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The Adventures of Catvinkle, Page 2

Elliot Perlman

  ‘Are you a member of Puppies Anonymous?’ asked Catvinkle.

  ‘Yes,’ answered Ula.

  ‘Gee,’ said Catvinkle, surprised, ‘we cats have a club called Kittens Anonymous and I’m a member of that. It’s on the western side of Vondelpark. We were going to make it on the eastern side of Vondelpark but we’d heard that whole area had gone to the dogs.’

  ‘So anyway, back to me being called “Wet”,’ continued Ula. ‘When I finally came back from Puppies Anonymous to the freshly painted house after running away and hiding from the big scary grey dog, the nice people who lived there had gone. I found a note they had left for the newspaper boy saying goodbye to him and telling him that they were moving first to a hotel and then to another city.

  ‘There was no one there to let me back in and no one to tell me where their hotel was. I thought that they must have chosen a hotel that welcomes nice, clean, well-behaved dogs. So I went walking in search of that hotel. On the way, though, it started to rain and my coat got all wet. I went to the first hotel I could find to look for my human friends and the man at the desk said, “This dog smells like a wet dog! People won’t want to stay in a hotel that smells of wet dog.” Then he read my name on my dog tag attached to my collar and said, “Out you go, Wet Ula!”

  ‘So I went into the next hotel and a woman at the front desk there said, “Ooh! You smell like wet dog. Out you go, Wet Ula!” In every hotel I went to, the person at the front desk said, “No wet dogs allowed. Out you go, Wet Ula!”

  ‘Just when my coat was finally completely dry, it started to rain and I got wet all over again. And now I can’t seem to get rid of the smell of wet fur, even on dry days. I keep walking and walking, looking for a place to stay, but it seems nobody likes the smell of wet dog. And now everybody calls me “Wet Ula”.’

  ‘What about the people you used to live with in the house that got painted? Where are they now?’ Catvinkle asked.

  ‘By now they will have moved into their new house in a new town. I don’t know how to find them or if I’ll ever see them again,’ said Ula. She looked sad.

  ‘I see,’ said Catvinkle, her paws all warm and toasty from the fire, her tail casually curling and uncurling in the air behind her. ‘This is a sad story, I must admit. Not even a dog deserves to have a story like this, probably.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Ula.

  ‘But what does any of this have to do with me? Whether you are wet or not, why are you here in my room?’ asked Catvinkle.

  It was a good question and it led to something strange happening. Ula did something many of us do. She said something she thought was true even though it was not true. She said, ‘Mr Sabatini told me I could come home with him and stay in his house … forever.’

  Mr Sabatini had not said this, so why did Ula tell Catvinkle he had? Ula wanted Mr Sabatini to have said this so very much that in her mind she had convinced herself that he really had said it.

  Catvinkle’s ears pricked up on her head like two furry sails on a furry sailboat. She was very disturbed to hear this. How could Mr Sabatini have invited a dog to live with them? Surely it was not true.

  ‘Are you sure Mr Sabatini said this?’ Catvinkle asked.

  ‘Oh yes,’ answered Ula, without being able to look Catvinkle in the eye because she really wasn’t sure at all. ‘I heard him with my own ears – which, though floppy, are excellent for hearing things like this.’

  ‘Are you sure it wasn’t another barber speaking to another animal about this other barber’s house?’ asked Catvinkle hopefully.

  ‘No, it was Mr Sabatini,’ said Ula.

  ‘Are you sure he wasn’t talking to a cat that might have been near you at the time?’

  ‘No, there were no cats around at the time,’ said Ula.

  ‘Well, that might be because cats and dogs don’t get on,’ suggested Catvinkle snippily.

  ‘That’s possible,’ said Ula.

  Catvinkle then slowly asked Ula a question that had come to her all of a sudden, but took a moment longer than usual to say. ‘Did Mr Sabatini tell you the other thing about any animals who ever live here?’

  ‘What other thing?’ asked Ula.

  ‘The other thing he might have forgotten to tell you because he was running late for his next haircut appointment is that the only animals who can live here with him and me are ones I say can live here. Did he tell you that?’

  ‘No, he didn’t say that. How many other animals live here other than you?’ asked Ula.

