Tommy Catkins, by Louis Wain

The Heroism Of Colonel Pussy

Entrenchment (A message from Tommy Catkins at the Front)

Pussy by name, pussy by nature.

Colonel Pussy barrelled round the corner in his souped-up, cut-down Jeep: its tyres left trails of black rubber as he screeched to a halt. The Willys MB had barely stopped moving as he stood and vaulted over the door: opening it would have taken too long. And his paws had no sooner hit the ground than he began striding purposefully towards the officers’ mess.

That was Pussy all over: he always hit the ground running. It was said around the base that there were only two occasions on which he took things slowly: the first was when drawing a bead on a baddy; the second was when keeping company with a lady. And there were many opportunities for both. Pussy was the best shot in the squadron, and his tabby stripes, military bearing and gallant air were like catnip to the fairer sex.

“Pussy by name, pussy by nature,” he would roar whenever his news of his latest conquest raised eyebrows in the mess hall. Strictly speaking, the corps preferred its senior men to keep their private affairs just that: private. But it was hopeless trying to hush Pussy’s bragging: it was like a force of nature. And in any case, his success on the battlefield and in the bedroom usually won admiration, rather than arousing envy.

It had obviously been a good mission: Colonel Pussy had the satisfied air of one who had got the cream and the canary. One of the engineers would be stencilling a fresh batch of pointy-helmeted heads onto the fuselage of his Spitfire tonight. He swept into the mess, smacking the door into the wall with a thunderous crash, and bellowed: “Drinks for everyone! On me!”

The words had barely left his lips, to be greeted with a cheer from the occupants of the mess hall, when someone rushed over to him with a saucer brimful of milk. Pussy seized it by the rim, applied his tongue swiftly and drank it down in one long lick. He dragged his forepaw across his whiskers to brush off the few drops that had strayed, and then downed the next saucer proffered him in similarly rapid fashion.

Two underlings – barely out of kittenhood, their ears and feet still oversized – helped Pussy out of his flight suit, while the barman scurried to distribute Pussy’s round to his grateful beneficiaries. Underneath, Pussy wore Army colours, although he’d transferred to the RAF long ago. It was just another eccentricity that his superiors chose to overlook, like his penchant for parading up and down the drill field for no readily apparent purpose. No one ever dared ask why: that was just Pussy.

“Good trip, Colonel?” asked Lieutenant Snowdrop, with a twinkle in his eye. “Very good, Snowy,” rejoined Pussy, holding up a paw and extending its full complement of claws. That meant four kills – maybe five, if the dewclaw up his sleeve was standing similarly proud. “There are going to be some dashed gloomy faces behind the Axis line tonight! And not just because their women are ugly and their fish is rotten!”

There was a roar of laughter: they’d heard it all before, but the jubilance of Pussy’s return had a way of making everything seem new and exciting again, and at the same time, as though nothing would ever change. As long as Pussy kept soaring up, up and away and swooping back down to barge through the mess hall doors, the war could be kept at bay. The menace of Kitler remained little more than a looming presence.

Pussy drank down another saucer of milk – his fourth since entering the mess – and approached the bar. His stool, as always, was waiting for him, its worn leather seat welcome. He straddled it, then sat down, his rear claws scratching at familiar grooves in its sturdy legs. “A few close calls, Snowy, one got off a clean shot at me. Thought I was going to be pushing up daisies and no mistake!”

There was a concerned muttering, but not too concerned: Pussy had never suffered so much as a graze in combat. Intelligence reports suggested that even the other side knew of his charmed life. “I made ’em pay dearly for it, though,” said Pussy. “Made widows of a few young kitties in Berlin!” He laughed grimly and patted at his pockets, looking for a cigarette. Abruptly, he stopped: slowly brought his paw back up to his face.

Its white fur was smeared with red.

Pussy stared it for a moment, then patted again at his pocket, hesitantly this time. This time, when he brought it up, there was no mistaking it. The paw was covered in blood. The mess hall fell silent. “I say …” started Colonel Pussy. “I … Snowy, I don’t feel too well.” And with that, Pussy staggered back off the stool. As he stepped back from the bar, the dark, spreading splotch on his shirt was plain for all to see.

“What does this mean?” said the Colonel, his unaccustomed doubt striking fear into the hearts of every tomcat in the room. There was a pause, and then Snowy replied, reluctantly. “It means the day has come,” he said. “The day that we knew would come eventually. We survived sex – in fact, you seem to have rather thrived on that. But it seems that your dreamer has become aware … aware of …” His words trailed away.

