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MARLON BRANDO ON MY BREADBOARD
by Michele Sheldon
Marlon Brando appears on my breadboard on the very same day my sister dumps her cat on me.
When I go into the kitchen in the morning, there he is in his pre-supersized glory, eyeing me from the sideboard. I pick him up and examine his beautiful face, etched in years of knife cuts, shaded in with some kind of oily spillage. I sniff, slightly recoiling at the smell of sardines, and he breaks into a smile. Marlon Brando is smiling at me. He can be as fishy as he likes.
The cat arrives late afternoon. I look into its cage to see a raggedy ball of dark brown fur, stained nicotine orange at the ends, like it has a 40 a day habit. It spins round to look at me with spaced-out glassy green eyes. I take a step back as I clock its long white fangs resting on its fluffy chin.
“The teeth are off-putting at first,” says my sister, Sarah, as she rests the travel cage in the hallway. “But the vet reassured us they’re perfectly normal.”
Betsy, my daughter, kneels on the floor making strange kissy-kissy sounds, clearly unfazed by the vampire teeth. Sarah opens the cage. The cat sprints out and shoots up the stairs, leaving sweaty paw prints on the wooden steps. Betsy scampers after it.
“He’s under your bed, Mummy,” she shouts down.
“Best let him settle,” Sarah calls back.
Nick arrives home later that evening and disappears upstairs to get changed. After a few moments, we hear the sound of feet pounding down the stairs before he crashes into the kitchen. A smell follows, reminiscent of burnt toast. My and Betsy’s noses twitch as we try to decipher the smell and where it’s coming from, when a sudden waft makes us gag.
“There’s a creature under the bed and it’s done a shit on my gym kit bag,” Nick says.
It is more than he has said to me all week.
Later, over dinner I say, “I was going to tell you.”
Nick scrunches his eyes shut. “Why the hell did you agree?”
“Betsy’s been on about us getting a cat for ages… and he’s already been re-homed twice. Sarah thought he’d been through enough.”
“It’s a cat.”
“In age, he’s equivalent to a toddler.”
Nick stabs at a pasta shell. “Why the hell did she get a bloody cat in the first place?” he asks, dropping his fork onto his plate.
It is a question we have debated many times before on account of my sister’s son suffering a terrible allergy to horse and dog hair. Nonetheless, she thought it a good idea to get him a cat for his tenth birthday. After the fourth visit to A&E where he was put on a nebuliser, the doctors told her to get rid of the cat.
“We don’t know anything about it,” Nick says, kneading his temples.
“He’s a cat. Not a paedophile,” I say.
“Our bedroom still stinks,” he says.
He gets up then, pushing his unfinished plate of pasta across the table before announcing, “I’m sleeping in the spare bedroom.”
I scoop the pasta into the bin while I hold Marlon’s gaze. He winks at me and mouths, “Hey Stella!”
The next morning, a Saturday, Betsy changes the cat’s name from Lestat to Raisin.
“He’s all brown and squishy,” she says as she holds him down on her bed and tries to tame his unruly fur with a doll’s hairbrush.
I agree. He doesn’t wear his fur well. He is somewhat over-fluffed which is absolutely fine on some cats but with Raisin it sits badly on his body. It’s as if he’s stolen the fur from another cat and stuffed himself inside. You have an overwhelming urge to grab him and straighten it out. But no amount of brushing has any effect. The tufts of fur strain away from each other like opposing magnets.
Later, Betsy bullies me into buying expensive Le Gourmet Chat food with the photo of the fancy white cat on the front, wearing a matching diamanté collar and tiara; a two-storey scratching post; a luxurious goose-feathered sleeping basket; an aromatherapy cat litter tray and a pink cat buggy with integrated drinks’ holders, which I hide beneath Betsy’s bed.
Nick leans against the doorframe of the downstairs toilet, watching me and Betsy fill up the geranium-scented litter tray with grey rubble.
“Why can’t we let him go outside?” he asks.
“He has to be kept in for two weeks so he knows this is his home,” says Betsy.
“Otherwise he’ll get lost.”
“And?” he replies.
That evening, while watching Britain’s Got Talent, we hear the squeak of the toilet roll holder in the downstairs bathroom spinning round and round. We look at one another, thinking that either someone has broken into the house and is using our toilet, or we have a poltergeist.
We creep towards the toilet to see Raisin standing on his hind legs, front paws manically paddling against the toilet roll until waves of Smooth champagne satin cover his stink. Betsy holds her nose with one hand and films Raisin with her mobile in her other.
Cat using toilet roll becomes an overnight You Tube sensation, clocking up two million views in a week.
