Making memories


I took Nergal downstairs and opened the door to the garden. Like a flash of furry lightning, she ran through the door as soon as I opened it. When I looked out, Nergal was at the far side of the grass, near the trees, chasing a dead leaf blown around by the wind. Then, she stretched out on the grass (Nergal, not the leaf, although it stopped moving too). I watched as Nergal looked from the first leaf she had chased, to another leaf a few metres away. She seemed poised to spring forward but spotted a third leaf and looked hesitant. All three leaves were now slightly twitching in the breeze. The leaves were waiting for the wind to start gusting again. It did. The three leaves tumbled and danced around. Nergal looked frantically from one leaf to another, and finally realised she could not chase them all at once. She selected one leaf and chased it, but it did its’ best to escape. The leaf blew this way and that, sometimes leaping up a few feet into the air, closely followed by Nergal’s paws and the rest of her, stretched out in the air. Nergal: the incredible flying cat.

For a while, I was lost in this cat extravaganza. It was one of those days when it’s not too cold but not warm. It was like the idea of warmer weather was hanging around in the air, under a light blue sky, decorated neatly with thin lines of white clouds.

I remembered when I was a child, playing in my gran’s garden. It must have been summer as the sun was blazing hot, turning the cut grass into a dazzle of green. There was me and one of my sisters and my auntie, who was old: about 10 years old. We were sitting around on the grass, and we must have been just finished chasing each other, because everyone was out of breath, and we all had red cheeks. I know I did because I could feel little fires on either side of my face. We were clustered around our favourite mystery: a tiny, locked suitcase, made of battered brown leather. It smelt of beaches and pirate ships. We knew something was in it, because it was heavy, but we were never told what was in it, and we never found out. Sometimes, I’d poke at the suitcase lock with a stick or an old bit of wire I found in the garden, but I was no safecracker. The suitcase kept its secrets.

Somehow, fern-patterned glasses full of sparkling orange juice appeared in our hands. I suppose an adult must have brought them out to us in the garden, but I have no memory of that. All I remember is an orangey taste of sunlight, better than any drink before or since. I think it was a mix of fresh orange juice and orange lemonade, but I never asked. I tried to duplicate it years later when I was an adult, but it never tasted as good. Perhaps it couldn’t taste the same without a mystery suitcase nearby or the smell of cut grass and never-ending time.

When I returned from the mystery of a childhood suitcase, back to cat- world, Nergal had vanished. Is a cat world with no cat in it still a cat world? Maybe she had jumped through a portal into another dimension. The garden was still there, and a few dead leaves bouncing around in the wind, but no wild-eyed cat was chasing them. I guessed she was over by the far wall, hidden in the bushes, exploring. After a bus finished wheezing its way up the hill beyond the wall, I stood in the garden doorway and listened. There was a suspiciously cat-like prowling sound coming from the direction of the bushes, perhaps a cat trampling over piles of non-flying leaves. I felt certain it was Nergal. After all, we hadn’t seen the fox for months and we never saw it in daytime.

I leaned against the wall inside the doorway. I thought – Nergal will be happy for ages, amongst the leaves. If she got bored, there was always a tree or a shed roof to climb on. I looked up at a spider web in the right-hand top corner of the doorway. It was an engineering masterpiece, even better than the Tay Road Bridge. The web’s spider silk shone in the sunlight. No spider was around, but I often saw one at night or in the dark early hours of the morning, when Nergal liked to go down to the garden and pretend to be a vampire, sneaking up on a mouse and shouting: “Boo!”. Okay, maybe not, but I was always half asleep, so it might have happened. Anyway, the spider was usually real when I saw it in the yellow light from streetlights.   A tiny bowling ball with spindly legs walking on incredibly thin lines of silver. The spider crept around and around the web, pulling with it an endless, fine strand of silk for making or fixing a vertical or a horizontal line. Then the spider would move on to make or repair another bit of its wobbly scaffolding. Many times, the whole web was blown to tatters by the wind, but the next night I would see the spider repairing it.

I thought about sometimes losing bits of memory and then I would have to rebuild it. Sometimes, by asking Isobel: “What was the name of that movie, you know, the one about the thingy?” Isobel rolled her eyes. Or I’d ask: “When did we get married?” (Don’t try that one at home, folks. It may not end well.) But I usually pieced together enough of my own web of memories that I could catch a story or a conversation there when I needed to. That’s a good thing, as otherwise this blog would consist of one-word offerings, like: Umm.

Nergal marched across the grass towards me, ignoring a few brave leaves taunting her for a chase. Not interested. Nergal was on a mission. Her nose and tail held high, she strutted by me and on up the stairs. Hmm, food time, I guessed. I followed her up the stone stairs, glancing out a window as a gust of wind blew across the garden. Every dry leaf on the grass was leaping up or skimming across the surface of the grass or pirouetting. It was like an audience floor-invasion on Strictly Come Dancing.

A couple of nights later, I was sitting in an armchair, with Nergal curled up on my chest, her nose buried in my jumper, and she was loudly purring as I stroked her fur. The curtains were drawn, but I could hear what it was like out in the street. The wind was howling – a giant wind chasing all the smaller winds away, as if they were nothing but dead leaves. A clattering booming sound hit my ear drums as large plastic bins were knocked over by the wind in the street below. I heard cars slowing down and then speeding up as they tried to drive around escaping bins. A few times, voices from passing couples in the street rose to me but their voices were soon snatched away by the wind. Once, a seagull cried out loudly, like a strangled foghorn, but that sound was also quickly snatched away by the wind and lifted higher and higher until it too disappeared.

I dozed, thinking of a small house blown by the wind far up to a black and white sky spinning around and a mean faced woman floating by on a bicycle that turned into a witch’s broom, and she became a witch, cackling. I heard booming and clattering bins again, down in the street. Then there was a lull in the wind, and it was quiet, and I could hear Nergal again – softly purring. I wondered if she was dreaming of chasing leaves. Best not try that now, little one, I thought. You could end up being chased by a tree blown around by that wind. And the wind, on cue, howled loudly outside, but it must by then have knocked over all the bins as there was no more booming or clattering. And in-between listening to the wind outside and listening to Nergal purring close to me, I dozed more deeply. I thought of me and Isobel, driving up a narrow, steep winding road, with masses of bright trees on either side, then driving into a small car park, and walking in the warm sun and stillness to a high spot overlooking a great valley and Loch Tummel and green and blue mountains, including the vast Schiehallion, stronger than any wind. And I began to fall asleep, marvelling at the huge distance of the view along the loch to the hazy horizon. Breathing slowly, almost in time with the cat. Making more memories from life with the silk thread of thinking.

Harvey Duke

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