“It can’t be!” hissed Colonel Pussy, and for a moment his amber eyes flared with an anger that made those nearby step back. “I can’t die! I refuse to die! I’m COLONEL PUSSY, DAMMIT!” He fell silent for a moment, then added quietly: “Anyway, it’s just a flesh wound.” A drop of blood fell to his floor, its splash audible in the hush. Pussy dragged his paw across his face; a streak of dark red stuck together the fur around his mouth.

“I’m afraid that’s just the way it is,” said Snowy. “There’s no going back now. The dreamer no longer believes.” His icy blue eyes were dispassionate, but his drooping ears told of his real feelings. “From now on, it’s for real. Everything is for real.” This time, the silence endured, the only sound the increasingly rapid patter of Colonel Pussy’s blood dripping on the floor.

It was broken by the crash of the doors. “Scramble, scramble!” cried an orderly. “We have radar contact; they’re only ten minutes out! To your planes! To your planes!”

Pussy straightened up; if the motion caused him pain, he showed no sign. “Well, that’s torn it,” he said, and started pacing towards the door, his tail stiffened. “Fun while it lasted, eh, Snowy?” A trail of spots marked his passage across the floor. “Stop,” said Snowy softly, desperately. “You’re in no shape. Let someone else take them on. You’ll live to fight another day.”

And Pussy did stop, but only for a moment. “But that’s just it,” he said, and strode out of the door. ##

9 thoughts on “The Heroism Of Colonel Pussy

  1. No hero is immortal til he dies. — W.H. Auden

    Colonel Pussy was the imaginary friend of my (real) best friend when he was five or six. He did wear an US Army uniform, drive a Jeep and marched up and down the playground tirelessly; the rest is my invention. I remember being a little jealous both of Colonel Pussy’s intangible but inarguable claim on my friend’s attentions and of my friend’s ability to call on the Colonel to keep him company at any time. Growing up as an only child, there were times when I really could have done with an imaginary friend of my own, but I never managed to sustain my belief in one. Maybe with this story I’ve got a measure of revenge.

    The picture for this story is “Entrenched (A message from Tommy (C)atkins at the Front)” by the artist Louis Wain. Wain, born in 1860, started out as a naturalistic sketch artist, but became famous for his pictures of anthropomorphised cats: promenading, taking tea, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, Wain was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1917; he fell into poverty and was institutionalised from 1924 until his death in 1939. It’s often said that the progress of Wain’s illness seems to have been mirrored remarkably by his art, which become more and more eerie and abstract until they become little more than intricate, geometric and vaguely feline patterns, but there’s considerable controversy about both the diagnosis and progression of his condition.

    The cause of schizophrenia, and particularly of late-onset cases like Wain’s, remains mysterious. One theory implicates the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is present in up to forty percent of all people. It’s carried by cats.

  2. Nice. Half way through I wondered where this was going and then you changed it all around and the story of flash, shallow Colonel Pussy acquired depth and resonance, and reached out into the real world.

  3. This is imaginative and well-written. It reminded me of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, except with, um, pussy. When I read your comment afterward, my response was “OHHHhhhh, I get it.” Knowing a little back story, in this case, would have made me connect more quickly with the story. Also, using Colonel Pussy as your main character’s name and in the title is a daring move, but I found it a tad confusing. Reading your comment afterward cleared it up somewhat, but during the course of the story, I could not figure out if you were trying to be ironic or clever with word play. The story of the artist is really fascinating and an amazing twist. It’s really true that truth is stranger than fiction. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cats! Heroic war story! What a totally nuts idea to put these together and I’m astounded that I could enjoy and laugh out loud at such an endeavor! Great characterisation of Pussy and the narrative moves with the action and style of a classic WW2 black and white movie. I haven’t seen enough of these to be aware if you were referencing one in particular – I thought maybe you were here: “There’s no going back now. The dreamer no longer believes.” His icy blue eyes were dispassionate, but his drooping ears told of his real feelings. ” From now on, it’s for real. Everything is for real.” Kind of reminded me of the dramatic emotionally charged dialogue in Casablanca.

    I love the characterisation through the intense close up description of Pussy downing his milk and his catly gestures. So many great lines – Matt enjoyed it too – I watched his face as he was reading it and he was chuckling and moved to concern in all the same places. Your writing in this clever anthropomorphisation keeps your tactile (sensual!- can’t use this word uh!) style. Hooray!

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