Tizzy's Tail

Jeremy G Byrne

Sorry? Her what? Oh I see, you mean the bald patch on her tail. Yes, very good. Well, it's a long story and you wouldn't believe it anyhow. Gee, look, I'd rather not get into it . . . Okay, but could you just turn the music . . . Uhuh. Thanks. Have you got a drink? Have I got one, more's the point. Yeh, Jenny's in the other room with the Theatre crowd, so I've got at least a couple of hours. Right, well grab the paté and pull up a pew - this is going to take a while.

Hmmm. Have I mentioned that I've always hated cats? Well, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration. Let's just say I rank them with Diet Coke, "Stairway to Heaven" and Stephen King novels as things some people claim to enjoy, but I expend considerable energy avoiding. Not that I'm crazy about dogs either, but I feel a lot more comfortable with them. I suppose it's because I grew up with dogs; old dogs, and not cats. You know I lived with my parents until I was about twenty one? Well, we must have gone through about half-a-dozen old dogs in that time. They all had names like Scruffy or Bluey or just plain Dog, and were the type that spent their entire lives aged ten and a half, breaking wind under the kitchen table or stretched as inconveniently as possible in front of the fire in the living room. I can recall at least four of these old dogs by name, but I'm sure we bought them as pups and only ever had one at a time. The math doesn't work, but memory's funny like that.
Sorry, I digress. I was saying that I'm not naturally a cat lover. There's something about the supercilious look in their eyes or the haughty loft of their tails that puts my ego on the offensive. Or maybe it's the way they showcase that surgically perfect dental work when they yawn. They're just too cool and self-assured for me. Sure, they condescend to purr endearingly or bat at you with their downy feet, and they manage to arrange themselves just so as they lie fuzzily in a stray shaft of afternoon sunlight, but you don't have to look too closely to see the claws. That old aphorism about who owns who is so true: you can't buy a cat for any price and you make yourself look stupid trying. Perhaps it's envy, I don't know.
The lease agreement for this place is about twenty seven pages long, and I think its only unambiguous section is the one which clearly bans pets. In fact, it goes so far as to specifically ban dogs, birds (caged or uncaged), all species of rodent, Australian Native Mammals, insects of any kind, snakes, rabbits and (somewhat redundantly) hamsters and guinea pigs. It does allow fish (providing they're confined to a tank) and Mexican Axolotl, but not turtles, hermit crabs or frogs, and when I asked the estate agent about angora goats, I learned what "withering" meant. The original document was obviously drafted by a legal firm that charged by the word. Of course, it also prohibits cats, but Jenny didn't read that bit when we signed for our new Town House. In fact, she didn't read it very carefully.
Darling Jennifer didn't share my misapprehensions about combining a young cat and leather furniture. She shrugged off my carefully reasoned arguments about reeking sand-trays and the high cost of "Select Choice Ocean-Pink Salmon with Moist Liver and Calamari Pate", eight-month flea collars and chewable rubber animals. She knew a cat wouldn't interfere with our social lives or have us jumping every time the doorbell rang in case it was someone from the Estate Agency on a lightning raid. So, my better judgement took a back-seat and we took the plunge.
When we first got Bubastis - that's the cat's proper name . . . It was an ancient Egyptian temple town, devoted to the Bastet avatar of the Lion Goddess Sekhmet. She was their Huntress Spirit and Mistress of Hidden Wisdom during the later dynasties. No, of course I didn't look it up - that's just part of the vast store of general knowledge I use to stun people at parties like this, and add spice to boring business lunches. As I was trying to say, when we bought this descendant of the great Terror of the African Night she was fully seven inches long, ate nothing but warm milk and drooled copiously on woolly jumpers at every opportunity. Apparently she's a Himalayan Blue Colourpoint (I kid you not), which means, as you can see, that she's mostly white, with a grey face, feet and tail, she cost us far more than she should have, and she owns a coat of hair that's not only five inches long but shows a closer affinity with the carpets, Jenny's favourite black cashmere and the mirror in the bathroom than with the tiny puss herself. Despite the manipulative little creature's six-inch whiskers curling into three-inch lashes and the unmercifully luculent gaze of her big, blue eyes, I decided she was to have a serious name.
