How does one deal with a corpse? Sometimes dead bodies litter the house there are birds in the bathroom, and mice in the kitchen. Every so often rats go squish crunch as you walk to the toilet in the tiny, tiny morning hours. Lizards lie in wait, skinking beneath casual feet. Feathers tickle, but nobody shrieks with laughter, they only shriek with horror. Semi-corpses are even worse. They skittle and scuttle and hide under the fridge. Sometimes they scream. Mostly, Robin and I inhume dead things in plastic supermarket bags and deposit them in the kitchen rubbish bin. Over time bacterial decomposition releases clouds of noxious gases and the bags containing the corpses swell to such enormous volumes that there is no more room in the rubbish bin for potato peelings or broccoli stalks. Then we have a rubbish crisis. But never mind, it will soon be Sunday...
Every Sunday evening there is much hustle and bustle in our household. Rubbish must be carefully collected and collated, for tomorrow is collection day. The rubbish collectors come at an obscenely early hour on Monday and therefore the rubbish has to be put out on Sunday evening so as to avoid the stench of farting sparrows in the morning. But we are not allowed to put the rubbish out too early on Sunday evening the council leaflets warn of dire consequences for anyone who litters the streets with rubbish prior to 7.00pm. Hanging, drawing and quartering are among the least of the penalties that may be imposed. Consequently the window of opportunity for getting the rubbish safely to the kerbside is small. It can only be done after dinner time and before bed time. All too often the gap between these events is tiny Robin and I are both old and ugly. We require lots of beauty sleep. The house commonly resonates with the sound of snoring by 7.15pm. Sometimes the snoring is so loud that we have to wake the cats up because they are drowning out the dialogue on the television.
This particular Sunday, the cats were helping me with the rubbish ritual. They were anxious to get everything done as efficiently as possible.
"Where are the council rubbish bags that you empty the kitchen bins into?" asked Harpo. "I really enjoy their yellow crinkliness. It feels so good beneath my claws when it splits and shreds."
"And then it spills all that yummy stuff on the floor," said Bess, licking her lips in anticipation and flexing her claws.
I filled the yellow council rubbish bag with rubbish from the kitchen bin while the cats watched me fill it with treasure. I considered piercing the ballooning corpse containers in order to make more room but I decided against it. The cats peered with interest at the exhumed remains of their prey.
"I remember that mouse," said Harpo reminiscently. "I had lots of fun with it on the lawn before it stopped moving. That's when I brought it in for you and you made it vanish into thin air. So that's where it finally ended up. Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs!"
"Is there a rat in there?" asked Bess. "I distinctly remember a rat."
"Never you mind," I said. "Just help me carry this lot out to the kerbside."
We carried the rubbish bags outside and deposited them by the kerb. Harpo shot across the road to go exploring, narrowly missing a car along the way. His great bushy tail spread out behind him, giving the impression of a feline fox. He vanished into the darkness, a black cat out in the black night. Bess watched him go.
"He's always out having adventures," she complained. "Why can't I do that?"
"You can," I said. "The door is always open for you to come and go as you please."
"But the sofa is so warm and comfortable to sleep on all day and all night long. Apart from your bed, of course. That's the most comfortable of all."
"You do go out sometimes," I said. "At least once a day you go for a shit, a shave, a shower, and a shampoo in the garden."
"And it's fun," said Bess. "There are lots of rats in the bushes at the bottom."
"Oh. So that's where they come from. Tell me, why do you always make a point of bringing them to me on Monday evening after the rubbish has been collected? I really don't like it when they have to rot in the rubbish bin for a whole week."
Bess looked puzzled. "But Monday is rent day," she said.
"Yes," she explained. "You don't expect me and Harpo to live here without paying our way, do you? You provide board and lodging and in return we pay you for it. Fair's fare, so to speak. Monday is rent day."
"Couldn't you pay the rent on Saturday instead?"
"Oh no, that would never do. Cats are very conservative you know. We don't like change. Monday is rent day, and that's all there is to it."
Bess cut the conversation short by going over to the cushion that's always been her for ever favourite place for at least three weeks now. She curled up on it, wrapped her tail around her nose and fell asleep.
The next day, I lay in bed like the meat in a cat sandwich. Harpo was curled up close on one side of me and Bess was snuggled up on the other. I listened to the rubbish collectors outside as they tossed the bags into their truck and then moved on to the next house. Today was rent day. Hmmm...
Eventually the cats decided it was breakfast time and I was permitted to move. I poured biscuits into their bowl then I thought for a moment and took about half the biscuits out again and put them back in the packet.
"Yum," said Harpo, who doesn't quite understand quantitative measure. He dived in and began chewing but Bess looked suspicious.
"There aren't very many biscuits in my bowl," she said. "What's going on?"
"The vet says you are a bit overweight," I explained. "It's your sedentary lifestyle. And that's fine, it's your choice. But I'm cutting down on your food a little to make allowances for it."
"That's not fair," protested Bess. "Is it my fault that the house is full of comfy cushions?" She nibbled unenthusiastically at the slim scattering of biscuits in her bowl.
Once the cats had finished their breakfast, they both went out for their morning constitutional. Because today was rent day, I made sure to lock the cat flap behind them. Chortling with glee at my cleverness, I toddled off to get breakfast for myself.
Later in the day I heard Harpo howling outside the people door. Obviously he wanted to come in. I checked carefully through the window and as far as I could see, he didn't have the rent with him, so I opened the door to let him into the house. He stalked haughtily inside.
"What took you so long?" he demanded. "I told you to open the door at least thirty seconds ago."
As he walked past me he lashed out with a claw at my ankle and I bled a little onto my sock. Bess took advantage of the ensuing chaos to race in from beneath the bush where she'd been hiding.
"Thanks for distracting him, Harpo," she said.
"No worries," said Harpo, and he sauntered off in search of a nap.
Bess deposited a rat head, a bird beak and two weta legs at my feet.
"Rent," she announced. "The rat head is my payment for the week, the bird beak is Harpo's and the weta legs are because weta legs are horrible and I couldn't think what else to do with them."
I was puzzled. "Where's the rest of the rat, the bird and the weta?" I asked. "Normally you bring me entire corpses."
"Harpo and I took a unilateral decision," she explained. "You reduced the amount of food you give us, so we decided to reduce the rent that we pay."
I couldn't fault her logic. I began to anticipate lots of extra space in the rubbish bin. What could I possibly fill it all with?
Many thanks to Jane Lindskold who carefully explained to me the subtle rules of how and why cats pay rent.