand out. ‘Hello. What are you doing up here?’

The cat cautiously approached her outstretched hand, sniffed, then rubbed his face against it. Beth scratched him under the chin and stroked his skinny body as it weaved around her hands.

‘You shouldn’t be up here, this wind will blow you off the cliff, you’ve got no weight on you, you silly thing. Do you live close by? Have you even got a home? What am I going to do with you?’ Beth continued her monologue of questions as the cat revelled in her attention and the wind played with her hair.

Beth stood up. ‘Well I can’t do this with you watching me. Do you want to come back with me?’

The cat meowed with perfect timing.

Beth smiled. ‘Just for one night though, I’ll postpone for one night. I’ve no more nights paid at the hotel so I’ll find you somewhere else to go in the morning. Deal?’

The cat meowed and rubbed against her legs.

‘Come on then.’ Beth started to trek back down the coast path towards the bay and the hotel. She glanced behind her, the cat was following her. She chatted to him as she navigated steep banks, slippery leaves and gnarled tree roots attempting to trip her. Every glance back was met with the vision of the black shadow with stars for eyes trotting after her.

Sneaking the cat into the hotel wasn’t a problem. Beth’s room was on the ground floor and there was a back door leading into her corridor from outside. Six stealthy feet scuttled along the corridor and into the room. After flopping onto the bed and partaking in strokes, head nudges and purrs, Beth called for room service, a tuna sandwich, a ham sandwich, and a chicken sandwich. The cat ate the contents of all three and lapped up water from a fine china saucer.

After a cleaning and grooming session the cat curled up next to Beth on the bed and slept soundly. Beth slept soundly for the first time in a long time too.

Beth observed the different shades of black fur on the cat as the morning sunlight seeped in through the curtains. Darkest brown tinges and indigo hues mingled in with the sleek tarry blackness. She felt calm and relaxed watching his belly move in and out contently and rhythmically with her breath. The cat yawned, opened his eyes slowly, and stretched his paw out into her chin, splaying his pads in a furry high five.

‘Good morning to you too.’

The cat licked his fur three times and stood up for a full body yoga stretch. Beth opened the curtains and made herself a coffee and the cat jumped off the bed, sitting knowingly by the patio door.

‘Time to go or do you just need the loo?’

Apparently it wasn’t time to go. After a toilet trip to the hotel flower beds the cat strolled back in for a wash before breakfast. Room service was ordered, extra sausage and extra bacon. Room service was eaten.

Beth’s suitcase was already packed. She’d packed it last night before going to the cliff top. She’d ask them to store her luggage for her until she decided on an altered plan of action. She dialled reception. ‘Hi, this is a strange question but is there anywhere on the island that rehomes cats or takes them in?…No, I found one this morning, I know pets aren’t allowed in rooms.’ She winked at the cat, the cat blinked back. ‘Oh ok, could you book me a taxi to take me there please?…Yes, as soon as possible…Thank you.’

‘I don’t take cats.’ The taxi driver shook his head to confirm this point. ‘They make a mess.’

Beth thought that was ironic considering he was wearing most of his breakfast remains on his sweatshirt, which was indeed sweaty too. ‘It’s my therapy cat. It’s for my anxiety. My disability cat.’

‘I don’t care if your leg has fallen off and your cat is carrying it, it’s not getting in my cab.’

The cat, in Beth’s arms, stretched his mouth wide in a yawn. Beth knew the cat was silently swearing at him. ‘But he’ll stay on my lap the whole time and it’s only a fifteen minute journey.’

‘No.’

‘I’ll pay you double the fare.’

‘Get in.’

The fifteen minute journey occurred in silence. The taxi tore through the tiny country lanes from the south of the island to the north. A fluffy bull, dangling from the rear view mirror, swung along to Coldplay. He’s trying to hang himself, thought Beth, having to put up with this mediocre droning. The cat sat happily on Beth’s lap. His left paw dangled over the edge of her leg and gently rested on the back seat. Beth smiled and whispered ‘rebel’ in her mind.

Beth paid the taxi driver but he drove off from the old farmhouse before she had time to ask him to wait. She kissed the top of the cat’s head and put him down on the driveway. Two chickens stuttered by in the background, the cat observed them casually while staying close to Beth’s legs, tail in the air, alert and wary.

A woman appeared in the garden to the side of the house, carrying a basket of washing. She was short, robust, with sparse spiky grey hair, wearing a blue shirt, jeans tucked into green wellies and a chunky cream cardigan. Beth would guess she was in her late fifties or early sixties.