When Betsy gets home from school, she dresses him in her teddies’ clothes and parades him up and down the street in his cat pram. I watch from the bedroom window as she stops every couple of yards, making a great show of extracting her chocolate milkshake out of its special holder and sucking on the straw, as Raisin’s fans gaze at him through the little plastic window. Nick has to fight his way through the hoards of children waiting to touch the fur of fame.
The following week he comes home later and later. But I don’t care. In the evenings, when the school kids go home and I finish sweeping up their sweet wrappers, I stand Marlon up against the sofa cushion next to me and snuggle up to him.
“A man that doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” Marlon says.
We go to France for two weeks. I try to smuggle Marlon into my suitcase but Nick finds him during his third inventory check and shoves him up against the bread bin. As Nick hustles me out of the house, I hear Marlon shouting, “Quo vadis, baby?”
On the tenth day, Betsy shakes me awake from an afternoon nap. She’s crying. She pushes my phone into my face.
“Read it, Mummy, read it.”
I squint at the text and see it’s from Roger, our neighbour, who is looking after Raisin while we’re away. I read it out loud. “Raisin has been missing for seven days. Getting worried.”
I hug Betsy tightly but inside I’m doing cartwheels. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Nick punching the air and mouthing ‘yes’ before miming the action of a deranged driver running over an object and reversing over it.
“I’m sure Raisin is fine,” he says, patting her back. “Let’s go to Monkey Valley tomorrow and see the lemurs. That’ll cheer you up.”
After Betsy cries herself to sleep, Nick pours me a large glass of wine.
“Seven days – not looking good,” he says. “Car, fox, poison?”
“I feel mean about feeling happy,” I say. “Maybe he’s found an owner who appreciates him, who likes him even.”
I wonder how Marlon’s faring, his lovely face squashed up against the bread bin.
“I just hate the way Raisin’s taking over,” says Nick, lighting his cigarette and blowing a cloud of smoke in my face. “The way he leaps up at doors and crashes them open as if he’s some hotshot cowboy entering a saloon ready to take on all the bad boys.”
I take a gulp of wine before speaking.
“Yeah, I know. And then he just stands there and stares at you. It’s almost like he’s judging us.”
“Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head,” says Nick. “He is judging us. He’s thinking, ‘I’m a fucking You Tube sensation and you’re a bunch of losers with your dead end jobs.’ And he just turns around and walks out. He may as well stick two fingers up at us.”
“I wouldn’t mind if he closed the door behind him,” I say.
“He does it on purpose. Let the lazy arses’ arses get cold,” he says, refilling my glass so it’s nearly overflowing. “Have you heard from Rog?”
I take my phone from my pocket and smile. “Nothing.”
“By tomorrow it’ll be eight days. And by the time we get back ten whole days. There’s no way he’s going to reappear. His nine lives are well and truly over.”
I watch the cigarette smoke vanish into the starry night and a thought comes to me. “Oh, God! Maybe we should have got him insured?” I say.
Nick grinds the cigarette under foot. “I tried. The insurance company said they’d only give us insurance to cover vet’s fees. Nothing for sudden death, even if he is a You Tube sensation.”
On the way to Monkey Valley the next morning, Betsy shrieks for us to stop.
I pull over. Nick jumps out and opens her door, thinking she’s going to be sick.
But instead she sprints back along the road and prostrates herself in front of one of the many Christian shrines on the roadside.
“Jesus,” says Nick, slamming the passenger door.
“It’s the Virgin Mary, actually,” I say.
When we arrive home, Raisin is hanging around on top of the garage with a fox cub. Betsy leaps out of the car and the cub scuttles off into the back garden.
Raisin jumps down to greet her, meowing and rubbing himself against her legs.
“It’s a miracle,” says Betsy, holding him up to the grey sky cat god.
I want to say, “No, Marlon Brandon appearing out of nowhere is a miracle,” as I run to the kitchen, rescue Marlon from the sideboard and give him a kiss.
Betsy follows with Raisin under arm, rummages around in her backpack, and there and then wrestles him into a pink bikini she bought at the market in Chinon. I watch her disappear into the garage. A few moments later, she re-emerges pushing the cat pram. Raisin is peering through the plastic window looking strangely relaxed.
I place Marlon gently back on the sideboard and go to help Nick unpack the car.
“I thought foxes were meant to eat cats,” he says as he slams the suitcases onto the hallway floor.
“Probably gave up trying to get through the fur,” I say.
“Or maybe he was just about to tuck in,” says Nick, squaring up to me. “If we’d stopped at that service station like I wanted to. If for once in your life you’d have just listened to me,” he adds, before turning and stomping back down the hallway to the front door.
The fox disappears, perhaps scared off by Raisin’s cross-dressing. But fleas hop up from Betsy’s bedding and red lumps emerge on Nick’s hairy legs. I spend over £100 on flea powder, flea tablets, combs and a lecture from the vet on my poor cat-keeping skills. I spend a day spraying the house while Nick takes Betsy to his mum’s for the weekend.
