CAT OF THE DAY 103: LA RAGAZZA CHE SAPEVA TROPPO

girlwhoknewtoomuch01CAT OF THE DAY 103: LA RAGAZZA CHE SAPEVA TROPPO (AKA THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) (1963)

Mario Bava’s last film in black and white is often cited as the first giallo, though it’s probably more of a giallo leggero, since it’s more lighthearted than more typical examples of the genre, which kicked into full sadistic gear with the same director’s Sei donne per l’assassino (aka Blood and Black Lace) the following year.

The film’s English title also suggests one of Hitchcock’s early yarns in which plucky young women investigate mysteries. The black and white cinematography is so unfailingly gorgeous (even when watched on a crappy old French transfer) that it almost makes you wish the director hadn’t switched to colour. There’s a beautiful scene in which the heroine rigs up a booby-trap for the assassin with string and talcum powder. The trap goes comically wrong, but it’s still a rather lovely bit of business.

girlwhoknewtoomuch05Letícia Román (who as her name indicates was born in Rome) plays Nora David, a young American who arrives in Rome to stay with her ailing Aunt Ethel. Nora’s first sight of Ethel doesn’t bode well – the old lady is in bed, covered by a sheet, with a huge cat lying at her feet. But the sheet turns out to be part of some last-ditch health cure. For Aunt Ethel is not dead… not yet, anyway.

And that is one enormous cat. Just look at it.

girlwhoknewtoomuch04But the old lady does indeed pass away that very night, during a full-on Gothic thunderstorm. The moment of her passing is marked by the cat reaction shot at the top of this page. It’s really not much of an actor; it seems to be backing into the chair, as though someone had plonked it down there and it was too fat to adjust its position to make itself comfortable.

A short while later, though, the cat does what it was put in the film to do – namely, it pushes the side of the bed to make a knocking noise. Nora, already spooked by her aunt’s demise, is so frightened she dashes out into the night to fetch the doctor (that nice young John Saxon, to whom she had been introduced earlier) and immediately gets mugged on the Spanish Steps. Knocked unconscious, she wakes up just in time to witness a murder…

Yes! Once again a cat has done the heavy lifting by performing Catguffin manoeuvres to set the entire plot into motion. Give that puss some extra tuna!

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CAT OF THE DAY 102: THE LEGO MOVIE

legomovie02_3CAT OF THE DAY 102: THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)

Everything is awesome, and there is a perceptible feline thread running through this superior slice of product placement masquerading as jolly family animation, manufactured almost entirely out of Lego™ bricks. As Emmet Brickowski passes through his neighbourhood on his way to work at a construction site, he greets Sherry Scratchen-Post, the Cat Lady, and her cats – Jasmine, Dexter, Angie, Loki, Bad Leroy, Fluffy, Fluffy Junior, Fluffy Senior and Jeff – as they emerge meowing from her house and climb into her van.

After work, when Emmet falls into a hole and touches the mystical Piece de Resistance, he has a psychedelic hallucination, during which we fleetingly glimpse the face of a kitten.

legomovie03_3At the story’s climax, Emmet is captured and immobilised by the film’s villain, Lord Business. All seems lost. But the ghost of the wizard Vitruvius appears and tells Emmet “the only thing anyone needs to be special is to be believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster. But it’s true.” And lo and behold, when Emmet falls into the Real World, we actually get to see that cat poster…

legomovie06_3Meanwhile, Lord Business prepares to attack Sherry the Cat Lady and the other Lego folk with his Kragle superweapon. (Sherry can later be glimpsed driving a chariot pulled by cats, but the cats are so out of focus that I didn’t take a screengrab of it.)

legomovie04_3And we must not forget Princess Unikitty, a unicorn-kitten hybrid (voiced by the very wonderful Alison Brie), a major supporting character from Cloud Cuckoo Land who becomes one of Emmet’s staunchest allies, finally allowing her suppressed aggression to overcome her implacable sweetness, which enables her to launch an attack his enemies at a crucial moment. Here she is introducing herself to Emmet:

legomovie08_3Cats rule, even in the Lego universe. And especially when they’re cross-bred with unicorns.

Posted in Animation or Anime, Cartoon Cat, Cataphor, Catpanion, Ginger Puss, Kitten, Multicat | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CAT OF THE DAY 101: NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD

nightonthegalactic04CAT OF THE DAY 101: NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD (1985) (銀河鉄道の夜 aka GINGA TETSUDO NO YORU)

When Sugii Gisaburô, the Japanese anime maestro, was adapting Kenji Miyazawa‘s children’s classic (posthumously published in 1934) for the screen, he realised the character designs weren’t working. So he changed them all into cats.

