This morning when I came downstairs, the first thing I saw was one of the cats - inadvertantly locked out last night - spreadeagled against the wirescreen of a window, resembling a pinned insect in a museum collection, if you discount the feline glare. Now being outside all night is no great hardship at this time of the year in Virginia, but she had a sour expression on her face that would have curdled milkless coffee. When I opened the door, she stalked in without a glance. Typical bloody cat. You gotta love 'em.
And for some reason that reminded me of the time I killed a cat. Very thoroughly, as a matter of fact. I ripped its head off. And being a cat, its revenge was sweet...
Now, don't get me wrong, I am an animal lover. I may be a birdwatcher, but I don't normally go around like a demented vampire dismembering felines. Let a cat turn its pleading gaze on me, and I am putty in its paws.
I was birdwatching in a remote fishing village on a mangrove coast in Malaysia at the time. The place is a thriving tourist complex now, but back in those days it was at the end of a long, lonely road through an endless oilpalm estate: a few ramshackle fishermen's houses, a jetty, a wharf piled high with cockle cages, and the house of a wildlife officer. The real attraction was a population of two species of the world's rarest storks.
I was with three friends, and we left the car in the compound of the ranger while we hired a fishing vessel - actually a rowboat with an engine - and spend the day poking around the tidal creeks of the mangroves. At dusk, we returned to the car, hot, tired and sweaty, looking forward to reaching the nearest town some thirty kms away, where we could get a shower, a seafood meal to die for and a bed for the night. The wildlife ranger had closed up the office and decamped (can't say I blamed him - the nightlife consisted of watching synchronised fireflies which probably gets tedious after a year or two), so we piled into the car and I turned on the engine. Which gave a noise like an expiring whale, and that was that.
One of my friends piled out and took a look under the vehicle. He popped up again a moment later with a strange expression on his face. 'Your car,' he enunciated clearly, 'is bleeding.'
'Bleeding what?' I asked innocently.
'Bleeding blood,' he said, and gave me what is generally called a speaking look.
I got out and took a glance under the car. There was a pool of something looking rather like an oil leak, only the oil was red and sticky. That was when I looked around for the ranger's cat. No sign of it. We opened up the engine - and there was the headless feline, decapitated by the fanbelt. Which of course was broken. The disembodied head grinned up at us from the engine mounting.
Never kill a cat. They always get their revenge. It was 6 p.m. and we were in the middle of nowhere. The sole vehicle leaving for civilisation was an old truck...ever tried hitching a ride in a lorry loaded to the brim with wet, loose cockles? Especially when there are four of you and only two extra places in the cab? Any idea what cockles smell like, en masse?
And then, once we reached the nearest town of note, all garages were closed. Ever tried finding someone who will open up their establishment to four very smelly individuals (two of them dripping wet), after dark, in a small country town? Can anyone tell me, where does everybody go in small towns at nightfall?
We managed - eventually - (using a number of phone calls and a very Malaysian system of family connections which finally ended up at the car repair shop of an obliging man who was a friend of a friend of my friends's uncle's second cousin) to get a new fan belt and the loan of a car. Then a long drive back to my disabled vehicle. A long repair job by torchlight under the reproachful gaze of another couple of cats that had appeared out of nowhere. Another drive through a lonely estate. Never did get dinner. Bed at 4 a.m. to dream about vengeful cats without heads.
And I have never eaten a cockle since...