The town cats loved it when he was moored close to the shore. They’d gather at water’s edge and call to him as they brushed their bodies against the palm trees and legs of the bemused children eager to stay and play for a while.
The old man, Paddle Pop, rarely came ashore these days. He was reclusive and not particularly socially skilled. He had no time for children or men, women he tolerated but only for a short chat. Cats he used to talk to and invite home for dinner. He said cats were golden animals and he loved them. Weird.
My Dad used to tell stories of a much younger Paddle Pop shooting up the moon and setting fire to the mangroves along Shit Creek (aptly named because that’s where the old outdoor dunny cans were emptied). People were scared of him but the town understood that the war had damaged his mind. There was a rumour that he was up to no good, probably running drugs, and his regular disappearances supported that rumour. But, nobody did anything because he was obviously hurt psychologically and because he had carried another two local men to safety after one of Vietnam’s most notorious conflicts. Those men died, but they died on home country, all because Paddle Pop risked his own life and carried them to safety.
Although not particularly prone to melancholy, I did like to sit and ponder life: my life and the lives of others. My favourite ponder spot was, of course, the park bench closest to the palm lined shore opposite Paddle Pops mooring. I sat there heaps waiting for my kids to finish school. As I sat I would frequently reflect upon Paddle Pop and all the dreadful things he had experienced. Poor old fellow. May he only know peace from now on.
Today though, the sun was so beautiful. I didn’t really want to ponder. I just wanted to stretch, soak up the sun and chill out before the kids assaulted me with their sibling rivalry and teen anx.
As I lay stretched back in my fantasy land of bliss and peace, a cat shot between my legs. Near scared me to death because I thought its tail was a snake! The gorgeous young ranga creature ran straight to the shore line and started it’s “I’m hungry” call. It rubbed its body up against the palm tree like an expert pole dancer and its purring sounded like the hum of a dentists drill. Another two young cats appeared and copied the behaviour of the little ranga cat. Wow! Thirty years later and the town cats still all loved Paddle Pop.
Paddle Pop appeared on deck. He looked as though he was preparing crab pots. Apparently he paid his way by selling crabs to the local restaurants. Quiet a killing he made so I had heard from the local gossips. He may have been mad but his crabbiness kept him afloat. The local butcher, also a keen fisherman, wanted to know what Paddle Pop used for bait. He said that Paddle Pop never bought bones like everyone else did for their crab pots. Paddle Pop, of course, never spoke to men so the butcher was never going to find out the crab bait secret.
Jesus, another four kittens appeared from under an upturned boat on the beach. Feral and spitting, they made it clear that they smelt something they wanted. Their stocky little bodies were arched and on edge, looking out toward Paddle Pop’s steamer. Their meows were coarse, rough and had a certain grating tone; a feral tone for feral cats I guess.
What the hell was going on? He really was like the Pied Piper of Cats.
Damn but school was out and my pondering time was over. I was picking up my neighbour’s little one too. My three teens hated her but they had been raised to know that helping people was the right thing to do. Jinnie’s Mum couldn’t collect her today so we would.
Jinnie sang nursery rhymes, skipped and asked 15 million questions followed by her own responses. A regular little-miss-useless-general-knowledge parrot, Jinnie liked to ask social history questions that nobody else would possible retain the answers to. Christ, the child was like the town’s worst gossip and she was only five years old. My three lagged behind, looks of thunder on their faces. I zoned out and went to my happy place.
My mind wandered back to the picture I had just been a part of on the water shore. What was wrong with that picture? I chuckled to myself: certainly the feral cats needed to become crab pot bait.
Oh my God. I stopped and covered my mouth with both my hands. Oh my God!
“Jinnie,” I asked with a new found tone of respect for the child’s local knowledge. “What is the average age of cats in our shire?”
“That’s an interesting question, Mrs Beazley,” the precocious five year old retorted (God I wanted to slap her senseless sometimes). “It’s an interesting phenomenon of this town that cats never age out to their natural death years. All of our cats die young. They either crawl away somewhere to die, never to return, or they are sometimes found washed up into the mangroves on the other side of the inlet. Some people say poison but I say a witch has cast a spell on our cats and they just disappear.”
What was wrong with that picture I just saw? That old bastard was using our cats as crab pot bait. He lures them with some cat pungent smell, sticks them into his crab pots and disappears for his little cat-killing-crab-getting expedition.
A kitten shot in front of us and cautiously hid beneath a Hibiscus shrub.
“Grab that cat,” I yelled to my Thomas. “Grab that cat and go and tell everyone to lock up their moggies and to never eat crabs from Paddle Pop again. That old bastard is about to find himself up shits creek without a paddle!”