Title: THE KITTY AFFAIR
Summary: How much mileage can you get out of a kitten adopting Martin? Hold onto your ovaries, this is for science.
Characters: Martin, Douglas, Carolyn, Arthur, Caitlin, some Absurdists.
Word Count: 9,169
Existing just below the poverty line had made Martin, over time, a master of creative self-preservation. All one really needed was a will of iron, next to no budget and an exhaustive supply of tin foil.
He reused takeaway cartons for months until they got holes in them.
He perfected the mathematics of exactly how to nick toilet paper/milk/detergent so that the students never noticed (not that they ever did.)
He diluted shampoo 9 parts to 1.
He knew how to make a single can of tuna last for a week.
It helped being fond of tinned fish if one was to live poor. His old man had been partial to sardines. Sardines in hot sauce, mustard, garlic, etc. Dad had lived in London through the blitz and claimed his entire upbringing on sardines and toast. Martin loved toast but didn't always have the raw materials necessary to make it.
He had only recently begun wearing his scarf to work, sewing patches on the elbows of his one lined coat and renewing the glue on his failing pair of work shoes. Van work was slow in winter as few people cared to move in frigid weather. Martin didn't mind not wading knee deep in polluted slush or slipping down driveways patched with ice. He was, however, always appreciative of an income.
Rust on the van wasn't any less brutal this year and he needed to inspect the tyres to see if they'd last another three months. He couldn't really afford to replace them so he kept his fingers crossed. He amazed himself, sometimes, with what he could make himself afford.
The white cloud of his breath was visible in the cold air when he opened the garage door. Bending down to inspect the hubs, he found they were fine and moved on to feeling the integrity of the rubber. Just like GERTIE. Maybe just a bit smaller.
He thought he heard a faint squeak.
Martin resumed his inspection, half hoping it was the failing suspension and nothing organic.
The offended squeak was heard again.
Mice, perhaps. Or worse rats. It wouldn't be the first time. He prayed they hadn't gotten into the wiring. He'd have to ring management and alert the student housing office to get rid of them. Failing that, he'd live on corn flakes for the month and invest in some traps. Not that the students could be arsed. He sighed, shiftig round to check the next tyre when he heard it again. A unmistakable high-pitched squeak from below.
Martin peered closer underneath the hulking metal body of the van, making sure there weren't any rodents seeking refuge there. He stomped his foot, hoping to frighten them out but nothing happened. He felt under the wheel well and made a high-pitched shriek himself when his fingers brushed against something startled and furry.
The tiny coal black kitten that tumbled dazedly onto the damp concrete was not pleased about being woken from its nap. Martin watched it open its tiny blue eyes in its mass of dark fur, scent the air with its impossibly wee nose. Finding nothing familiar, it cried in a heap before attempting to figure out all four of its legs and what to do with them.
"Oh!" Martin breathed. "Sorry! I ah, didn't know you were, ah...that is-" Martin bit down on his tongue, feeling suddenly ridiculous. He was apologizing to a weeks-old kitten! Recovered from its shock, it tried determinedly to pad its way back up the tyre. The kitten didn't put much effort into getting away when he scooped it into his palm and stroked its soft head with a fingertip.
"Haven't got a mum, then?"
He was pretty sure that would answer itself. Mothers were not usually far away and any sensible one would never have left her baby in so perilous a location as a van tyre. Martin shuddered at the thought of what might have happened had he not checked.
"Erm, howd'ja like to kip in where's it's a bit warmer?"
To his surprise, the thing fit conveniently in his pocket though it took a minute of frantic squirming about to get situated once there. It meeped a little more, curling up and digging its pine needle claws contentedly into his hip.
At once a name began forming in his head. Just a marriage of affection and words, a trifle really but…
No, he refused to name it. According to Arthur, once you named something it belonged to you. Sort of like an aeroplane.
"Well here's the tour," he said into his pocket. A tiny jet black nose responded, poking inquisitively in the air. "I'm upstairs. Not much to see, really. You can spend the night but tomorrow we'll have to seek some better lodgings."
"Mweep!" The kitten complained.
"Look, I'm sorry but it's just that...well, I ..." Martin felt his ears burn when he realized he was explaining himself to a kitten. Automatically, he adjusted his voice. "...I really can't afford to keep you."
"Uh mate, are you talking to yourself again?" One of the students, a long haired bloke with a longer name was staring up at him, flocked by his two best blonde friends. A cloud of marijuana smoke wafted about them.
"What?" Martin's entire face lit up like a stop light, the corridor suddenly far too warm. "Er, no! I was talking to my cat! I mean, it's not my cat! It's someone else's. I'm sort of well, borrowing it."
"Whatever Cap'n Disorder." The stoner herded his two giggling companions into his dorm and shut the door with a slam. From inside his pocket, the startled furball hissed.
"No worries," he hushed it. "Just some kids."
Martin slunk the rest of the way upstairs. He really didn't mind being crazy captain Martin who lived in the attic. Just so long as he wasn't old captain Martin, he was fine.
Clearing a reasonable space for it on his bed, he set the half-dozed thing on the mattress while he got ready for bed. If he had time after tomorrow's paperwork, he would borrow the yellow pages and find a reasonable shelter somewhere in Fitton.
"Mrew?" The kitten, he noticed, had begun kneading its tiny paws earnestly into his pillow and gnawing on the corners to no avail.