Not that there’s anything catlike about the behaviour of young Giovanni, his friend Campanella, or any of their classmates or the other inhabitants of a small Greek-looking village. They just look like cats. With Italian names. And all the chapter headings are in Esperanto. Just because Miyazawa liked Esperanto.

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Gisaburô’s film, like Miyazawa’s book, is much loved in Japan, but hardly known in the West. Giovanni is an outsider, teased at school by everyone but Campanella; on the night of the village festival, when all the other villagers are having fun together in the square, he is running errands for his sick mother, and stops to take a breather in a field.

Out of nowhere, a train pulls up in front of him. He climbs aboard and embarks on a mystical voyage through the Milky Way, travelling from the Northern to the Southern Cross. In between, Giovanni meets other travellers (including his friend Campanella) sees cosmic phenomena, and encounters drowned passengers from the Titanic (the only characters in the film who are not depicted as cats), and strange, slightly alien symbols of Christianity (Miyazawa was a devout Buddhist), that play into the themes of life, death, spirituality and self-sacrifice.

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It’s a film with a unique atmosphere: dreamlike, surreal and quite melancholy, enhanced by an otherworldly score from Yellow Magic Orchestra founder member Haruomi Hosono. And it takes its time - perhaps to a degree that will be maddening to viewers more accustomed to the rapid movement and editing of today’s cinema. It’s at least half an hour before Giovanni even boards the train; prior to that there is a lot of not just scene-setting but an odd (and now nostalgic) sequence set at a printer’s, where Giovanni sets hot metal type to earn extra money. The scene adds nothing at all in terms of plot, but contributes to the sense of Giovanni’s solitude, and to the film’s oneiric quality.

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The pulse rate is also slowed, quite deliberately, by Gisaburô’s animation technique. He joined the Toei Animation Company at the age of 18, in 1958, and worked with Osamu Tezuka on the seminal TV series Astro Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomu aka 鉄腕アトム) (1963-1966) before founding Group TAC in 1969. He also worked as Animation Director on Eiichi Yamamoto’s Kanashimi no Belladonna (哀しみのベラドンナ) (1973), a psychedelic adaptation of Jules Michelet’s non-fiction history of witchcraft, La sorcière (published in 1862), which incorporated imagery inspired by artists such as Beardsley and Klimt, and the underground comics art of the late 1960s.

In Masato Ishioka’s 2012 documentary Animeshi Sugii Gisaburô, Gisaburô says, “Not all animation has to move”.  Sometimes the movement can be entirely in the camera, panning across or moving in to or out from a still image. The technique of slow panning is known (according to this blog) as Jiwa-pan; slow camera movement in close-ups is Jiwa-yori; and paused motion is Tome-e. These techniques contribute to the deliberate, almost mesmeric pacing and rhythm of Night on the Galactic Railroad.

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“THERE ARE FEW FILMS THAT ARE NOT IMPROVED BY THE PRESENCE OF A CAT”

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The big cat movie of late 2013/early 2014 is, of course, the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. To tie in with the film’s UK release, I wrote a piece for the Telegraph about ten of my favourite CATS ON FILM performances. Regular visitors to CATS ON FILM may already be familiar with these films, and the cats in them. But do you agree with my choices?

“The film doesn’t really have a plot,” Joel Coen said of Inside Llewyn Davis. “That concerned us at one point; that’s why we threw the cat in.” Coen and his brother Ethan have learnt one of the truisms of the seventh art – that there are few films that are not improved by the presence of a cat.

Here, then, are ten of my Favourite Feline Film Performances. I have deliberately excluded films in which the cat is a protagonist. But in the following examples, the cat steals scenes and has an identifiable character – even if more than one animal is used during filming, which is generally the case. As Ethan Coen admitted to dazeddigital.com: “There were several cats. As the animal trainer said to us, a dog wants to please you; a cat only wants to please itself. So that’s a problem in terms of getting it to do a specific thing… You then just shoot a lot of film, because 99.7 per cent of it is the cat doing what you don’t want it to be doing.”

To read on, please click on one of the pictures of Llewyn Davis holding Ulysses the ginger cat on this page to be whisked directly to the Telegraph website.

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CAT OF THE DAY 100: ALIEN + ALIENS

alien06CAT OF THE DAY 100: ALIEN (1979) & ALIENS (1986)

To mark our 100th CAT OF THE DAY, here’s one of the most popular cats in movies – Jones, from Alien. This handsome ginger puss performs multiple cat-functions. He is not just a CATGUFFIN, providing a pretext for characters to go wandering off by themselves, but also CATPANION to Ripley, giving her someone to talk to when all her crewmates have been killed off, provides several moments of CATSHOCK when he suddenly jumps out at people, and is furthermore a CATSCALLION, because you’re never quite sure, even at the end of the film, if he has been somehow been infected by the alien. (See CATEGORIES for further clarification.)

