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by AlanSears

Malamud was a Persian.  His long black hair was sleekly brushed, his deep copper eyes gleamed brightly, he was in the peak of condition.  Elegant, disdainful, his authority was unquestioned, his privilege extended to all quarters of the house.  Nothing was too good for Malamud.  He dined on the finest foods, he did as he pleased and nothing was allowed to disturb him.  Nothing that is except Timothy.

Malamud lived with Mrs Jonah Sandford at her Kensington address; an honour which during the school holidays he was forced to share with Timothy, her son.  It was generally considered odd that Mrs Sanford should have retained her husband’s name after he had passed away since his contribution to the relationship had escaped most interested observers of the marital scene.  In truth however, Mr Sandford had only passed away to California where he chose to stay one year rather than return to his somewhat less than loving spouse and her Malamud.  Mr Jonah Sandford’s escape from the Kensington house and what he referred to as, “That damn cat” was not appreciated by his wife who chose to take her revenge by refusing him a divorce (which had never troubled Jonah since he had no intention of ever marrying again) and by continuing to use his name as her official appellation. 

Mrs Sandford bore up under the strain of her erstwhile husband’s reprobate activities across the Atlantic with a stoicism typical of her breed.  She did not cry on a single shoulder, or write a lonely letter to an agony column, indeed she did not stop to examine the reasons for Jonah’s departure for a moment.  She accepted his failure to return with equanimity and the only question that it had occurred to her to ask was why she had married him in the first place.  She found herself unable to answer, but contented herself with the thought that if it had been a mistake at least it was now rectified.  The thought that Jonah was almost wholly responsible for this rectification was not one that would have occurred to Mrs Sandford.

During the school terms Mrs Sandford was almost unconscious of her son’s existence.  It was true that she wrote to him once a week and he wrote back to her, but just as Timothy’s letters would not have been composed except under the stern jurisdiction of his housemaster so Mrs Sandford’s owed their being to the prompting of her conscience rather than any maternalistic instinct.  During these periods of calm Malamud lived a life of unrivalled domestic bliss.  He was cosseted and cared for, nothing could shake his composure.  He stalked the polished floors with an aristocratic indifference which nothing could disturb.  Nothing that is except Timothy.

Timothy Sandford, being an only child, could perhaps have been excused had he suffered from a pronounced stammer, a lack of emotional development, a singularly unhealthy complexion or indeed any of the other thousand ills that the offspring of marriages such as the Sandford’s will always be heir to.  But in spite of the circumstances of his upbringing Timothy suffered none of these things.  He spoke loudly and volubly, had an almost unseemly look of good health and vigour about him and was unaware of the existence of emotions.  He was, however, a malicious child.  The long, languid days of term time provided little opportunity for Timothy to exercise his singular talents.  The occasional practical joke might be arranged but the victims were usually so weak as to make the exercise seem rather trivial, or so fearsome as to preclude the possibility of an assault upon their dignity.  Being at home had one enormous consolation, the perfect victim for any number of malevolent pranks was always on hand.  Had Mrs Sandford had even the slightest idea that her precious Malamud was regarded as a source of maleficent amusement the perpetrator of such outrages would have been instantly dispatched, son or no son, but Timothy was careful to keep his baiting down to a level that would go undetected by his mother, whilst nonetheless affording him the pleasure of seeing Malamud’s privileged position in the household severely abused.

Timothy had been home for two days and so far Malamud had remained undisturbed.  The protection that Mrs Sandford’s more or less immediate presence brought had not escaped him and he was prepared to suffer the indignity of having her think that he pursued her through the house out of devotion, just as long as his proximity to her kept Timothy and his unwelcome attentions at bay.

 On the afternoon of the third day Mrs Sandford began the rather long sequence of operations which always preceded any expedition into the world beyond her own front door.  She did not often venture out, generally preferring the calm of her own surroundings, and this particular character note was strongly echoed by Malamud.  His prediliction for staying indoors was due partly to Mrs Sandford’s concern for his coat, sunlight and damp weather having the curious effect of causing a process of oxidisation to take place which, if it went unchecked, could have the disastrous effect of producing rusty patches on his silky jet black fur, but the major factor was, as always, Malamud’s own wishes in the matter.  He would have been strongly disinclined to venture out even on the finest of days since he saw no purpose in the exercise.