"Oh..." Martin paused. "...right."
He winced at the last can of tuna on the shelf. Gathering up a paper plate and a few crackers left over from the cheese tray, he resolved to share the last of his dinner.
"I expect you're hungry so I-eh?" Returning from the kitchen, he quietly panicked when he found no trace of the creature where he'd left it.
"Hello? Oh damn! Where've you gone?"
Terrified, he checked under the bed. Nothing. Between all the pillows and the mattress (would be damned if he rescued the thing only to accidentally flatten it) . With a racing heart, he cracked the window open and checked to be sure it hadn't somehow slithered out onto the ledge on its own.
His drawers revealed nothing.
As did his wastebasket.
Sinking down on his lumpy unmade bed, he set his dinner plate on his lap, hoping the smell would entice it.
"C'mon you! I've got tasty tuna! Come out before I gobble it all up!"
Not even a whisker.
Sighing, he patted a small heap of tuna on a cracker and chewed it. He ate that cracker and then another and waited. No such luck. The damn thing had gone AWOL.
Half a pile of tuna left, he paused and sighed. He wanted it. His name was on it. But what if the kitten showed up again and was starved? Ignoring the growl in his stomach, he busied himself with finding it a proper place to sleep. An empty shoebox (Martin rarely threw anything away) a pair of clean socks and a handkerchief were all he owned in the way of cat bedding. Laying out several pieces of newspaper (in case it needed to use the restroom), he set the shoebox bed on it and addressed the room in general.
"Well, here's um...your bed is here. Sorry it's not more comfortable but can't have you in my tyres. Right. So uh... goodnight?"
He turned out the light, closed his eyes but did not drift off for a good while. Somewhere in the room the kitten slept, the white noise of its unnaturally loud purr drowning the relentless din of the mattress springs from the dorms below.
Mornings were always hectic for Martin. Waking before the sun, he barely had time to stand beneath the cold trickle of his shower, swallow an instant coffee, blindly reach for his clothes and stagger out the door to a world still asleep. Frowning at the untouched shoebox bed on his rug, he remembered his tiny boarder and left out the kitten's untouched portion of tuna should it decide to nourish itself. Tugging on his captain's jacket and donning his cap, he clomped his way to the garage.
The drive to Fitton Air Field was uneventful until he noticed an abnormally warm lump in his pocket. Thinking it was a forgotten wad of crumpled napkin he reached into his pocket and retracted it immediately when the napkin bit back.
"YOU!" Martin nearly jammed down on the brakes. The kitten, deposited comfortably in the pocket of his uniform jacket, stuck its head out and peered at him in what could only be called the early vestiges of feline accusation.
"Mrrreeep!" It shrieked.
"Dammit! Oh hell!" Martin panicked as he pulled over. "This is NOT good! Definitely not good! What am I to do with you? What will Carolyn-? Oh, this is not happening!"
The digits on his watch seemed to speed up in taunt of him. It was too late to double back and return the meddlesome creature back to his flat and once there, he wasn't entirely certain he would return to find it again. He agonized for a while until he arrived to the shaky conclusion that the tiny beast had a ninja-like capacity for existing undetected. Given this, maybe it was not too impossible to hope it could remain so for a brief flight.
"Look just-just stay put! Can you do that? Go back to sleep and lay low!" Martin shoved the kitten's head back into his pocket.
The tiny rumbling against his thigh tickled as he pulled into the car park.
Carolyn as ever was in an imperious mood, darting back and forth between her office and the lounge with last minute paperwork and checklists.
"Morning Skip!" Arthur beamed. "I've got your favorite this morning! Coffee!"
"How could it be my favorite if there was never any choice to begin with?" Martin asked, taking the styrofoam cup from Arthur and taking a grateful swig.
"But you need coffee!" Arthur folded his arms. "Every captain needs coffee! It's a medicinal fact that it gets a man's heart started in the morning! Mum told me!"
"Mummy was using a figure of speech, dear." Carolyn clipped back two Vicodin from her her pillbox. "Sadly, not the only figure wasted on you."
"Right. Well, here we all are! Where are we off to today, mum?"
"Not terribly far. Dublin. The entire Beckett Anti-Appreciation society has booked us for their annual Absurd Art Festival."
"He's a scream, he's lost his Dudeen." A velvet voice broke through the bleariness of the portacabin before sunrise. "Always fancied Joyce over Beckett myself though really, the two of them were born to be miserable for one another. Not unlike you and I, Captain."
"Hullo Douglas! All ready? We're going to Dublin to see Leprechauns!"
"Silly rabbit. Leprechauns, historically, have been evidenced in America where they are revered as demi-gods for the cereal industry."
"I didn't quite catch all that but I'm sure it was mind-blowing. Cockpit's less dusty now gents, you may now proceed to embarkation." Arthur quipped, disappearing to tend to the messy business of lunch.
Martin checked his watch. Dublin was only an hour away. The weather was fair, he'd barely have time to resort to auto pilot before their destination. He was a bit grateful for the easy run. It would give him enough layover time to think about his new boarder.
Take-offs were deceptively simple. Just a gradual pull back on the yoke until equilibrium was reached. Hard to believe sometimes that it had taken Martin seven tries just to prove himself capable of the act. Of course, take-off was also the most dangerous part of flight, the point at which things going wrong would manifest and drive them back down to the ground again.
