Builders are very superstitious. I’m not really a builder, I’m a scaffolder. It’s a bit better than a general labourer. The pay is a bit more, and, if I stick in, I can get a steeplejack’s ticket. It’s a good job too; getting a pile of steel poles, brackets and planks, and fixing them up into towers and gantries.
It’s like a different world up on the roofs. It’s a strange feeling looking down on folks and walking through the same space and air that only angels and devils go through.
Builders are a superstitious lot. Building sites are dangerous. You need good luck to keep you safe. We’ve seen the devil’s footprints burned on church roofs, and the angel feather drifting around hospital roofs after they’d taken the departed to heaven. That’s why we’re superstitious; it’s just plain common sense.
We were working on a block of flats, stripping the slates, pointing the chimney breast and replacing the flashings. Then we put on new tiles after we’d patched up any rotten old timbers on the roof. I was putting up the scaffold then lugging slates and lead rolls and cement across up the scaffold and across the roof. Up there the sun is always baking hot, the sunlight bounces of the slates and tiles; it’s like a furnace.
It was a pretty good job, and while we were there, we skipped into the loft to clear it out, and to get away from the heat. Mostly we found old rubbish; a few dead pigeons and old sacks and bits of old wood. Over at the gable, there was a kind of alcove built into the wall. In the alcove was a mummified cat. It isn’t unusual to find mummified cats in old buildings, usually, you’d find them in the basement. Like I said, builders are superstitious; they put them there as a charm. Tam, my gaffer, said it was to stop the building from being struck by lightning. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it these days. For one thing, it would be cruel, imagine doing that to a cat.
While I was looking at the mummified cat, something odd happened. First, I tripped and fell to my knees as I was walking across the rafters and dropped my torch. The battery must have shaken loose because suddenly I was in complete darkness. I reached down and began to search for the torch, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found an old cigarette lighter lying amongst the dust. I flicked the lighter on so that I could see, and when I did, flames came out, but not ordinary flames; they made shapes and were all different colours. First, there was something like an eye, and then ears of corn and something that looked like a vase and birds and squiggly lines like water.
The next thing, the cat was sitting up looking at me. It wasn’t mummified at all; it was just a normal cat with two green eyes and all black fur. In the dark, the eyes looked huge, as if they were as big as teacups. The cat jumped out of the alcove and skipped away. After the cat was gone, I was a bit shook up, but obviously, the cat hadn’t been dead and mummified at all, it had just been sleeping. And it can’t have been mummified because it had black fur all over it.
After that, every time I flicked the lighter, the cat with green eyes appeared. The cat started to follow me all over the place. I didn’t mind too much. I quite like cats. You see a lot of cats when you work on the rooftops.
“Got yourself a new friend,” said Rab, who was always trying to tease folks.
Cats are good luck, and the black cat with green eyes was the best luck of all. A chimney collapsed right next to me and missed me by inches, I nearly choked in a cloud of brick dust. Then I was down below, and the gaffer shouted at me to put on my helmet. I’d no sooner put it on then a slate slid off the roof and hit me straight on the head. I’d I’ve been killed if I hadn’t put my hat on. And each time the cat was there looking right at me with his green eyes as if to say; good job I’m here to look after you. The boys noticed too and started calling me Lucky Dave.
The cat didn’t just follow me at work; it followed me at home too. There I was lying in the bath trying to soak all the slate dust out my pores, and I looked up at the bathroom window, and there the cat was looking in at me with those green eyes. It gave me a bit of a start, and of course, I covered myself up. I don’t want anyone looking at me in the bath.
I opened the window to chase the cat away, and it jumped in to the bathroom. I had to chase after it with just a towel wrapped round me for modesty. The cat was just jumping out of reach and the towel kept slipping. The cat looked as if it was laughing at me, Anyway, I got it out eventually and then I put a towel up over the window to stop it watching me.
