Creative Nonfiction by Pavle Radonic

“For Pity’s Sake”   
             By Pavle Radonic

Another tale of the same kind. When you lived in the midst they found you out regularly. Perforce brief. Auntie H. had been feeding on the street under the trees at the corner. Enter Malay man on his bicycle. Stops, commenting to H. Ah! You feed cats too. Some further, after which ML tells H. of the spare cage he has at home that she can have if she wants. But she must come collect it… Ahmm. OK. Where domiciled then?... Block 28. Block 28 hey? On the other side of the estate toward Tanjong Katong Road. Block 28 however was where Fei Hong, aka Sharon, another feeder, stayed. She could pick up for Helen and save her some trouble. Sharon huh? Sharon. Nah, forget it. Guy cycles off abruptly. Well, what was that all about, then? That night Helen asked Wan Ling. Young Wan Ling from Block 11 who roved through the Haig grounds far and wide seeking hungry and ailing tabs. WL knew the story. Once upon a time that ML man had had a nice cat that he kept indoors. Fine looker noticed by the residents, and noticed especially by the feeders. Once the tab fell ill however it was promptly abandoned by the ML. Taking pity on the poor thing, Sharon had nursed and restored it to some kinda health. It didn’t last. Kidney problems. Auntie H. telling gave a good thwack! both hands behind just above her hips. When it died the ML learned of it and told Sharon she should give it back, the man wanted to bury it. Wanted the credit, the JW Helen commented. No, Sharon was not going to do that. She had looked after it. She would cremate it herself. End of story.
                                                                                - Geylang Serai, Singapore

Animal lovers were growing in number. It may have been the cartoons & graphic novels that were causing youngsters to pester their parents into agreeing to a pet that the household could call their very own. Dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, beetles in boxes also by report. Psychiatrists were signalling the benefit for anxious, stressed children. The serious Catladies were something else, another order of loving & devotion. Singapore must rank near the very top of that league. You watched the escalating trend. It was all very understandable. The often awkward and fumbling tenderness across the estates, in the fluro playgrounds and over the void decks could give an onlooker a lump in the throat. Helen behind the party wall was an absolute darling; it was a privilege to know the woman. Helen had not been the first JW in the acquaintance, but certainly the first dedicated cat lover of that particular stripe. This morning returning from the newspaper & teh the maid in front along the sheltered walkway escorting a ginger terrier had presented a question. At first a little chase to catch up the young woman, who couldn’t be placed in that neighbourhood. As the distance narrowed the gait, the attire, glimpses of the profile confirmed her station: domestic helper out on her morning round. From behind ethnicity was unclear. Chinese newspaper in hand, but that was not right. In fact turned out to be an old, faded newspaper; once the woman had been caught that was apparent. Discoloured and a little scrunched, but Chinese alright. Not an article to present to Sir or Madam upstairs before lunch. And only once that had been established was the item in the other hand, the left, sighted. Water bottle. And more than that too: not the drinking kind of bottle here. This was a plastic spray with nozzle on top. ‘Twas yes indeed. Black trigger… Oh. Ah! Well... A couple of brief seconds for the understanding to dawn. Golly gee! There you had it; never witnessed previously. Yes, there were carpets & rugs to consider indoors, understandably; if one was not careful even tiled areas could get smeared. Wiping the bottom of even a small little Fido like this was good and well, but if you wanted to do it properly, wanted to keep a decently clean house, additional measures were wise. There were no garden hoses of course in the pigeonhole arrangement. This lass had been carefully trained.
                                                                                - Haig Road, Singapore

The whippet stood shivering on the pavement outside Truffles, where its owner had tied it. While the lady sat with her friends near the back of the café, a well-known portrait painter among them, the dog continued. It stood alert and restless, its long pink tongue emerging with its yawns, ears pricking with sightings along the street and then flopping, constantly shivering. It was not from the cold, that was not why it was shivering, the woman had said on entry. This side of the street lay in shadow; the other was sunlit, giving warmth on these mid-winter days for the trooping down to the Op Shop. A quarter hour later and still the bitch shivering and trembling. She was a large whippet, easily mistaken for a greyhound, to which the breed was related—explaining the matter of breed and size the lady had made reference to an unknown old song featuring the whippet. While that song was unknown, the woman was told of the term fifty years ago in football parlance for the agile, darting and elusive player on the field, commonly a “whippet”. Almost a half hour the animal shivered in the same way. Being a country dog, it was disturbed by the cars and noise on the corner, the owner had explained; that was why she was shivering. Stilled for short periods, mostly with passersby petting, but otherwise the fine, tawny-white coat kept up the constant tremor. Numerous people stopped to pet, virtually every child that passed and women more than men, although one or two of the latter gave the back of the hand in passing. One young woman took a seat at the outdoor table by the railing and sat ten minutes with the whippet, losing her scarf a couple of times in her bending and caressing; another older woman came into the cafe seeking the owner to report the dog’s distress. An especially beautiful dog in its movement and gestures more than anything else. Along with hunting dogs, it might have been these fine, slender whippets that had featured in family portraits of Spanish and English notables. This dog had a particularly delightful nature, the owner had said when she had entered. One of the renovated shishi pubs in Footscray had introduced into its attractions an animal petting zoo for children Sunday afternoons. An animal like this whippet would become an integral part of any family. The lady was right to dismiss the cold as a hardship; she no doubt knew her dog and out of its element the urban grind seemed a reasonable culprit. The passersby and the patrons of the café would have made far easier subjects for any painter than this quick and lively whippet full of life. Tarkovsky’s cinematographer had somehow memorably, uncannily caught dogs and horses on camera. No static reproduction could have given the faintest inkling here.
                                                                                - Balaclava, Melbourne