Since the first part of Mrs Sandford’s ritual took place behind the closed door of her bedroom Malamud remained blissfully ignorant that the sole guarantor of Timothy’s good behaviour, and consequently of his own safety, was about to make one of her rare forays into the shopping precincts of Knightsbridge.  Indeed he did not immediately grasp the significance of the proceedings when Mrs Sandford appeared some time later.  Malamud was asleep on his favourite rug, Persian naturally and the best in the house, when he became aware of a familiar odour – Chanel, worn at close quarters.  He surreptitiously opened one eye, disguising the action by yawning at the same time, and observed Mrs Sandford bending down towards him mouthing incomprehensible syllables intended to imply that as much affection was being lavished upon him as any human being was capable of.  Malamud yawned again and curled himself up more tightly.  He then uncurled, washed one back leg vigourously for almost two seconds, and curled himself up again.  He looked up as he heard the front door click to and seconds later something soggy hit him behind one ear and burst, soaking him in cold water.

Malamud howled with surprise and rage, he raced across the room and scuttled underneath the divan as a second water bomb burst behind him and spread a dark pool across the parquet floor.  Malamut squatted under the divan, his sleek black coat plastered down and matted.  Hackles raised, he shivered and waited.  He heard a giggle and footsteps approaching across the polished floor.  Malamud began growling menacingly.  The attack could come only from the middle of the room, but his vision was obstructed by the divan.  Suddenly the footsteps stopped and Timothy bent his head down onto the floor to peer at Malamud cowering in the darkness.  Malamud saw him lift a short metal tube to his lips, for a brief instant he was puzzled, and then a spray of hard, damp rice grains hit him full in the face.

Malamud howled, his tail thrashed the ground behind him, his claws tore at the polished floor and he howled and wailed still more as he thrust himself into the farthest corner of his inadequate hiding place.  Timothy almost choked himself by swallowing rice so hard was he laughing as he tried to reload.  Malamud snarled and snorted as he tried to wash off the sticky grains, but he had to withstand two more burst of quick fire before there was a lull in the hostilities.  Timothy’s last fusillade left the floor, the divan and Malamud covered in a sticky mess of coagulating rice, the only sign of his pedigree that remained was the bright lustre of his eyes glowing fiercely copper coloured in the gloom.  He was trapped; the onslaught could go on for hours and Malamud, used to easy living was in no condition to withstand such a prolonged attack.  Cunning came to the rescue.  Malamud stayed motionless, resisting the temptation to flick his tail angrily against the leg of the divan, he flexed his muscles and his long, fine whiskers bristled at any suspected movement.

He did not have long to wait.  Timothy’s rapidly returning footsteps heralded the end of the cease-fire, and the advent of a new weapon designed to flush out recalcitrant cats.  Malamud avoided the first exploratory prod of the broom handle, but had to scuttle sideways to avoid Timothy’s second, more violent sweep.  Seizing his opportunity Malamud dashed from the hiding place catching Timothy by surprise, the flailing broom handle missed him by inches as he charged to the door.  Slithering wildly Malamud careered towards the kitchen with Timothy in hot pursuit.  One leap took him onto the draining board.  One more to the ledge of the open window.  He balanced on the ledge and turned back just as Timothy made an ineffectual grab across the sink.  The effort took him off balance, he dropped the broom and Malamud played his trump card.  As Timothy fell towards him Malamud reared up and one front paw slashed through the air.  Two wicked red lines scored Timothy’s cheek from just below the ear down to his upper lip.  Half an inch apart, straight and parallel, the marks looked as though a cut throat razor had been employed with artistry and precision.  The skin on either side whitened and began to puff up as blood started to well and dribble down Timothy’s cheek.  Malamud leaped to the ground outside.  Timothy roared in pain, indignation and fury.  He swore and shouted, cursing Malamud with every obscenity that he could invent.  The first red drops splashed onto the sink as Malamud tore across the lawn outside.

