• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 08


On the last Friday of every month Mr Protheroe would put on a show out front of the pet store. The audience for this would comprise the same bunch of younger kids from the neighbourhood squeezed together on a row of upturned crates and a few adults of the more soft-centred kind who would stop and observe from further back. In return for their viewing pleasure the spectators were encouraged to put a nickel in an old pewter tankard which Mr Protheroe passed round periodically with the ultimate contents being donated to some unspecified charity.

The show invariably consisted of three separate sections. First off, a variety of eager pooches would run through a repertoire of canine trickery on command; rolling over, begging, jumping through hoops and barking to indicate how many fingers their owner was holding up (not always with a hundred percent success rate). Then the birds, the Cockatoos and Mynahs, would have their turn. Their party piece was to mimic popular comedy performers of the day. Mostly their attempts were unrecognizable but generally had a decent crack at Jerry Lewis, “Hey L-a-a-ady, and Lou Costello, “I'm a ba-a-a-a-d boy!”, which would both elicit a modest ripple of applause. At this point a cohort of slightly older boys would usually turn up to heckle. Mr Protheroe’s response to this became as predictable as the rest of the show. “Waddya expect for a nickel, Barnum and Bailey? Now gedoutta here!”

But it was the final segment of the show that was Mr Protheroe’s ace-in-the-hole. While the dogs and the birds were doing their thing there would always be three or four cats stretched out across the kennels and rabbit hutches on the store porch. They would eye proceedings with indifference and disdain breaking into the occasional yawn. As a rule, Mr Protheroe felt the same way about the cats. However, Rusty was the exception that broke the rule.



As soon as the birds were back in their cages and Mr Protheroe went inside to fetch his accordion, Rusty would saunter to the front of the stage. The second the accordion began to play she would start to sing. And Rusty was no caterwauling moggy; she would mew in tune and could follow a melody with uncanny precision. Never failed to bring the house down.

Then one day word came that Mr Protheroe was selling up and moving out west. I was a bit too old for the crates by this time but would still loiter with the adults. I raced down to the store. “Are you taking Rusty?” I asked him. “’Fraid not son. She’s a bit too old for that kind of upheaval.” He paused. “I don’t suppose you’d be intrested in taking her on?”

A week later I was in possession of both Rusty and an accordion, which I eventually managed to get a tune out of. But Rusty never sang again. For her the show had moved on.