Cat and Mouse

Bertha, the Mayor’s wife, was a nervy, retiring woman. That’s what everyone said, especially her closest friend Matilda.

Bertha wore black; long lacy tops that draped over gathered skirts, her silver grey hair clenched into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. Although her mother had left her jewellery she longed to wear she never did. She was afraid the Mayor would censure her. He thought wearing jewellery was unnecessarily flamboyant. So it lay hidden in a bank safety box. 

All the townsfolk agreed the Mayor was a lovely man; a lover of animals. He had a penchant for wandering around in his long coat and top hat with kittens in his pockets and balancing on his shoulders. Every so often he dropped them a morsel and they nibbled it from his hand.

Cats also followed him around. They were presumably the kittens, grown up. But there were much fewer cats than one would expect and everyone assumed he had given most of the kittens away to good homes…someone who loved them as much as he did.

Every Wednesday Bertha and Matilda made a pilgrimage to her mother’s jewellery. Bertha caressed the necklaces and held the brooches against her dress. They sparkled in the eerie light of the vault. She scooped up a necklace and held it as if she was once again hugging her mother. She lingered over one particular brooch, a large topaz stone with 24 carat gold filigree.

One day, when they were at the bank Matilda said, “Bertha, why don’t you take a couple of chains and that brooch you love and wear them.”

Bertha’s hand closed over the brooch and she held it to her heart. She closed her eyes. Behind the flickering eye lids Matilda imagined her friend playing a silent film filled with memories of laughing with her mother while they baked cakes or walked along the beach gathering pretty shells. Bertha still had many of the shells sitting in a hand painted china dish.

“Go on,” Matilda urged. “Take it. He won’t notice. He doesn’t notice you so why should he notice a couple of pieces of jewellery.”

Bertha’s eyes filled, “Do you think I dare?”

“Yes, do it.”

Bertha’s hand closed over the brooch, as if it was one of those shells which she could put to her ear and listen to the whispering sea. She shook her head and put it back in the cast iron box.

“Zacharey would never agree. He hates showiness…”

“Well why not take it home and look at it every now and then. Perhaps you could wear it to some of our women’s forum meetings.”

Bertha held it to her heart. Taking a deep breath she smiled.

“You know I will.  I might even sneak it on to something when I’m attending a mayoral function; perhaps hide it beneath a collar or something.”

Matilda hugged her friend with conspiratorial joy.

“That would be a great idea.”

So Bertha took three 18 carat gold chains and the brooch. Whenever she wore it, she hid the jewellery under clothing so the Mayor would never see.

One day a collar slipped aside and revealed the brooch at a Mayoral function. They were in a corner of the room when Zacharey saw it. He pointed his long and crooked forefinger at it.

“Why are you wearing that?” he demanded in his high accusing voice.

Matilda gave Bertha courage by squeezing her hand.

“Because I want to,” Bertha said.

His top lip curled in a sneer.

“Always a show off weren’t you?” His small eyes ran over her trembling body, “ …trying to dress like a peacock.” He bounced a finger in front of her eyes, making her blink. “Don’t you forget where your place is.” 

“I know my place is beside you,” she said.

He poked his finger so close to her face she leaned away.

“And don’t forget it.” 

His lip curled again taking in her disappear-into-the-shadows manner. A kitten peeped out from his pocket and gave a tiny whimpering meow. The Mayor gave it a biscuit and it disappeared. The others about his person slept.

“Never,” she said with her head down.

His gaze lingered; his derision grew exponentially. 

“You look like a magpie,” he said.

Her hand flew to her mother’s brooch. She rubbed it tenderly.

“A magpie,” he repeated before moving away to take part in small talk with the crowd that gathered around him.

Slightly off balance, the kittens clutched to his shoulders with their claws adding to the worn and torn weft and woof of the garment.

After the function he went to see his favourite constituent on the other side of town. He visited this lady often as she needed help with many council matters….permits, library cards, path repair. From there he called in at his office. It was an old building, full of character features like old panelled walls, high ceilings, sash windows and a musty smell if left closed up too long.

His friend Seth, a lawyer who shared the same office block, met him.

“I’ve been trying to find you,” Seth said.