It was strange being outside but Malamud did not have time to pay any attention to unusual phenomena, he was running hell for leather towards the old Elm tree, and sanctuary.  He had executed the first part of his plan and now his only recourse was to follow it through, it was risky but the alternative was unthinkable.  When he had climbed the tree to a reasonable height he paused and looked back towards the house.  He could see Timothy standing in the back doorway, a reddening handkerchief pressed to his face.  Malamud moved as quickly as he dared.  He had a little way to go to the branch he was aiming for.  Being up the tree was certainly very different to looking out on it from the bedroom window, but he did know which branch he wanted if he could only get there.

Timothy had come out onto the lawn.  Unaware that Malamud had the advantage of height he moved stealthily hoping that his adversary had gone to ground nearby and could still be surprised.  Malamud gained his vantage point in the tree, and immediately did a rather curious thing.  Perching precariously on a rather narrow, leafless branch some thirty feet above the ground he wailed piteously for help.  Timothy looked up.  Malamud wailed again as thought desperate for assistance.  Now Timothy realised that, much as he would have liked to, he could not leave Malamud sitting in the Elm tree for the duration of the afternoon without having to face his mother’s wrath when she returned.  He would be castigated simply for having let the wretched animal get out of the house, but allowing him to remain stuck up a tree would be like putting one’s head into a noose.  Timothy knew that no excuse would be accepted, and there would be no mitigation.  On the other hand rescuing the beast would have its compensations.  Provided it was done carefully he should, he decided, be able to come down from the tree with Malamud a helpless captive upon whose person the most awful vengeance could be wreaked.

Timothy went back into the house and up to his room.  For a terrible moment Malamud thought that his plan had failed, and then Timothy re-appeared, carrying a landing net;  a souvenir from earlier times when the targets of his tormentings had been piscine rather than feline.  He hooked the net over one shoulder and paused at the foot of the tree to take one last look at Malamud before starting his climb.  Malamud smiled a slow grim smile and gave one more, particularly poignant wail, to add to the effect.  Timothy climbed higher and higher, Malamud could hear him muttering under his breath.  Once the net got caught in some small branches and he had to stop and free it.  Finally he reached the junction of Malamud’s branch with the main trunk.  He hitched himself up, secured a foothold and unslung the net.  The handle was too short for a straight sweep and even at full stretch he was several feet short of being able to drop the netting down over Malamud as he had hoped.  He made a vain effort at entreating Malamud to return along the branch, but the sincerity of the effort was always in question and Malamud’s only response was to look coolly back over his shoulder from time to time.  Exasperated, Timothy hurled the net away and took the only possible course of action, he began to inch out along the branch.  Although he was good at climbing trees he did not like the idea.  The branch was thin and withered and he was not certain that it was not dead wood, but then that was why Malamud had chosen it.  Timothy inched his way out.  There were no other branches near enough to keep a firm hold on and he was forced to crawl out along the branch along his stomach, keeping a firm hold with hands, feet and knees.  As Timothy approached, Malamud, balancing equally carefully on all four paws inched away from him.

Some twelve feet out from the trunk Malamud paused and looked back, Timothy was still crawling out towards him, but the branch was beginning to sag dangerously.  Malamud nerved himself, waiting, and then with one sudden movement launched himself out into mid-air.  It was much further than he had ever jumped in his life, but the roof of the summer house provided a big target and his claws would easily grip the wooden surface.  And as he leaped he heard the sharp loud crack behind him, heard the shout of surprise, and the dull thump a second later.  Just like a sack of potatoes thought Malamud, landing perfectly on the roof.

The afternoon was sunny and Malamud was content to maintain his position on the roof whilst he diligently cleaned every grain of rice from his fur, licked away the remnants of the soaking he had received and groomed himself over and over until no trace of his ordeal remained.

Half an hour later he looked languidly over at the spot where Timothy had fallen, and noted with interest the absence of movement and the curious angle of the neck.  Then he jumped lightly down and wandered back indoors to take up his favourite spot by the window and await Mrs Sandford’s return.


{ This short story by Alan Sears was actually broadcast on BBC Radio's "Morning Story" }