It’s that time of the year when some of the forest folk seek shelter in Fortress Mamea from the inclement weather. When scratching noises emanated from the kitchen, The Kitten was duly dispatched. She promptly returned to her currently favoured chair (a Sanderson linen-covered armchair) and resumed her nap.
The Dog and I were then dispatched — The Goddess exhorting us to Kill it kill it kill it — and we chased the rodent from the kitchen, through the Big Hall, around the Banquet Room and finally back to the kitchen. As The Dog and I caught our breath, the invader made Yah loser noises from deep within a cupboard.
Right then, I breathed. A trap was set with a wee treat of peanut butter.
The following morning:
So did I do a little Sean Connery impression when I took the above photo? Yesh, I did. I hope hish friendsh were watching.
OUR WRITER and his GODDESS stare at a freshly dug grave. Our Writer rapidly blinks away a dust mote.
If we’re this upset over a chicken, imagine when The Dog goes.
The Dog was the first addition to Fortress Mamea in 2003. A family canine was something the adult family members wanted: we’d each had a dog in our childhood, though this time around we had requirements like
no begging at the dinner table,
no sleeping on the bed,
and some actual obedience.
We were largely successful: there’s no begging at mealtimes, The Dog knows not to jump onto our bed (the children’s beds are a different matter), and she returns on command.
She and I have clocked up some serious mileage over the years (not so much for a while), but this year she was retired from the exercise regime. Long gone are the days where she would shadow me as I 1). put on my running shoes, 2). ground through some stretching exercises, and 3). collected her lead and my stopwatch from the Wall Hook of Righteous Agony. In the last few months, she has had to be coaxed more and more: at first to leave her dog bed for the brisk morning air and, later, to leave the fortress altogether.
The Dog is getting old. She’s farting more freely, her snoring is louder and more insistent, and her daily ratio of resting versus all-out-physicality has changed markedly. The Goddess and I have been meaning to get a puppy these past few years, ostensibly to keep The Dog company when we’re not at home, but we haven’t even window-shopped. I suspect, deep down, we know that to begin looking for a puppy would be to acknowledge The Dog’s mortality.
The Kitten could be seen in hindsight as a transitional stage. It is heartening to see The Dog initiate playtime with The Kitten.
THE KITTEN -- fully grown now but always referred to as “The Kitten” -- climbs through her CAT FLAP when --
-- THE DOG leaps as if from nowhere --
-- and lands a paw on the cat’s hindquarters, the dog’s mass and speed spinning the cat 360 degrees until she recovers, back arched and glaring at The Dog:
Step back or die, cur.
The Dog will forever be Fortress Mamea’s first hound. And until it’s time for her to go, we’ll continue to feed her, walk her, and love her.
After the departure of The Cat last year, the rat population expanded and some damage was done to Tilly the Dishwasher AND THE GODDESS WAS NOT HAPPY. Messengers were sent to the two corners of Auckland where there are animal refuges, and a connect at a southern outpost mentioned a certain fearless kitten with the kennel-name of Tango.
The name was a promising sign for us: The Goddess and I like to do a mean tango at the local RSA on occasion. Within hours of receipt of news of A Kitten Called Tango looking for a home, The Goddess, The Girl and I visited the said kitten. The Goddess and Girl were immediately smitten by the bundle of tortoiseshell fur and claws; I insisted on a ninety day trial period.
The Kitten joined the Fortress Mamea workforce in mid-February. In her first week, she quickly taught The Dog that she was not a feline to be trifled with, while as part of her familiarisation with the fortress layout, she investigated my workspace and, with careful paw placement, initiated a search for “cccoooolllll” on the MacbookPro. I halved the trial period to 45 days.
In The Kitten’s third week, I had a bit of a plink with a few pieces from the armoury. This was my effort for the afternoon:
Without any prompting from me, The Kitten joined in:
A bit high with a whisker of a pull to the left but that sub-1.5-inch group spells eschaton for local vermin.
We don’t have stocktakes or inspection days at Fortress Mamea where the menagerie present themselves front and centre with clean nails and shiny coats.
We do have a standing order of battle: our Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pi*, The Dog, The Goldfish, and The Chickens. I like to keep The Amphibian, The Kaimanawa Pony (Goddess permitting) and The Kitten** in reserve.
At Goodbye My Feleni HQ this phase of operation is not called ‘getting one’s ducks in a row’ – Jenni insists that we call it getting ready to stomp on your shit.
* Pi – Samoan for honeybee (pronounced ‘pee’), rather than the Greek letter and irrational number.
** Yes, an update on the expanded menagerie will follow, complete with pictures for your desktop, laptop and phone wallpapers.
The Cat – actual handle Countessa de Kitty-Kat – was buried in the fortress pet cemetery late last week.
When I first met Tessa in 2002, she was a bit of a poor excuse for a feline – watching her climb a fence always made me flash on the unfortunate Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. She wasn’t heavy or anything – just… out of practice with being a cat, or something like that. She was friendly enough (no random attacks received), well-mannered (when handled with care, she gave fair warning when enough was enough), and low maintenance (she always toileted outside).
In 2003, Tessa went through a number of major life-events. The aiga, numbering three humans at that time, moved westward to what was to become Fortress Mamea. The new abode had its own resident cat, Pablo (full handle Pablo Ninja Cat), a large and gregarious chap. The aiga swelled with the sudden arrival of a fourth human, The Boy. And then The Dog was acquired.