Actually, if the truth be known, she was Tizzy before she was Bubastis. Jenny named her the minute she saw the darling little thing dancing madly 'round the room, savaging pot plants and sharpening her claws on our ankles while her brothers and sisters did little more than blink and meow timidly when approached. Tizzy, though, is not an acceptable name for anything, not even a "lovable, playful ball of fluff" like our little feline friend. (Nor indeed is "Mylovely Grey Lotus Bloom, by Tigereye Rambo out of Quintescent Snowy Gift", which is the obscene contrivance that graces her registration papers.) In the end I spent a very long evening in the library trying to come up with something a tad more sophisticated, before digging up "Bubastis" in one of those ancient National Geos with all the pictures of the smiling folks from Arkansas defaced in crayon by one generation and the photos of African Women torn out by sex-starved adolescents from the next. Oh - I lied about the general knowledge.
Ever wondered where cats go at night? Long-standing antipathy aside, I've often thought about what it is they might do when they're not coiled up in their cane baskets or vomiting hairballs under the bed in the spare room. I once saw a BBC documentary about foxes in urban England, living their secret lives in basements and old storm-water drains, birthing their own kittens just out of sight, at the loose edge of our world, so to speak. But foxes are somehow safer, doglike perhaps. Knowable. Cats aren't. I think it was H. P. Lovecraft whose Cats of the Dreamlands spent their nights jumping to the moon. Obviously we know better than that these days. What self-respecting feline would waste her time with that airless lump of rock? No, I don't have any idea where they go when the stars' faint light blinds all other eyes and safer creatures sleep. That's to say, I didn't.
Some cats, I'm led to believe, are content with their lot. They're fed well, provided with shelter and left alone to go about their serious feline business unhindered. Their lives are modestly comfortable, they spend most of their spare energy purring, and they're happy to unleash any pent-up hunter-fixations on the occasional rug or doorframe. Our Bubastis, however, was not such a cat. Maybe she took her name as a personal challenge, like calling a dog "Wolf". I really don't know. Whatever it was, tiny Tizzy very quickly began to display certain characteristics I'd imagine are normal in the lion, the tiger, the leopard and the lynx but which in a ten-week old kitten constitute a severe personality disorder.
During her first Winter there were nights when Tizzy would vanish completely. At first I'd imagine she spent her time reconnoitring in the near neighbourhood, but that didn't last. It was probably the high population density of housecats in the vicinity that led her to explore further afield, and then she often didn't return until late in the morning, whereupon she'd collapse in her basket and sleep the day away. Now, this suited me fine, and it saved on upholsterers fees, but Jenny began to get annoyed at the attitude that treated our house like a convenient pit-stop in a grand prix lifestyle. However, by about the early Spring these nocturnal sojourns had become an almost everyday affair, and Jenny had gotten used to Tizzy as a quiet young cat who slept peacefully around the house and only rarely deigned to chase balls of wool or tear strips from your hand in playful tussles.


A Revolutionary Movement

Kittenpunk is a revolutionary ideal, boldly espoused by a group of radical intellectuals devoted to the promotion of the feline personality, based upon a true understanding of the weltpolitick. Kittenpunk is the only truly valid mode for the personification of felines in the essentially debunked and discarded avenues of science fiction and fantasy. It is a pivotal new movement, dedicated to re-invigorating this corrupt and malaise-ridden genre.

Kittenpunk is characterised by a gritty, realistic approach to the essential nature of the feline and the universe he confronts. The Kittenpunk Movement expresses an incredulity at the naivete of earlier, intrinsically corrupt works which promoted the long since debunked and rejected "cute-and-cuddly" view, and embraces in its place the modern "hunter-ethic". It eschews the shoddy anthropomorphisation of the feline in epic power fantasies for the juvenile mind. Kittenpunk is a deliberate attempt to give a verisimilitude to the presentation of the feline in contemporary literature, while maintaining an appreciation of the rebellious, independent nature of the individual animal.

This radical, ground-breaking movement disdainfully repudiates any and all so-called predecessors, which are, and must be recognised to be, inevitably flawed and therefore irrelevant.