In fact, by the time we get to the sequel, seven years later, it’s quite clear Jones is an imposter, because look what 57 years of hypersleep have done! Entirely different ginger puss. Maybe the film-makers thought we wouldn’t notice.

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In the event, though, it’s not Jones who turns out to have an alien inside him – the film-makers were fooling with you! – but Ripley herself. And it all turns out to be a horrible nightmare anyway.

I think we’re all agreed Prometheus would have been vastly improved by the presence of a cat.

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So that’s 100 cats in 100 days (or nearly 100 – I was obliged to skip a couple when away from home and discovering, too late, that WordPress’s iPad application is useless). It has been harder work than I’d envisaged – the original idea was simply a picture with a caption, but I would sometimes get carried away – but it has also been a lot of fun. Also a pleasure reading your comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook, or even (hi Anne-Maree!) Google+.

But now CAT OF THE DAY is going on semi-sabbatical. It will continue – because I doubt I’ll ever run out of films with cats in them – but no longer on a daily basis. Possibly more like a weekly one, but I’m not going to impose a rule on myself. The cats will happen when they happen, and I hope you’ll look out for them.

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In the meantime, since blogging brings in no money whatsoever, I shall try once again to flog my short story MY DAY BY JONES to you. If you ever wondered what the events of Alien looked like from Jones’s angle, here – at last – is a short story (approx 2200 words) that gives you the cat’s-eye view.

This e-story costs 99 cents to download in any format, and the price also includes samples of my other work (novels and film-writing that have previously been published elsewhere in traditional non-e form). Click on the ginger puss below to be taken to smashwords for further details. (It’s also available on amazon, but with DRM.)

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CAT OF THE DAY 099: KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE

kiki04CAT OF THE DAY 099: KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (aka MAJO NO TAKKYUBIN 魔女の宅急便) (1989)

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Major Cat Movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki just after My Neighbour Totoro. Kiki is a 13-year-old trainee witch. It’s traditional for witches of that age to go it alone for a year, so Kiki leaves her parents’ village and flies off on a broom with her black cat Jiji. After much flying, and an interlude in a train, they come to Koriko, a bustling city by the sea, which is where Kiki decides to stay. A friendly baker allows her to live in an empty attic over the bakery, and encourages her to start a delivery service.

Jiji is a talking cat. In the original Japanese version the character is voiced by Rei Sakuma, whose voice doesn’t sound particularly female – just catlike; in the American dub distributed by Disney, she was voiced by the very masculine-sounding Phil Hartman. (I know many people love this version, so apologies to them, but I tried watching it once and didn’t get very far; maybe you have to be a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch to enjoy it.)

SPOILERS AFTER THE PICTURE

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There’s an amusing episode where Jiji has to pose as a stuffed toy, and while Kiki is growing and learning and meeting people, Jiji starts hanging out with a white cat a couple of rooftops away. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, they’re growing apart. The part of the film that completely demolished me is when Kiki doesn’t just lose her powers of flying, but finds herself unable to communicate with Jiji anymore.

Kiki learns to fly again, but the days of talking to Jiji are over. The idea of having a lovely talking cat, but then not being able to talk to it any more, is more than I can bear; even just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I guess that means I don’t want to grow up.

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Today’s cat is dedicated to Edith.

Other Cats of the Day from Studio Ghibli:

CAT OF THE DAY 035: MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO

CAT OF THE DAY 081: WHISPER OF THE HEART

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CAT OF THE DAY 098: BELL BOOK AND CANDLE

bellbook06CAT OF THE DAY 098: BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958)

The stars of Hitchcock’s Vertigo reunite for a romantic comedy with a supernatural twist. Kim Novak plays Gillian Holroyd, a Greenwich Village witch; James Stewart is Shep Henderson, the mortal publisher whose personal life she decides to wreck – initially to settle an old score with a former enemy – by casting a spell to make him fall in love with her.

This was Stewart’s last romantic role, and he does seem a little mature for it; the 25 year age gap that worked perfectly within the context of Vertigo’s romantic obsession seems off-kilter here; we’re asked to believe an unconventional young woman of independent means would be attracted to someone not just old enough to be her father, but whose very demeanour is altogether quite fatherly. (Of course it might be precisely this fatherliness to which she is attracted, but that’s another matter entirely, and one for another kind of film.)