With GERTI eased up smoothly and climbing, his thoughts began to settle too. He'd spend time wandering in Dublin, maybe share a pint with Douglas with what little pocket money he had left and it would only be a matter of time before he was heading home. Surely, he might avoid catastrophe until then.
He put his hands in his pockets just to check it was still there. He let his fingers linger a moment on the soft warmth of its sleeping head. It felt nice, almost like a rabbit's foot he could rub for good luck.
"Just work with me," he muttered to it. "And this'll be over in no time."
"Are you convincing yourself or the plane?" Douglas asked, his eyes not leaving the control panel.
"Um, er, nothing. Just I was-er, reciting my shopping list. Um...Dough...er, thyme?"
"You've somehow managed, Martin, to somehow afford enough shopping to warrant a list or you've cracked. I know which one I'd believe."
"Nothing is up!" Martin snapped. "Why would anything be up? We're up! We're up because we're on a plane and IT is up! And…and furthermore—"
"Your rock-steady assurance is contagious, captain. Cough up. Anniversary or death?"
"You've got a date?"
"I see. Appalling. Alright now, what else could possibly have crawled up your brain stem to-"
"It really IS nothing, I assure you!" Martin could hear his voice border on a full whine.
"Come off it Martin, when has anything ever been nothing with you?"
It was suddenly too hot in the tiny cockpit. Loosening his tie, Martin shrugged carefully out of his jacket and let it fall awkwardly off his seat to the floor, forgetting completely what the argument happened to be about.
Precisely fifty minutes later, Martin switched on the overhead PA.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are now making our final descent into Dublin International Airport. We do hope you've enjoyed your flight today with us at MJN and we look forward to your future patron-AGGH!"
Reflexively, Martin's thumb clicked off the intercom when he noticed, in terror, a ball of black fuzz climbing its way up the arm of his first officer.
"Martin?" Douglas said patiently, eyeing the thing on its earnest quest up his sleeve. "Explain."
"I'm so sorry, Douglas! I can explain everything! You see, it's a cat!"
"Really?" Douglas raised an eloquent eyebrow, plucking the squirming kitten with a slow crackle of tiny claws from the fabric of his jacket. "I would never have guessed."
"Well, I found it and the blasted thing got lost and fell asleep in my pocket!"
"On an espionage mission, I take it?" Douglas planted the kitten on the carpeted floor where it flopped about feebly, searching for something edible. Martin leaned down to gather it in his palm but was unsuccessful in his attempts to jam it back into his coat. Defeated, he gave up and let it roll about on the floor.
"How, may I ask, do you intend to explain the severe breach of quarantine regulations to Carolyn?"
"Carolyn needn't know!" Martin begged. "Please Douglas, it's just a kitten! What could possibly-?
A calamitous shriek interrupted him. Several passenger voices raised in alarm were filtering in from the main cabin.
"Good god, who left the door open?" Martin moaned.
"He whose job it is to leave doors open." Douglas chimed.
Arthur stuck his head in.
"Sorry to disturb chaps, but we seem to have a rodent problem. Really don't know how it got in here, Gertie was spick and span when I saw to her!"
Martin cursed under his breath. Exemplary timing.
"Douglas, take over will you? I'll explain everything to the Absurdists."
"Be delicate with your wording, Captain," Douglas suggested, brightly. "Absurdists are infamous for their clarity and common sense."
Arthur made a sound very much like an excited elephant.
"A kitten! A real kitten! Not a play one! Ohhh come here you!" Arthur gathered the confused and terrified thing in both palms. The kitten swiped at him defensively having already been subjected to the screeches of aging theater-goers only to be delivered into the adoring embrace of Arthur.
"Meet Martin's new flatmate." Douglas sighed. "You never did introduce us formally, captain."
"It hasn't got a name." Martin's fists clenched. "I only found it last night."
"No name?" Arthur was incredulous, immediately going into a solemn vow, eyelids fluttering. "Skip, I would be MOST honored to bestow one upon its personage!"
"No!" Martin, Douglas and the kitten all agreed.
"Can we all just, please pretend it doesn't exist until we're on the ground?" Martin whimpered, his head beginning to pound harder. "I've already had to apologize several times to the passengers and I'm through dealing with it. Arthur, keep it out of sight and AWAY from the passenger cabin. Douglas just...carry on!"
"Aye, aye Cap'n."
One vocal cargo of Absurdists unloaded and a pint of Guinness later Martin was beginning to feel more himself again. The flight back to Fitton was made somewhat more peaceful with Arthur babysitting the kitten as he flew the plane. It made for a rather disgusting scene, the sight of a grown man cooing and fussing over something. The kitten, for its part, was busy exploring the galley for anything it could chew when Arthur did not freely offer his fingertip.
The other half of Knapp-Shapey, he found, was not nearly as cuddly when they landed.
"I will not venture to guess what you were thinking when you-"
"Honestly, Carolyn I had no idea-" Martin's protest was cut short by Carolyn's red face and clipped fury.
"You don't have a voice until I say you do. When you brought that four-legged health hazard aboard my jet. But I can assure you, the public disease control board in Dublin was not short of words when they told me what THEY thought of an un-quarantined, unlicensed, unreported-"
"Nothing happened. I assure you, I had no idea it was even on my person." Martin couldn't help muttering between clenched teeth.