‘Can I help you?’ Her voice was blunt and it didn’t sound like she wanted to help at all. She walked towards Beth, washing basket still in her arms.

‘Hello, yes, I hope so. I’ve got a cat.’

The woman stared down at the cat, then slowly back up to Beth. ‘Yes, you have.’

‘Well, it’s not really my cat, I found it last night, and it needs a home. The hotel I was staying at gave me your address.’

‘Oh they did, did they.’

‘Yes.’ Beth watched the woman, the cat watched a rogue chicken streak across the drive. Beth felt she was hostage negotiating. ‘I was hoping you could give the cat a home, or you might know someone who can.’

‘Why didn’t you just leave the cat where it was to wander back from where it came?’

‘It was on the top of Beauport Bay cliffs.’

‘At night.’

‘Yes.’

The woman’s face remained impassive. ‘You don’t live here on Jersey then.’

‘No, I was staying at L’horizon hotel.’

‘Was?’

‘It was my last night last night.’

The woman shifted the basket of washing to rest on her right hip and sniffed. ‘What time is your flight?’

‘My flight?’

‘You said it was your last night, are you flying home today? Where is home to you?’

Beth felt herself tense up, where is home seemed a more philosophical than geographical question. ‘Oh, I, um, I’m from Wales, I haven’t booked my flight yet.’

‘I see.’

Aware she was stood soldier-like Beth tried to relax her stance by shifting more of her weight to her left side, she fiddled distractedly with the strap of her bag across her body.

‘What’s your cat’s name?’

‘I don’t know, and it’s not my cat.’

The cat rubbed against Beth’s legs.

‘What’s your name? Or do you not know that either?’

‘Beth.’ Beth found herself in automatic soldier stance again.

‘Well Beth, my name is Susan. Not Sue, or Suzy, or Sooze. Clear?’

‘Um, yes.’

Susan turned and marched off towards the house. Beth and the cat stood side by side watching her.

‘Well don’t just stand there waiting for a bloody written invitation, and bring your shadow too.’

She disappeared through the door and Beth hesitantly followed her in, her shadow padding behind her.

The kitchen was cluttered with crockery, books, and plants, an assault of colours vied for Beth’s attention. An aroma of moth balls, dusty libraries and Deep Heat challenged her nostrils. A large hefty wooden table was in the centre of the room with various sizes of crocheted coasters and placemats of a kaleidoscope of colours scattered on it. Susan was filling a kettle by the cooker.

‘You can have tea from the pot with me or a coffee, only instant coffee though, I have no time to mess about with those silly plunger things.’

‘Instant coffee is fine, thanks.’

The kettle boiled, Susan clattered about with a teapot. ‘Sit down then.’

Beth sat on one of the wooden chairs, the cat jumped up on her lap, massaged her legs while he got comfortable then curled up.

‘And you think he’s not your cat?’

Beth smoothed his fur as he purred. ‘I can’t look after a cat.’

‘Nonsense.’ The teapot, wearing a green and yellow crocheted cosy, was plonked on the table, followed by a mug of coffee emblazoned with ‘I love Ibiza’, followed by a tin of malted milk biscuits.

‘Thank you.’ Beth glanced at her mug. She doubted that Susan had been to Ibiza.

Before she had chance to ask her, an elderly German Shepherd plodded into the room and over to Susan. Susan ruffled his head and smiled.

‘This is Jim. Jim, we have visitors.’

Beth was slightly taken aback by Susan’s smile, it transformed her face so much. She turned her head to the dog. ‘Hello Jim.’

Jim slowly walked to Beth and sniffed her leg and the cat. The cat opened his left eye and studied Jim’s large damp nose and inquisitive eyes. After a brief moment Jim turned and plodded back out of the room.

Susan delved into the biscuits and started to munch on one. ‘Do you like animals?’

‘Of course, I like them more than people.’ Beth looked up to meet Susan’s studying of her. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t be, animals are nicer than people, they don’t let you down or leave you.’ Susan pushed the biscuit tin towards Beth. ‘Don’t stand on ceremony.’

‘Thanks.’ Beth took a biscuit out and bit off half.

‘So if you leave your shadow here, what are you going to do next?’

Beth was glad she had a mouthful of biscuit to stall for an answer. She could hardly tell a complete stranger she would probably go throw herself of the cliff tonight. She shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ Her shaky hands picked up her coffee and she was self consciously aware Susan had noticed this.

