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BOOTSY was a sweet, mild-mannered cat. She had soft grey fur and white boots pulled over each paw, and a white heart shape under her chin. She was affectionate and supremely tolerant, for she put up with the noise and the busyness of a family of six children, allowing us kids to pat her and tease her until she finally unsheathed her claws.
My oldest brother Peter, 17 years old, was not immune to her affable nature, although he tried to portray himself as a tough guy. We would see Bootsy curled up in his lap or following him around. When he thought we weren’t watching, he would gently stroke her from the tip of her nose, between her ears and down her arched back, right to the end of her tail.
As soon as Peter sensed an audience, he would add a snappy flick to her tail. She loved it. She would nudge his hand with her moist nose, encouraging him. The more vigorous and snappy the flicks to her tail, the more she seemed to like it.
One day he took a pair of scissors and started to trim her tail. We were horrified, as we watched him shear her fur to within a fraction of the end of the fleshy part of her tail. We were sure he would nick her and draw blood. He prolonged the suspense, refusing to desist, ignoring our howls of indignation. “Peter don’t do it! You’ll hurt her! Please leave her alone.”
He prolonged the tail trimming, like a scene in a horror movie. We were poised and fearful of the climax, that moment when blood would spurt. With our full attention, he spent inordinate time whittling each little hair. Eventually her tail had a perfect flat top just like the boys’ hairstyle that was popular at the time.
“Close shave,” he laughed at us, as he stroked her, flicking her flattop tail and sending fur flying.
One wet day a neighbour broke the news; our cat Bootsy was dead, found in Mr Dalton’s yard. Peter refused to believe it. He bustled into the kitchen as we gathered to mourn. “Have you idiots thought to check if Bootsy is here first?”
We hadn’t, but did quick smart – running about, calling for her. But no Bootsy.
Peter shuffled out the back door in his moccasin slippers, down the slick, rickety steps and out in to the rain. We grabbed umbrellas, huddled under them and ran down the road to catch him. With his scruffy hair dripping and stuck to his face, Peter thumped loudly on the Daltons’ front door.
Mrs Dalton hid behind her husband while he pulled at his braces, looking Peter up and down. We crowded his small porch.
“Where’s the dead cat?” Peter demanded.
Mr Dalton poked his thumb towards the backyard. “Out the back. Buried. If it’s yours, learn ya lesson. Keep ya bloody cats where they belong.”
Peter turned and shoved us aside. He stomped around the side to the backyard. We waited until Mr Dalton arrived, squelching in his gumboots.
“There. Over there near that hydrangea bush.”
He lowered his voice as he leant towards Peter. “Look son, it’s dead as a doornail. Would have started stinkin’. Believe me, these young kids don’t wanna see a bloody dead cat”.
Peter rounded on him, “Got your spade?”
“Yeah, sure mate, but I’m tellin’ ya, it’s dead, so why bother?”
Peter shoved his face closer to Mr Dalton’s and growled. “Don’t you think I’ve gotta see it, so I’ll know if it is my cat. And has it occurred to you, that I may just want to know why?”
Mr Dalton pulled back, shook his head and strode to the old garage. He came back with the spade.
“Go on, do ya bloody diggin’, then get the hell outta here.
“It’s too damn wet to be out here with you stupid lot.”
Peter started shovelling aside the freshly overturned dirt, now mud. He uncovered a dirty mass of grey fur. He flung down the spade and with two fingers he hauled the dead cat out by the scruff of its neck.
There was quite a group of us; the Dalton kids had come to have a sticky-beak too. We formed a tight circle trying to get a closer look. We saw blood on the cat’s head. Peter wiped the mud off the cat’s paws first and then checked under the chin. My heart flailed about inside my chest as I recognised poor Bootsy, our beloved, darling cat. Tears trickled down my cheeks, joining the drizzle.
Peter gently wiped the dirt from the cat’s tail, leaving the fur glistening with raindrops. No one said anything as he held the end of the dead cat’s tail between his muddy fingers. And there exposed, was a wet and bedraggled but normal tail end.
He threw the dead animal back into the grave with a squishy thud, stood up and wiped his hands on his pants leaving a slick of mud.
We watched him in silence. No one moved. I stared at the body and then up at him.
“Nah, not my bloody cat,” he announced as he walked away.
Entrants were asked to write a short story inspired by one of four photos. Short-listed stories will be published every day in theNewcastle Heralduntil Friday, January 23.