Sadly, this wasn't to last. As they mature, cats seem to inherit certain abilities we'll never match or understand. I've reached the conclusion that maybe in her contact with really old, wise cats, the stripling feline acquires secret knowledge by osmosis, or perhaps the young cat is attracted by the shiny pearls of wisdom these venerable animals let drop and accidently swallows them, if you want a more poetic metaphor. However she was initiated into these mysteries - perhaps she even discovered them herself - Tizzy began to go places that you and I could not. Don't ask me how I knew, at first, but I was sure. Her behaviour, her demeanour, her general outlook on life - I couldn't put my finger on it but something had obviously changed. I must admit though, that I didn't really know what was going on until she started to bring things back.
The first thing Tizzy ever brought back from wherever it was she went at night was probably a mistake. She was young and inexperienced and hadn't learnt the difference between a quick snack and a brawl. I'm pretty certain it was one morning last September when Jenny found her hissing madly and hopping back and forth, like an albino busby on springs, beside the rubbish bin outside our back door. At first Jenny thought it was a rat or a snake the cat had cornered, and she called me out of the shower, dripping wet and freezing cold, to deal with the emergency. By the time I got there, Tizzy had decided she wasn't going to let anything scare her and was spitting and growling quite savagely, obviously working herself up to a full frontal assault on whatever it was she had bailed up between the brickwork and the bin. All I had was a straw broom and a modicum of moral support from Jenny, who was standing on the other side of a window, in the kitchen, behind the breakfast counter at the time. It turned out that her position was a lot more sensible than mine, because as I kicked the bin away something about half Tizzy's size and bright pink sprang forward in a twelve foot arc and landed on my head.
There are times when even the most level-headed and rational of us gives in to emotion. I'm willing to admit that on occasion I've been overcome by an uncontrollable rage - usually at something inanimate, mechanical and complex like a car engine or a tin opener. Fear sometimes has that overwhelming effect, although I can't actually remember an instance where it's made me lose control altogether. Laughter, particularly in certain company, can turn me into a hopeless lump of quivering jelly, but I've never, except that once, been overcome by sheer revulsion.
The pink thing had about eleven legs. It was warm like vomit and smelt worse, and it seemed intent on filling my ears, eyes and nose with various appendages while building a nest in my hair.
I wouldn't like to repeat the sound I made, but if you can imagine a lot of vowel sounds shouted very loudly down the wrong end of a Tuba you'd come close. Believe me, it wasn't a pleasant thing to hear, let alone utter. I was completely incapacitated for a good ten seconds while this thing struggled around up there, but I finally had the sense to simply nod my head with a bit of force and the creature plopped to the paving at my feet.
Viewed in the rosy light of hindsight, it wasn't very horrible after all. In fact, despite being a nearly iridescent coral pink and covered in a complex tracery of fine brown lines like an arterial system with delusions of grandeur, weighing in at about three pounds and having antennae twice the length of its body, it could have belonged to the grasshopper family without too much entomological upheaval. However, Tizzy wasn't interested in unusual biological variations not directly related to flavour or nutritional value, and just as the creature was preparing to make a break, she pounced.
The huge insect managed to jump clear, moving fast but weirdly, like a Willis O'Brien stop-motion model from a 30's silent monster flick, but Tizzy wasn't far behind. In a final, desperate move, the thing fanned out a set of enormous filmy wings, reared back on its hind legs, and, for the last time in its life, chirped. The bluff failed, Tizzy lunged, there was a crunching sound that made me want to unswallow my breakfast and, just as I decided it might be a good idea to retain the body as evidence for my Committal hearing, Tizzy jumped the fence and was away. I did, however, find a six-inch antennae on the bricks where she had dispatched the beast, and I'd have it still if I hadn't lost it later.
For a while after the Big Pink Grasshopper Incident, which Jenny and I managed to rationalize away as being within the bounds of possibility given the diversity of the insect world, the wide-ranging activity of the cat herself and our proximity to a large area of untamed parkland - you know, total bullshit - Tizzy continued her regular nightly excursions. Although nothing as spectacular resulted from them, I did find her playing with a very strange bluish-grey leaf that came from no tree I've ever seen, and once she came back with a coat-full of bright orange, spiny caryopses that my rusty university botany couldn't identify with any grasses in this part of the country (or, if I really have to admit it, with any grasses on this continent). Then one day, somewhere far, far away, Tizzy met something that either didn't like her at all or thought it might like her a lot, in an inconveniently gustatory sense, and she came back soaked in grume.
