She’d been a weird cat since she’d first arrived, squeezing her way past the children’s legs one day as they came in from school. “Can we keep it?” they’d begged their mum, but she’d told them that this was somebody else’s cat and lifted it out onto the path, where it sat until the door was opened again before attempting entry once more. The girls had made posters advertising ‘FOUND CAT’, complete with a photo, but it’s hard to tell one black cat from another, especially in a grainy print. No owner had come forward and, day after day, the cat came back with little encouragement from the girls’ mum but secret treats and lots of cuddles from the youngsters. Eventually, it was tacitly accepted that she was now the family cat; a bed was bought and two bowls for food and drink. They named her Clinker and they loved her.
There was no doubt that she was getting on in years; her belly was flabby, the tip of her tail was flattened and hung at an odd angle, she had strange flecks in both eyes and she never meowed, although she often purred. The whole family made a fuss of her, but nobody pretended that she wasn’t weird. She would sit on the window sill, her back to the outside world, watching the room like a small, furry guardian. If anybody got up to leave, she would watch them until they were out of sight before resuming her original stance, rarely blinking, even more rarely sleeping. Most un-cat-like.
Clinker wasn’t very graceful for a cat either. She had an ungainly walk and would frequently fall from the furniture, righting herself as she hit the floor and continuing as though nothing had happened. The one time she displayed anything like the expected amount of feline agility was when she did the weirdest thing of all; whenever she crossed from the rug in front of the fire to head into the kitchen, she would walk in a wide arc, hugging the furniture until she reached the chair closest to the door, whereupon she would leap delicately as though she were clearing a small hurdle. The first time she’d done it, the family had laughed at her odd ways and had subsequently tried to fathom what made her do it. They’d tried moving the lamp in case a stray shadow was causing the cat’s confusion but it made no difference; over time the furniture was rearranged slightly, but she still followed roughly the same path and always ended with a little leap. It was part of her charm.
As the girls grew older, Clinker’s fur sprouted stray white hairs and she looked a little scrawny about the haunches, but she would still sit and survey the room with her almost unblinking gaze, never once facing the outside world. She enjoyed curling up in a lap, rumbling like a fur-covered Geiger counter and there was never a shortage of willing laps. All in all, it was a good life.
It was approaching winter when the burglary happened. As the family lay sleeping, their mother woke to a strange sound. Somewhere, a cat was mewing loudly and a bitter draught rattled under her bedroom door. She thought the girls might have left a window open, as they sometimes did; perhaps a local cat had climbed in, but as she opened her door to go and check, she saw a dark figure halfway up the stairs, or down – it was difficult to know which way they were heading in the gloom – and she cried out and flailed for the light switch. The burglar ran down the stairs and headed through the dining room and into the living room, making for the open back door through which he had forced an entrance.
He’d clearly spent some time in the living room, looking for valuables that didn’t exist, as every drawer of the dresser had been emptied onto the floor and the cushions from the suite had been tossed, as though someone might hide money or jewels in the furniture. The burglar stepped onto some letters and skidded a little before taking a wild step to try and right himself. He hadn’t accounted, however, for the now silent black cat prowling in the only spaces left unsullied and as his foot landed on the flattened end of her tail, she hissed and lashed out with deadly accuracy, raking her claws across his leg. He fell with a crash, catching his chin on the dresser and was already unconscious as he hit the floor. As he lay like a dead man near the kitchen door, Clinker sidled up to him and leapt in a graceful arc over the vanquished intruder, as though clearing a small hurdle.