Kitten Please
Back to part two

He moved slowly around the area, trying to keep as far away from all of the cats as possible.  It wasn’t as if he could be discreet, however, as he still had his collar, and his fur was far too neat for a cat in the bowl.  He could only have been there for half a minute before someone approached him; a black cat with a white bib, matted fur and a limp.  He seemed vaguely familiar, but Gary couldn’t imagine why.

“Hey there, pretty thing,” the cat said to Gary in a mocking voice.  “Now you have to be a pussy with a home.  What choo doin’ in the bowl?”

Gary was surprised to hear himself hiss.  He had only meant to clear his throat to offer some form of response. 

“Calm down, housecat,” the cat said, moving in a little further.  He looked so weak that Gary found it difficult to be scared.  “Now I’m guessing you’ve come down here to get high.” 

Gary looked at the cat blankly.

“It’s why cats come down here.  You’re either to make some money, or you’re here to get high.”

“I don’t think I’m here to make money.  I just wanted to know…”

“…how the other half live?”

“Just what’s out there.”

“I’m Dinger,” the cat nudged against Gary in a sign of friendship.  That was when Gary realised where he recognised the scraggy cat from.  It was Pete Doherty’s cat!  Gary had seen him in Jimmy’s newspaper in the past, smoking from a crack pipe.  He looked worse now than he did then, but Gary would have recognised him anywhere.

“Do you not live with Pete any more?” Gary asked with wide-eyed surprise.  Dinger’s demeanour made him feel brave again.

“Nah,” Dinger shrugged.  “He cleaned up and I wasn’t ready.  He asked me to leave in the end.  Besides, the bowl is all the home I need.”

“You live here?”

“Where else is there?  It’s the nip capital of Manchester.”

“Nip?”

“Cat-nip, man!  You ain’t never heard of cat-nip?”

Gary had heard of cat-nip.  Jimmy had brought some into the house once and had been displeased to see how jumpy it made his cat.  He had thrown it out the next day and never allowed any in the house again, but Gary had fond memories of those mad ten minutes.

“Yeah, I tried it once,” he said, with a small amount of confidence.

“So you wanna get high?”

Gary did.  Dinger sat down next to him and started to speak to him quietly, but with the sense of an old hand.  He had looked so youthful in the papers, but his eyes were old now.  Gary knew that everything he heard here was from experience.

“I rolled up here on the tour bus.  I knew the band were heading to Manchester so I just snuck on and got off when we got there.  I just followed the cat smell to the bowl and the rest is history.  The guys at the side, they’re the ones to talk to.  Listen, cat, you wanna get high, you gotta have some cash.  You got cash right?”

Gary shook his head.  He didn’t have money.

“Oh kitten please!  What’s this?” Dinger tapped his collar.  “You got a name, man.  A God given name.  That’s money out in the bowl.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, you’re so sheltered,” Dinger laughed without malice.  “Some cats come down here and just want a new life.  These guys work for bigger cats you see.  Collars are new identities for cats.  They wander far afield with a new collar and name-tag, and if they get found, the finders ring up the wrong owners.  Thus, cat gets found, cat gets a new home and a new life.  The cats that come back with the most name-tags get a place to stay – a shed at the end.  They get food as well.  There’s a crazy lady nearby who has to feed all the strays she sees in the shed.”

“So these guys sell the nip for a roof over their heads?”

“Yeah, they working cats, that’s all.”

“And what do you do?”

“I take nip, cat.  S’all I was brought up to do.”

Gary still didn’t understand.  “How do you get all the collars?”

“We takes what we can get,” Dinger replied simply and moved on.  “Normally a kitten like you wanders down here just looking to see what’s going on, he’ll get pounced on and his collar will be off in seconds. Now you, you looked like you had a little bit of smarts about you, only a little mind.  Somehow you got through.  Who brought you here?”

“Red Stripe.”

Dinger’s eyes widened.  “Shiiiiiiiiiit!  No wonder you got this far.  You came bushy tailed.”  Gary was about to ask what this meant, but Dinger moved on.  “Now, housecat, you need to step up.  Take that snazzy collar of yours off and get us some nip.  Your owner obviously likes you, that’s an impressive collar.  We can have quite a night ahead of us.”  Dinger helped him remove the collar, which Gary then carried in his mouth.  “That’s the sign that you have merchandise,” Dinger explained. 

He led his new friend towards the sides, where it was darker and those mean looking cats were lurking.  Upon their approach a mean looking ginger and white cat with an eye patch and a gun strapped to his back marched forward.  Gary was right to feel intimidated.

