And now she is 40.
Five of her nine lives down, only four to go, and maybe fewer if her old ways catch up with her. She’s been on the food for older cats for some time, but now she’s hit 40, she realises the shift is on. Rumours are flying again, that all along she’s been a British schoolgirl. Rumours she’s never denied, because the world was never interested in what she said. It was just her face. The face that launched ten thousand shipping containers of stuff plastered with her image, a face covering a billion pencil cases, lunch boxes and knapsacks. A face of a life forever lived in the public eye, but for a public that knows nothing about her, and maybe there is nothing to know. She thinks it’s been the most facile existence, a life in which she hadn’t actually said or done anything worthwhile. Some say she’s helped a million children come off the fields of Asia to tend the looms of textile factories making clothes with her image. But it was a sick joke, those children will never afford the clothes they make, and her own royalties are pittances drawn from iron-cast contracts drawn up when she was a naive kitten. It was pure exploitation. It is exploitation, it’ll be exploitation all along.
For years she covered the pain with cat nip, served up by the bowlful at all those wild alley parties she went to, with Garfield, Top Cat, the Aristocats, even that oafish old charmer James. So often she’d overdone things and ended up in a tryst behind a bin with a random Tom, or too many more she had to be carried home, unable to remember anything.
Parties she was no longer invited to, leaving her alone with long evenings spent trawling Purrgle for snippets of other cats’ lives. Resenting their success. weeping over their losses. Thinking Tiddles turned out all right. Wondering if the absence of any mention of Ginger meant he was dead. Seeing how Felix and Boots did end up together.
The missed opportunities in life, love and work.
All that time wasted scratching the sofa or batting a ball.
She wept like a kitten over the beauty of the lives that others went on to live without her.
Her desire for kittens only became apparent when it was too late to have them. Her ageing Tomcat sometimes slunk over, but how much longer would he attract her? How much longer would she attract him? How long before either began to stink the house out? She purred with anxiety, then wailed over the bins she’d never again be taken behind to wail the night away.
All this sorrow and fear, but none that could be presented to the world because to the world she’s just a face, and that’s all they want. Her face, on a portrait shot for her 40th. They’ll see her ever-blank expression, those sharp pin-prick eyes and say ‘oo look, hasn’t she aged well? Hasn’t changed a bit.’ They’ll never see the pain in those eyes, they’ll not see that those eyes aren’t looking at them, or anything, in the now. The view before those baleful black dots is the view within her own mind, scanning the panorama of the lost world of memories and broken dreams.