Susan slurped her tea. ‘Won’t anyone miss you?’

Beth’s hands gripped the mug handle tight. Had Susan read her mind? She stared into the abyss of coffee. ‘No.’

The following silence felt so deep to Beth, she had an urge to fill it. ‘I have no job, no family, no partner, no children, no friends, just a rented apartment full of dreams and regrets.’ Shocked at her honest revelation she shoved another half of a malted milk in her mouth to stop herself revealing anymore.

Susan nodded solemnly and slid the biscuit tin back towards herself, also taking another biscuit. ‘But now you have your shadow.’

Beth twitched a smile as she looked down at the sleeping cat, her eyes watered. She brushed off an escaped tear and desperately tried to swallow down the remainder of her biscuit without choking.

Susan swigged more tea and topped up her cup from the pot. ‘Do you have bags? A suitcase?’

‘Oh, yes, my suitcase is in storage at the hotel.’

Susan nodded. ‘We’ll go get it after lunch. You can stay in one of my spare rooms. It’s not fancy but it’s got a comfy bed, wallpaper, and a nice wardrobe.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t stay here.’

‘Why not? Are you a thief, a murderer or an arsonist?’

‘No.’

‘No I thought not, so you can stay. Until you decide what you and Shadow are going to do next.’ Susan nodded towards the cat. ‘He thinks you’re someone worth hanging around for, that’s good enough for me.’

‘But, I wouldn’t want to put you out.’

‘You won’t be, I’m not offering you the swanky hotel services you’ve been used to. A bed and board for you both in return for helping me look after the animals here in the kennels. Again, not a hotel, so you’ll eat what I cook for myself or cook and clean up after yourself if you don’t like my cooking.’

Beth realised she’d been holding her breath and exhaled deeply. ‘That’s really kind of you.’

‘Not being kind, I’m using you for cheap labour, my arthritis is playing up and you’ve come along at the right time.’

Beth looked down at Shadow on her lap, then back up to Susan. ‘Yes, I think I have.’

Observations from my mini break to Jersey, February 2019

Published February 9, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Welsh cakes from the executive lounge in Cardiff airport don’t taste as delicious when you swallow them down for the second time on the plane. It’s about getting the balance right between comfort eating for flight anxiety and leaving enough room in your stomach for Welsh cake tumbling. I haven’t quite got this balance correct yet.

The synthesiser drum beats on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ are perfectly matched with my heart beat on take off in the plane. Except when my heart got to 145 bpm.

I’m glad the windows on a plane don’t open as when looking down on the fluffy clouds my brain thought it would be a great idea to jump out and feel how spongy they’d be on the way through them.

If you sit in the last seat at the back of the plane, on a small propeller plane, you get to hear all the juicy gossip from the airhostesses as they sit by there. Especially on a flight where no one else is sat anywhere near. The downside though is you never get closure, I’ll never know if Hazel got rid of her lacklustre boyfriend that she was deliberating over.

I still get excited when I get Jersey notes in my change, foreign currency! I know it’s the same currency as the UK but having the different bank notes with a smiling not stoic queen on them makes me smiley too and feel like I’m in exotic lands.

I still get excited when visiting my favourite lighthouse at Corbiere. I still pretend I’m on a star trek set when walking through the boulders. I always wonder if I’d get told off if I got deliberately trapped out there. I want to feel isolation panic, but not get banned from lighthouses. I always walk out at the peak of low tide to be extra safe, but I think on my next visit I’ll be more risqué with my timings.

My favourite bench on the top of the cliff looking down onto Portlet Bay is still my favourite bench in the world, and I feel territorial if I see anyone else approach it. That’s my bench. It’s this spot that would be the place I’d leap from if I was going to jump off a cliff to end it all. But if anyone reads this in the future from an insurance company it was a windy day and I fell accidentally.

My second favourite bench on top of the cliff between St Brelade’s Bay and Ouaisne Bay is still my second favourite bench in the world. But always try to remember that there is a tier behind the bench that someone else could sit on, so when you think you’re say there by yourself, taking photos of your horror toys and talking to yourself, you may be being observed and judged by a silent man and his equally silent dog. And being judged by a dog is quite harsh.

I nearly went to a church service, by choice. My favourite church is St Brelade’s parish church and I love sitting in there by myself. I’m an atheist but for some weird reason when I sit in this church I always feel overcome with emotion and cry. Probably my evil demons having a panic inside me. I got to the church on the Sunday ten minutes before a service was going to start and deliberated on going in. I’ve only ever been to a church service on occasions such as weddings, funerals, and christenings, never for a ‘regular’ service. I decided not to go in because I didn’t want the magic of the church to be broken by sharing it with other people, and I felt like I would be spotted as an imposter when I entered. I loitered around the graves instead chatting to the dead.