Next day the cat was back at the site. And just as well too! We were taking up rotten timbers from the roof, and one of the lads was a bit too energetic, and the whole section collapsed. One of the timbers shot up and caught my work pants, and when the rest of the timbers fell into the attic, it pulled my pants down to my ankles. I could have been killed. Instead all that happened was my underpants were exposed. Of course, it was embarrassing, especially as I was wearing ladies underwear at the time. Look, I just find them more comfortable, alright. There’s nothing wrong with it, although the rest of the lads had a right time of it laughing at me. Even the green eyed cat thought it was funny. Still, if the cat hadn’t been there, I’d have been dead.
On Saturdays, I get my pay packet and go to the shops to buy new togs. I’ve got to look my best for Alice, and then me and Alice head off to the dancing. I’d take her home late, and there’d be a bit of kissing when I get her back. This Saturday, the cat followed me while I went shopping. And that was lucky; those flared trousers that I wanted were on sale and that yellow waistcoat. I got a full new outfit including a paisley pattern cravat. Alice would be pleased.
“Don’t you look handsome,” she said when I picked her up, and I did too. That night we went dancing. After the dancing, we got chips, and shared them while I walked her home. This was one of the best nights ever.
Until we got to Alice’s house that it was. When we got there, I put my arm around her and gave her a squeeze.
“Not now,” she said.
“Why ever not?” I asked.
“There’s a cat watching us,” she said, and there was the black cat with his green eyes was staring right at us.
“It’s only a cat,” I said, but it killed the mood completely.
Sunday I went to church as usual, and, after the service, I stopped and told the Vicar all about the cat.
The Vicar just looked at me as if I was mad. What a load of nonsense he said. That’s the trouble with Vicars; they believe in churches and hymns and collection boxes and sermons, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t believe in God, or the Devil. It’s us ordinary people that have to put up with the Devil in our everyday life that do the real believing.
The next week was hard. The cat followed me everywhere. Sure he saved my life a couple of times, and when Rab slipped and fell from the scaffold, and I caught him and saved his life, I’m pretty sure that was down to the cat too. But he was ruining my love life. And the darn thing kept coming and watching me in the bath.
This Saturday, instead of going and spending all my money on new clothes, I went to the library in the middle of town and started to look at some old books about cats and magic and things. It was all very interesting. I read and read and discovered all about cat mummies in buildings and cat mummies in Egypt and how the Ancient Egyptians used to worship them. By the time I was finished all shops were closed, and I wasn’t able to buy any new togs, not even a pair of socks.
It shouldn’t be a problem, I’d bought a whole new outfit just the week before, but when I got to Alice’s house, she took one look at me and declared; “That’s what you wore last week. Aren’t I good enough for you to make some sort of an effort?”
Then, she’d slammed the door in my face. I turned around, and there was that cat staring at me with his green eyes. That was it, I’d had enough. I shouted at the cat and ran at him, but the cat was too spry for me. He could jump through holes in hedges and fences that I had to climb over, and he could slip onto roofs and walls that took me a while to clamber up. Then, he’d wait for me taunting me, leading me on.
I lost him in the park. I think he climbed one of the big ash trees. Then I felt a bit silly and bit sorry. It wasn’t the cat’s fault Alice threw me over, so I started calling; “here cat.”
I jumped out of my skin when a girl appeared from behind one of the trees and asked me what I was doing.
“I’m looking for a black cat with green eyes,” I told her a bit embarrassed.
“Why?” she asked.
“I got angry and chased him. I just want to say I’m sorry. He’s brought me pretty good luck, to be honest. I shouldn’t have been angry with him,” I said.
She smiled at me, “I think I’ve seen your cat,” she said, “but are you certain it’s not a she-cat?”
“Could be,” I admitted. “I’m not sure how you tell the difference.”
“Oh there’s a difference alright,” the girl laughed.
“I’m sure there is,” I said blushing slightly.
“She’ll be back, I wouldn’t worry about it,” the girl said. “Do you know the cat’s name?” she asked.
I thought for a bit, staring into the girl’s green eyes. I remembered the books I’d read about cats in Egypt.
“Bastet,” I said at last.
“That’s right,” said the girl, “but you pronounce it Bassie.”
