Alleycat knew what he wanted and simply did it – he left to drive trains and let the old life go. One day he was sunning himself on the porch and the next he was far, far away, walking in his footprints. He was as old as the hills or older, but as young as a leveret too, and everyone knows or ought to know that a leveret’s never alone and even if he seems alone he isn’t; his parents are always near at hand and keeping an eye on him no matter how lonely he looks to be.
Pink of course is secretly glad he’s gone because now she doesn’t have to compete with anyone to be the centre of attention.That’s how self-centred she is! Me! Me! Me!
Of course it’s Alleycat who drives the train, and he acts like he can take her anywhere, even to the moon maybe. I see him in the mornings, at the station. He’s up in the cabin, his paws on the levers. Some people (the other commuters) think he’s a pet, but those folk know nothing of cats. In reality every cat’s in charge of himself and goes where he pleases, and does what he wants, and he’s no one’s pet. If he chooses to drive trains you just have to let him. And the humans that ride with him, the stoker, the ticket collector, and the train manager, they might seem to be in charge, but actually it’s Alleycat who calls the shots. No one knows that better than me.
Another thing I know is that every cat has exactly two sides, no more and no less, and nine lives don’t come into it. So, you see, Alleycat might think he’s driving the train, but there’s another side to it because whatever he’s doing he’s definitely doing it for us, for the folks back at Six Foot Way, me and the Looking Glass Lady, Pink, Bamber and the dogs. So in a way, we drive that locomotive from afar and we feel the air in Alleycat’s whiskers when he leans his head out far enough.
Alleycat’s gone but he’s not forgotten. In Bugle Street they’re saying he drives his train too fast and overtakes on hills, ignores red lights and so on. Pink hopes it’s true. She’d like to sit next to him and hang out of the window while the fields rush by. Imagine that, the wind in her whiskers. Unfortunately, she’s fated to stay where she is and wait for Alleycat’s return, and while she sits on her strange, carved table and stares across the Six Foot, she invents all sorts of rumours and if you can believe it, she’s the source of all the Alleycat stories, even the slanders. As soon as she’s got a new one, she runs to tell Bertie and afterwards Bertie sits by the back door and waits for Alleycat to confirm it.
Pink misses Alleycat, but maybe she doesn’t know how much. When he left her to drive the trains she said she’d be able to cope without him and she’s sticking by that.
She adjusted fast to little Bertie’s arrival but Bertie’s surprised her by growing even faster. Pink still imagines she’s in charge of the establishment, and she expects Bertie to toe the line and obey her commands. That’s not going to happen fast, is it?
Time is a funny old thing. It catches you out. Memories come back whenever they please and sometimes they surprise you. They never go away, they only seem to. Take yesterday. I was at work, getting ready to go home, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I wasn’t there at all, I was something like eight years old and the school bell was ringing and it was time to go home for tea. Alleycat says that time’s like a long dark corridor with a bright light up ahead. If you look back you can see the past, the places you’ve already been, because the light is shining towards those things, but if you look ahead the light’s too bright and you can’t see anything because you’re blinded. He’s full of wise sayings like that. Sometimes he acts like an ordinary moggie, other times he acts like a sage. Pink doesn’t act much at all, except like herself. She’s very happy at the moment because spring has sprung, seemingly, and instead of basking under the reptile lamp on the kitchen table she can start to wander at large from hot spot to hot spot in the house.
Bamber doesn’t understand cameras; when I try to shoot him he grabs the cord that goes around my wrist, rips the whole thing out of my fingers and turns the lens on me. It’s different for Pink. When she gets her claws into something they usually get stuck because she’s so incompetent. Then she panics and calls for help and has to be rescued. Bamber doesn’t panic. He likes a tug of war. On top of that, Pink really wants to be on camera and she considers herself a local celebrity (although she seldom goes out of doors) . She’d definitely like her picture on all the front pages in all the magazines and she’s always yelling for attention from the newshounds. Bamber and Alleycat like a bit of attention, but mostly they like to keep a low profile and sleep as much as possible. They don’t want to be targeted by the local newshounds.