Once again, even though at a different hotel to my last visit, I had a lovely Portuguese waiter brightening my mornings at breakfast. I should visit Portugal/Madeira.

I love hearing the clanking of boats in a deserted harbour at night. It makes me think of Jaws and I get comforting excited chills in my upper spine and left femur.

I often feel that having anxiety and depression is a bit mean and maybe someone else could have my anxiety instead, but sometimes I can see why I have the two together. The depression part of my brain always wants me to walk into the sea and keep walking and never come back. But the anxiety part of my brain won’t let me go into the water past my knees without shouting ‘shark’ at me and making me retreat to dry land.

I broke tradition of going to the cinema for a holiday film. I did go to the cinema and sat down in the foyer to choose what film I was going to see but there were lots of people and children there. Too peoply for me so I absorbed the smell of the cinema then left.

I aggravated my knee injury by walking ten miles a day, but when the coast and scenery is as amazing as Jersey it’s hard not to want to walk everywhere. But walking back from Normoint Point to St Aubin was my ultimate nemesis, it looked a lot nearer on the map and I did a lot of internal head swearing.

The railway track walk from Corbiere lighthouse to St Aubin was reviewed as a delight. But the day after my nemesis walk was probably not a good time to do this as I felt anything but delightful. Lots of benches along the route though to rest up so that was good!

Walking along St Brelade’s Bay is so relaxing and calming, until your brain keeps noticing the little worm casts in the sand and tells you that you’re about to be attacked by ‘Tremors’ like creatures at any moment. Cue a middle-aged lady in purple go from smiling strolling mode to panicked limping run mode, much to some dog walkers amusement.

I’m still disappointed that I see an abundance of dogs on the island but no cats. If I get to live in Jersey I shall have twenty cats to attempt to bring some balance.

I discovered the lovely Venezuelan lady in Costa Coffee in St Aubin brightens everyone’s day. She makes it impossible not to smile.

The bus drivers are still so friendly and polite, and the buses run like clockwork. All bus companies should strive to be like Jersey Buses.

The Old Court House in St Aubin is a wonderful place to stay and I would stay there again. With an old staircase and indoor well dating from 1450 it’s magical staying in a part of history.

I didn’t know there was a chapel in Jersey airport until I accidentally stumbled into it while trying to locate departure gate nine.

I still love Jersey, it’s still my favourite place on the planet, my go to happy place. And only eight months until I go back!

Mugged by a seagull, named Steven.

Published November 4, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I set off for a challenging two-mile coastal walk. Probably not challenging for most people, but this was involving climbing up high then descending onto a beautiful deserted bay that can only be accessed on foot, a challenge for me. It was scary at some points as the wind was up, would I get blown over the cliff tops? Would my knees cope with the steep drop down? Would my phone get signal to phone the coastguard if I couldn’t climb back up out of the bay? And if not how long would my hotel biscuits, that I’d packed in my bag for emergencies, last for?

At many points in the walk my little miss negative kept telling me I couldn’t do it. I had to keep reminding myself that I could, and when I couldn’t convince myself I resorted to bribery. ‘If you climb that cliff you can have an ice-cream.’ ‘If you make it down there you can have an ice-cream.’ My inner five-year-old responded to the ice-cream bribe, and I climbed, scrambled, and completed my walk.

Walking back to the bay that I’d started from, all I was thinking about was my ice-cream reward, my prize for being an awesome adventurer. Guilt free too as my Fitbit was telling me that I’d burnt eight hundred calories on my walk. I was a smug adventurer. I felt epic.

At the ice-cream kiosk I requested one scoop of rum and raisin. The lady asked if I wanted a flake in that. Feeling like I’d trekked from outer Peru, I declared, still smugly, that yes, I would like to have a flake in that. That was my mistake right there. Floored by a flake.

Holding my ice-cream in my hand, like an Olympic torch, I started strolling off towards a bench along the promenade. I was going to take a deserved seat, relax in the tranquil setting, and savour my rum and raisin heaven. I was going to do that, but that never happened.