"So from what delirious haze did this catastrophe manifest?"
"I found it." Martin replied slowly. "Sleeping. Beneath my van."
"I see. So you thought it would be novel to bring it to work so it could entertain on what would otherwise be a mundane work day."
"Seriously Carolyn, I do apologize but-"
"I'll accept your apology in the form of a 300 pound cheque to pay off the quarantine fine and your solemn vow to get rid of it!"
"Right. I-I will do that." Martin began calculating in his head how many van jobs it would take to raise 300 quid.
"I've got a brilliant idea, mum!" Arthur supplied.
"Another one this year? Do slow down, Arthur. You're making mummy dizzy!"
"Well see, Skip's not really in a way to own a kitten at the moment and Snoopadoop has always wanted a playmate."
"Out of the question." Carolyn crossed her arms.
"But mum-!" One disapproving glance from Carolyn and Arthur shifted immediately from thrilled to crestfallen.
"No buts! Care of a new kitten is equivalent to that of a small child. They're on suicide watch until they're 21. As evidenced by Martin's already failed attempts, what makes you think you will be the better caretaker?"
"I'll manage, mum! Really! I take excellent care of GERTIE!"
"That you do but all she requires is a hoover and the occasional fuel change. A kitten, on the other hand-"
"But I do it every day! What can be so different about managing a kitten?"
"Just as you managed the sea monkeys you let dry up on our windowsill?"
Arthur shuffled his feet petulantly. "You promised you'd never bring up that sad day again. Besides, there's still Mr. Cupcakes!"
"Good lord, how can THAT possibly count?"
"Erm, who's Mr. Cupcakes?" Martin ventured.
"He is my pet fern." Arthur said proudly.
"A...fern?" Martin couldn't help but blink in his attempt to process. "With a salutation?"
"I give him water and sunlight every day and in the Winter, I even got him a special little light thingie that gives off heat like a sun!"
Martin stroked the purring ball of fuzz in his pocket again and again and met Arthur's earnest gaze.
"Look Arthur. I-I'm sure you're capable. As long as I've got your word that you'll take care of it. I'm willing to make you its owner."
"Hooray!" Arthur beamed. "Mum, Martin said it was okay!"
Carolyn threw up her hands in resignation.
"Very well! May the deceased sea monkeys have mercy on its soul!"
Martin gingerly lifted the confused and sleepy kitten from his pocket and placed it in Arthur's steward hat.
"Well mate, it's been a pleasure. Take good care of Arthur."
The kitten just blinked back.
Arthur left the airfield that evening like he'd just won the lottery. Martin left, as usual, with his pockets that much more empty.
A week passed uneventfully. Martin returned to his empty flat, scraped out the contents of his last tuna can, cut the mold off a final slice of bread from a forgotten package that didn't belong to him and ate dinner. He didn't think or worry about the kitten anymore until the following Monday.
"I'm sorry, Skip."
Martin frowned in puzzlement at the elaborate basket placed on his desk.
"Wasn't meant to be," Arthur sighed.
The kitten purred contentedly from inside a crocheted blanket surrounded by an array of tinned fish.
Arthur turned around solemnly. "We watched 'Milo and Otis' all night. Tried some catnip. Even had a play in the sink. But nothing."
Martin saw Arthur wipe at his eyes as he left room, head down, his hand lingering on the doorknob.
"All she wanted was you."
The kitten had apparently made up its mind to adopt him. Not with Martin's permission or approval, of course. How was the world allowed to work that way?
He'd never been owned or far less needed by another. Nor had any living creature relied solely on him for survival. He could well understand why. He made a piss poor job of maintaining his own so far.
It wasn't fair, Martin agonized. He'd never asked for a kitten, he didn't need another mouth to feed no matter how adorable. Impossible, simply put. The kitten would have to go.
Martin was looking more ill by the second after presenting his quandary to his employer. The kitten slept curled up in her basket, oblivious to the bargaining war taking place over her head.
"Do you mean to tell me that because of a misaligned feline, we are effectively land bound?"
"Arthur brought her back. What can I do?" Martin felt the early signs of a panic attack coming on.
"You can get rid of it. Right now. On the double. I don't care how."
"Be reasonable, Carolyn! Couldn't it just stay here in the office until we land? It's just a kitten!"
"Just a kitten with severe abandonment issues! Can't tear itself away from you for a minute! What would happen if she decided to take up snoozing under GERTI?"
"I'm sure it won't come to th-"
"What is it with you and the word no? It's simple enough."
Martin opened his mouth to protest lamely when Douglas cut in for him.
"The course of true love ever did run fickle." Douglas himself had a rather convincing purr. "How does it feel, Martin, to be loved so unconditionally?"
The question gave Martin pause.
"It's...well, I s-suppose it's nice but-"
"Buuuut?" Douglas pressed, face practically glowing.
Martin heaved out a pained sigh. "To be honest, it's rather a bloody inconvenience!"
"Now pretend this sweet creature slumbering before us were a human feMALE instead of feLINE!"
"Any pertinent expertise would be appreciated, Douglas." Martin growled.
Douglas shrugged. "As my tender heart bleeds for small creatures that use my thumb as target practice, here is my advice. You might try putting an ad in the periodicals? Lovestruck kitten for sale. You might even be able to make a little money off it if you throw in a bag of chow and a collar perhaps?"