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One might conceivably have accepted an equally mature Cary Grant in the role; Grant has the sort of ageless insouciant appeal that Stewart lacks, dapper and personable though he is. I’ve been trying to think of other actors I might have cast, ones adept at light comedy, but nearer Novak’s age. Rock Hudson? James Garner? Tony Randall? It’s tricky, and of course the other light comic actor of the era par excellence – Jack Lemmon – is already in the film, playing Novak’s warlock brother Nicky.

Some SPOILERS coming up after the picture.

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What is incontrovertible is that Bell Book and Candle is a Major Cat Movie, and quite possibly a key proto-feminist film as well. Despite the presence of warlocks such as Nicky and the owner of the Zodiac Club, the world of the Greenwich Village witches is very obviously a matriarchy, presided over by the magnificently batty Hermione Gingold as Bianca de Passe, who charges Shep $1000 for a love charm antidote.

Gillian’s Siamese cat, Pyewacket, is not just her familiar – she casts her spells with its help – but also a symbol of her power. (I won’t make the obvious “pussy” references, but you know they’re there.) When she falls in love she loses her powers and Pyewacket deserts her. Love is not presented as a positive force but a negative one, an emotional state heralded by the first tears Gillian has ever shed. When her unrepentantly spinster Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) asks what it’s like, Gillian replies, “It’s awful.”

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Portrait of a blissed-out Pyewacket.

Yes, Gillian gets her man, but has there ever been another romantic comedy in which the climactic clinch felt quite so melancholy? It’s the flipside of screwball; instead of a repressed male character loosening up, the female character must learn to repress her free-spirited urges in order to live in a world without magic.

In other words, Gillian has had to give up her identity, and the film itself (directed by Richard Quine) can’t seem to get over this; in the last scene, we leave the not-so-happy couple embracing in Gillian’s shop, and instead go outside into the street to latch on to Nicky, Queenie and Pyewacket, all no doubt destined for the further witchy adventures that Gillian herself has renounced.

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PS It’s clear the cat playing Pyewacket loves Novak – whenever she’s fondling it, it gets so blissed out it’s hard to find a moment where its eyes are open.

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CAT OF THE DAY 097: SCROOGED

scrooged03CAT OF THE DAY 097: SCROOGED (1988)

[Television executive Frank Cross is talking to his boss, Preston Rhinelander.]

Preston Rhinelander: Frank, have you any idea how many cats there are in this country?

Frank Cross: No… I don’t have those… no.

Preston Rhinelander: Twenty-seven million. Do you know how many dogs?

Frank Cross: In America?

Preston Rhinelander: Forty-eight million. We spend four billion dollars on petfood alone. Now I have here a study from Hampstead University which shows us that cats and dogs are beginning to watch television. If these scientists are right, we should start programming right now. In twenty years they could become steady viewers.

Frank Cross: Progamming… for cats?

Preston Rhinelander: Walk with me, Frank. Now I’m not saying build a whole show around animals. All I’m suggesting is that we occasionally throw in a little pet appeal. Some birds, a squirrel… Mice! Exactly. You remember Kojak and the lollipops? What about a cop that dangles string?

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Robert Mitchum and Bill Murray in a loose adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, screenplay by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue, directed by Richard Donner.

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CAT OF THE DAY 096: THE LIFE OF OHARU

oharutumblr_mbqxdrTs5x1roydylo1_500 2[1]CAT OF THE DAY 096: THE LIFE OF OHARU aka 西鶴一代女 (SAIKAKU ICHIDAI ONNA) (1952)

Life for a woman in 17th century Japan, even one from a respectable background, was no bed of roses. Kenji Mizoguchi’s film was adapted from The Life of an Amorous Woman, a novel by Saikaku Ihara, a popular writer of the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).

Oharu’s troubles begin when, as a young woman, she disgraces herself by having a love affair with a man below her station, a servant played by young Toshiro Mifune; he is beheaded, she and her family are exiled, after which she’s sold as a concubine to a lord, but sent home after bearing him a son. Her father sells her into prostitution, but she’s considered too arrogant to make a success of that line of work.

Then she’s employed as servant to a woman who has been keeping it a secret from her husband that illness had made her hair fall out. Unfortunately the husband finds out Oharu was a prostitute and expects freebies; the wife gets jealous and forces Oharu to cut her own hair. In revenge, Oharu persuades a cat to run off with the wife’s wig during the night, so the husband will discover her baldness.

In its brief scene, the cat looks noticeably reluctant to do anything except cling to the furniture, let alone follow Oharu’s complicated directions; she makes it sniff her own hair-piece, then orders it to go and steal a hair-piece which smells like that. And bingo! we see a frankly not very convincing silhouette of the miaowing cat making off with the wig!

