A Song from Bedlam (with apologies to Christopher Smart)

A Song From Bedlam
(with apologies to Christopher Smart)
Nike Sulway

For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey
For she is the loudest of creatures
For at five in the morning she calls for her supper until I stumble blindly through the house, stub my toe on the stairs, and place meat in her bowl, which she then does not deign to eat. Only nibbles a little and turns her back to me in disgust
For still she is satisfied enough that she lets me sleep for one more hour provided she gets the pillow and I the mattress
For when I am about to go out to collect the mail, she races in at the door and under my feet so that I trip, and then tucks herself into the most inaccessible corner of the house so that I can neither find her nor punish her
For she winds about my legs when I am on the pisser and once, curious, stuck her nose in under the stream and was greatly appalled at the heat and stink
For she sharpens her claws on the upholstery, so as to ensure that our house has the aspect of an asylum
For she is an excellent mouser
For she sometimes brings her prey to the door and yowls so loudly that I cannot hear the six o’clock news
For her teeth crunch on the bones of her prey
For she leaves the gizzard of her prey on the doormat, understanding too well that I am not as good a hunter as she is, nor as delicate in my dissection of my meals
For when my mother died, she was my sole inheritance
For my mother was a woman with many cats, but only Jeoffrey was for me
For my mother’s other cats inherited her house and land, and ten thousand a year for premium mince and other delicacies
For Jeoffrey was her least favourite cat
For my cat Jeoffrey, who was once her cat Jeoffrey, was wont to piss in the aspidistra, and in the linen cupboard, and occasionally on the living room rug, or my mother’s bed
For Jeoffrey has no respect for human dignity or furniture
For she considers everything human transmutable and strange
For Jeoffrey has claws that no longer retract
For she sometimes sleeps with me in the bed, and always in the least comfortable crook of my body
For although she speaks, as cats do in fairy tales, everything she says is a lie
For she has told me she once killed a leveret and gave it to a king as a gift
For she has also told me that the reason that my lover has not returned is that she tricked him into becoming a mouse and then ate him, and left his gizzard on my pillow as a memento
For I wonder whether cats, too, become senile
For once she said that if I did her bidding I would marry a prince and live in a castle and eat boneless fish and be served cream in silver dishes
For another time she told me that I should take off all my clothes and get into the river
For even though I did so, it was not because she said to
For even I do not take orders from a liar and a cat
For once I was in the water, Jeoffrey took my clothes and, having once pissed on them to improve their scent, hid them from me, except for the boots, which she kept for herself
For the boots are lovely
For even my cat Jeoffrey, though a liar and a cat, has good taste in shoes
For I sat in the river for hours until the traffic cleared and I could get out of the water without fear of being seen by a passing family in a station wagon
For the river was, of course, near a major thoroughfare
For Jeoffrey had surmised that the king and his son would pass by, and mistake me for some minor member of the aristocracy now that I was not dressed in my Wednesday pyjamas
For the rest is not worth telling
For cats are all liars and miscreants and stealers of a woman’s fine boots and shredders of furniture who do not hesitate to piss in your pot-plants and connive to have you arrested
For I did get arrested on the road near the river
For I am sure Jeoffrey called the police and pretended to be an alarmed bystander who had lately seen a woman—not young or pretty, but with long grey hair unsuitably loose—marching naked along the side of the freeway
For whatever the doctors say, my mother’s madness is not mine
For not all women who live alone with cats are mad
For the arresting officer was very understanding but insisted that Jeoffrey did not call the station to report my situation
For he is quite satisfied that he can tell the difference between the voice of a woman impersonating a person, and a cat impersonating a woman
For Jeoffrey does fine impersonations of all manner of women, not least my mother, whom she imitates with a fine ear for the rising inflection that queered my mother’s speech from some time in her 50s until her passing
For when I got home, dressed in a tracksuit that perhaps had once belonged to a drug dealer or a murderer, Jeoffrey was unaffected
For she would not come in when I opened the door for us both
For she is mostly blind and sometimes when I open the door she stands uncertainly at the entrance, myopic and confused
For perhaps she senses that I might not be above vengeance of a petty kind
For example letting a door slam on the tail of a cat who would have me arrested for public nudity and causing a public nuisance
For I am not that kind of cat lady
For she is my only companion, after all, and my sole inheritance
For though she is old and mad and a liar and going blind, and no longer completely in charge of her bladder, we are perhaps not so very unalike
For she was once fast and beautiful
For she still craves touch, and will press her body into the pressure of my hand just to feel the shape of her own head, her own back, measured by another
For she is difficult and independent and will not stay indoors in the evening
For we do not live in stolen castles or eat off silver plates
For we have not married well
For my mother loved her, as she once claimed she loved me, but she did not like us very much


Nike Sulway is an Australian writer of poems, short stories and novels. Her previous short works have appeared in Strange Horizons and Lightspeed. She is also the author of the Tiptree-Award winning novel, Rupetta (Tartarus Press).