“This here kitten is Litter Tray,” Dinger whispered.  “So called ‘cos he’s made many a tough feline shit themselves.  Now he sells the finest nip, but he’ll try and rip you off.  That’s why I need to be your representative.”  Dinger tugged the collar from Gary’s mouth.  Gary suddenly felt naked, but he didn’t have time to protest as Dinger was limping towards  Litter Tray.  And he saw in motion.  Dinger gave Litter Try the collar, Litter Tray mewed three times to a cat in the distance, who winked three times at a kitten, who ran off towards the long grass and returned with three bags in mouth, which he dropped on the floor where it was picked up by another nearby kitten and delivered to Dinger, who had moved far away from Litter Tray.

It was such a slick operation that it would have been hard for anyone observing to say for certain what had happened.  Gary was a little dizzy with it all.  Dinger wandered back to him, three bags of cat-nip hanging from his mouth.  “This is the fresh cut stuff,” he said as he placed the bag on the floor.  “Shock and paw.”

“Shock and paw?”

“Yeah, there’s different types  Different cuts, you know.  Booster shot is a personal favourite of mine.  Stay away from flea collar, though.  Kitten, that shit is nasty!”  

            Dinger pawed open one of the bags and stuck his nose into it greedily.  His eyes glazed over and he started to rip at the bag, clawing out the cat-nip all over the grass.  He started to roll around in it and cry out garbled, senseless mews.  Then he stood up and started to chase his tail manically before rolling around in the spilled cat-nip once more.

            “I love this shit!” he cried out.  “Get involved Gary!”

            It does look like fun, Gary thought and gingerly stepped towards the cat-nip.  He took a tentative sniff and felt the peripherals of his vision blur just a little as a pleasant sensation coursed through his body.  It was this incredible moment of well-being that compelled him to stuff his nose in further and complete knock out his vision as he remembered it.  Suddenly the world around him was friendly, and full of colour, and spinning.  Well kind of spinning or was it Gary that was doing the spinning?  Ooh, is that my tail, Gary thought and then giggled to himself.  Was it his tail, or was it the tail of another cat?  Oh who cares – it’s a tail and it needs biting. 



            Gary leapt for his own tail and fell to the floor.  Whilst I’m here, he thought, I must roll around.  Which is what he did.  He stared up at the stars and watched as a galaxy formed before his very eyes.  He tried to call out proper words, but he too had been reduced to jumbled mewings and purrings.  He knew what he wanted to shout.  Fuck you, Jimmy.  This is the fucking world!  This was what he was thinking.  His journey suddenly seemed worthwhile as rolled about in the grass, not minding that he was rolling over broken bottles of nip – a chemically enhanced strain that was usually stolen from vets surgeries. 

            Gary would later learn that much of the cat nip sold in the bowl was stolen from vets surgeries.  Supplier cats would often fake an illness in front of a kindly human in order to get into the vets and steal some liquid nip.  There was also a pet-toy manufacturer with a warehouse in the area, and the cats employed to keep the mice out of the building were supplying the dealers of the bowl from the inside.  Nobody knew exactly what they get in return for supplying this, but it had to be worth their while because they were the only cats allowed to live in houses with families.

            “It sounds to me,” Gary would say, “that the chain is all about becoming like the house cats.  It’s about getting closer to being in a family.”

            “If that’s all it is,” Dinger would reply, “then I’m happy here at the bottom.  I ain’t never being no house cat again.”

            You don’t speak like a house cat, Gary would think cruelly, but he wouldn’t say it.

            Gary’s time in the bowl flew by in a haze of rolling and purring and mewing, and philosophising about the world.  “You think you know it all when you’re a kitten.  You have your patch – this little corner of the world where you know the smell and you’ve marked all of your territory.  But then you get these hints that there’s more going on.  You want to see what goes on.  Not just turn a blind eye, but at the same time do it with a little of security.  Like, I know I have a home to go to.  You know, deep down, that you’ve got a home to go to.  In London, with Pete.  That we all, that… what was I talking about?”

            “Like I fucking know,” Dinger replied and they rolled around laughing hysterically for five minutes.

            It was a mania that held the experience together for Gary.  He was susceptible to any idea, and he felt more at touch with his inner spirit.  He could be anything he wanted.  He was alive at last.  He had no concept of time, or space, or danger.  The world seemed so polite, so beautiful, so exciting. 

            And then he crashed.  It ended so quickly, the world started to return to normal and his head felt confused.  Around him and Dinger were the tattered remains of three snap bags; they had eaten all of the cat-nip that they hadn’t rolled into the grass.  It was all gone.  As he began to focus, all Gary could see were the glaring, threatening faces of the single coloured cats on the other side of the bowl.  In his disorientation he had been lucky not to stumble onto the east side.   Perhaps he had and that was why he could imagine all of them growling at him at once. 

            Gary was yet to discover this but hours had elapsed whilst he had been on his cat-nip high.  It had all seemed like one thought, one concept.  He had felt so free of the shackles of the house-cat.  He didn’t feel for one moment that he was performing.  He was in touch with his inner-feline.  That was how it felt.  That was the high.