I don't know to this day exactly what the goop was. All I know is that it was extremely nasty. There was no dismissing this stuff as sickly sweet, mildly malodorous or euphemistically distasteful; it was unutterably horrid, stomach-churningly effluvial and compulsorily avoidable, to coin a phrase. It smelt like the inside of a horse on a hot day and probably came from somewhere a lot worse. I mean, if you could have packaged this stuff right, called it "Galactic Mutant Monster Muck" and organised a movie tie-in, you could've made a killing in the Nasty Toy market. Tizzy was drenched from head to foot in it, and what made the situation just that much more enjoyable for all concerned was the way she woke up Jenny and I that morning (we leave the window open for her) by jumping on the bed.
If there's anything in this world more pitiable than a wet cat, especially a long-haired cat like Tizzy, then I've yet to see it. This gunk had soaked right through to her skin, and underneath was this sort of sticks-and-rubber creature; really thin and bony. And God was she ugly! She looked like a cross between E.T. on a really rough morning and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. It took literally hours in a bath full of industrial-strength soap powder to get it out of her fur, and of course she loved every minute of it, poor little bugger. It was only after we'd set Jenny up in front of the heater with a hair-drier and I'd gone back upstairs to wash the disgusting residue off the bath that I discovered the whole business actually had a positive aspect. What I thought were flecks of brown dirt on the bottom of the bath turned out to be fleas - dozens of them, stone dead. Tizzy was flea-free for weeks.
Jen was not very happy about the whole business. I was prepared to accept it as one of the little, unexplained mysteries of life, but she seemed to consider it a personal attack by the cat on our domestic stability. We had to get rid of the eiderdown off our bed - there was no way it would smell any better than slightly dead and the cat-sized, pinky-brown stain ignored my most determined application of Preen, White King, Caustic Soda and battery acid. (I tried the last two out of curiosity; the acid actually changed the stain to pale blue, but didn't do the quilt much good.) Jenny liked that quilt, she was fond of the leather couch Tizzy favoured as a scratching block, she enjoyed her peace and quiet and she didn't have any time at all for bizarre mystery that stepped down from the Silver Screen and came blundering and crashing into Real Life. Luckily for the furry perpetrator of this catalogue of unpleasantries, things did settle down a bit. Apart from vomiting up something resembling hairy black pudding on the kitchen bench one particularly bleary-brained Saturday morning (my brain, not hers), Tizzy was comparatively quiet over the next month or two. I mean, she even slept inside once or twice.
I haven't mentioned Tizzy's musical bent, have I? You might have noticed that she sort of warms up with a little chorus of meows in a major key of her choice before she jumps or runs anywhere, and she makes a sound like someone abusing a piano-accordian when she lands. Well, one night during this quiet period I was woken by some nasty cat noises from outside the bedroom window. I'm a lighter sleeper than Jen - I snore, so she has to sleep deeply - and I crawled out of bed as quietly as I could, because it sounded to me like someone was repeatedly bashing a cat against the wall of our carport.
Trying to stick my arm through the inside-out sleeve of the bathrobe I use as a dressing gown and pull on some underwear in case things got nasty, while simultaneously hurrying down the stairs, listening for the noise outside and being as quiet as possible myself so as not to wake Jenny up, ended with me on my back at the bottom of the stairs, my bathrobe ripped from neck to waist and Jennifer very much awake. By this time I was less than amused myself. I spent a good minute or two fumbling at the front door lock in the dark before flicking on the hall light in exasperation, which left me as blind as a mole and about as effective, and finally tearing open the front door to peer into the night.
Picture this: Tizzy, all alone and totally absorbed in herself, springing high into the air, and I mean six or seven feet, at a bright shaft of moonlight streaming through a hole in the carport roof. Every time she took off she'd squeak, and every time she landed she'd squeal. And she was purring like a steam train the whole time. I couldn't be angry - she looked so cute - but believe me, I tried very hard at the time.