My mugging happened so fast. I felt a smack on my head, a blackness in front of my face, and my ice-cream was snatched from my hand. With my hand still in ice-cream holding pose minus the cone, I realised I’d been attacked by a seagull. The smack on my head was its wing, the blackness in my face was its fat body. I’d screamed loudly when I was hit on the head, which drew the attention of a couple on the beach and two pensioners behind me. I wish my natural reaction hadn’t been a loud scream. I wish I hadn’t drawn attention to what happened next. I have never been so ashamed of myself.

As the seagull lifted the ice-cream, via the flake handle, with its mangy webbed feet, the flake snapped in half. My ice-cream plummeted to the floor, presenting itself at my feet. All the build up to my ice-cream, the longing, the desire, the deservedness, the anticipation, all lay at my feet on a dirty walkway. My emotions exploded at the seagull, still flapping by my head, brandishing half a flake at me. I swore. In public. ‘Bastard!’ I shouted at the seagull. Aggressively. Just as loud as my scream. I was instantly mortified at myself. I’d let myself down.

The intrepid heroic explorer had been replaced with a potty mouthed fishwife. I could feel the pensioners disapproval boring into me. A lady on the beach laughed, then covered her mouth to disguise this. I picked my ice-cream cone up. Taking a tissue from my bag I wiped down my ice-cream to removed traces of the pavement. I then walked to the furthest bench on the beach to eat it. Steven the seagull followed me. Bastard. As I sat on the bench he landed at my feet. I told him ‘you have got to be joking.’ He wasn’t. He stood there, his greedy beady eyes focused purely on my ice-cream. His eyes were indeed on the prize.

So, my image of relaxing to the sounds of the sea while slowly enjoying my rum and raisin ice-cream didn’t materialize. Instead I got mugged by a seagull, swore angrily in public, disappointed some pensioners, and shoved and ice-cream down my throat in world record speed.

The flake was my mistake.

A Conversation With Myself When a Wasp Tangoed on my Face.

Published November 6, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

(Scene: sat on a bus, near the back, approximately 10 other passengers on board. Couple move from seat on my right to seats in front of me.)

Why have they moved?

I don’t know, maybe the sun was in their faces on that side.

Oh, yes, probably.

Oh no, there’s a wasp, they’ve moved from the wasp. It’s followed them though. They’ve brought the wasp over to our side!

Well if she stops waving her hands about it will go away.

They’re moving back now.

Good, the wasp is moving too.

Yay, it’s going down the front of the bus.

Can everyone stop waving their arms around, they’re making the wasp angry.

If it stings you, I bet you go into anaphylactic shock.

Don’t be a drama queen.

You’re allergic to penicillin, pet saliva and fur, feathers, and broad beans. And you have a swollen throat already because you’re ill. A sting from that wasp could make your throat swell, even a little more, and you could die.

You’re such an idiot.

It’s coming back up the bus!

Don’t panic. If I just keep still it won’t bother us. I’ll make myself invisible to the wasp.

You’re wearing the most floral blouse you have, and you’re wearing fleur de fig perfume, you couldn’t make yourself more attractive to the wasp unless you dressed as a female wasp.

Just keep still.

Christ it’s on the windowsill in front now. If it comes near us, you’ll have to kill it. No one else on the bus is going to. It’s the wasp or you. You decide.

What can I kill it with?

Your kindle is in your bag.

Don’t be stupid, there’s a note book in there too I can use.

Well slide your hand in and get it out ready. The wasp is getting closer. That’s it, nice and slowly.

I’m ready for it now. Where did it go?

I don’t know, we share the same eyes, I was looking in the bag with you. Everyone else is looking around for it too.

Maybe it went out the wind-ohhhh…IT’S ON MY FUCKING FACE!

Don’t swear!

It’s on my fucking face!

Follow your own advice, keep perfectly still, don’t make any sudden movements to scare it.

I’m not even breathing. It’s on my face. It’s doing a fudging tango on my cheek. I can feel its tippy-tappy feet. Bastard.

Keep calm. Don’t cry, your salty tears will only aggravate it.

I don’t think I can keep my silent screaming silent for much longer.

I can’t believe the man over there just told you to keep still because it’s on your face.

I know! Does he think I don’t know this! Fudge Womble!

Ooh.

Hallelujah!

You’ve got quicker reflexes than I thought.

That didn’t seem quick, that seemed to take forever to buzz from my cheek to the headrest in front.

Are you sure he’s dead?

When I whacked him, his head propelled two seats forward, I’m pretty sure he’s dead. Even if he was a zombie wasp, he’d be dead.

Did that lady really tut at you because you killed the wasp?

I think so yes.  Numpty nugget.