  ‘Other than me, let me see,’ said Catvinkle, thinking. ‘Other than me, no other animals live here. Not one. Are you good at counting? If not, I can help you. If you had one other animal living here and you minused that one – that is, if you took it away and made it go walking back to the house that was being painted or wherever it came from – you’d have none. Which is exactly the number of other animals that live here with Mr Sabatini and me. None!’

  There was only one problem with Catvinkle telling Ula that Mr Sabatini had said that Catvinkle could choose which animals could live with them. It wasn’t true. Catvinkle wanted Mr Sabatini to have said this so very much that in her mind she had convinced herself that he really had said it. They had each told each other something that wasn’t true, believing it to be true simply because they wanted it to be true.

  ‘How many animals have wanted to come and live with you and Mr Sabatini?’ asked Ula.

  ‘Lots,’ said Catvinkle. ‘More than I can count on one paw.’

  ‘How many can you count on one paw?’ asked Ula.

  ‘As many as I like. It’s my paw. I can use it again and again for counting. I’ve got three others, you know.’

  ‘So no other animal has ever been allowed to live here with you and Mr Sabatini?’ Ula asked sadly.

  ‘There simply isn’t the room. Mr Sabatini likes his space. It’s been that way ever since he first patted me as a tiny kitten and said, “I must have that little Catvinkle live with me forever.”’

  Ula looked around the room, trying to find something that might distract Catvinkle from telling Ula she would have to leave. Ula really wanted to stay in front of the fire at least a little longer. What could she talk about?

  She noticed a pair of tiny baby shoes lying on the floor near Catvinkle’s basket. They were crocheted light blue, with a dark blue zig-zag pattern and one brown button on each shoe the colour of a tortoise’s shell.

  ‘Are they baby shoes? They sure are beautiful,’ Ula said.

  As Catvinkle took her eyes off Ula to look at the baby shoes, the cold dog took the opportunity to move her whole body again just a bit closer to the fire.

  ‘Yes, they are beautiful,’ said Catvinkle with pride. ‘But they’re not really baby shoes, they’re my shoes.’

  ‘I’ve seen babies wearing shoes just like that,’ said Ula.

  ‘Well, yes, a baby came in with his mother to have his first haircut. Mr Sabatini gave the baby boy just one snip for the haircut but that was all the time the baby needed to decide he wanted me to have his shoes. You see, he patted me and I even let him touch my whiskers, and he was so grateful that he gave me his baby shoes.’

  ‘Could he talk, this baby?’ asked Ula.

  ‘No, not really. He was just a tiny baby.’

  ‘Then how do you know he wanted you to have his baby shoes?’

  ‘Well,’ answered Catvinkle, ‘he left them behind for me.’

  ‘Maybe they fell off and his mother didn’t notice and they left them here by mistake?’ suggested Ula.

  ‘No, no, that’s not what happened at all!’

  ‘But how do you know?’

  ‘There are a few ways that I know he wanted me to have them,’ Catvinkle said. ‘First, while Mr Sabatini made his mother’s hair look all soft, shiny and manageable after he’d finished the baby boy’s haircut, the baby boy pushed one of his shoes towards me with his nose.’

  ‘I’m trying to picture it,’ said Ula. ‘Do you mean he was crawling on his tummy li
ke this?’ Ula crawled on her tummy towards the fire. ‘Or,’ Ula continued, ‘was he crawling on his knees more like this?’ Then Ula crawled on her knees closer and closer to the warmth of the fire.

  ‘Well,’ said Catvinkle, ‘let’s see now. From memory, it was a crawl with a bit of tummy and a bit of knees – or elbows, I should say, since he was a baby human. Then he pushed one of his shoes towards me with his nose. Please don’t try to act that out. I wouldn’t want you to burn your snout by getting too close to the fire.’

  ‘Sorry,’ said Ula.

  ‘So then I thanked the baby and he blew a bubble out of his mouth which, if you know anything about human babies, was his way of saying, “You’re welcome, Catvinkle. They’ll look great on you. Wear them in good health!” Do you know anything about baby humans?’

  ‘A little,’ said Ula.