            And this must have been the low.  What had seemed like a friendly array of cats enjoying frolicking about together now seemed sinister again, worse than it had done when he had arrived.  The cats high on nip were deeply sad creatures.  In the growing daylight, the dealers were more exposed and they too looked sad to Gary.  This was no life for a cat, hanging out in this arena of carnage, dealing drugs to junkie cats.  They weren’t experienced in life, he thought to himself.  They were ducking out of it.  He felt that he was a cat with a purpose, even if that was to entertain a human.  He had nothing but contempt for these wastrels.  The dealers were just wasting their lives for a bit of food and a roof over their heads.

            They were ruining the lives of other cats, who had to produce collars from somewhere.  Gary knew that they must turn to crime.  He had been mugged once when roaming a nearby garden.  It had terrified him into not leaving the house for a week.  One of these dope-fiends could well have been his assailant.

            Dinger was like a warning from the future.  Become a nip-head and look like that.  He was lying on his back with his tongue lolling out and tears forming in his eyes.  He groaned, and came around a little.  He looked up and focussed on Gary, who was staring down at him. 

            “What the fuck you looking at, wet-nose?  Go on, fuck off housecat!” Dinger hissed angrily and it was enough to make an already paranoid Gary bolt for the long grass and leave the scenes of dilapidation in the bowl behind him.  He was all prepared to run straight home, but he was stopped by a familiar figure.

            “Going home without saying goodbye, puppyfucker?” Red Stripe said in a way that Gary could only interpret as menacing.  “How was your night in the bowl?”

            “Horrible!” Gary snapped angrily.  “I don’t know what just happened to me.”

            “But you had some fun, right?”

            When reflecting on this question, Gary would agree that he had plenty of fun.  Most of the night had been an amazing trip, he was just going through a grim hour where he had stayed up longer than he really should have.  The nip had worn off and he was left feeling empty in comparison.  It was such an intense trip, that anything less would cause a swift and speedy come-down that would make him wonder if it had been worth it.

            But Gary wasn’t ready to reflect.  “No, it was fucking horrible.  You’re a cruel puppyfucker.” 

            Red Stripe fell to the ground in hysterics.  “Now that’s a first.  I ain’t never heard a housecat say puppyfucker before,” he called out in between laughs.  Gary wasn’t seeing the funny side.  He wanted to cry, actually.

            “Thing is, you might be a little more alley than you look.  There’s something about you, man.  You don’t look like no puppyfucking niphead to me.”

            “I’m not,” Gary replied weakly.

            “But you ain’t stupid either.  You’re not done with this place.”

            “I am,” Gary insisted.  “I never want to go back there.”

            “We’ll see,” Red Stripe knowingly.  Gary couldn’t believe that this was true.  He looked back on the bowl, on the cats no longer high, but limping and scarred and matted and dirty.  He looked to the outskirts again where the dealing cats stared each other out and tried to look more threatening than any other cat in between deals.  The workings of the bowl were the same twenty four hours a day, but in the cold light of day, the scenes were no longer sinister, but merely sad.  It was a desperate life they were living, and Gary would rather pretend that it wasn’t going on. 

            At that moment, Gary could not conceive that he would start to become curious about life in the bowl once more.  He didn’t think he would suddenly remember things from that night that would make him question his life again.  It didn’t seem possible that he would ever be drawn back down there again, to speak to Red Stripe, or to learn more about the trading that went on there.  He didn’t care who was higher up the drug chain, or what their real motivation was.  He didn’t want to know what a cat looks like after a cat-nip overdose and it was of no interest to him why there was a clear racial divide in the bowl.  There was no reason for him to find out why only a few cats were allowed to sit on the pillow in the middle of the west side. 

            Gary paid Red Stripe no further heed and moved on, ignoring the crude heckles that the cat with a gun strapped to his back fired in his wake.  Once he was out of the long grass and back onto a street not dissimilar to his own, Gary started to run all the way home.  Jimmy Little was just waking up and remembering that his cat hadn’t come last night.  He was clinging onto the hope that Gary would be howling outside the door waiting for an extra big breakfast to make up for his night on the tiles.

            That came later.  For at the moment Jimmy Little looked out of his back window for Gary, said pet was being violently sick in an alleyway two streets away, having over-estimated his ability to run in his present state.  He was suffering the worst of comedowns and still felt horribly disorientated.  Once he managed to control the retching, he slowly made his way back to that familiar home, thinking how nice his bed would be.

It was as he wearily climbed over the back wall and into Jimmy’s vision was it that Gary realised that he wasn’t entirely happy to be home.  He had seen some things that night, things that would boggle any house-cat’s mind.  But he wasn’t sure that he had seen enough.  To go back into his old routine didn’t seem like something he could look forward to.  As Jimmy called out from the back door, Red Stripe’s words echoed around his headache, and he was worried that he had left an important part of himself way down in the bowl.