"Who would want to buy a stray kitten when they could easily get one from a shelter for free? And a black one at that!"
"True black cats are actually rare." Douglas sniffed. "You might find someone in Fitton with a taste for feline novelties?"
"I don't know, Douglas-"
"Or maybe a wicked witch?" Arthur piped in to a chorus of "Shut up!"
"Then Martin." Douglas said firmly. "Though I know it will splinter the remainder of your soul I think your little issue would be best served in a shelter."
Martin looked down at said issue, dozing gently in its basket and then up at Douglas.
"You're right." Martin admitted. "I'll make inquiries when I get home."
The next day he took himself and the kitten in his pocket to the city shelter. It was a good few miles away but he needed to save on petrol. On the way, he quelled his anxiety with visions of clucking old lady volunteers, clean cat beds full of companions to play with, an endless supply of real cat chow and toys. It was the right thing to do, he rationalized. He simply couldn't afford a kitten in his budget. There was no room for it, no matter how small it was.
He still couldn't help feeling a little guilty every time he stuck his hands in his pocket to feel the tiny wet scrape of a warm tongue.
When he arrived at the Fitton county shelter, the bored teenager behind the desk almost made him step back outside and re-check the sign. Martin waited until he was buzzed in but the reception did not look up from his blackberry once.
Martin cleared his throat. "Um..."
When the teen failed to show any sign of life after several non-invasive attempts to attract attention, Martin sighed and decided to use his words.
"Pardon? Is this Fitton City Sh-?"
"Drop off or adopt?" The teenager did not tear his eyes off his text messages.
"Well, er, drop off I suppose."
Martin placed his hand unconsciously in his lumpy coat pocket, brushing his fingertips against the kitten's ears. It trilled in response but did not attempt escape.
Over the kid's shoulder, he saw small cages, dingy newspaper lining, and the stench of ignored litter pans. There wasn't much sign of anyone else there. No one minding the bored cats curled up asleep in their cages. The kittens, from what he could see, leapt and bit playfully at eachother but there were no toys in their boxes or anything else to amuse them. Not even an old sock.
Martin crumpled up the blue form in his fist and tossed it in the bin before turning around again.
The rain had picked up on his way home and he was five blocks away when the skies opened up and dumped on him. The kitten cried in his pocket, none too pleased at the dousing it got through the fabric of his coat.
"Oh shut up, you!" Martin scolded it. "At least you're not out here getting a real soak!"
He plodded rapidly through the dirty puddles forming along the pavement, shoes squelching and heavy with rain. As soon as he got home, he turned on his electric space heater, digging his last clean towel out of the hamper and laying it on his bed. Depositing the grumpy, damp kitten out of his pocket and onto the towel he gently scrubbed at its coat until it resembled something that had been coughed up. The kitten keened and licked irritably at its fur, trying to tame it. Martin watched it for a bit, before rummaging about for something dry to wear. There were fresh T-shirts in the small set of drawers. He turned around to get one.
When he looked back the kitten was gone again.
"Oh really!" He moaned. "Where on earth have you got to now?"
He had half a mind to check the ventilation. He pulled on a clean pair of drawers and underpants but could not find a jumper. He'd have to wear a dirty one. Digging through his pile of laundry meant to be washed, he was startled when he shook out the old jumper to find a very put out feline.
"A ha!" He cried. "Why you sneaky little blighter!"
It trilled at him conversationally before diving back into his pile of crumpled shirts and trousers, disappearing completely into the folds.
So much for the bed then, Martin shrugged. It seemed the kitten was perfectly content to sleep in his heap of soiled clothes. He shook the socks out of the cat bed and put them on his feet, grateful for the warmth. Exhausted, he closed and his eyes and hoped for a few hours of solid undisturbed sleep.
It didn't take long for the kitten to get bored. Martin had only had his eyes shut for about fifteen minutes when he felt it. One tiny paw on his calf. Then another. Then all four. Groggily, Martin made the executive decision not to move and keep his eyes shut. The paws continued their way upward, crawling onto his belly. Martin flinched slightly when tiny claws dug into the soft flesh for support.
Martin cracked an eye open to steal a glance at the alarm. 3 AM. Sweet Jesus! He had to be up and fully functioning in just three hours! He had a van job scheduled after work and wouldn't be home until night time.
The kitten padded its way up Martin's body, planting itself contentedly on his chest, kneading its miniscule claws in and out.
"D'you mind?" He told it. "I've a rather long day tomorrow."
The kitten batted at his pajama button. Its paws were tiny enough for Martin to close his eyes and ignore it. He would have had a decent chance at sleep if the kitten hadn't so soon grown bored with buttons and moved up to gnaw on his hair.
He plucked it off with a growl.
"Goodnight!" Tossing the obnoxious ball of fuzz lightly across the bed and into his laundry, he rolled over and began to snore.
Martin knew now to check his pockets before leaving for work.
He set the remainder of his breakfast (a half can of tuna) on the floor before dashing out the door. He was late and Carolyn gave him what for. The sky was fitful and gray, making navigation more complicated than usual on his frayed nerves. The passengers were unsympathetically American, Arthur burnt their lunch and Douglas was abnormally helpful...to himself.
