It’s the talk of waifs and strays that’s done it: started off the clunking projector reel in my brain; a series of rapid moving stills from another story I don’t know what to do with, don’t know where to store.
It starts back deep in a valley of olive trees in Spain. No one else is around. But there are cats, ‘campo cats’. They belong to no one. Skinny, so you can see their ribs through their fur, and dusty so that when you touch them you come away shaking a fine coating of sand from your fingertips.
Kittens and a whole troupe of them, with a beleaguered mother who didn’t look like she had many more years still in her. They scrambled all over us: chased leaves, fell asleep nested in our laps as we sat up drinking and whispering until dawn: camped out on the terrace on the white garden furniture. They made us fall in love with them.
There was one rule: they weren’t allowed in the house.
Summer was dying; but we didn’t know it: there hadn’t been rain in weeks. The soil had turned to dust which rose in clouds around us as we walked: sticking up our lips. We’d been warned of flash floods, their speed and ferocity. That the valley could be cut off in the matter of minutes. They had warned us about the rain.
And yet the summer still burnt our flesh and the valley was silent, aside from a low, constant buzzing from hidden insects which we never saw. The days yawned out before us. We picked our way through derelict farm houses, discovering the quiet nearby villages, we played at being explorers. But eventually it broke, as we were told it would.
We shrieked and locked ourselves inside as the skies unleashed weeks of repressed rain. A heavy flash and then over. We knew.
Outside the kittens were crying.
‘They’ll find shelter’.
But it wasn’t a flash. It might have been equivalent of a flash after months of drought; but to us it seemed to go on forever. It battered the window panes with a deafening, ever intensifying rage. Then the rain turned to hail; the type of which I’d never seen before. It was the size of my fist.
The kittens were still out there
‘What’s wrong with them?’
They were unsure, or too young, or perhaps just transfixed with shock. The stood out there, right in the middle of it.
Their crying seemed to turn to screaming and eventually it got too much for either of us. Soft and stupid as we were. We knew they wouldn’t survive.
And so we went out in it.
Running into the mess I was instantly soaked to my skin. My clothes hung heavy and sodden and my stringy wet hair stuck into my mouth and choked me. The furious rain made it hard to see and I couldn’t find you, or make you hear my little girl voice over the roar of it. The anger of the storm made it difficult to breath. The paths had been turned into rivers; the running water picked up stones, whatever it found in its path and whirled them along with it. The valley amplified the speeding scream of the water.
We found and picked up kittens in our arms. Scattered around the grove; exposed and stunned. They were ludicrous tiny things with soaked clumped fur. We forced open the store for the water pump and shoved them inside. In the end we found all but one.
I paced the land fearing the worst as the storm frenzied on and on. As the lightening crackled above rumbling pelts of thunder chased ever closer behind. It became more dangerous to be out there. Eventually I found it. Obscured by the dust which had long since been turned to mud. It had been out there the longest and was in the worst shape, barely breathing.
I shoved open the doors of the house, breaking the rules and wrapping the thing in a freshly laundered towel. It shook furiously and clung, spread eagle to my breast. I tried to steady it with my hands, but looking at the weak, bedraggled thing, I doubted it would last the night.
The Spanish summer was finally over.