As I de-flea the house, I wish many bad things upon Raisin: speeding cars; a rabid pack of dogs; a trail of poisoned cat biscuits laid down by a sociopathic cat hater; a gang of antisocial teenagers with state-of-the-art airguns; a fall from a high branch into a deep water tank; a plane crashing into the town, with Raisin being the only fatality. I share my fantasies with Marlon in the evening as I lay my head next to his.
“They are just fantasies, I know. I don’t really wish for anything bad to happen to him,” I say.
“Ah, but this is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination,” he whispers.
On Monday morning, as I open the door to take Betsy to school for the first day of the autumn term, Raisin rushes in. I see a flash of white around his mouth. When we walk out of the front door, we see little piles of bright white feathers or fur on the pavement and road.
Betsy picks up a handful. She rolls it between her fingers next to her left ear, then sniffs it, like a cigar connoisseur, before opening up her palm to allow a gust of wind to carry it away.
“It’s definitely cat hair,” she says, watching it disappear. “Do you think Raisin has killed Le Gourmet Chat?”
“Le Gourmet Chat lives in Paris,” I say.
But I begin to wonder if it’s a message from the spirit world. Just as white feathers are sent as a sign you’re being watched over by angels, the white fur is a warning. The cat god has been party to my thoughts too many times and is angered.
Later that night, I fall asleep on the sofa with Marlon nestled in my arms. I wake to hear screaming. It’s dark. Footsteps thunder down the stairs. The light flashes on. Nick is standing in the doorway, his face flushed red.
“I got up to go to the toilet and he jumped me. The hairy bastard bit me!”
I blink-in a Betsy shape pushing past Nick.
“You’re so mean about him, Daddy,” she says, bleary-eyed. “He just wants to play.”
“What kind of monster has your sister unleashed upon us?” asks Nick, holding his hand up to the hall light.
We watch the blood drip crimson spots onto the beige carpet.
“The horror. The horror,” says Marlon, his voice muffled by a cushion.
For the rest of the week, Raisin messes on Nick’s bicycle seat, in his cycle helmet, his work shoes and trainers. He even takes over our bed at night, hissing and spitting at us if we try and move him on. And no matter how many times I vacuum, our duvet is constantly covered in a thick layer of fur and tiny bits of dirt.
Nick threatens to pack his bags. Instead, he moves into the spare room where he spends his evenings on the computer. I move Marlon onto the sofa bed with me, downstairs in the lounge. When I go to brush my teeth and hear Nick snoring, I hack into his email account.
“I knew it!” I say.
I read Marlon the emails Nick has been sending Smooth toilet roll behind my back. The last one says: I am happy to accept a five figure one-off cash payment for Raisin’s services.
“Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life?” Marlon asks. “Do it to him before he does it to you.”
I write a reply and copy myself into the email: I have been called away to work in a remote area of China and won’t be contactable for the next four weeks. Please send your reply to my wife, Stella, who will be negotiating on behalf of Raisin.
Marlon reads the email three times, then nods his approval. I send it and delete it.
In the morning, after Betsy has gone to school, Marlon and I wait three hours for Raisin to take a dump and we film it. Afterwards, I look up Le Gournet Chat’s head of marketing and fire off an email offering Raisin’s services and attach the film. Two days later, I get a reply from Le Gourmet Chat’s director of marketing. I read it out to Marlon: Thank you so much for showing us the video of Raisin briefly turning to acknowledge the camera as he goes about his business. We’re very keen to use the footage exclusively and would ask you not to post it on You Tube. We’re looking forward to making Raisin the new poster boy of our latest French cuisine menus, aimed at sophisticated cats and their owners. Please get in touch as soon as possible to discuss payment.
“One of them is going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” Marlon says.
The following week, Nick slips on a freshly regurgitated fur ball and crashes headfirst into the banister. Both his eyes swell black and blue. He packs his bags and leaves. I clear up the fur ball and ring the Le Gourmet Chat people, telling them about the Smooth toilet roll people. Straight afterwards, I ring the Smooth toilet roll people and tell them about the Le Gourmet Chat people.
Smooth toilet roll pulls out as the bidding war reaches six figures.
When I tell Marlon, he closes his eyes and smiles. “I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: never confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.”
Michele’s short stories have won and been short listed for different prizes including Kent Life, Bridport Prize, WriterWriter and the Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award. They’ve been published in a diverse range of anthologies including Stories for Homes, and magazines like Rosebud, Storgy, Here Comes Everyone and Cabinet of Heed. She lives in Kent with her partner and three children.
You can follow Michele on Twitter: michele@10013