That morning in Cat Heaven was much like any other. The little electric milk cart arrived at seven in the morning with a cheerful clink of glass bottles, which filled the English cats with waves of nostalgia.. and some even cried. It went back to a time in the past before everyone bought UHT milk in plastic boxes from the supermarket.
And an hour or two later, the fish arrived from Cat-Ocean in a small white van with exotic creatures, some still alive, basking in crushed ice.
But for one member of this community today was different. It was time to return to that strange place called Earth. Cats in heaven never get to meet their deity but instead there is Number 2, Angel Gabby. The parting message from Gabby was always the same, «Remember that you only have nine lives. When they run out, you come back here.«
There were lots of heavens, each for a different animal because animals were always reincarnated as the same species. And they were all spaced far enough away from each other among the clouds to avoid one disturbing the others. For example, the dogs barking would have upset the cat-angels. Humans think wrongly that maybe, next time, they come back as a frog. There was an enormous heaven for Humans which many of them on Earth believed in.
So, on this particular morning, with trepidation, a small cat took the long pale white staircase which threads its way down through the clouds towards Earth and we follow its story…….
This is a sad book because it is about a cat who died after its 9 lives ran out but we wait till the last chapter for that so we don’t have to be too upset early on. And anyway, it is about nine lives and most of us only have one, the span of that is not very great in the scale of the Universe around us. So don’t be sad.
Our subject is a female cat and it entered the world as a small damp bundle of black and white fur in an alley in Manchester, England together with its siblings, most of whom died. So they didn’t even make it to life number 1. The mother wasn’t sure who the father was and she got run over by an electric milk delivery van soon after giving birth. So this was not an auspicious start to life.
Mom cat never got a chance to giving her a name so that fell to a kind lady called Henry who lived in a large house near by who took in stray and unloved cats, so not long after its birth our heroine – the subject of this book – was being scooped up into the arms of a large buxom lady with a generous chest to which she clutched this small object. So much so that she nearly suffocated it. Henry loved Italy and the Italian language although she didn’t speak it so she chose Bella, as a shortened version of Bellassima. Bella survived and thrived, starting to gain weight on account of the loving care that Henry gave her and she began to feel that life was worth living after all. Without that kind human, Bella would not have made it past even this first chapter so this we will call it the first life, almost lost.
But something odd happened because Bella started developing very human traits, obviously the early ones were about potty training and learning to mew in a way that Henry could understand whether she wanted her tuna steak rare or medium. But it became uncanny. Henry was certainly in tune with cats, she had a menagerie of about 20 in her home and she knew the characteristics of each one very clearly and of course knew each one by name. But Bella was different. It started showing interest in iPhone cat apps and after one year could actually pinch the screen to zoom in and out. But the screen became scratched quite rapidly despite being the very latest bullet-proof version.
Life progressed happily until Henry split with her husband who had got fed up with tripping over cats and slipping on brown objects on the floor, they sold the house and went their separate ways and she decided to move to Paris taking one or two of her favourite cats with her, with the necessary electronic chips buried under the skin. And there was no greater favourite than Bella who by that time had started to learn French even before Henry knew that’s where she would go. Cats are psychic, Henry knew that. Maybe even from the moment of birth in the Manchester back street, she knew she would go to France.
They had one child, an obnoxious young boy of 14 called Wayne and the husband was more than happy to see the end of him. The boy hated the human race and even more so, animals. His only ambition was to own a dangerous dog and terrify the neighbours, he was such a sweet kid.
Henry’s husband has a very short part in this chapter so we never even learn his name till later but he was a very successful dress-designer, well-known – and when they were first struggling to make a living Henry made the clothes at home. By the time they split up, the clothes were being made in Hong Kong for a large chain of fashion shops and they were quite wealthy. Henry, through her love of cats had started a business as a fashion designer for pets and that had really taken off in recent years. As with her husband’s business, she started by making the clothes herself but an offer from M&S meant that she too could go off-shore to have the clothes made. How did she come by such a strange name? It was all down to her very eccentric mother who desperately wanted a boy after having given birth to three girls. And that odd streak carried on in the genes to Henry who revelled in her peculiar name, she had no wish to change it. By the time she split with her husband her increasingly weird designs were being ridiculed in the press but were enormously successful among the rich and famous who went to her shows and sat by the catwalk watching haughty cats and dogs modelling the clothes. Most of the dogs were Cruft’s prize-winners and modelling became the obvious next step in their illustrious career and they were impossibly conceited and arrogant. By contrast the cat models were more demure so they had to be taught to walk tall.
Henry decided to relocate her studio to Paris but she couldn’t pick up sticks, take the Eurostar to France, just like that. She spoke the language; she was one of those people who seem to be able to switch languages as with a light switch (by following that argument, many Brits live in the dark). But still, it needed some planning. What to do about the cats she couldn’t take with her? The solution was simple; she drowned them in the garden pond and buried them where previously the happy couple had grown potatoes. She only felt remorse when one of the cats tried grabbing at a goldfish as it sank down through the hazy green water.
Even to this day, the vegetable plot produces amazing runner beans which the new owners have never quite understood.
So, for 6 months (winter?), Henry lived with Wayne in a rented flat with the three surviving cats and Henry started looking for apartments in Paris on the internet. The flat was on the fourth floor and unfortunately one cat fell through the gap under the balcony rail so that left just two, Bella and a beige eunuch cat, Tim (previously Tom) who had become very effeminate on account of the dramatic loss of Testosterone. Bella found this quite enchanting and they fell in love.
In fact she wrote about Tim, “I wrote a sonnet”, she said, “to feel the love of Tim around me”…..
Miaw, love knows no bounds for my dear neuter
But still we hug and you’re my suiter,
We can dream of days of rambling
in the country and at Hambling
I had a boat there but the tide ran out
I was stranded and gave a shout.
Help came quickly in a boat
And never after, went I afloat.
I promise not to be too bitter
Because there is no danger of a litter.
She was especially pleased about, “went I afloat” because it was back to front and therefore sounded very poetic. She set this to music for cats’ chorus of soprano, alto, bass and two tenors accompanied by The Acatamy Orchestra of Ancient Music, gut strings of course. She loved tenors, all girls like tenors.
(ed. Note Academy of Ancient Music is a real orchestra that plays with baroque style instruments with gut strings in order to produce an authentic sound.)
The little family was quite happy during those 6 months, Henry was much relieved to be shot of her husband who was always falling over and all those pesky cats but seemed to be happy with the awful child and the cat couple who now spent all day all dewy-eyed and together in each other’s paws.
But Wayne was getting a little too interested in girls and Henry couldn’t quite get used to images of his penis being distributed around the internet by an ex-girlfriend in a frenzy of porno-revenge. She quickly broke it off when she discovered what an absolute bastard he was. That was very painful for Wayne. The cat couple found this hilarious because they were always nude and never understood the need for clothes. “Slows things down”, said Tim. There was a touch of bravado in saying that bearing in mind his two missing parts. He could still manage a feeble erection but it took a month of Sundays and Bella often fell asleep out of boredom before anything interesting happened. And he was firing blanks anyway which rather diminished his feeling of manhood… of tomcathood.
Winter was exceptionally cold that year and the cat couple tended to say indoors. Henry had a fashion show to organise at the beginning of December and was having great difficulty finding suitable models. One of the agencies had just gone out of business after a terrible scandal involving underweight models which had been banned by the EU the previous year.
But finally as spring sprung, the time came to depart the shores of England for a new adventure. And we will go along with them! Henry likes trains so that was how they planned to travel to Paris.