Tom Cat

December 30, 2013 § 25 Comments

I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but the end of 2013 is proving different from other years – primarily because I am now part of a vibrant, blogging community. It is, and continues to be, wonderfully life affirming, life changing stuff. I have posted many short stories during the brief time I have been here, and it has given me the opportunity to look at my work more objectively.

Of late I have noticed a subtle shift in what I want to write. When I first became aware of this, the shift manifested as a kind of dissatisfaction with the content of my work. It no longer felt enough – some of it actually felt pointless – yet I felt no compulsion to write anything else. It was as if I was drying up.

I now know what it is. At least for the beginning of 2014, I shall focus on Nature Writing. Much of my work has a strong nature content anyway, so this is perhaps nothing new – but it is as if I can own and acknowledge this. Perhaps what I will now write will have a story embedded within it – perhaps it will beย  just a collection of thoughts in the way that writers like Annie Dillard and the late Roger Deakin speak to us in their evocative, eloquent prose. So I shall be writing in the dark. I have no idea where it will lead – and that’s exciting and not a little scary. In the end, all that matters is to write.

And finally, I love your feedback – it helps me and my writing grow – so when you have the time, please keep it coming.


I once had a cat who visited at night. A tom, he was born on the farm – so I felt I owned him – but he was never really mine. Gerald belonged to himself. He wore his history on his skin, and stank of his passions, his lust, and the battles he conducted nightly in the oak meadow next to the house. At first I thought he was the shriek of a fox, and worried for the chickens who insisted on sleeping in the trees overhanging the pond – but I soon learned that foxes are quiet when they’re hungry.

ย His manners were his own, and driven entirely by instinct. A good jumper even for a cat, he visited by leaping onto the conservatory roof and shrinking himself sleek so he could slide through the open window onto my writing desk. He left paw prints of mud and blood on the blank page. Then he arched his back, waved his tail in the air like a sail pulled tight to catch the wind, and kneaded my chest until I got out of bed to feed him. Afterwards, he sat by the kitchen door and cleaned every part of himselfย  – his eagle-like talons splayed as he stretched each back leg into the air to be washed. He sat quietly and waited for the door to be opened – he never did get the hang of the cat flap.

With long, grey fur that collected burrs and twigs and bits of broken shell from the snails he liked to eat – he looked like a lap cat – but unlike his sister, he never had the temperament for it. I was happy he didn’t spend much time in the house as he left his scent everywhere: on doorposts, on laundry straight off the line waiting to be folded, and on me. Even pots left to dry on the draining board could not escape the stink of his tomcat urine. Perhaps he didn’t know where he really belonged, so he marked everything with his smell.

But the last time he visited he came home to die. I regarded it as a compliment. He came in the daylight through the open door and stretched out on the sofa. Grown thin, his fur had an odour I did not know. He shivered, so I wrapped him in a towel. His body leaked death fluids – yet he kept his dignity. I think he had been poisoned.

I still think of him sometimes – particularly when I hear the night time yowl of the fox, or the new tomcats from the neighbouring farms come to mark out their territory on his patch.

Things are different now. The chickens are gone, and I sleep with my window closed because these days I feel the cold. I miss the deep purring from his chest and the bloodiness on mine – and sometimes I wake and cannot be sure he’s not there. Perhaps he wants to be let in. I get out of bed, wrap myself in a blanket and open my window. I sit at my writing desk and listen. But now there are other noises – sounds that demand nothing of me. The wail of the curlew, the sharp cry of a rabbit being taken by a stoat – simple sounds of other lives not connected with me. So I close my window, and take up my pen.


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§ 25 Responses to Tom Cat

  • JessicaHof says:

    Lovely to have you back writing, and I loved this. You really evoked the kind of bond some of us have with a particular cat, taking us beyond the bland generalisations into a kind of relationship which I certainly recognise; you get beyond the usual cliches. Look forward to reading more nature writing; I see a lot of that in what you write here, so in a way it seems like a natural development.

    Hope 2014 will be a great one for you ๐Ÿ™‚ xx Jess

  • A beautifully recounted tale, Rachael. As a cat lover every moment you write about ties in with a personal memory, so well written. Good luck with your writing in 2014 and take care.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks Chris – pleased it struck a note with you. As usual though, I’m not sure it’s really about a cat… hey ho!
      All the best for 2014 and I look forward to more of your beautiful poetry.

  • Sounds interesting, nature is so inspiring and often has an impact on how I feel, which in turn can influence what I’m writing. I cannot seem to avoid nature or the environment, it is always in my thoughts. Good luck with the new focus I really look forward to reading more of your beautiful posts in 2014.
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, John. It feels absolutely right to be doing this!
      I look forward to reading more of your wonderfully imaginative writing in 2014.

