(This is the second part of a four-part story. If you’ve missed the first part, don’t read this part first – this is part two! Read the first part first and then this part, then wait patiently for parts three and four. Thank you.)
LEG TWO: REBECCA
Rebecca’s next art project was to install a cat flap in the front door so that Gnocchi could come and go, just like a real cat. Once it was done, Pietro and Will examined it. Will pressed his hand against the tiny door and it swung open and closed. Pietro contorted himself so that he could push his head, shoulders and arms through and then just stayed there, the door tight against his armpits as he watched things happen in the street outside. Not much was happening. He pulled himself back inside. Just like a real cat, they all said.
Pietro stood by the dishwasher before bedtime, turning magic tricks with his quick hands. Gnocchi watched from the kitchen floor, her little eyes moving backwards and forwards. The drowsy air of another summer night had drifted in through the windows and soon enough the day was at its end and the three humans stretched out on the bed to sleep together, each trying to stay as cool and still as possible.
For a few days, Gnocchi used the cat flap in the way she had seen Pietro demonstrate. Instead of coming and going, she would push herself halfway through the flap so that the front of her body was outside and the back remained inside. This caused trouble when Will, Rebecca or even Pietro wanted to leave, as she had to scooch backwards and forwards in time with the movement of the door. Thankfully, the humans seldom had cause to leave the house. As they lay together making their separate ways into their afternoon naps Will, Pietro and Rebecca discussed the little cat, slowly, lazily. She’s a good puss. But so scared. Maybe one day she will.
In the evening, Rebecca stood on the pavement outside and watched smoke curl from her cigarette and up into the sky. It was a cloudless summer and the stars were bright, as though outer space was within touching distance and the borders of reality could break at any moment. She was half thinking about her art and half about Gnocchi and half about Pietro and how he had come to be in their lives. Inside the house Will and Pietro were curled up on the sofa, half watching the television and half watching Gnocchi and half entertaining their own thoughts. It was peaceful out on the streets that night, but who knew how long it would last in that strange summer. Rebecca thought that sooner or later she would need to make a trip into town to get art supplies. That would be interesting – things would be sure to have changed in town she was last there. She finished smoking and went back inside to join the boys on the sofa. Gnocchi mewled at them and padded over to join them.
The next day day continued much like many of the others. Will worked on the accounts and then made some samosas for lunch. Pietro and Rebecca had been using up the last of her paints and plasticine, and then they had a shower before it was time to eat. The three of them stood around in the kitchen, waiting for the samosas to be ready. On the radio, the forecast was predicting the possibility of more trouble in the streets, there was a hope for rain to keep things quiet. Will looked apprehensive. The samosas were not quite ready.
Gnocchi had spent most of the morning looking out through the cat flap, and at one point Will had watched as two regular neighbourhood cats came along and seemed to have a short conversation with her. It looked for a while as though Gnocchi wanted to go out and hang around with them, but then she had reversed back into the house. Will had fed her a cat biscuit brunch. Now, as the humans waited for the samosas to be ready, the little cat came looking for more food. Pietro asked if she had been fed and Gnocchi shook her head with wide-eyed solemnity. He put down some more food for her, thinking as he did that she was looking smaller. He put it down as a trick of the light.
Will, Rebecca and Pietro ate their samosas. Afterwards, Rebecca washed the dishes whilst the boys went upstairs to get a start on their siestas. Gnocchi curled herself in and out around her ankles, forming figure eights with her little cat body. Rebecca asked if she had been fed, and the little cat reprised her wide-eyed, head-shaking performance. Rebecca put down some food, barely noticing that Gnocchi seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. It was just the angle, she told herself.
As Rebecca slung her bag over her shoulder, she could hear the boys asking each other if they had seen Gnocchi. They were shaking their heads and saying no. She wondered what they would get up to whilst she was out. The world outside seemed calm, and she watched it passing by as she waited for the bus at the end of the road. The bus duly arrived, lurching neatly to a stop so that when it’s doors opened, Rebecca had only to step forwards, a note of order in that chaotic summer.
Rebecca looked out of the window and watched the buildings pass, rolled up human garbage dotted on the pavements, ready for collection. She heard a tiny mewling, as if a cat was in peril far, far away. It sounded like Gnocchi.
