I heard a theory once that cats just think we are big, stupid cats and they have to teach us how to be better cats. That’s why they bring us mice to teach us to hunt. I think Smelly Mellie thought I was her kitten.
She did have kittens once.
The man next door drowned them.
Millicent had been getting a bit fat around the time I was five. She had gotten out a couple of times and mum said she was probably eating at someone else’s house. Dad said to cut down her food a bit and no-one thought much about it.
“Hey Mellie, dad said you can’t eat too much, you are getting fat. ‘’ But, I would give her more cat biscuits anyway. I was five.
One day I couldn’t find her anywhere, I called and called and started singing the Smelly Cat song. My voice was cracking, and I had little tears rolling down my cheeks as I prayed my cat would be found. Finally, Mr Pomphrey showed up and found her (or should I say them?) under the hay rack we used for the chicken nests. Quite a bit of hay had fallen on the ground and it made a lovely bed for Mellie and her kittens.
We had big blocks in those days, so to a little kid, it seemed the hay rack was way down the back of the property near the chicken pen and the compost heap, so I hadn’t looked that far. But Mr Pomphrey had heard them miaowing.
Mr Pomphrey was like my mum’s BFF. He lived on his own and he was different to the other men I knew. He was kind and would talk to kids and not ignore them. He would always have tea with mum and they would laugh and mum would be okay for a few days after. He was really nice. That’s why I couldn’t understand what he did next.
I was so excited by the kittens, imagining I would now have three more Smelly Cats to play with. But Mr Pomphrey, who was so kind, told me to go back to the house, and not to tell my mum that the kittens had been born. I was confused, and I didn’t have any reference for this seemingly stern Mr Pomphrey. He was nice, he didn’t yell. He was our friend.
“I mean it, Philippa!” He said. “Go to the house and make sure your baby sister doesn’t come out either. We need to keep this a secret. Your mum doesn’t need any more stress “
I knew he was serious, he always called me Pip. I was scared and I started to cry, but I ran to the house wondering what he was going to do with the kittens. Maybe he was going to keep them for himself. That was it! He was alone and he was going to steal Mellie’s kittens.
I went and found Epony, who was about three I guess judging by the age I was at the time.
“Can you keep a secret, Ep?” I said. “She nodded her little head, her curls bouncing as she did so. “Mellie has had kittens, and I think Mr Pomphrey is going to steal them. We have to watch where he takes them, so we can tell Dad.“ I said very quickly. She made a kind of O with her mouth then nodded again more importantly. I grabbed Epony’s chubby toddler hand and snuck out the back door. I think mum was having a lie down anyway, she didn’t really know what we were up to most of the time, and so we were free to play on our own.
We went to the back verandah and peered over the low wall that encircled it, trying to be really quiet. I saw Mr Pomphrey shove a kitten into one of the sacks that the chicken feed came in. Then he left through the back gate, I assumed to return to his own house. He was so intent on what he was doing that he didn’t notice us girls. I knew it! He was stealing MY kittens and putting them in a dirty old sack just like a burglar.
“Come on Ep,“ I said to my baby sister, and we went to the spy hole that would allow us to see into Mr P.’s yard.
By the time that we got to the spy hole, which was really just a broken part of the fence from one of Dad’s cricket games with his mates, Mr Pomphrey had reached his own back yard. He had a giant bucket, the kind that caterers use for mayonnaise. I remember in those days he belonged to some sort of club and he would run the canteen. I think it was collecting something, but I don't remember what. Who knows, maybe rocks or stamps, maybe Lego?
Next, he filled the bucket with water and I thought that was too big for a drink for tiny kittens. I wanted to call out but we weren’t supposed to be looking. I supposed that if he was going to steal my kittens, at least he was going to try and look after them properly.
Once all of the kittens were in the bucket, he turned the hose on again, so the bucket was full to the top and the kittens were squirming about, and then he put the lid on.
I gasped and cried out “No, they will drown” and Mr P. looked up and tears were rolling down his cheeks, and tears were rolling down mine, and then he ran. I cried and cried and didn’t know what to think, my kittens were drowning. Next minute, Mr Pomphrey was hugging me and we were both crying and he was comforting me and saying sorry and something about no stress for my mum and we had to keep it a secret and he was like a kind uncle again and I couldn’t understand how he could kill my kittens.
After I calmed down a bit, I looked at Epony, who had just been standing there and watching the whole thing unravel, like she was watching a toothpaste commercial.
“Are you okay, Epony?” Mr P asked. We both looked at her to see if she was crying, to see if she needed a hug.
She shrugged, ”I’m hungry,” she said, and Mr Pomphrey took us inside and microwaved some hotdogs.