Then I noticed that the girl was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, much prettier than Alice.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“You can call me Rosie; it’s short for Roselyn.”
“I’m Dave,” I told her.
“Do you work out Dave,” she asked.
“No,” I admitted, “But I’m a scaffolder, so I get plenty of exercise, and I’m going to be a steeplejack.”
That night Rosie came with me to the dancing; she was a much better dancer than Alice, and while we danced, her long black hair swung around us.
On Sunday when she came round to our house for dinner, she played with my sisters at dolls, and afterwards she even helped me wash the dishes. Later we sat watching telly while she helped my Mum with her knitting.
“I love wool,” she said, almost purring with pleasure.
“What a lovely girl,” Mum said. “She is much nicer that that stuck up Alice.” And she was.
So the black cat brought me good luck there too. Rosie’s a lovely girl and we’re getting married next spring. I still see Bassie sometimes, and my luck’s not changed yet.
I turned up at Alison’s house, and she slammed the door right in my face. Said she’d had enough of me. I knocked a few times to see if I could talk to her, but her dad came out and told me to hop it, or he’d give me a punch in the kisser.
On the way home, I followed a black cat through the Garden of Naughty and Nice. People said that was where the witches met, but I didn’t believe in witches. I just wanted to play with the cute little cat. Then I met Rosemary. I forgot all about the cat when Rosemary came up to me and said hello. Although I was broken-hearted over Alison and nearly being punched on the nose, the night was still young. So, we ended up going dancing. We had a great time, and I hardly thought of Alison once.
I really like Rosemary; she’s great. Of all the girlfriends I’ve had, she’s the best by a mile. And I’ve had a few. Mum is teaching her to cook. She helps Mum with her knitting or plays with my Sister. Then she snuggles into me, and we watch telly. What a perfect girlfriend.
I never heard from Alison again. Now that I wasn’t going out with her, I could see that Alison wasn’t a very nice person. She always had to be the centre of attention and was always telling me what to do. She kept telling Mum that she couldn’t eat this or that. She never helped, and was quite nasty to my little Sister. No one was upset when she dumped me, not even me.
Alison dancing, she’d stand in the middle of the dance floor while everyone looked at her, admiring her new clothes and her fancy hairdo. She was very pretty, and lots of boys fancied her. She’d have no problem finding a new boyfriend.
We were coming home from the dancing, Rosemary and me, and we took a short cut through the Garden of Naughty and Nice.
“What about the witches.” Rosemary asked?
“I don’t believe in witches,” I said.
It was a lovely night with a full moon. We followed the path past the flowers. The roses smelt really nice.
“What’s your favourite flower?” I asked.
I picked a handful and handed it to her.
“Doesn’t it smell great,” Rosemary said.
I never said anything; catnip pongs a bit if you ask me.
Then it started to go wrong. Up ahead, I saw Alison walking towards us. Fortunately, there was a crossroads coming up. We could turn there and that way we wouldn’t have to meet Alison and explain what was going on. No that was any of her business.
But, I looked to the left and saw Liz walking towards us. Liz, she was one my old girlfriends too. She dumped me before I went out with Alison. She was very pretty, but she was always cross. So, best if we didn’t go that way. Liz can be quite nasty.
We turned to start walking the other way. But there was Erika. Yes, she is one of my old girlfriends and yes she did break up with me. She is pretty, but she isn’t very nice
I looked about. But I was trapped. It was my worst nightmare; meeting my three ex-girlfriends in the middle of the Garden of Naughty and Nice by moonlight with my new girlfriend. Maybe we could just turn around and run. But before I could do that the three ex-girlfriends had us cornered.
“What’s going on here then?” snapped Alison.
“I’m just taking my friend home,” I said.
“Don’t you mean girlfriend,” said Alison.
“I suppose so,” I replied.
“I’m your girlfriend,” snarled Alison.
“I thought you broke up with me,” I said.
“Idiot! I only broke up with you so you would come snivelling and grovelling back. Are you going to come snivelling and crawling back?”
“Eh, no thank you, Alison,” I said.