The Mayor carried an air of contentment and his kittens all slept in their various places; grey and white tabbies, black and ginger all snug in the folds of his clothes.

“I was out seeing my constituent,” he explained.

Their eyes met in the knowing way people’s eyes do when they share a secret.

“Why did you want me?” the Mayor asked, slipping an old-fashioned skeleton key into the lock of his door. 

The door slid away and the Mayor carefully removed his coat laying it on the leather chaise longue. The kittens started purring and pawing the cloth as if it was their mother and they were drinking from her. A large tortoise shell cat came into the room, sniffing the air as she edged closer to the coat. A matching kitten mewled. The Mayor saw the cat and shooed it away.

“Get,” he snapped flicking at her with his fingers.

With a screech the cat scuttled away.

“What do you do to those cats?” 

Seth laughed as he asked the question.

Seth was a small man with a few wisps of hair touching the worn white collar of his shirt. He had an unusual laugh. It was more a cackle…dry and wheezy with no humour in its bellows.

“I do nothing to them,” The Mayor told him with a quickness that matched his darting eyes. “Nothing at all. There’s milk for them in the courtyard. Mangy creatures.”

Seth laughed again as he took a seat in the upright wooden chair, the back of which was taller than him.

“Hard to believe she once hung about your neck.”

“Yeah, don’t know when to leave,” the Mayor growled sitting behind his very large desk and closing his hands over his thin belly. 

“A lady called Mrs. Sylvester rang me,” Seth said.

The Mayor frowned.

“Should I know her?”

“She plans to take you to court for cruelty to cats.” He nodded to the area recently vacated by the cat.  “She wants me to represent her. I don’t think she knows I’m your friend.” 

The Mayor’s right eyebrow raised and his thin mouth curled in a humourless smile.

“What’s she thinking off? It won’t stick. People just need to see me with my kittens to know that.”

“I know,” Seth said. “I told her that. She still wants to proceed. Apparently she has evidence that while you like kittens you aren’t so fussed about cats.”

The Mayor’s cheeks blew out in red veins. His pale blue eyes bulged.

“How dare she say that?” he cried. “Where’s her proof?”

“I know. You’re the epitome of kindness…” Seth issued his strange anti laugh again.

The Mayor clenched his fists on the leather pad of his desk.

“Let her press her charges, I’ll defend them.” 

He drew himself up, piqued and offended. He poked a spatulate forefinger into his own chest. 

“I’ll defend myself. I don’t need an expensive, thieving lawyer.”

By pressing pudgy hands down on the curling wooden arm rests Seth pushed himself out of his chair. He landed with a thump. His short legs made his trousers gather at the ankles.

When he left, an undernourished black and white cat jumped from the banister and ran up the stairs to the next level. The mayor gave chase but returned puffing.

“I’ve been trying to catch that damned cat for months.”

News of the pending court case went around the town quicker than a fleeing cat. People gathered in corners, trying to guess who was pressing the charges and tried to imagine how they would fare when they faced the daunting figure of the Mayor in court. Inserted into the susurrus whispering were rumours about what the Mayor did to his kittens once they became cats. They were rumours that no-one could prove but which hung in the air and shimmered on people’s lips when he was nowhere near. 

Matilda and Bertha were in the Fagg’s coffee shop when the Mayor’s favourite constituent wandered over.

“What’s this I hear about the Mayor being taken to court over his cats?” Mrs. Sudge asked.

She was a portly lady with round features and penetrating blue eyes. She wore several layers of gold chains and expensive diamond earrings.

“The Mayor says it’s some crackpot trying to have a go at him,” said Bertha.

Mrs. Sudge drew herself up tall. Her chin pressed against her chest trebling its size. 

“Our Mayor is the most honourable man in the world. He wouldn’t harm a hair on the backs any of those dear little kittens.”

“No,” Bertha said, “he wouldn’t.”

“Do you know who’s laid the charges?”

Bertha shook her head.

The woman flicked her hands in the air. Diamonds flashed from the rings on her gloved fingers and her beautiful sapphire blue dress swayed with the motion.

