Thank you for your comments on the first reading from my memoir Woman in a White Coat.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter #2 about a little black kitten called Rupert
Reading from Chapter 2 Pages 18-22
(Scroll down to read text)
Chapter 2 pp 18-22
We always had a cat. Most people in The Buildings kept a cat, because we all had mice, even on the third floor. I never caught sight of a mouse in our flat, but often there would be a few mouse droppings. Now and again my father baited two or three mouse traps with cheese, but he rarely caught a mouse. They were too wary. They had learned how to steal the cheese without getting trapped.
Tabby was over ten years old when she started refusing her food. She even turned her head away from her favourite foods and only wanted to lie in her basket. Hannah came with me to the RSPCA. The vet, an old man with snow-white hair, was very gentle with Tabby.
‘I’m really sorry, girls. She’s a lovely cat and I can see she’s been well looked after, but for a cat, she’s very old and I’m afraid her kidneys have practically stopped functioning.’ Tabby purred as he stroked her and went on. ‘I know it’s a hard decision for you to make, but it would be a kindness to put her down. Do you want to come back with your mother or father, or will you leave her with me?’
Hannah told him that our parents were too busy to come and yes keep her, but please don’t hurt her.
We kissed Tabby goodbye.
We held hands as we walked home, too miserable to get on a bus and have strangers see us cry.
At first, I felt I never wanted a cat again, but then I realised how much I missed a friendly face, a cat always pleased to see me and never cross or angry. My mother said she’d had enough of cats and to stop nagging.
‘Please, Mummy,’ I begged. ‘I’m sure I saw mouse droppings under the kitchen table.’
‘It’s too much trouble having a cat and getting it trained properly. When the shops open, I’ll go down and buy a couple of mouse traps.’
I hated the wooden slabs with their cruel iron springs, but I was pleased when two days later the trap under the table finally contained a dead mouse.
‘Now can we have a cat, please? Please?’
‘We’ll have to see,’ my mother said, ‘but you’ll have to look after it and clean out its tray.’
During school, I kept thinking about having a cat again. I was sure there’d be a cat waiting for me when I got home and I looked everywhere in case it had fallen asleep in a corner.
‘No good looking,’ my mother said. ‘There’s no cat here and stop crying, you silly girl.’
I got out my homework and sat down at the kitchen table.
‘Mind you put all that away when your father comes. He’ll be wanting his supper as soon as he sits down.’
As soon as I heard my father’s whistle on the stairs, I tidied my books away.
The doors to our flats had heavy iron U-shaped knockers, but we never used them. Hannah taught me how to whistle and we each had our own tune. As we got to the entrance to our block, we whistled our special tune and my mother would have the door open by the time we got up to the third floor.
‘Have you been a good girl, Abby?’ my father asked. ‘Not been cheeky to your mother? Do you deserve a present?’
As he spoke, he pulled out a little black bundle from inside his jacket.
‘Oh Daddy,’ I cried, reaching up to it, and then ‘Ouch’ as the kitten dug its sharp little teeth into my thumb.
‘Is it a boy or a girl?’
‘It’s a boy. Jimmy at work gave it to me. It’s already house trained.
‘I’ll call it Rupert, after Rupert the bear,’ I said.
Black, except for a white spot on his forehead, he was gorgeous and he was mine. I rubbed my face in his soft warm fur.
‘Don’t let it near your face,’ my mother snapped. ‘You’ll catch something.’
Nothing could spoil the day for me, not my mother’s bad temper, nothing.
I put some milk into a saucer and watched Rupert lap it greedily, leaving a bead of milk on his chin. I picked him up.
‘Silly old thing,’ I said. ‘Can’t even keep your chin clean.’
I made up a bed of old rags in the corner of the kitchen and tucked Rupert in.
It was wonderful coming home from school to be greeted by Rupert who would wind himself round and round my ankles, delighted to see me again.
When I went to the toilet on our little balcony, Rupert would follow me and walk along the brick support at the bottom of the protective railings. As he grew bolder, he started climbing over the coal bunker and up to the bar at the top, weaving in and out of the upright spikes. I could hardly bear to watch him. Sometimes he walked along the railings to our neighbour’s balcony. She usually had a few scraps for a cat who was always hungry, even when he had just been fed.
‘Be careful,’ I told Rupert. ‘I know you’ve got nine lives, but we’re on the third floor, and it’s a long way down.’
Rupert said nothing and stalked into the kitchen, but when I did my homework he came to sit on my lap, purring loudly.
One day, when I was standing on the balcony watching as Rupert put one careful foot in front of the other on the top bar of the guard rail, my mother called me.
‘Abby, come in at once. What’s all this?’ she said, pointing to the scrunched-up drawings I’d left on the kitchen table.
As I turned towards her, Rupert lost his footing and fell. I was paralysed; couldn’t move.
‘Mummy, come quickly,’ I screamed. ‘Rupert’s fallen off.’
‘He’ll be dead, for sure, but you’d better go down and see.’
I raced down the six flights of stairs, out into Goulston Street, round into Wentworth Street and into the entrance of our courtyard. Rupert was sitting there, nonchalantly licking a paw, as if falling from the third floor was nothing.
‘You’re a naughty, naughty, kitten,’ I said, as I picked him up and hugged him.
The nosy old woman who was always sitting on her first-floor balcony, looking out and gossiping about everyone, said:
‘They’ve got nine lives and no mistake. You should look after it better, Abby. You tell your mother I said so.’
Rupert licked my hand with his rough little tongue.
‘You’re to stop walking along the railings,’ I told him.
But an hour later he was winding in and out of the spikes again, as if to show he wasn’t a scaredy cat, even if I was.