A while back, sick of the nightly trauma of chasing reluctant cats out from inaccessible hiding places behind and under furniture to put them out of the house for the night, Simon decided to fit a cat flap. Despite the initial period of nightly slumbers disturbed by the excited barking of the hounds (who took some time to grow accustomed to the fact that a) cats were now allowed to stay indoors at night, b) cats were allowed to stay in the very same room as them, WITHOUT HUMAN SUPERVISION and c) cats could come and go as they pleased 24/7, generally with a very irritating catch-me-if-you-think-you’re-fast-enough expression on their smug little faces), the venture was a success.
However, there was always one reservation lurking at the back of my cat-loving mind that hung over the oh-so-convenient cat-flap scenario like an ever-present sword of Damacles. At any moment, one of our lovely, but gruesomely successful hunting felines might decide to bring some half-chewed trophy into the house before we could do anything to stop them.
As it happens, our cats are mostly hunters of rodents, which, whilst not a pretty activity to behold, is undoubtedly useful when one’s barn is full of rat-tempting bags of animal feed. Very occasionally we come across the feathered remains of some unlucky small bird that has fallen victim to the deadly attentions of one or other of the barn cats, but it is mostly the stiff and oozing remains of field mice that litter our yard (and provide a delicious treat for whichever wandering chicken comes across it first). But being, as I am, a feather-phobic with a tendency towards pessimistic thinking, I have been haunted the fear that, one day, one of our home-dwelling cats would bring a dead bird into the house through the never-closed cat-flap.
Now in the three months since the flap was installed, not one ex-creature has found its cat-carried way into our abode, and I had all but banished from my thoughts the spectre of something dead and disgusting waiting for me on the other side of the bedroom door of a morning. And then, just when I thought it was safe…..
In comes Min…
Simon is sitting at the post-lunch table, reading. I am sitting at the other end of the room, aimlessly surfing the internet in a valiant to attempt to put off the washing up, and not think about the Packing-and-Sorting I should be starting in readiness for our imminent half-house move.
“Uh oh!” Simon exclaims, in his all-too-familiar ‘something-is-terribly-wrong’ voice. “This is bad news!”
Blissfully unaware, I drag my eyes from the computer screen, to see what he is on about. I see nothing, except Simon hurrying towards the TV room (as it has become known) with a horrified look on his face, closely followed by two suddenly alert and interested dogs.
“Min’s got a bird!” The import of the statement hits me, in all its horror. “It’s still alive. Quick – I need some assistance!” Simon adds authoritatively.
But I am rooted to the spot, terrified by the vision of what I might see if I look in the room. My imagination runs wild, but my legs turn to jelly, unable to run anywhere.
“Quick, get the cats!” Simon is in the TV room, and I hear the unmistakable sound of a bird flapping for its life. I know what this means. I have seen it before when over-confident blackbirds would venture through the open door of our Derby kitchen to steal food from the dog’s bowl, and then panic when they saw a person in the room. There will be feathers flying everywhere, as the bird smashes against the closed window in a fruitless attempt to escape the fury of cats now grasping at its tail.
I manage to make myself move to the door, and I see what is happening. Simon is trying to grab the panic-stricken bird whilst fending off Min and Blue Cat, and Rufus and Stubbs are keen to get in on the action. I grab their collars and pull them back, but Simon is not impressed.
“Not the dogs. Get the cats! I can’t… I can’t get the bird… get THE CATS!!!”
“BUT I CAN’T” I scream, above the flapping, miaowing, barking mayhem. “I CAAAAN’T!”
I can see the bird now, flapping wildly about the room, dropping white and grey and brownish feathers in loathsome flurries around the furniture. I want to help. I want Simon to save the bird and I want to stop the cats killing it. But I simply can’t DO anything, except hold on to the dogs in a pointless pretence of helpfulness, whilst the drama unfolds like a nightmare before me.
Eventually Simon is able to grab the bird – a beautifully speckled young thrush. It is odd how I can see it as something both lovely and horrific at the same time. Now the flapping has ceased, and I can avert my eyes from the feathersome mess defiling the room, I am able to at least open the front door for Simon to take the bird outside.
“I have no idea if it can fly” he says. Min and Blue watch ruefully as he carries the bird swiftly out of sight, somewhere behind the house, the tension of his adrenalin rush filling the air behind him.
I survey the horror-flecked room from the doorway. I see little eddies of feathers here, there and everywhere, and wonder how such innocent things can fill me with such dread. It is somehow so much worse when they are inside the house. Lately I have been congratulating myself on my ability to venture brazenly into the feathersome chicken shed to clean out chicken poo and collect eggs, and on my braveness at picking my way calmly through the swathes of dead pigeoness left around and about our regular dog-walking routes by hungry winter foxes. I had thought my phobia was subsiding. So long as I know where they are, and can be prepared, I can at least bear to walk past a small pile of outside feathers without screaming. I can even stand to let the chickens touch my wellington’d legs.
But feathers inside! In the place where I live, and sit, and relax, and rest. That is quite simply a step too far. Weirdly one feather in the house is worth more than fifty feathers outside, in the ever-curious currency of fear.
When Simon returned from letting the thrush go, some safe distance from the house (yes, it did fly away, so we assume it was physically sound, even if mentally scarred for life), he was still shaking from the experience. I apologized for my inability to be of assistance. “There was nothing I could do.” I said
“But you could have helped. You could have grabbed the cats… that’s all I needed you to do.”
And I realised that he didn’t, he couldn’t understand. “I really think you haven’t grasped the meaning of the word ‘phobia’,” I tried to explain. “I really, honestly just couldn’t even go in the room.”
And now, a few hours later, Simon’s heartbeat has returned to normal, and I suspect he has pretty much forgotten about the incident. But every time the cat flap claps, my heart skips a beat. And my dreams tonight will be once again full of feathers and fear. And I am dreading the next time that I will be left here alone, when Simon takes a trailer-load of furniture to our new Derby house. Because I have seen that look in Min’s eye, and I know she is biding her time. And when the moment is right, she will be back in here with another featherful toy, and next time Simon won’t be around to spoil her fun.