A Cat Named Bitey (Public)
He was a free agent and I took notice, never having met a cat that called its own shots.
A great big black cat called “Bitey Cat” dropped by the other day. When I first met him last summer I was shocked. He was bigger than any other cat I’ve ever seen, just massive. A huge head, a tough-guy body, a bruiser, this cat was a real piece of work. Apparently he had decided to reintroduce himself into the wild at quite a young age and instantly landed at the top of the smallish island food chain. From that point forward he hunted mice, rats, birds, and whatever mobile meals he was able to find, grasshoppers, anything really. I suppose it was this all-protein, all-the-time diet that was responsible for his Mr. Universe build. The best thing about him though was that he was pretty much his own cat. No one fed him, housed him or looked after him. He didn’t have to beg for dinner or scraps or whine at the door waiting to go out. He was a free agent and I took notice, never having met a cat that called its own shots.
In the afternoons sometimes he would come into the kitchen at Elder, Hans and Jon's house, to see if anyone had been fishing or to stake out a piece of territory on someone’s lap. Once he decided your lap was it, he’d stay put for as long as he liked. If you petted him the wrong way or tried to move him, he’d bite you. Then you’d get a “You better watch yourself, pal,” sideways stare. Other than that he was as friendly as the next kitty, but that’s how he got his name.
So he dropped by the other day. It was good to see him, but the last year had been hard on him and he was showing his age. Instead of hunting, he’d taken the easy road: bullying other cats out of their dinner. So Hans began feeding him and it was getting harder to throw him out at night. He’d install himself in a corner, claws out and fangs exposed, and that was it, Bitey was in for the night. But as I said the other day he dropped by and flopped down on the cement in front of the house and writhed around, scratching his back. I was wary of trying to pet him even though I had packed a first aid kit. After a few more gyrations he got up, rubbed himself against the doorframe a few times and came inside. The Rayburn (the heat source) is in the kitchen, so that’s where he went. I could hear his claws on the loose linoleum.
He rubbed against the counters and chairs and table legs. Eventually we got all of the formalities out of the way and he decided it was all right for me to pet him for a while. He purred like a scaled-down, unmuffled V8. I sat down in one of the worn lounge chairs in the kitchen and he climbed up on my lap. “Whoops,” I thought as he began kneading my sweater and pants, flashing claws with every step. They were clear-white and fear inspiring, even though I was supposed to be the superior animal. They penetrated every layer of clothes I had on and I very quickly (and with much unintelligible commentary) began the delicate dance of trying to detach him. Simply getting up doesn’t work. It’s the equivalent of attaching twenty fishhooks to a cinder block and then hanging that off your leg. But after a few quick b-boy-inspired contortions on my part, he didn’t mind moving on. But he drops by regularly and I’m sure I’ll see him again.
Today for lunch I’m having three eggs, three sausages, bread and butter, and I’m ramping up my tea consumption to world-championship levels. Later on I’m going to put on my boots, tuck my pants into the tops of my socks and walk through fields covered with cows and manure, along hedgerows and over massive granite outcroppings, past more manure, and eventually down to the sea. If there is any truth to the idea that we are products of our environment, there’s a good chance I’m going to be an English farmer by next spring.
I was sitting in the yard in a folding chair today, taking advantage of the sun while it was out. I held a leaf up to the light and was stuck by its beauty, one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve seen. It was transformed from a dull flat slice into a radiant, sharp jewel—deep, luxurious, densely green, set against bright delicate veins each expanding fractally into a sub-network, finer and more intricate than the last. Such a dazzling array, it was almost as if one could see the energy left over from its creation. Lighting, flash-frozen in an instant, formed the capillary channels.
You would think that in a place like this time would have no real bearing. Well, you’d be wrong—it means everything. The post-office store is open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon (but not on Tuesdays). The boat to the main island can be had three days a week. It sails promptly at 10:30 a.m. and returns even more promptly at 1:30 p.m.. If you miss it, you’re screwed. There’s no other boat to get home for two days and nobody’s going to give you a lift either because their boats are all hibernating for the winter. So you have to know it takes ten minutes to walk to town from the quay, twenty minutes to do your shopping, half an hour to try to convince the woman at the bank that just because you’ve just moved here and have no credit history in this country, you’re not a liability and should be given a checking account (which won’t work by the way), an hour to have a crab sandwich, a pint of stout and a conversation about island politics and ten minutes to walk back to the boat. And the pub, that stalwart bastion of English culture, is only open for a few hours a week (on St. Agnes anyway) starting at 9pm tonight. No, time is of the essence.