We find the first bad cat on the front line. It’s got ghosted eyes and wires spilling out its brain. Elsa studies it, looking up and down the street as if picturing the moment of it’s secret execution.
“It’s cool,” she says. “I like it.”
“M-maybe,” I say.
“Maybe? What’s not to like?”
A couple of lads with their bums hanging out their jeans waddle over and try to sell us some weed in put on Jamaican accents. But we don’t show any interest and they wander off to try their luck with a Toyataful of spotty white students.
I take out my notebook and write, ‘Bad cat – front line – white on black.’ When I look up Elsa raises a questioning eyebrow.
“I dunno,” I shrug.
“Yeah right,” she laughs. “You do know.”
“Yeah,” I nod. “Maybe.”
We walk along Ashley road and down past the Fat Bastard shop and the Star. We note three more bad cats and a couple of Elsa’s broken hearts.
“Look. Killer clown,” says Elsa pointing to a faded gun toting jester sprayed on a playground wall. “Stick it in the book.”
“I got it,” I say. “It’s been there years.”
“You know,” she says. “I collect teddy bears.”
“No you don’t.”
“No. I don’t. But my sister does.”
“It’s not collecting, just…”
“They tell me things.”
I’m not sure I want to go down this road just now. But she sounds more curious than prying.
“I d-don’t know. Things happen. Well… at least… they seem to. F-forget it.” I sound like a nutjob, so I shut up.
“F-forget it. It doesn’t m-matter.”
She looks at me like… like it does matter. Not like she’s hunting for something to crush me with later. I draw a deep breath and count to five.
“If I see a particular stencil things happen,” I can’t believe I’m saying this. “At l-least…” I’ve not spoken with anyone about this before. Well, aside from Rabbit. “Remember the dog and the rope?”
“Well, I think that means don’t bother. Whatever you’re about to do it’ll mess up. And the bomb riding monkey, th-that means d-do it and sod the c-c-consequences because you’ll be glad that you did.” I flick through the pages of the book. She stands close and looks over my shoulder, another first, well almost, but I don’t mind. She smells of cats and lip balm. She doesn’t make me feel unsafe, just the opposite. Sharks, H-bombs, stick men, horse head trains, it just tumbles out of me – the coincidences, the predicitions, the working out what meant what. “At first I thought the t-tanks meant fight cos I got started on by these two w-wedgeheads after I spotted one in Hotwells. But really I think it means there’ll be a conf-frontation – which isn’t always a bad thing. The f-fallen angel – you know the wino with wings sucking on a roll up – that o-one m-means p-pay attention, cos there’s a lesson coming. And th-that cop taking a dump means w-whatever they do to you they s-still look like twats.”
“They?” she asks.
“Yeah. Oh, I dunno. Y’know. They. T-teachers, grown ups. The o-ld bill.”
“The old bill?” she laughs hard at that one. But I do too.
“Yeah. The pigs, the five-O, the thin blue line,” I say in a terrible put-on New York accent.
“You get a lot of trouble off the thin blue line?”
“Yeah. No,” I say. And we fall about at this. “No. I guess mainly it means… parents… school.”
“I thought you liked school?” she says.
“As if.” It’s my gut reaction but to be honest I’d not thought about it that way before. “Maybe bits,” I say.
“And what about the bad cats?”
“I’ve not w-worked them out yet.”
“And the broken hearts?”
I shake my head and her smile fades away.
Then she tugs it back into place. “C’mon,” she says. “I need to be heading home.”