  ‘A little, how lovely. Sounds like I know more. So then I said to him, “Baby boy, are you sure you want me to have them? If you don’t really want me to have these beautiful blue baby shoes forever, hop up and down on one leg. But if you think that you’re going to grow out of them and that they’d get much better use from me, do anything else but don’t hop up and down on one leg.” And guess what? He just lay there on his tummy looking at the floor.’

  ‘He didn’t hop?’

  ‘Not one hop.’

  ‘Had he learned to walk yet?’

  ‘He didn’t say. But however you look at it, they’re clearly my baby shoes. I think I’ve proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt,’ said Catvinkle.

  ‘I see,’ said Ula. ‘But what exactly do you do with baby shoes?’

  Catvinkle jumped up out of her basket and her tail stood tall, pointing to the ceiling. ‘I can’t tell you that!’

  ‘Why not?’ Ula said, surprised at the cat’s prickly reaction.

  ‘It’s one of my secrets,’ said Catvinkle. Ula’s question had Catvinkle up and moving like nothing else had. She was now out of her basket and swinging both front paws from right to left as though doing some strange sort of exercise.

  ‘One of your secrets!’ said Ula. ‘How many secrets do you have?’

  ‘I’m not sure if I should tell you that either.’

  Catvinkle continued with her exercises. Ula watched as the cat tried a different stretch. She was standing on her hind paws like a human walking on legs, her top paws in the air. Ula wanted to ask her what she was doing but she was still trying to learn all she could about Catvinkle’s secrets.

  ‘Why can’t you tell me how many secrets you have? Is it a secret?’

  ‘It used to be, but I told a certain kitten at Kittens Anonymous and now all the cats there know.’

  ‘Do you talk about your secrets at Kittens Anonymous?’

  ‘Oh yes, all the time. There’s no point having secrets unless some cats know and other cats don’t. All the cats who don’t know want to know and all the cats who do know are constantly in danger of telling the cats who don’t know. We have a lot of fun at Kittens Anonymous telling and not telling each other’s secrets.’

  ‘Do any dogs know your secrets?’

  ‘I don’t know any dogs.’

  ‘Then you could tell me safely because cats don’t talk to me on account of how I’m a dog.’

  Ula was very interested in secrets, because dogs didn’t often have secrets – and if they ever did, they tended to lose them quite quickly. Once, Ula had found a big juicy bone on her way to Puppies Anonymous. She knew that if the other dogs found out about the bone they’d want her to share it, or they’d even want to take it from her and have it all to themselves. So she buried it in the park. The trouble was, she was so excited about the bone that she couldn’t stop thinking about it. So when her friends had asked her how she was, she said with much excitement, ‘I’m great! I just found a big juicy bone and I’ve hidden it over there!’

  Ula remembered that bone fondly for a moment in silence and then continued. ‘You’ve never told your secrets to a dog before. You might find the suspense exciting. Will I tell other dogs your secrets or will I keep them a secret from everyone? Just a thought.’

  ‘Hmmm … I’m not sure,’ Catvinkle said. ‘To tell you my secrets I would have to trust you and know that you’re very special.’

  ‘Well, I am very special. I can sit, fetch, come when my name is called, lay down, beg and heel.’

  ‘What’s heel?’

  ‘I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that. I’ve forgotten. Not much call for it these days.’

  Now Catvinkle thought for a moment. ‘Well, I suppose if I did tell you about a secret, you wouldn’t tell any cats, because they wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a dog. No offence.’

  ‘None taken,’ Ula replied, and waited eagerly to hear more.

  ‘Here goes!’ said Catvinkle. ‘I have three secrets. I’ll tell you the first one and see how it feels. If it feels good to get it out of my fur I’ll tell you another one. But if it doesn’t feel good, I’d just as soon forget that I ever tried telling a secret to a dog.’

  ‘Sounds fair,’ said Ula.

  ‘Ready?’ asked Catvinkle.

  ‘Do you mind if I come a bit closer to the fire first? I find it easier to keep a secret when I’m warm,’ asked Ula.

  Catvinkle nodded her agreement. ‘I suppose that would be all right.’

  Ula crept closer to the fire. She wanted to creep even closer still, but thought that if she went too far in any one movement Catvinkle might change her mind about everything. She might even ask her to leave.