On the doorstep returning from Bugis a half-familiar figure was found seated on the stone bench by the entry. Boyish hair-cut, the dye just beginning to let through strands of white. Once or twice before the same lady had been found there without any exchange.
    Maureen?… Oh! Sorry to hear about your cat. Helen told me this morning.
    Maureen indicated the parcel on her lap. The form within was part-covered by large sheets of paper perhaps—at the time it appeared to have been stiff banana leaf. Maureen patted the body stretched there to indicate this was the said cat. The cat that had passed away overnight.
    Orangey-brown and black streaks, its eyes half open, it seemed. The form and Maureen’s kind of attention, her gentle patting, had suggested an ailing animal.
    It’s a lousy feeling, Mr Paulo.
    Maureen would have been surprised to have been addressed by name, and certainly Mr Paulo here was surprised. We had never spoken previously.
    Maureen was shy like the cats. Over the term she had been sighted two or three times, and only briefly; at the house and once at the NTUC supermarket after Helen had revealed that she worked there, in the store it must have been, or else only part time, as the supermarket was regularly patronised. In Helen’s conversation Maureen figured prominently.
    Maureen lived in landed property further down in Carpmael, with at least one elder sister. The cats were a point of friction with one of the householders. More and more cats were being brought home by Maureen and she was spending more and more money on them.
    It seemed that afternoon too that Maureen might have been Eurasian; some money had come down from either the parents, or the earlier generation.
    That morning Helen had come into the kitchen early again seeking some chat. Zelna price, desirous of talk, the Montenegrins said. The JW witnessing was part of it, but Helen also enjoyed the exchange. A way had been found with her treading a little carefully through theology, the state of contemporary culture and coming end of the world, her feline devotions and our ordinary household affairs.
    Helen lived in the refurbished garage in front of the Carpmael house, with a separate entry and her cats having room to freely roam along the driveway and up and down the street. There was some kind of sanitary provision in her room for peeing, but not Number 2. Showering was also in the main house.
    Helen’s emerging personal history was interesting. Nothing as yet properly nailing the progress to that high feline devotion of organic feed that was carefully prepared in the camp kitchen in her room. If there had once been a man somewhere along the line, it would take some doing uncovering. Could it be anything else, some prospect suddenly denied? Helen would not have stayed down for long; got herself back up and on with it. Crossing to the JWs had taken a fair while; now Helen studied the scriptures and related daily. Gatherings up in Malaysia she was rarely able to attend because of the street feeding. (In Singapore the group was banned.)
    A couple of her sisters still ran a maid agency in Orchard Road, one that in fact had served in its time the local potentate, friend to Henry Kiss & Marg Thatch. The business was a lotta work, but a lotta dosh was earned too. In her condo in some sought after location, one of her sisters had a wardrobe, or one of the walls of the rooms, hung with branded handbags a thousand plus dollars each.
    The girls and one brother were raised and schooled by the Catholics; therefore Helen’s level of English. Dad had eventually attained a position as clerk and read the bible regularly. After being widowed, when maids were employed for his care, the father pestered them with untoward attention. Helen had been the one to live with him and listen to his oft repeated stories.
    A few days before in the kitchen Helen had told of the 150, or 250, years of life of Abraham, the late parenthood of him and Sarah. Moses too may have lived even a longer span.
    With Greg in Melbourne having passed away yesterday, Helen was asked some hard questions and Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals had been recommended to her. On her side Helen had been recommending a number of times particular verses of the Psalms, which continued unexplored as yet.
    Helen sent lots of Watchtower material. In order to keep nice with her, two or three of the items had been perused and provided conversational material.
    Helen was a darling, an irascible old crotchety spinster devoted to her cats and Jehovah.
    When Maureen called Helen late night to tell of the passing of the cat she asked whether Helen might contribute to the cost of cremation. Some year or two ago Helen had had an association with that particular cat that included feeding. It was an attractive cat, even now in death lying there in Maureen’s lap. Around in Onan Road Bee Choo too had once taken a liking to this cat, Helen in the kitchen offered as further evidence. A number of Maureen’s ailing cats had passed away over the years, but not all of them produced sorrow for Helen like this one that she had fed and come to know.
    Shortly after 5 at the return from Bugis, Maureen must have been waiting for Helen to accompany her to the crematorium. Or else it was for the money and farewell. If Helen was to accompany Maureen she must have done her feeding an hour early that afternoon, as she sometimes did if there were threatening clouds. The cats could not be left to go without.

                                                                                            - Joo Chiat, Singapore

- Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic has spent eight years living in SE Asia. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals, including Ambit, Big Bridge, Another Chicago Magazine, New World Writing Quarterly and Citron and Antigonish Reviews.

Copyright©2022 by Pavle Radonic. All Rights Reserved.