As if.

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A frankly not very convincing silhouette of a cat carrying a wig.

MINI-JAPANESE LESSON!

If you’ve been paying attention to previous mini-Japanese lessons, you will recognise one of the Kanji in the name of the director, Mizoguchi Kenji 溝口健二. Namely, 口 the sign for kuchi/guchi, or mouth.

The 二 (ji) at the end of Kenji is also quite easy to remember - it’s the kanji for two, and can also be pronounced ni. Mizoguchi had a sister and a brother; I’m guessing (but haven’t been able to find out for sure) that he was the second of the sons, hence the two.

The Japanese title of The Life of Oharu is 西鶴一代女 (Saikaku Ichidai Onna) which means Saikaku’s Amorous Woman (Saikaku being the name of the novelist). I don’t know all the kanji here, but that 一 in the middle is the kanji for ichi, or one.

So you can now read up to two in Japanese! Ichi 一 Ni 二.

For completion’s sake, three is (usually but not always) pronounced san and written 三. Thus Ichi 一 Ni 二 San 三. One, two, three.

(But let’s not go into Japanese counting systems, which are insanely complicated, and depend on whether you’re counting people, animals, bottles of beer, pieces of paper or household appliances.)

The 女 at the end of the Japanese title 西鶴一代女 (Saikaku Ichidai Onna) is onna, or woman (and yes! it kind of looks like a seated woman!) which is very useful if you’re looking for the ladies’ toilets (gents need to look out for the sign 男, which looks to me like a bloke with a really big head).

The 西 (sai) at the beginning of the name Saikaku is the sign for west, also pronounced nishi.

The sign for east is 東 – pronounced higashi or to, as in 東京 – Tokyo, literally Eastern Capital.

But don’t make the mistake I made, which is to assume Kyoto is simply Tokyo with the syllables reversed. The names of both cities do share the kanji 京, but Kyoto is written 京都 and literally means Capital City, since it was the imperial capital of Japan until the Emperor moved to Tokyo in 1869. Around this time, Kyoto was briefly known as 西京 Saikyo, or Western Capital.

If you’re interested in learning some more basic kanji, I can thoroughly recommend Read Japanese Today by Len Walsh: an easy, entertaining and invaluable primer in Japanese pictograms, and a fantastic first base for learning the language. The title is not an exaggeration.

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My own DVD of The Life of Oharu was too dark to take a decent screengrab of Oharu and the cat. The picture at the top of this page was found on Blue Ruin 1′s Photostream.

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CAT OF THE DAY 095: THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA

tlt001_2CAT OF THE DAY 095: THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA (1964)

“Yes, I am Thomasina. This story’s all about me.”

Except it’s not, not really. This Walt Disney movie, adapted from the novel by Paul Gallico, is more about how the dour windowed vet played by Patrick McGoohan learns to love again – love his child (Karen Dotrice) and love the crazy witch lady who lives in the woods (Susan Hampshire) with a lot of animals.

Thomasina, though she is granted a great many close-ups and a voice-over narration (in the soft Scottish accent of Elspeth March) is really just a CATAPHOR. And if you ever doubted it, it’s spelt out for you when Hampshire says to McGoohan, “Don’t you see that Thomasina is the love your child has lost, and only you can give it back to her?”

But I like to think that Thomasina has a dark side, and that this would be closer to her real story…

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Dressed in baby clothes.

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Forced to wear a bib.

They think I’m docile, but I’m not. My life is hell. The brat dresses me in baby clothes. She wheels me in a pram. She deliberately drives away the birds I stalk, and forces me to eat at the dinner table, wearing a bib. Day after day after day – oh, the humiliation, the casual mental cruelty, the lack of respect. But I will have my revenge, oh yes.

One night, while stealing a fat fish from the catch on the quay, I get tetanus. The brat’s father is a vet, but he’s too busy tending to a blind man’s dog to pay me any attention, and so I get sicker and sicker, until everything thinks I’m dead. And indeed I do dream that I’m climbing a heavenly staircase, like the one in A Matter of Life and Death, up and up and up to a feline paradise full of Siamese cats, and presiding over them all – Bast, the mighty Egyptian cat god.

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But I’m not dead. I go and live with the witch in the wood, and I bide my time. I wait till it’s dark and stormy and wet, and my fur is plastered against my skull. I look more like a rat than a cat. But then, I have not been my adorable fluffy self for a long, long time. And for that, I have the brat and her father to thank. I climb the tree and peer through the window. The brat is on the bed.

It’s time. Time for payback.

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