“It’s not as if the Mayor hasn’t got more pressing things to worry about… the new town hall for example,” she said. “I’ve heard he’s so busy preparing his defence he has no time to sign off the plans.” She fluffed her black hair with a white gloved hand. “I’m meant to be singing at its opening. The delays are appalling. Who knows what might happen to my voice in the meantime.” 

“I agree,” Bertha said; her brown eyes wide and sincere.

The Mayor’s favourite constituent continued, “Our town hall is much more important than a few cats…” she rolled her eyes, “Lord only knows.”

She laid a hand on Bertha’s forearm.

“Please tell him he has the support of the literary women’s guild.”

Bertha said she would pass the message on and that the Mayor would be most grateful for it. Bertha sipped her coffee and bit into her neenish tart. Mrs. Sudge marched out. 

“She could tell him herself,” Matilda muttered.

“No doubt she has,” Bertha replied.

The day of the hearing arrived and townsfolk filled the courtroom. The Mayor arrived with his kittens about his body. Matilda and Bertha sat at the end of the first row in the gallery. Both wore hats; demure black, without lace or fancy pins. 

The courtroom buzzed with noisy remonstration. It was impossible to imagine that the Mayor would be found guilty of the charge. Unthinkable.

Judge Maxwell took his place at the bench. 

Seth stood, hooking his thumbs in his robe. 

“Your Honour, I’m acting on Mrs. Sylvester’s behalf,” Seth declared. 

“Who could this woman be?” asked the person beside Bertha.

Bertha shook her head.

“No idea,” she said. 

“Fine,” the judge said, “…and you Mr Mayor?”

“I’ll defend the charges myself.” 

The Mayor sent Seth a knowing wink. The court official read from a clipboard.

“The charges are that the Mayor sells cats to a cat food manufacturer.”

Everyone in the courtroom gasped, ‘Impossible.’

“Never!” the mayor shouted.

The judge banged his hammer.


Seth stood. His eyes avoided the Mayor’s.

“With the court’s leave I would like to take the jury to a place not far from here.”

“That’s ridiculous,” stormed the Mayor. “Why would we need to leave here?”

Seth demurred, “It’s at my client’s bidding you understand.”

“Is this necessary?” The judge asked.

“It is, sir.” 

The jury and observers, including Bertha and Matilda, filed out of the court room and followed Seth to the Mayoral office block. The black and white cat met them at the door and marched ahead of them, up the first level past the Mayor’s office and up to the next floor. 

The Mayor stopped everyone. He seemed anxious and unsettled.

“Why do we need to go up there?”

Holding his hands together in prayer and bowing, Seth said, “At my client’s request, you understand.”

The cat led them up the stairs. The Mayor tried to catch it. Hissing it raked his hand with its claw.

“Ouch, you brute!” the Mayor cried, wrapping his white handkerchief around his bleeding hand. 

The jury looked at him.

“Not one of mine,” he assured them.

They stopped outside a locked door.

“Where is the key to this room?” Seth asked.

“It’s only a store room,” the Mayor said. “There’s nothing in here.”

Seth held his hands out, ingratiating himself.

“Then you’ll not mind opening it,” Seth told him.

He now had a cunning glint in his eyes the Mayor had never seen before. The Mayor shifted uncomfortably. His kittens woke and started mewling. He ignored them.

“I don’t know where the key is,” the Mayor muttered sweat running down the lines of the hands he held up to show he didn’t have it.

Sweat bubbled on the Mayor’s forehead. The kittens stirred. Some were too little to jump to the floor. They cowered against his shoulders and in his pockets. Older ones jumped to the floor and crawled away.

“Someone, get a key to this room,” the judge ordered.

The owner of a local hardware store ran off, returning with a key which he pushed into the key hole. The door swung away. A gasp ran through the jury. Some ran to the rubbish bin, hands over their mouths to catch the vomit.

Cats in various stages of malnourishment greeted them. The walls were scratched where they had tried to get out of the enclosed area. Some darted, screeching, through the legs of the jurors and were gone. The stench of cat faeces and urine filled the area where the juror’s stood. Bertha gripped Matilda’s hand.

“Oh, that’s horrible,” Bertha said.

“Is this your room?” the judge demanded.

Shamefaced, the Mayor nodded.

“I think we’ve seen enough,” the judge said. “Get animal welfare.”

