EXTRACT 1 (Opening chapter)
SASSYCAT, THAT’S ME
Sassycat, that’s me! Sass to my special friends, Sassycat to my fans and admirers. I’m a girl cat and a tabby—hey, am I strokable! But don’t even think about it, not unless you’re a special friend.
Rebecca’s my only special friend right now. I’m in new territory, because my family has just moved home. I mean the Naylor family—Rebecca, Mum, Nathan and Midge. It doesn’t feel like home to me. I used to be an inner city cat and now I’m supposed to be an outer suburbs cat? I’ve been so unsettled, it’s taken me half a day to get out of the house.
I wouldn’t be out now, except one of the removalists nearly stood on me, then yelled like I was to blame. Is that fair? Humans! They think they own the world.
Lucky I’m a confident cat. Hard not to be confident when you’ve got four white sox and a tail to die for. But nothing smells right in this back garden.
I don’t follow the path, which is made of half-buried bricks. The grass is better, sweet and sharp, with a few bits of clover. Nothing like clover to give a cat a lift.
I go along by the side, where trees and bushes hang over the top of a wooden fence. No house next door, it’s an overgrown wilderness. Old and stale and dark. I’m glad I’m on the sunny side of the fence.
I let the sun get into my fur. The sun is always in love with me—it's my Sassycat sun!
I go past a clothes hoist, metal set in concrete – brr! Cold hard stuff! We had one at our last house. Strange how human things can be exactly the same in different places. You wouldn’t catch a tree being so similar to another tree! But a clothes hoist is too dead to feel anything, least of all shame.
Further down the back, there’s a pile of unused bricks. Then a rich heady fragrance … ah, bliss! A compost heap at the bottom of the garden! Grass clippings, tealeaves, potato peels – a million, million smells, humming and dreaming in the afternoon heat. O rapture!
The smell is so strong, it makes me dizzy. I feel inspired. Yes, I feel a poem coming on.
I am the tabbiest
I am the soxiest
My smallest spring is an arc of fire
Electricity in my paws!
My tail is a plume of …
a glory of …
an explosion of …
Of what? A what of what? The words don’t exist to describe my tail!
I keep going, floating on a sea of smell. There’s a gap in the back fence where a plank has come unnailed. I leave my poetic mood behind and slip through.
Here it’s a different world. This is nobody’s garden, just slope of mud and grass running down to a creek. The water is brown and weedy, not so deep that you can’t see black rocks at the bottom. The bank on the other side rises up steep like a cliff, with lantana growing at the top. I can’t see any houses beyond, only the crowns of tall trees.
I’m still sussing it out when a tiny yappy dog comes rushing up to drive me off. Huh! I stay put. He’s only a miniature whatsit, a silky terrier sort of dog, with a comical long coat of grey and white hair. He must come from a nearby house.
‘Back back back!’ he yammers. ‘Back back back back back!’
Typical dogspeak. So uncouth! He skids to a halt, facing me. Like all miniature dogs, he’s pretending to take up as much space as if he was a real proper-size dog.
‘Well, well, a stranger,’ I say. Catspeak is always cool. ‘What’s your name, little fellow?’
You have to know how to treat dogs. I know all the best ways of making them mad with rage. This one is about to burst a blood vessel.
‘Witzer! Witzer by name and Witzer by nature! Witzer! Witzer! Witzer!’
‘Did you say Witzer? Was that it?’
‘Go back into your own garden.’
‘You shouldn’t be out here.’
‘I’m on patrol. It’s my duty.’ He says duty in that doggy way, like it makes him so important to have his very own duty. ‘This place isn’t safe for you.’
I give him a yawn. ‘You’re boring.’
His eyeballs are popping, he’s almost having a fit. He barks and pants at the same time.
‘Idiot! (pant!) Idiot! (pant!) Idiot! (pant!) Idiot!’
I arch my back and rise up on my legs. Long long legs I’ve got. I lift a front paw and unsheathe my claws.
A menace of claws.
A slice of claws.
My claws are a poem all by themselves.
But Witzer doesn’t retreat. I consider the options. A double cut and thrust, with passado and swipe to the nose? Or a slick left-right slash, feint, then jab to the ears?
Only trouble is, I’m not sure if Witzer is the sort of dog that drops back when he’s overcome by superior speed and weaponry Or the sort of dog that ignores his scratches and keeps fighting. I hate dogs that don’t recognise when they’re outclassed.
I compose myself for catspeak. ‘I’m exploring my territory. You can’t stop me.’
‘You don’t have any territory.’
This is ridiculous! Even in the inner city, every animal has territory.
‘Territory is shared,’ he goes on. ‘Thaddeus tells you where you can go.’
The cheek of it! Has this dog ever met a cat before?
‘I don’t obey orders,’ I tell him. ‘I’m an individualist.’
‘You’re a stupid cat! Useless cat! Typical cat!’
Now he’s back to basics. Oh, the dumbness of dogs! They pretend to be civilised, but it never lasts long. He plants his forelegs wider on the ground.
‘I’ll go you,’ he threatens. ‘I’ll count to four. If you’re still here on the count of four, I’ll go you. One.’
He’s doing a countdown. I feel my fur bristling up all over.
I can’t back off, not on my first day in a new territory. I’d never live it down.
I’m a coiled spring ready to burst into action. The passado and the left-right slash. The ears and nose.
Then a great big dog comes up along the bank behind Witzer. A tawny-coloured Labrador, with lolloppy paws.
‘What’s going on?’ she growls.
(Photo is Bibi - the real life original for Sassycat in the book)