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Cats Die

‘What’s the difference between melancholy and sad, Dad?’

‘Hmm. I am sad because my cat died. I am melancholy because all cats die eventually. Sad is pretty quick, but melancholy goes on and on and on.’

Rory and Tanya, five and seven years old, sprawled across the sofa and his lap, were quiet a moment, perhaps trying to fathom the subtle distinction their father had just alerted them to, or perhaps trying to locate some melancholy within themselves.

If the latter, they won’t find any, they are simply too new for melancholy. Melancholy is for silly old losers like their father.

H and the kids are having a rare five minutes together and they are reading a book about another melancholy old loser called Joe, who has lost his cat up a tree.

For H, for anyone, it is tough at the age of thirty-nine to accept that you are a silly old loser. The understanding can seriously spoil your life. But H is resourceful; he can deal with it. In fact, he plans to take it lying down.

H is horrified by the utter predictability of Joe’s story. Joe dotes on his cat. But the darn thing took a stroll up this tree hours ago and can’t get back down again. It is way up there, near the top and Joe is way down here at the bottom. The cat sits up there all on its own, quite unbothered by its predicament, fat and smug and very aloof.

A neighbour comes along with a ladder and offers to help, but Joe refuses because he doesn’t want to put the neighbour out. The neighbour tells Joe he would love to get the cat out of the tree because it is such a fine animal and no man should be separated from his cat. Joe says no. The neighbour goes away. Then the fire brigade comes along but again Joe refuses help because he thinks a whole fire engine and crew and mechanical ladder is too much palaver for one silly cat even if the fire brigade is specifically there to help people. The fire brigade goes away. Next the local human pyramid team comes along and say they would love to make a human pyramid tall enough to fetch the cat down. They insist that building human pyramids is their absolute favourite thing and it would be no trouble at all. Joe doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone falling off the pyramid or being hit by a low flying jet. The human pyramid team goes on its way.

Along comes a snotty-nosed boy with a catapult, who tells Joe he is such a good shot he can ping the branch with a stone and the cat will drop out of the tree and into Joe’s hands. Joe is horrified. Suppose the boy accidentally hits the cat, suppose he did hit the branch but Joe missed the falling animal, suppose the boy missed the tree altogether and the stone pinged on someone’s head. So the deadeye, snotty-nosed little dick goes on his way too, leaving Joe to stare forlornly at the cat, no closer to getting his hands on it, his flow of opportunities apparently all dried up.

It was not clear to H what or who Joe was waiting for.

As he was reading, H’s mind was elsewhere speculating on the ending of the story. Joe will do nothing useful and will continue to refuse all offers of help. Eventually a big wind will come along and the cat will be blown out of the tree and into Joe’s grateful and relieved hands. Then, of course, in the same wind the tree will topple, impaling Joe and his cat with its spiky branches.

‘Did your cat die, Dad?’ asked Rory, throwing H with this abrupt return to the theme of sad and melancholy.

‘Yes, it did, young man. Very much so.’

‘When did it die?’ Tanya wanted to know.

‘Years and years ago. Or was it years and years and years ago? I forget which.’

‘Did you cry?’

‘What do you think?’

‘I think you cried like a poof.’ They giggled cruelly.

H was not sure whether he was more put out by the barbaric stereotyping in the remark or by the emphatic dismissal of crying as a legitimate response to nature. Tears, after all, are the wine of melancholy.

The above extract is the beginning of Cats Die, a short story collected in Un-Tall Tales by Chris Page

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Sex on the commuter train

November 21, 2003
image loadingOn my way to work this morning I was reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I don’t know if you’ve read this novel, but if you have you will know that it has some pretty frank sex scenes in it. I came on one of these scenes while hanging from my commuter handle. It’s weird. The book has 605 pages and just a few of these sex episodes, but I only come on the sex when I am on the train. What do you make of that? I don’t come on these scenes when I am alone or in private. I come on them when I am on a crowded train, standing crushed between smelly old men and old women who look like sacks of potatoes. Anyway, so I’m reading this steamy scene this morning and I guess I was in a pretty vulnerable state because I started to overheat, if you know what I mean. Right there, with all the commuters and the bad breath, I am getting a woody. So I stop reading and look around the carriage to find something to distract myself before it gets too obvious. And I make eye contact with this young woman right in front of me. I figure she had noticed my state of heated fluster but instead of being shocked or offended, instead of mocking me, she was getting pretty turned on too. I mean, it was just obvious. So we stared at each other, each with the same thing in mind. She was pretty darned good looking too. So this is a situation. We are two strangers consumed by the hots for each other — I mean urgent hots — but we are on this crowded train. What to do? Without a word, we climbed up on to the luggage rack and had energetic, wonderful sex right there, above the oblivious heads of the other commuters who were perusing their morning papers, listening to walkmans, reading books, staring out the windows, scratching their balls, picking their noses. Eventually the train reached my stop. She pulled on her clothes and got off the train too. Most people were getting off here. On the platform I looked for her, but she had been absorbed already in the thick crowds. Absorbed, dissolved. Gone. And me too. I went on my way to work.

From Bog, the blog thing, in Un-Tall Tales

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Un-tall cover preview

Well, here’s the current draft of the cover for the paperback of Un-Tall Tales.

It has only taken an embarrassingly long time to get my finger out of the drinks cabinet and onto the drawing board. And here’s the rather scruffy result.

Now going through the pre-press process and assuming there are no sudden and radical changes of mind Un-Tall Tales will be an Amazon paperback in time for the Big Crunch.

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