“But,” Bertha said shaking her head, bemused. “If he’s selling these animals for pet food they’d be fatter.”

Muttered agreement passed from one group member to the next.

The Mayor held up his hand.

“Hold it. I can explain.”

“It’d better be good,” the judge growled.

“I’ll take you to my show piece.”

The Mayor led the group, his coat tails flying with his brisk step, to a warehouse on the outskirts of town. As they drew closer a cacophony of screaming and yelling greeted them.  With flourish the Mayor flung open the door. 

Like a ring master he cried, “Behold.” 

Taking a deep bow he invited them in with a wave of his hand.

Once inside, the juror’s and townspeople stared.

The interior was a grander replica of the Mayor’s chambers. Chandeliers swung from the ceiling sprinkling the hundred or so guests with glittering light. The bar was made from marble with curlicue designs on the front. Behind it, cupid statues held the bottles from which spirit nips were drawn.  The Mayor’s favourite constituent, Mrs. Sudge was serving drinks, a white feather floating out of her perky red hat. Beside her, a barman in top hat and tails also served men and women dressed in evening suits and long flowing gowns.

With wonder and gaping mouths the jury’s eyes travelled to the crowd seated in a viewing lounge furnished with plush velvet padded seats. Like patrons at a race meeting they observed the central entertainment through binoculars while holding betting slips in their gloved hands. 

They screamed at their favourite; “Go Misty!” “Go Fluffy!” and “Get them Frosty!” 

The newcomers stared.

Hundreds of scampering mice ran around the inside of a twelve metre wide glass cage hunted by three cats. The mice raced up gold mesh, clinging to it with tiny claws and the cats followed one furry paw after another. Terrified squeaks rode above the growling cats. An adjudicator, dressed in red coat tails stood on an ornate stainless steel based platform. A scoreboard flashed on the wall opposite him. The names of the cats were on each line. Each time they caught a mouse their score went up.

When the game was over he put a trumpet to his lips and announced the winner. With a cheer those who had won money rushed to the red and white betting booths to claim their winnings while the losers tossed their worthless bits of paper on the floor.

Bertha’s mouth was wide open.

“I don’t believe it,” she said.

Matilda agreed. 

“You see,” The Mayor grandly announced, “I’ve solved the mouse problem you all complained about.” He held a hand across his chest. “I’m a true entrepreneur.”

Growling cats and squealing mice drowned him out.

The next day Bertha and Seth moved into a country cottage they had been secretly building. Alongside it were comfortable rooms for rescued cats. Seth’s laugh, now free and genuine filled the house as he carried Bertha across the threshold. Bertha’s released hair fell in soft curls over her mother’s jewellery and her silken gold dress hugged the curves of her all at once young-at-heart, lighter body.

With a satisfied smile she nailed a shale on the wall reading – ‘Sylvester’s House’.



I'm not sure how much I'll get to read since its 5 more stops until I get off the train, but first point is the second para:

1)  Although her mother had left her jewelry...

This sentence, I had to stop and reread, maybe because it needed a comma? There is 2-3 ideas in this sentence and without a break it may make some ppl go back and read it again. I'm not sure if it's enough to redo it, but thought I should mention it. 

2) Further down: Bertha's eyes filled.

They filled with tears - or more probably they grew wide. This may be just my lack of knowledge of what it means?

Coming to my last stop now so will have to finish. I like it because it reminds me of a short by Hemmingway. Old style writing. Short and sweet and little left of centre. 




I'm not sure how much I'll get to read since its 5 more stops until I get off the train, but first point is the second para:

1)  Although her mother had left her jewelry...

This sentence, I had to stop and reread, maybe because it needed a comma? There is 2-3 ideas in this sentence and without a break it may make some ppl go back and read it again. I'm not sure if it's enough to redo it, but thought I should mention it. 

2) Further down: Bertha's eyes filled.

They filled with tears - or more probably they grew wide. This may be just my lack of knowledge of what it means?

Coming to my last stop now so will have to finish. I like it because it reminds me of a short by Hemmingway. Old style writing. Short and sweet and little left of centre. 



Thanks Mat

Valuable comments and feedback. Much appreciated!