The List


The lady next door is moving. She came by one morning, asked me to please look after the local, wandering cat.
“It’s just like Tabitha,” she said. Her old cat. Tabitha was not all there, she said. She used to punch and claw at things that weren’t there.
“Cats,” I shrugg
ed.

“That’s what they do.”
The lady waved her hand at me and screwed up her lip. She was on the verge. She didn’t want comfort or opinions. She just wanted someone to stand still and be quiet while she talked.
Tabitha died of dehydration - just lay out in the sun one stinking summer’s morning and stayed there til late afternoon. Too stupid or lazy to move to the shade. So the lady next door had taken Tabitha to the vet where they’d packed her in ice and injected all kinds of stuff into her poor, fried, motionless body and then she’d died the next morning. And this neighbourhood cat - nobody knew her name - had the exact same markings.
The lady next door was moving because she had fallen behind in the rent. The landlord was up north, slumming it from island to holiday island up in the Whitsundays. Tropical paradise. And the lady next door didn’t want to let him down by falling behind in her rent.
“Fuck him,” I said. “He’s a millionaire. He’ll live.”
She covered her ears in shock. “Oh no,” she insisted. “I don’t want to let him down, I never like to let anyone down, rich or poor, that’s just the sort of person I am.”
The sort of person you are, I had thought, is a fruitcake. A well-meaning fruitcake, but a fruitcake nonetheless. A couple of sultanas short. Tabitha had never had a chance.

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I never knew the lady next door’s name until the day she moved out. That’s how it happens here, in the city. She moved in a couple of months earlier, and we used to say hello out on the front landing, but no more than that: How was your day? Hot one today, isn’t it? She came and knocked on my door a bunch of times in those two months, to get the number of the landlord’s real estate-agent - again about the rent - and another time about something else, I can’t remember now, and another couple times about stuff like bus schedules and routes and to borrow some flour and eggs.
She told me that morning that she was moving back to New Farm, to the Anglican Women’s hostel, and she would stay there until her name came up with The Housing Commission. That was how she said it.
Her name was on a list, that was the important thing, having her name on that list, and when the other names above hers were exhausted she would be notified, and she would be offered, and would willingly take, anything that happened to come along. Just a one bedroom place, a kitchenette, a bath and toilet, maybe a small living area where she could put her green vinyl settee and her china ducks. That was all she needed.

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I agreed to look out for the cat. I went and bought some cat food, a little cat bowl. I fed it milk, which I shouldn't have done, and water and cat food. I let her in when she wanted to come in and I let her out when she purred and whined enough.
I never bothered giving her a name - she didn't seem to need one. But I let her sleep on my chest all night for about a month. It was pretty cool but I had to lay still the whole night. She would just lie there, purring and being totally in the moment.
Then one night after all of her coming and going and eating and drinking and jumping up in my bed and sleeping on my chest she did something I never expected her to do. I had taken a shower and left a couple of towels on the floor while I made up some dinner. While I was cooking up dinner I got a phone call. A Spanish friend of mine wanted to come over and call his new girlfriend over in Spain and he wanted to use my phone cos his phone had an STD bar on it. I said "Sure, come over."
By the time I got off the phone and went in to check on the cat she had vomited all over my towels.
I stood there in shock. I looked at the cat and I said, I swear: "Cat, this is the end. It is over between us..."
And I put her out and I never let her back in ever again.

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I was talking to another neighbour a few days later. I asked if they'd ever seen this cat.
The dude said "You mean the one that looks like Tabitha?"
I said "Well, yeah..."
He shook his head and said: "Don't fall for the act and don't ever give her any food. She's taking food from everyone in the block. All the pensioners got little bowls out for her, she gets cat food and biscuits and tuna and shit, it's sickening."
I said: "If everyone's feeding her how come she don't get fat."
The dude touched his nose and said: "Bitch is fucking bulemic. Everyone's buying her food and she just spews it straight back up."
I said: "Bitch".

Then he looked at me. He said "What? Did you feed her, too?"
I nodded. "Not only that, I let her sleep on my chest for the best part of a month."
"And she never vomited or shat on you?" he said, surprised.
"Not on me directly," I said. "But she soiled my towels the other night so I gave her the boot."
He put his hand on my shoulder. "Just let her go, bro. You're better off without her."

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