“Like that is it,” said Alison. “You were a rubbish boyfriend anyway. You’re cute now, but you’ll run to fat, and lose your hair and have to wear glasses.”
When Alison said these words I could feel my clothes get really tight on me and the buttons on my shirt burst. And my head felt really cold. I reached up to brush my long tousled fringe that hangs down and makes me look like James Dean in East of Eden; it was gone. And, oddest of all, the whole world sort of came into focus and I could see thing clearly that were further away than a few feet. And there was something heavy on my face; spectacles.
Don’t ask me what a full-length mirror was doing in the middle of the night garden in the moonlight, but there was one, and when I looked into it I screamed in horror. I had turned into the living image of my Dad.
“Don’t look at me,” I screamed. “I’m hideous.”
I thought she would run away, but, she held on tight and kissed me on the cheek.
“You won’t get fat if you eat a healthy diet,” she said. And suddenly my shirt felt loose again and I looked into the mirror, and I was thin. Then Rosemary kissed me again.
“You won’t lose your hair. You have your Mum’s hair, not your Dad’s.”
And my head felt nice and warm, and my tousled fringe fell down across my eyes making me look proper cool in that full-length mirror. Then Rosemary kissed me a third time.
“But you will need to wear glasses,” she said, “Your eye-sights not very good. But you quite suit glasses, it makes you look intelligent.”
Nothing happened. I could still see properly, and when I looked into the full-length mirror I was still wearing glasses, but it was ok. I looked like a young Michael Cain, only more handsome and fitter. As if I was a young Michael Cain’s fitter, better-looking stunt double.
“Yeah it does look good,” I said.
Liz spoke next “Your poetry is really terrible. On Valentine’s day, you wrote me this.”
“Don’t listen, Rosemary,” I shouted, but it was too late.
Liz started reciting.
“Roses are red; Violets are blue,
I’m writing this while I’m sat on the loo,
Sugar is sweet, and honey is running,
I’m sitting here with a dicky tummy,
Silver like rings, gold like a bell,
Don’t come in here there’s a terrible smell.”
“It’s true,” I cried. “I’m a terrible poet, and I know it.”
I hid my head in shame. Rosemary would surely dump me. But instead, she kissed me on the cheek.
“What a talent for comic verse,” she said. “It’s really very good. I know you’re not great with rhyming, but your prose style is elegant and restrained.”
“Thank you very much,” I said.
“This is not over yet,” said Erika. And I shuddered. “You’ll never amount to anything. You don’t have any qualifications.”
My heart sank when I heard that. And when I looked into the mirror there, I was dressed in a pinstripe suit. I could see myself going to work in the city every day with a copy of the Financial Times under my arm. What a useless waste of a life.
I slumped to the ground.
“Go, Rosemary,” I whispered. “While there’s still time.”
But Rosemary kissed me on the cheek and said. “But you’ve only not got qualifications because you couldn’t read without glasses. Now you’ll be able to read no problem and get whatever qualifications you like.”
“Besides, there are other more important things like being a husband or a dad. You’ll make a great dad.” And she stared at me with those strange green eyes.
“If you work really hard you could get a great job,” she continued. “You could even become a librarian.”
Suddenly it was okay, as long as I could be with Rosemary. I looked in the mirror, and I could see me and Rosemary walking down the aisle in the church.
“We’re not finished yet,” said Alison and suddenly I looked at Rosemary, and she was gone. In her place was the lucky black cat that always followed me around. Rosemary or the cat, or both of them tried to run away, but I also knew exactly what to do. I picked the cat up and kissed her on the cheek.
“You may be a cat,” I said. “But I love you to bits. Cat or no cat, you’re the best girlfriend I’ve ever had.”
In the mirror there was Rosemary and me, just like normal except I had to wear glasses.
“My turn now,” said Rosemary.
A cloud passed over the moon, making the garden go dark. When it came out again, the mirror was still there, what’s that about, but the three witches were gone.
“Come on,” said Rosemary, “This way,” and we continued on our way home.
I believe in witches now.