  • mikesteeden says:

    This piece is smooth and graceful in movement – just like a cat!

  • NEO says:

    I too am pleased, very pleased, with your nature writing. It is something that transcends time and distance, it always echoes for me what I have known, although not expressed, and is a large part of what so many of us, who live close to the land, understand so well. And they’re always a ripping good story as well.

    And yes, having a cat come home to die with you is a very high honor indeed, few will know it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Your sensitivity, as always, shines through your words. Thank you for that. I say (in a very small voice), that the decision to focus on writing about the natural world feels rather like coming home. We shall see – nothing may come of it.
      I hear through the grapevine that your journey to your loved ones took three days by train. I would love to hear more about the journey. Living on this island, it takes less than twenty four hours to travel from north to south by train. Of course the countryside is beautiful, and it’s lovely to watch as one travels through the changes – there’s a definite feeling of going to ‘higher altitudes’ as one goes north to the Highlands of Scotland. For you, because of your greater and grander landscapes, the experience must be even more intense. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • NEO says:

        That is key, I think. We all would do well to write about what feels right to us, which, of course, is why my blog is rather badly misnamed, although I’m fond of the name.

        That might be an interesting post, I’ve occasionally referred to parts of it, long ago. I won’t promise beyond working with it a bit, we’ll see what I can do. ๐Ÿ™‚

        It is a big country, and I’m almost smack-dab in the middle of it, a legacy of a family that has followed work all over the map, for nearly a century now.

  • Miranda Stone says:

    What a wonderful New Year’s resolution, Rachael! I look forward to reading more of your nature writing. As for this story, I think you did a great job with it. Whenever we write about grief and loss, it can be easy to slip into an oversentimental voice, and you completely avoid that here, which makes the story all the more moving. I know you like constructive feedback, so my only suggestion is to perhaps mind some of those dashes. I’m all for creative license, and I know some writers employ dashes quite liberally, but I think in a few instances above, the dashes could be replaced with commas. Then the remaining dashes would have more of an effect on the reader. I hope you have a wonderful New Year, Rachael!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      So pleased you thought it was successful. It’s the first piece I’ve enjoyed writing for a while. I really did consider packing it all in.
      I totally take on board the punctuation issue. To be frank I’ve always had this problem, mainly because I still don’t know how to use the semi-colon properly. The (over) use of the dash is simply because I can’t decide what to use…. I’m very happy for you to point them out – it will remind me not to be so sloppy, and I might eventually get the hang of it!! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
      Have a peaceful and productive New Year. Rx

  • ninamishkin says:

    My goodness, Rachael! Thank you so much for all the many “likes” and the great compliment of deciding to “follow” me and my rather new blog. I’m glad to have connected, and look forward to much good writing from you, and hopefully me, in 2014!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      You have a unique and interesting writing voice I connect with – hence all the clicks! Look forward to spending time with you.

  • ninamishkin says:

    Hope I don’t disappoint! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I was curious and flattered that you had visited my blog, but now, after reading some of your posts, I am truly humbled. I do love how you write and wish I had the gift of describing scenes as you do….I can feel, smell, see and hear all you describe so eloquently. And dark, you say, is a new turn for you? I love dark and this piece especially touched me being a cat lover too. I was also imagining myself at my best friend of 40 years at her home on a farm…then back to my childhood home and hearing the bullfrogs. You are an amazing writer to stir up so much in a reader, Rachael. Blessings and warm and happy wishes for 2014, Oliana.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      What you said of my writing has moved me deeply, Oliana. I think the greatest thing any story teller can hope to do is carry the reader so deeply into the experience that they forget who and where they are. What you experienced may be some way towards that – it’s the greatest compliment a writer can be given.
      I am so pleased my stories are giving you some pleasure – it makes me want to write better!
      I was attracted to your blog because of the way you write emotion. It is a real gift which few people have without resorting to saccharine sentences or an indulgent self conscious tone. It is clearly your metier, and I wish you well with it.
      My blessings are returned to you, and I hope 2014 is content and productive. Rachael x

      • Well, now, YOU have given me a gift. Thank you for your kind words and comment on my writing. I do have a tendency to NOT sugar coat and have often been scolded in conversations. In talking situations, I feign ignorance at times turned to humour with a “Did I say that out loud?!” hehe It may also be a bit of a cultural thing too being half French (Quebecois). You have made my day with your lovely feedback. Oliana xx

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