Watching the World Fly By
The clock chimed seven …ding…ding…ding… and so on, until it let out one final loud ding that woke Forbes with a start. He shuffled slightly and managed to stretch his front and back legs just enough to prevent the cramp from setting in. He meowed happily as he heard the familiar whirring sound. His morning feed came shooting through the food hatch and plopped into his dish in a brown lumpy mush.
Forbes’ life revolved around that twice daily whirring sound and his once daily release into the running tunnel attached to the ornate glass tank that was his world. He had never known anything other than the gilded pagoda-shaped container, and the peek it gave him at another — far bigger — world, that could be glimpsed tantalisingly beyond the frontage of his splendid glazed prison and through the window beyond.
Oh how he wanted to leap up onto the distant sill, that opened out into a vastness that his tiny cat brain could not quite comprehend. Oh to slip out into the crispness of a sunny morning and run. Yes, actually run, over that green carpet they called ‘grass’.
In she walked, in a neat kimono with even neater bobbed dark hair.
‘Good morning, my darling Forbes! How very fine you look today in your beautiful, silver grey coat.’
Forbes meowed back – he knew it was required of him. His human, who he had learnt over the years was called Rita, stood peering down at him. Her chiselled, strong-boned face smiled at his and her slanted almond-shaped eyes held his gaze.
‘Oh I wish I could hold you just once, my baby, but you make Mummy sneeze and sneeze.’
Then doorbell rang and she was gone.
It had been better when he was a kitten. He had more space then and she gave him much more attention. Very occasionally, she would wiggle her tiny fingers through the air vent so that he could lick them and she could tickle the top of his head, but she didn’t do that anymore. She occasionally let her friends do this when they came over for drinks, but this also meant that he had to endure a night of shrieks and squeals, as the drinks flowed and they grew sillier and louder by the hour. This didn’t happen at all of late. Not since the arrival of the man, or ‘Alan’ as Rita-human called him, in a painfully coy and affected voice. Alan was the largest human Forbes had ever seen, with a big, red, angry-looking face staring out from beneath heavy brows and a shiny, scarred bald head. Alan shouted sometimes and punched Rita-human. When he did this, her small frame would fly across the room and land with a sickening thud. She never cried out. She would just lie there whimpering until she eventually struggled to her feet, blood trickling down onto her lip, and started to apologise.
‘I’m so sorry Alan, I really am, I never meant to make you angry. I love you, please say you love me’
When this happened, Forbes curled up in as small a ball as possible and slept. That way he didn’t have to see Rita-human nervously approach the man called Alan and start with a trembling hand to stroke his face whilst repeating ‘Sorry.’
This morning, he heard the front door open and the man called Alan walked into the lounge with Rita-human dutifully trotting behind him. He looked angry and Forbes knew enough to recognise that this was when he got punchy. She fluttered around him and went off to pour him a drink. Forbes also knew this was not the best thing Rita-human could do. He meowed loudly but Rita hadn’t heard him and Alan ignored him.
Forbes was now alone with the man called Alan. The tension emanated from Alan’s bulky body and Forbes could sense his suppressed fury. He looked over at Forbes and started to make his way toward him. Forbes had drawn attention to himself and there was no way to escape. The hatch to the run was still closed. Standing as still as he possibly could, Forbes starred hard at the man with his large green cat eyes. The man put his face right up close to the glass. Forbes could see every open pore in the man’s large nose. Bracing himself, Forbes waited.
‘Here you go, Honey,’ twittered Rita-human, coming back into the room. The man’s face changed as he spun around and glared over at her.
‘Where were you earlier when I phoned?’
He marched over, snatched the lead crystal glass of whiskey from her hands and returned to rest his heavy fist on Forbes’ tank.
‘I was sleeping. I haven’t been awfully well these last few weeks – since my fall.’
This was all the excuse he needed. The man called Alan started to shout; big, angry words that Forbes didn’t understand. But Rita-human did and her face grew paler as she started to shrink back toward the fireplace, away from the furious tirade. The man called Alan took a couple of steps in her direction and then threw his glass right at her. It smashed against the wall, just above her head and the heavy crystal shards flew all around the room. One hit Forbes’ tank. It made a small crack that started to slowly run its way down Forbes’ line of vision. Beyond the crack, Forbes saw the man called Alan slap Rita-human on the side of her head. It was a hard blow. Forbes heard a loud crack. Rita-human slid down the wall next to the fireplace, and fell to the floor in a sitting position. Forbes was waiting, as was the man called Alan, for her to whimper and then get up, apologising as she did so. But she didn’t. She was just slumped there, silent.
As Forbes watched in fascination, the crack in his tank spread from the point of impact, creating tendrils of fracture in the surface. The glass and the tank and the barrier between Forbes’ world and Rita-human, were about to disappear. The man called Alan looked at Forbes and then back down at the tiny, silent fireside figure. He nudged her with his foot. When there was no response, the man called Alan turned, rushed out of the room, and was gone. The front door slammed and Forbes was left alone with a silent Rita.
In front of Forbes, the crack grew bigger and bigger and then suddenly the glass shattered into tiny pieces, sweeping away the division between Forbes’ world and the one beyond.
The smell hit him first. A smell of peonies, the grass smell from the open window, and an iron smell of sweat and blood. Slowly, he extended a paw out of the tank, avoiding the piles of fragmented glass. Gathering his nerve, he jumped down onto the cream carpet, feeling the wonderful freedom of the leap and the softness of carpet on his silky paw pads. He looked around the room and then over to Rita-human, still slumped up against the far wall. Forbes ambled over to her, enjoying every springy step as he did so. The blue flock wallpaper was soaking up the blood seeping from Rita-human’s head, creating an odd smeared halo behind her as she slid further towards the floor. Her eyes were open now and she moved them slowly to look at Forbes. He meowed, jumped up and sat on Rita-human’s lap. Her kimono had blood down one side of it, which he licked at, greedily. She smelt of food and flowers and something else that he could not quite determine. Was it fear? Love? Regret? Rita-human’s eyes began to shut.
‘Meow, meow… MEOW.’
But although she was warm, Rita-human didn’t tickle his head. A breeze caught Forbes’ fur. He jumped off Rita-human’s knee and headed off toward the longed-for window ledge. Jumping up onto it, he looked out to the grass carpet and smelled the fresh air. So much space. No shouting and no man called Alan. No tank, no brown lumpy food. And most importantly, no Rita-human, staring in at him in his glass prison. He looked back only briefly before he leapt out of the window. As he did so, he heard a faint rattle come from Rita-human. The life left her, as he finally entered into his own new, Rita-free, life.
Melanie Davies is an Associate Practitioner in Pathology who lives in Shropshire, UK. When she is is not peering down a microscope she can be found listening to obscure music or doodling pen and ink drawings to accompany the weird tales that randomly pop into her head.