Each change was a challenge for Tessa. She sealed her place in the fortress hiearchy with the patient and successful stalking of a mouse under the oven. She shunned Pablo who enjoyed our company until the word ‘diet’ was mentioned, whereupon he adopted the lovely Gladys across the road (who feeds him – I shit you not – on a 24/7 basis). Tessa’s relationships with late arrivals The Boy and The Dog could easily have been the final straws… but both boy and canine soon found their place in the fortress hierarchy (below the cat).
The fortress grounds have ample trees and vegetation, and soon enough, Tessa learned how to scale fences and trees like a real cat. The local fauna have provided other exercise, the past decade scattered with the remains of a mouse, bird or rat tastefully left outside the back door for the unsuspecting barefoot occupant. In winter she loved the wood burner – curled whiskers a specialty – while in the summer she soaked in the sun like a four-legged black hole.
Tessa will be missed. She was loved by The Girl and The Goddess. And although The Boy and I dreaded the racket she would make at the back door to be let into the house for —
e). a). through to d).
— we have found ourselves waiting to hear it in the morning, curses on the tips of our barely awake tongues – only to realise Tessa is no longer with us.
May there be plentiful 1kg blocks of tasty cheddar cheese wherever she is now.
Four years on, we can leave the house in her paws, safe in the knowledge that if she doesn’t leave teeth-marks in uninvited visitors, the neighbours will investigate any ruckus she makes. The honeymoon period of family outings for/with the dog are long over – come to think of it, it lasted as long as she looked and gambolled like a puppy.
Which leaves my motivation. I need to run regularly. The Dog needs to be exercised regularly. Hey hey: a running buddy.
The thing is, I hate running. Always have. Always will. But there’s no other form of exercise where a good pair of running shoes is all you need. Biking means bike maintenance. Walking’s too slow. Swimming means a half-hour drive (and costs). One could say it’s a low-maintenance high-intensity kind of exercise. I still say the hell with that – I hate it.
It has some pluses though. It’s supposed to be good for me. It clears my head, though this shouldn’t be surprising considering the din of my desperate wheezing, a drumrolling heartbeat, and a thought-process as primal as just to the next corner… okay, just a little bit more to the next telephone pole… ihatethisshit… now just to that red car…. On occasion, it feels good when I’m huffing about out there and I think, I’m-a goin’ places, yessirree… oh yeah, feel the flow, baby… but these are rare moments, fleeting enough that I seek them like some narcotic high.
Writing’s like that sometimes. I’d be sprawled across some project and, despite the writing pains, a liitle voice whispers how about… just one more set-piece/subplot/pay-off, hm? like, how hard could it be? Rare flashes of creative joy as words are thrown up on-screen in search of a story.
By the end of it all, whether I’m running or writing, I’m glad to (still) be alive, there’s the satisfaction of having done it and, if I’m not careful, thinking that wasn’t so bad – let’s go again.
Postscript: The Dog is seven now. And we’re still running.
(Or should it be A Writing Allegory? It’s Friday afternoon and it’s all a bit much.)
INT. HOME – EARLY MORNING
I stumble through the FRONT DOOR, chest heaving and soaked through with sweat. THE DOG trots in after me.
Mindful of my appearance, I gingerly give THE GODDESS a hug --
How was your run?
Two poos, three wees, one dog and one false alarm.
She then crouches down beside The Dog and asks --
And how was it for YOU?
Next time you’re banging your head on a concept or synopsis or treatment, keep in mind that for all the hours and energy and eye-for-detail you’ll pour into your finished product, sometimes your reader just won’t care. And it’s nothing personal: Yes, your pitch was spot-on – but there’s a change of director, and they’ve got some specific visual and script ideas.
Take heart. It’s not you, it’s them: your product is as good as everything that you’ve put into it. You’ll have learned something from describing – planning, even – a project rather than just writing it. The experience will inform you as a writer. Learning and experience make you a better writer.
Now do it again.
INT. HOME – CONTINUOUS
I put my hands on my hips --
Oh ha ha.
-- and The Goddess, never one to tell me to calm down or shut up or get over things, gives me a hug anyway and says --
Can I make you a cup of coffee?
-- and I hold her and think: I am one lucky sumbitch.
I find this time of year pretty hard. The world winds itself up for Christmas and the retail hell that that entails. Exercise that I’d promised to have started months ago has finally, belatedly, lurched into action. (What’s that? Eat less? Eject the person who said that this instant.) And projects that I’d hoped to have finished already recline in various corners of the cave, sighing heavily, and I try to attend to them when and where I can, very, very aware of the remaining days hours of 2008 flicking by with alarming speed.
But when I step outside the house, and The Dog’s on her bestest behaviour because we’re either a). going for a run or b). I’m about to play fetch with her, the warm perfume of jasmine envelopes me and I can’t help but inhale, and smile. For thirty minutes, I need only worry about a). moving one foot in front of the other or b). keeping The Dog from hoovering up chicken poo.
Afterwards, when I return to the house, I have more immediate concerns like chest- and leg-pains, or a canine who collapses in places where I’ll trip over her. I remember that if I don’t leave the cave, I won’t be caught up in the season’s rioting. I’ve assuaged my exercise guilt. And the projects lean forward, body language quietly screaming Pick me!, and things don’t look so bad after all.