His stomach was growling loudly when he finally left Fitton airfield to meet his moving client. His eyes burned with unparalleled joy when he found a half-eaten sticky granola bar stashed in his glove compartment. It tasted like heaven. Moving and lifting on an empty stomach was risky and if stairs were involved, he was sure to get dizzy and injure himself. When he arrived, the old woman had been kind enough to box everything up securely and there were, thankfully, only 3 shallow steps from her porch to his van. But there were at least 20 boxes to be moved and he had to make several trips.
The money was welcome, of course. He would buy food. Real food. Fresh bread, maybe some deli meat, a can of soup if she tipped him. (bless her soul, she did).
He returned home exhausted but high-spirited. He'd done his shopping in the next town where the client had paid him to unload. A jar of fresh peanut butter, two cans of condensed soup, bread rolls and a box of dried kitten chow sat in the plastic sack slung over his shoulder.
Dragging himself up the stairs, he set his keys down wearily on the desk, next to the kitten who had obviously been waiting there at least 2 minutes before he noticed it.
"Hello you." He sighed, letting it rub its head against his hand in unparalleled delight. It mewled, pawing at his fingers before moving on to his keys. It occurred to Martin through his lethargic daze that it felt good to say something to someone when he returned home. That "hello" made him feel just a bit less tired. Then he remembered the shopping.
"Look what I've got!" Martin shook the box of kibble. "Yummy real kitten chow!"
The kitten perked. It leaped off the table and immediately took its place at the paper plate that had become its food bowl. Martin wondered if he had an old dish or saucer he could give the kitten in case-
No, this was temporary. He told himself. It didn't even have a name. He could not keep a kitten, could not afford it even if he lived on one can on tuna a month. Besides, not even a black cat had a snowball's chance with his luck.
However, he couldn't help but wonder at all the things he had to say to it as he opened up its box of smelly dry food. Rummaging through a random box his aunt had left him, he found a cracked yellow tea saucer without a matching cup and tossed away the used paper plate. The kitten ardently wound itself around his ankles in throes of something between passion and starvation. Once Martin set the ceramic dish of kibble down, the kitten ignored him completely and attacked its food. Martin watched it fondly for a bit until a sharp, unpleasant odor hit him.
Glancing around the room for its source, his nose wrinkled at the small wet stain spreading on his pillow case. He would be needing litter too. The soiled newspaper he had set down for it days ago had been overused.
"Dammit...!" He muttered.
The kitten chewed happily on, unaware of its misdeed.
He got rid of the newspaper first, crumpling it up carefully and placing it in a tied plastic bag before disposal in the shared rubbish bin. Martin then took the opportunity to gather up his laundry with the pillow case and throw the lot into the machine. He nicked a little detergent from one of the students (detergent was expensive and he didn't have much to wash) and set it to pre-wash.
The steady whir of the wash cycle settled his thoughts as he waited for it to finish.
It was oddly nice having someone to talk to when he got home. Spending a few minutes on the bed playing or petting its soft fur actually made him feel a little better, lowered his blood pressure, made him feel needed.
But it was time to face facts. One of his father's catch phrases.
A desperate thought suddenly occurred to him.
His sister Caitlin had two young girls in primary school. Though it was a last resort, he knew his sister and her husband were both reasonable human beings with full time jobs, enough to support two daughters. Maybe they wouldn't mind taking the poor thing in?
Martin thought about it for a long time during the spin cycle. He hated calling his family. They never had anything supportive to say to him. But he couldn't bear to think of leaving the thing at the Fitton shelter and there was just no way he could afford it.
Sighing, he picked up the shared student phone and dialed Caitlin's number. His heart thumped anxiously as the phoe rang once and only once.
"Martin." His sister had caller's ID so she didn't have to bother with hello. Martin was half-surprised she'd even picked up at all.
"H-Hello Caitlin? It's...it's me, Martin. Um, how's everything?"
"What do you want, Martin?" She'd taken up smoking again from the raspiness of her voice, which meant she'd also been yelling at something not too long ago. He could almost smell the bitter nicotine on her breath when she spoke.
"Want? Oh! Nothing! Nothing at all! But I was er, wondering...well, if- um.." Martin cursed himself. He hadn't rehearsed! "Say Caitlin, do the girls... do they like kittens?"
"Do the girls...like...kittens." Caitlin repeated in that slow, condescending way that made Martin, for all his gangly height, feel two feet tall. He could see her smiling, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "Martin, just what the hell is going on?"
Martin took the time to breathe first so his explanation did not come gushing out of him in a frenzied babble.
"I found a kitten." Martin blurted, trying to maintain control over his nerves. "Just a tiny one. Black. A girl. Very sweet girl. I've had her a few days now. Quite tame. Only..." He gulped..."Only, I c-can't really afford to-"
"Shelter." Caitlin clipped and Martin could see her tipping her cigarette into an ashtray.
"I did!" Martin felt his voice rise defensively before he could help it. "I took it to the shelter already but they had no vacancies." It was a lie but how could he possibly explain truths to anyone in his family?
Caitlin's familiar sigh ended his already weak hope of having any conversation.
"I'm sorry Martin but this is really just a case of you not being able to solve your own problems and wanting to dump them on me-"
"No! Cate, please listen-" Martin tried faintly.
"And the girls would play with its flea-bitten arse for about ten seconds before they got bored with it and dumped the responsibility of cleaning up its shite on me."
