• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 08

We called her the mad cat woman

We called her the mad cat woman of rue Montmartre. A small woman, always bundled up against the cold, always in movement. In the supermarket, she pushed her trolley to the pet food section, loaded up, went through the checkout without a word. She had lived in the same apartment as long as anyone could remember, top floor, no lift. She refused all help with her cargoes of cat biscuit, not that many people wanted to get too close. The smell, you understand. They said she took in cats on behalf of a shelter, several shelters, a vague number, vague names. She had a lot of cats. He neighbours complained about the noise, the smell and the ‘the diseases’. But she paid her rent and it wasn’t the kind of neighbourhood where the landlord asked any more than that.
It was when the landlord sold the building that the trouble began. The new landlord did a bit of cosmetic renovation and put up the rents. The mad cat woman couldn’t pay, so she was evicted along with several other tenants. She was evicted kicking and screaming by a bevy of police officers. All she took was a plastic bag of belongings and one cat carrier.
The police called all the cat protection organisations, but none of them had any record of a mad cat woman in rue Montmartre. Before she left, she had opened all the cages, opened the roof windows, and a flock of scrawny, mangy cats seethed out onto the rooftops. Curious, I followed one of the ladies from ‘Cats’ Refuge’ up the top floor.
‘There were kittens,’ the woman said. ‘Sick, some of them. How are they going to survive up on the roof?’
I had no idea, but I was willing to take one in if any had been left behind. We both caught our breath on the threshold. The stink was overpowering. Wallpaper hung in clawed strips from the walls. Cat carriers, cushions and blankets occupied every surface in every room. An entire room was filled with litter trays. All of the carriers were empty. The breeze danced the


We called her the mad cat woman

ripped wallpaper, blew balls of cat hair about like tumble-weed. Oddly, there was no bedroom, only a large dog basket full of quilts amid the jumble of cat beds.
The place was not entirely empty though. In the main room with its squalid armchairs and sofa, ripped by generations of cat claws to expose their innards, on the mantlepiece, sat a cat. It was a handsome cat, sleek and elegant, unlike the misery that had leapt from the open windows. I was on the point of saying that I would take this one with me, when the cat jumped to the back of an armchair and sprang out of an open skylight. It perched, framed against the sky, scowling and hissing, before it whisked away, over the rooftops. It was then that I noticed the photographic portraits.