D is for Debbie

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Illustration by Ellie Rutherford

Things I can do: shin up the Stantons’ sycamore in 16 seconds flat; terrorise Taunton; ponder the meaning of Utopia; sleep soundly; walk on the wall round Wellington Gardens; lie on the rug and purr; slither down the sycamore in 11.2 seconds; crack open the skull of a sparrow; see in the dark; fool Sam and Sam into thinking I’m nice; blog.

Things I can’t do: swim.

There are probably other things I can’t do but for the moment they escape me. Well, there are obvious things like wash the car, mow the lawn, go to Sainsburys, do the accounts and vote. But none of those things appeal to me, so there’s no point bothering about them. But swimming, yes, I can see the attraction. It must be a nice sensation. Not to mention all the fish lolling about just waiting to be caught.

But I don’t like getting wet. Call me a cissy but that’s the way it is. Besides, I can only do the doggy paddle and what use is that to a cat?

Which brings me to Debbie, who’s drowning in Fears and Love, Michael Emmanuel’s story in Cat Tales, the anthology drawn from last year’s Book a Break short story competition. Michael’s hero is in a terrible quandary: he can’t swim and his girlfriend is drowning.

Michael Emmanuel is a chemistry student, which perhaps explains a lot. His story has a unique chemistry to it. As he writes in his blog, the greatest question we seek an answer to isn’t why we behave the way we do. It isn’t conflicts and resolutions. It is unrelated to politics, sports, religion, race, and all other lines of divide. It is simply: Who am I? Who are you?

Well! What a question. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. And I don’t have to leap into a swimming pool.

She’s shouting, though I can barely hear her through my waves of fear. I have to do something. My girlfriend is sinking. It’s what drew us together at the beach party where we met: the admission that neither of us had learned to swim. If we fell into water, we would undoubtedly drown.  And now here she is, and that’s what she is doing.

Oh Debbie! Why go near a pool when you can’t swim? When you’re fully aware we both can’t swim?

I push aside these pointless, chastising questions. Either we both survive, or we drown together. That’s what lovers do.

Is it a spoiler to say that Debbie survives? I didn’t ask Curtis – he’d have flipped his lid in no uncertain manner. But how could I leave you staring aghast at Debbie floundering in the pool, not knowing if she’d ever get out alive? So now you know. The story has a happy ending. Phew!

What you don’t know, though, is how our hero overcomes his fear of water. I’ll give you a clue – there’s a cat involved. Nothing special there, you’ll think, the book’s called Cat Tales, isn’t it? Yes, but for him, a cat is bad news.

I’ve never been afraid of anything—except for cats. Cats bring bile to my throat and stuff it with a chemical, benzene probably. […] For a person living in Nigeria, cats are a bad omen. That was what we knew. We had it hammered into our memories during folklores in the quiet moonlight, tales of the mischief wrought by cats, the woes they brought on our progenitors. Cats were objects of possession, by the witches and wizards that plagued us.

I didn’t know that about Nigeria. It’s only in the mainly Christian south, apparently, where witchcraft and cats go together like they did in the Middle Ages in Europe. Personally, I think that’s a splendid belief: life might be a lot easier if I could team up with a witch. Unfortunately, there aren’t many left in Taunton, unless you count old Betty Stitch at the Post Office, and no one would want to team up with her. I wonder what would happen if I placed an ad in the Somerset County Gazette. Mmm. Worth a try, I think. Friendly cat seeks witch to form devastating partnership. The sky’s the limit!

The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. The revenue from sales so far stands at $80 – our target this month is to double that. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word and help us reach that target. And of course, if you click on the button yourself, you can read Michael’s story yourself and find out how the intrepid hero saves Debbie.

In a special promotion deal, the price of Cat Tales is just $1.99 for the whole month of April. Available as a PDF (or epub / mobi) complete with colour illustrations directly from this site* by clicking the button below. Also available in print (black & white, $9.50).

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*Buying from this site results in $1.61 after the PayPal commission, as opposed to just $0.70 when buying from Amazon. An insecticide treated mosquito net, which protects on average 2 people for 3 to 4 years, costs $2.50. PLUS, if you buy from this site, you’ll get a personal message of thanks from Curtis along with a short story of his own (in which Nibbles the cat, I’m sorry to say, comes to a rather unfortunate end).