Anyway, to get back to the story, Tizzy's caution lasted a couple of months, but wanderlust got the better of her at last, as I strongly suspected it would. One afternoon last November Jenny had something really vile to show me when I got back from work. She'd beaten me home and had been in an uncommonly moderate mood, but by the time I arrived she was very upset and angry. Actually, I'd spent about three quarters of an hour and half a roll of packing tape cleaning long white cat-hairs off my suit coat before an important meeting earlier in the day, so I wasn't feeling particularly partial to feline foolishness either. Nevertheless, at the bottom of Tizzy's basket in the laundry, nestled between her slightly ragged yellow fluffy elephant and the cane, was a Thing. It was sort of a lumpy, rather rubbery, greyish-brown, flaccid kind of a thing, somewhere in size between large frog and a small hamster, and it had obviously once belonged quite intimately to something. Anatomically, even. James Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks" has this wonderful creature called the Todal which looks like a blob of glup and is composed entirely of lip, and after I'd spent a few minutes staring stupidly at the appalling thing in the basket, I suddenly had this vision of a group of cats (what do you call that? a pride? a pack? No . . . That's it! A clowder!), a clowder of head-strong felines, led by Tizzy the Huntress, bringing down a fleeing bull Todal and tearing it to pieces on some high, snow-swept slope of Mount Karakal overlooking the Lamastry of Shangri-La, or on a wide, grassy plain beside the River Alph which flows past the ruins of the pleasure dome of Xanadu. And she'd saved the juiciest bit for later.
That was really too much for Jenny. After Tizzy had shown such promise, to have her slip right back to her wicked, wicked ways was such a terrible let-down for Jen that she made it clear she never wanted anything to do with the cat again. I've since forgiven her because she was going through a rough patch with her family and was quite depressed, but at the time it seemed grossly unfair to lumber me with the damn cat when she certainly hadn't been my choice of pet in the first place. It was getting on for early Summer by this time and Jen and I were going out separately more often than we had for quite a while. This wasn't just because we shared the high anxiety of living with the feline equivalent of Indiana Jones on Speed, although that didn't help. I think we'd reached that difficult point in our relationship when we realised that we were pretty much committed to one another for a long stretch and we'd have to come up with a better excuse than "the rent's cheaper by half, she likes my cooking and I can only pick the difference between a washing machine and a microwave three times in four". A couple of other things had come up at the time that really made us think about where we were headed, and I believe the realization that you're about to lose the freedom of irresponsible youth is always a bit unsettling. Jenny's problems had really been coming thick and fast and she seemed to need a lot of time by herself. It was on one of those emotionally chilly evenings, when the temperature was in the high thirties and Jenny had decided to catch a movie on her lonesome, that Tizzy finally went altogether too far.
As I say, it was hot that night. Not that the heat was actively oppressive or anything, it just seemed to wrap itself around the house and me, like I was living in a sock. It must have been some time after eleven, and I was indulging in an ice-cold shower before a sleepless lie-down for the few hours till dawn. You'd have expected the shower to have drowned the sounds, but after all those months I guess I was somehow tuned in. I turned the water off to be sure I'd heard what I thought I had, and as the pipes gurgled it away Tizzy's meow came again. You get to know when a cat wants your attention. Whether it's to be let outside, to be allowed to eat the rest of the biscuit you thought you were sharing, to have her head rubbed behind the ears or just to remind you that she's there, there's no mistaking that insistent sound. With a cat it's never "whenever you're ready" or even "could you hurry it up a bit". No! It's "yesterday, Bozo" and "it'll go very rough on the curtains and the carpet if you keep me waiting again". So of course, I had no choice if I wanted to stay friendly with the neighbours, because she wasn't going to shut up until I obeyed. Damn cat was always ruining my showers.
Despite myself though, I must admit something made me feel it'd be different this time. Tizzy had been gone since the previous morning and even Jenny, though she'd never have admitted it, had started to worry. The house felt very empty and most of the lights were off downstairs. I remember the shadows seemed darker than normal, the street sounds were sort of distant and muted and the night felt kind of heavy and old. I'd just reached the back door when I realised that there was something wrong with the cat's cry. What I'd mistaken from a storey up and three rooms away as an indignant demand now seemed, from the other side of a thin, wooden door, more like a fearful pleading.
Just then, just as I began to unlock the door, there came a sound I'll never forget. I suppose it was natural enough for the caller to bang on the door when I was slow in answering, but the sound itself was definitely not normal. I'd never heard anything like it before, but it sounded for all the world like somebody knocking on my door with a squid. Why I didn't stop then, I can't tell you. It's not that I regret it now, but I sure as Hell did then.