For some reason, she decided to root in her bag. For some reason, she had a strange feeling. For some reason, something brushed against her hand as she felt for her purse. Something furry. She felt a tiny, licky feeling on her little finger. On inspection, Rebecca found a cat, a teeny-tiny cat, a cat as big as a thimble, made up to look just like Gnocchi. It moved like Gnocchi, it sounded like Gnocchi, Gnocchi far away. The cat sat on the palm of her hand as she held it up for inspection. The cat looked back inquisitively.
The little – very little – cat sat on Rebecca’s hand and licked itself, then looked up nonchalantly as if it was surprised to see Rebecca there. As if she had only just noticed. Keen for her fellow passengers not to see, Rebecca slipped Gnocchi back into her bag and from time to time she would slip her hand back in to feel the tiny swish of her fur and the lick of her tiny pink ham-like tongue. The best course of action, she decided, was to make sure she didn’t lose the cat whilst she was in the city, then they could work out this sizing issue when they got back to the house.
They were nearly into the city now, and the bus wound it’s way around the roundabouts and the one-way systems that had been introduced since last time Rebecca had been to the centre. It passed an estate of plastic housing that was being melted down in what Rebecca assumed was a controlled fire, and she watched the buildings collapsing in on themselves like tents being taken down. The grease of the industrial times sweated off the faces of the passersby as they desperately ate ice-cream. People shouted and sold things and took up other city pursuits. Rebecca gazed fondly at the scene, not missing it at all.
By the time she had walked from the bus station to her favourite art supply shop, Rebecca had decided it would be ok to let Gnocchi see a bit of the world and so she carefully picked her out of her bag and let her wander around the flat palm of her hand as she examined paints and paintbrushes and painted brushes. There were other artists perusing the shelves, but for the most part they seemed to think that Gnocchi was some kind of modern toy, or perhaps a figment of their artistic imaginations.
Rebecca examined some materials, great rolls of fabric which were stacked in the corner of the shop, trying to get ideas for future projects. Gnocchi walked to the end of Rebecca’s fingertips and strained to reach some felt so that she could feel it against her fur. Rebecca wondered about making a waistcoat for the little cat.
It was while she was thinking this through – and thinking about measurements and stitches and how it could be made – that she felt the presence of someone behind her, then a hand reaching round, and suddenly with a quick grasp and a wild miaow, Gnocchi was out of her hands and a man in paint-flecked denim was running across the room with the cat cupped in his hands.
Rebecca gave chase, using her every artistic instinct to draw herself neatly around a stand of sketchbooks and shade a shelve of pens. They ran past a stack of wooden figures, and the figures tumbled all around in a strange wooden royal rumble. Then past some easels and paints, and Rebecca could feel that she was gaining on the crooked painter. He looked over his shoulder, and Rebecca could see the panic in his eyes as he knew he was heading towards a dead end.
When she had the errant artist cornered, stuck in the corner where all the different types of glue were displayed, Rebecca made sure he did not have time to plan an escape.
She immediately launched herself towards him with both feet, kicking him hard in the elbows. He howled and let go of Gnocchi. Rebecca got back to her feet and started kicking him in the ribs and then in the thighs and then in the nose. Blood erupted from his face, creating an impromtu Rothko on the wall.
The art shop proprietor brought out a shovel, bucket and sponge and helped Rebecca to tidy away the body and the blood, then they went to look for the cat. Startled by the violent display, Gnocchi had scarpered, and it took them the best part of twenty minutes to find the cat hiding under some shelving, trembling and mewling. Rebecca decided it was time to get her home.
The art shop proprietor apologised for the fact that the cat theft had happened in his shop by letting her have her supplies for free, and in return Rebecca apologised for making such a mess by insisting on paying for them. They swapped notes on the random eruptions of violence they had witnessed in the summer months and wished each other peace, good luck and artistic inspiration.
Rebecca and Gnocchi rode the bus home with a bag full of new supplies, lots of things to make and do.
Back at the house, the inquiry began. Pietro, Rebecca and Will sat Gnocchi down on a tiny plate and fired questions at her until they had pieced together an accurate picture of the little cat’s mealtime scam. For the next few days Gnocchi behaved impeccably, admitting to each of them her every last snack, and sure enough she slowly began to grow back to her normal size.
Will charted her progress in a series of graphs, Rebecca made a series of to-scale sculptures, Pietro just watched the three of them and smiled.