"Sorry, ah, never really thought about it that w-"
"No, you never do. You never think. Typical." She groused and Martin clutched the phone in his now damp palm. "Look, why don't you just do what dad did?"
"Pardon?" Martin really didn't want any advice if it came from their father.
"Whenever Dad found kittens in the garage, he would dump them in a sack, tie it up at the end and-"
"Um, thank you Cait. You've been very helpful." He said bitterly.
"What choice have you got? Let it starve? I'm only trying to help you be realistic though murder me for THAT-!"
"Yes. Thank you. Give my love to the girls?" Martin panted quickly.
She hung up before he did and he stood clutching the phone tightly in a pale-knuckled fist long after the dial tone began humming.
Drained, he started when the timer on the washing machine beeped. Setting the phone back down with a loud click, he numbly took out his wet laundry and put it in the dryer.
Having cleaned its dish, the kitten scampered over to greet him, rolling on her back to offer the underside of her belly. Martin knelt down and rubbed his hand over the sleek fur noting that her belly was as dark as her back, almost purplish in tone. She purred loudly, twisting and writhing contentedly on the rug beside his bed. Martin scrubbed his fingers up and down her chest and blinked back the dampness in his eyes when a little tongue swiped across his knuckles over and over again.
"You're welcome." Martin whispered.
There were alternate uses for cats, he'd learned. Kittens, in particular, made very fidgety but effective mop rags. Picking it up gingerly in his hand, it was tiny enough to blot out the faint traces of dust he found on top of his dresser. The kitten didn't seem to mind, playing and gnawing on the inside of Martin's hand as he swiped its little body back and forth over the surface. In small ways, he guessed, it earned its keep. Always attentive whenever he arrived tired from work. Always up for a good wrestle or paper ball chase. So what if he couldn't afford toys? Its favorite game was to wildly attack his shoelaces or one of his old knotted-up socks he held dangling from his hand while he read over his flight plans.
So what if it had tried its claws out on his last pair of slippers? He could do without. So what if he'd had to spend more than half his van wage on its collar and flea treatment? So what if that kitty litter cost him the other half? It lasted long enough and anyway, it would be good collateral for when someone finally answered his adoption ad in the paper.
Weeks passed. Not a single person wanting, not a single peep of response to an orphaned black kitten.
In the meantime, the thing grew. In just a month, it was big enough to knock things over. No bookcase was safe, no cockroach either. He knew because he'd find their carcasses in his trainers, left nicely there as a token.
The first time he'd tried putting on his trainers with one of kitty's randomly killed gifts in them, he'd nearly thrown her and the trainers across the room.
"Sorry!" He panted, white in the face. "W-what a thoughtful gift! Yes, thank you!"
"Mwrr?" The cat jumped on his bed, waiting to be praised.
"Good girl. Um, I guess..." He stroked shakily her under the chin.
The persistent problem of her presence had not been nearly so persistent when she could still fit in his pocket.
Over a month had gone by and Martin had still not bothered to give her a name.
One night, he lay on his back in bed thinking. The kitten, no longer a featherweight, clambered onto his belly for attention.
"Your lot." Martin began, stroking the back of kitty's head with his fingertip when she, after much deliberation, settled into the spot under his chin. "Should be looked after by some nice young woman making decent wage. You should be playing with rubber mice and trying your teeth out on proper toys. You should be able to have treats once in a while."
The kitten, for all her attentiveness, stretched her body out and curled up to present her stomach for further affection. Martin tried to ignore it.
"Right. You could give a toss." He waggled his fingers in front of the kitten's nose. "Not very clever are you?"
The kitten clamped its sharp teeth down on Martin's finger, nipping gently. Unsatisfied, it wrapped its paws around his captured digit and drew it closer, drawing its hind legs up to kick at Martin's hand.
"Poor bugger." Martin sighed, shaking his hand free of playful cat. "You shouldn't have chosen me."
His happiness could not last, of course. Something would go wrong. It was only the natural the order of things. A cat that hue with a man like him? His shoulders actually hunched over in wait of an anvil.
But the anvil never came. Only a knock on his door from the sour-looking landlord and a pink slip of paper.
"Know what this is, Mr. Crieff?"
Martin was already out the door on his way to work. He really didn't need an adrenaline-rush lecture about leaky pipes or some other complaint. But he knew what that color meant and it drained the little he had in his cheeks immediately.
"An eviction notice?" He squeaked.
"I'm giving you three days, Crieff. You have three days to get rid of that cat before I tack one of these on your door."
Martin's heart sank before beating double time.
"Sir, I can explain! It's not mine, I had no intention of-"
"You've had no intentions for near a month! Several of the students have reported you taking in litter and chow since January."
"It doesn't affect my rent! I was just boarding my friend's cat. I'll get rid of it. I promise, just- I-I've got to get to work now." Martin pleaded.
"I'm gonna speak plain, Mr. Crieff. An unreported pet in a restricted complex is enough warrant for immediate eviction. You broke the terms of your flat contract. I'm being generous in giving you three days to get it gone or you can both see yourselves out."
"Yes." Martin nodded, his tongue dry. "I...appreciate it."
Martin turned his back and hurried to the garage. Traffic was gridlock but he didn't care. His mind had gone disturbingly blank. He sat behind the wheel and agonized. He just couldn't think of what to do anymore.
It was true what they said about black cats.