Never try to build a Cephalopod without the manual - I've seen the result. When I opened the door it was lurking in the shadows right in front of me. Now, I've also seen people in silly rubber suits - wonderful latex creations that cost tens of thousands, take hours to put on and longer to remove and make actors look just exactly like actors in silly rubber suits. Some of them were even vaguely convincing, in their way. But I know one when I see one, and I wasn't seeing one then. Not that what I was seeing wasn't silly, mind you - it just wasn't a rubber suit.
It had the features you might expect in your typical Horrible Fish Monster; a surfeit of scaly protuberances, a plethora of pseudopodia and myriad other anatomical irrelevancies, none of which seemed to occupy even vaguely sensible positions, at least at first. As I stared, however, a certain fearful symmetry emerged, centred around a pair of great, gibbous eyes. It was like Jaques Cousteau and Georges Braque had collaborated on construction but couldn't afford to finish, and it smelt like Moby Dick was buried in it. Don't misunderstand - I'm only being flippant in retrospect: at the time I was paralysed.
I think if it had spoken, I would have carked it on the spot, but apparently vocal apparatus exceeded the budget. Its big, round eyes spoke volumes though: disdain, impatience and something I recognised instantly - a strong dislike of cats. It was only when she cried that pitiful cry again that I even noticed Tizzy. The pelagic Picasso had her in a manipulative appendage, dangling by the end of her tail.
Wherever she'd been this time, it had been near some kind of ocean. I could see the salt on her fur and practically smell the fish on her breath (had it not been for Mister Black Lagoon). No doubt she'd been having a great time, but now she wasn't. I stood there for a moment, caught between a mild sense of responsibility for the errant pussycat and a desperate concern for my sanity, bodily integrity and digestion. Unfortunately, I'll never know what I would have done, because the only one of the three of us who seemed at least modestly unperturbed chose that moment to act.
The distance between us was a good twelve or thirteen feet - I imagine our piscine interloper had retreated from the door after its knocking - but from somewhere in its bulbous body the tentacular extension holding the cat found the mass and muscle to bridge that gap. Tizzy was dangled in front of my face for a second pregnant with unlanguaged imprecation, then dropped. I can't really blame her for the claws, but I've still got the scratches to prove that my reflexes were up to the challenge, and I caught her at waist height. While Tizzy lay there in my arms, stiff as a board and grafted to my stomach, the creature fixed me with a gaze that left me with no doubt that I was lucky to see the idiot cat back at all and that if it ever caught her back wherever it had come from again, its altruistic spirit of goodwill could be severely strained. Then, having made its point, the creature turned away into the warm shadows and vanished.
I can't imagine what mystic bridge my visitor used to cross back to the Twilight Zone - I wasn't about to follow it to find out. Besides, Tizzy was shivering, probably more from shock than from cold, and I needed to sit down a lot. Once I'd surgically separated her from my midriff, the cat was not much worse for wear. Her tail was sort of burnt and she had a few cuts on her nose, but she lay down in her basket and went straight to sleep, the little swine. I, on the other hand, had to sit up for three and a half hours watching Rock-and-Wrestling with all the lights turned on until Jenny got back from her movie.

Tizzy doesn't roam much any more. Jenny thinks it's because we've had her spayed. I've never actually told her what happened that night and I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell her either - she has doubts about my sanity already. I think the mysteries of the beyond places still call to our Tizzy, but her little pointy ears are deaf - not that she's totally cowed by her experience, just a bit wiser for it.
As you've noticed, her tail never grew back. We've always told people I shut her tail in the door (why it has to be me, I don't know), and Jenny's sure it was ringworm. I think it gives her a rather exotic, leonine sort of look, don't you? Anyway, apart from her peregrinacious urge and that half-inch ring of fur, she seems to have lost only one thing out of the whole business. You're supposed to keep a cat's diet as varied as possible, but that's just a bit difficult with our Tizzy now. You see, since that night she's been absolutely petrified at the merest whiff of fish.

Originally appeared pp07-18, Eidolon Issue 02, August 1990.
Copyright © Jeremy G Byrne, 1990. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author.