  It sure was a beautiful room Catvinkle had. The fire was crackling and there were so many books in the bookshelves lining the walls. Ula looked around her, imagining a story in each of the books. So many stories, she thought. With this many stories a dog would never feel lonely or alone. A dog would never be bored. Then she remembered that she was in the middle of a story right now. It was a story about Catvinkle’s secrets and she was just about to hear the first one.

  ‘Okay,’ said Catvinkle, ‘here’s the first of my three secrets.’ She took a deep breath then let it out. ‘Secret number one is … I really only have two secrets.’

  ‘Wow!’ said Ula. ‘I never would have guessed that. You really only have two secrets!’

  ‘Shhh!’ hissed Catvinkle. ‘Do you want the whole world to know?’

  ‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Ula.

  ‘You don’t think so!’ cried Catvinkle.

  ‘Well, I’ve never really thought about it,’ said Ula in her own defence.

  ‘If you want to know the other two secrets the right answer is, “No, I don’t want the whole world to know that you’ve really only got two secrets.”’

  ‘Okay, I don’t want the whole world to know you’ve only got two secrets,’ said Ula.

  ‘Good. Now, secret number two is … I am a baby-shoe dancer.’

  ‘Oh my goodness!’ said Ula. ‘That’s incredible! I can’t believe it!’ She paused. ‘Is that a good response?’

  ‘Yes, that’s pretty good,’ said Catvinkle, impressed.

  ‘Just one thing,’ said Ula. ‘What’s a baby-shoe dancer?’

  ‘In the world of cats and kittens,’ explained Catvinkle, ‘when we’re alone and no people or other animals are watching us, we like to dance. And the most popular dance among cats and kittens is baby-shoe dancing. That is probably why that dear little baby boy gave me his shoes. I think he knew.’

  ‘I see,’ said Ula.

  Catvinkle continued. ‘Two years ago I won the National Kitten Baby-Shoe Dancing Competition. Last year I came second to a stupid show-off cat named Twinkiepaws.’

  ‘Twinkiepaws!’ exclaimed Ula.

  ‘You know her?’ asked Catvinkle.

  ‘No, it’s just a very unusual name.’

  ‘It’s a dumb name for a dumb cat. I heard a rumour that it’s not even her real name. No, her real name is Spinnenkop. Twinkiepaws indeed! That’s just her baby-shoe dancing competition name. She’s so … happy with herself, ugh!
I got tired of her boasting about how good at baby-shoe dancing she is. That’s when I decided I should learn. It took some time and a lot of practice but now I’m pretty good at it. I’m ready to challenge that show-offy cat again this year and teach her that she’s not so good after all. Did you know she gets her tail fur puffed up and fluffed up before the competition?’

  ‘I can just imagine,’ said Ula. She knew it wasn’t very nice to gossip, but she was finding that listening innocently to someone else gossip, especially if you were relaxed and warm in front of the fire, was extremely pleasant.

  ‘No, Twinkiepaws is even worse than you might be imagining. She’s a show-off with an unnaturally fluffy tail and I hate her!’

  ‘Hate’s a very strong word,’ said Ula.

  ‘I know, but I can’t think of a better one to describe the way I feel about Twinkiepaws.’

  Catvinkle had got herself all fired up in describing her dislike of her baby-shoe dancing rival. In fact, she was so worked up that, without realising, she was walking around on two feet like a human.

  ‘Wow, you’re standing on two paws,’ said Ula in admiration. ‘Standing and walking!’

  ‘Yes,’ said Catvinkle, ‘I have to. It’s part of my training for the National Kitten Baby-Shoe Dancing Competition. Did I mention that it’s only two days away? I’m going to win back my title from Twinkiepaws. Then, when I do, I’m going to prance, march and strut into the centre of town to the market and all the cats in town, including the visiting tourist cats, will see me. Every cat will be in the market on the first day of herring season.’

  ‘Is that a special day?’ asked Ula.

  ‘Is it special?! What planet do you live on? It’s the most special day of the year, other than perhaps my birthday,’ answered Catvinkle.

  ‘That’s news to a dog. But, Catvinkle, I have a question. You said your second secret is that you’re a baby-shoe dancer.’

  ‘Yes, I know I said that. I was there when I said it,’ said Catvinkle.