"You're more distracted than ever, Martin." Carolyn was quick to comment when he rushed breathlessly through the door and made a nosedive for his paperwork. "I hope the orphans you saved from that fire on your way to work are sending you flowers to comfort you in the difficult time you will experience when I dock your flight hours."
"Sorry, Carolyn! Truly, I just-"
"Make it good, Martin. Late pilots make clients flee and me poor."
"I know." He grumbled, eyes still fixed on his collection of forms and weather reports. "But this is serious!" Martin realized he was fretting and took a poorly-drawn breath in a vague attempt to calm himself. "My landlord found out about the cat."
"You mean the dilemma you were to be rid of weeks ago?"
"I tried, honestly, I did!" Martin rubbed his hands over his face. "I just couldn't-! I don't know what to do anymore! No one's answered my ad in the paper, I can't just leave her in a shelter! I'm just-"
"-in love." Douglas finished, patting his arm sympathetically. "There there, old chap. I know. Hellish, isn't it?"
Martin tugged his arm loose. "Please no jokes, Douglas! I'm in a lot of trouble!" His chest was already heaving at the thought, his mind racing. "If I get evicted, where am I to go? I can't find cheaper lodgings anywhere else in Fitton." Martin felt his voice rise in panic. "I'll have to-to call Simon and see if he can't put her up for a few days until I figure something out only I know he'll laugh at me and call me idiot-"
"Bring her here tomorrow morning, Martin." Douglas said with the finality he was known for. "And shut up. We've got a plane to fly."
"Hooray!" Arthur was beside himself with joy. "Kitty's back! Who's a love?"
The cat, normally a glutton for attention, acted appropriately alarmed at the love whore that was Arthur. The poor thing really had no say in the matter as the primary object of Arthur's affections. Arthur picked her up and danced about the portacabin, showering her with kisses.
"Well, what are we to do with her?" Martin asked. "You're not going to sell her to a client, are you?"
"Heavens, no! What have they ever done to deserve that?" Carolyn urged him out towards the air field. "Come along and bring your girlfriend with you, Martin. I believe Douglas has a surprise waiting in the hangar."
Puzzled, Martin followed Arthur and Carolyn to the metal enclosure that house GERTI, the cat frantically trying to make getaway back to Martin the entire time from Arthur's loving grip.
Douglas met them at the hangar and opened the door.
"Greetings Martin. Step right this way, we've been very hard at work all morning creating the coziest airplane hangar for two."
Martin looked around the wide open space and blinked. There was nothing there but the plane, of course. A few work tables and chairs for the engineers. Some discarded coils of cable and wires.
And, tucked under one of the work tables, a painted wooden hutch.
"The hangar?" Martin's eyebrows shot up in wonder. "You mean, she's to live here?"
"Of course!" Carolyn said. "You've never heard of hangar pets?"
"One of the mechanics used to keep a tomcat in the shed. It slept and shagged as it pleased." Douglas added. "Lived a life we all might envy."
Arthur set the little cat on her feet on the cement floor of the hangar and let her sniff at the makeshift dwelling sitting underneath the work table. It even had a little knitted cat flap for a door. Her nose worked intently at it, licking her chops.
"We sprayed it with catnip." Arthur was quick to point out this brilliant detail.
"What's inside?" Martin asked.
"Oh, just some tinned food, fresh water and that pair of sweatpants you left for months in your locker." Douglas winked. "We thought it might entice her."
The cat slipped inside the knitted door hanging meant for her and disappeared. Her purr reverberated against the hangar's metal walls.
"Mum said it would be alright for us to take shifts feeding her. I don't suppose she likes regular hoovering?"
"No Arthur." Martin smiled. "But I'm sure she wouldn't mind a cuddle now and then."
"If we are to provide permanent lodgings for your...infection..." Carolyn looked Martin in the eye. "...it is under the sole condition that you remain her primary caregiver. Which means her litter is your responsibility."
"Oh, yes! Yes, of course!" Martin nodded.
"We even built her a private loo." Arthur pointed to the enclosed curtained corner with a handmade sign that read: "KITTY LOO."
"Your girl is a scrapper." Douglas clapped Martin on the shoulder. "If she can tough it out living in the minimalist conditions of your student housing attic, surely we here at MJN Air can provide her with all the comforts of a luxury home alongside the only other girl in your life."
"She'll get to sleep with GERTI!" Arthur added helpfully. "They'll be like flatmates and watch TV at night and make prank calls to mum and-"
"Martin." Douglas said. "Regardless of where she goes to sleep at night, she's still your cat. She chose you. That can't be changed."
"I suppose you're right, Douglas."
"When am I not?" Douglas smirked then leaned in to lower his voice. "Don't you feel its time to give her a name?"
"I've thought of one." Martin admitted. "But it's stupid."
"What do you know? That's the same name I was going to give her!" Douglas mused.
"No! I meant, um, the name I would have-well, I was thinking of...Gremlin."
"Gremlin?" Arthur blanched. "You mean, we can't feed her after midnight or let her out in the rain?"
"No." Douglas frowned, contemplatively. "As in mythical Russian folk demon rumored to sabotage aeroplanes during World War II!"
"Well, she's certainly got a penchant for sabotage!" Martin commented as the cat made itself comfortable on his lap.
"All MJN was really missing, Martin." Douglas scratched the kitten behind her ears. "It's very own gremlin."