Thursday, March 16, 2023

Bottles in the River

Neville was snoozing in the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium’s Common Room, enjoying the softness of the rugs on the floor and the warmth of the sunlight through the windows. He soon became aware, however, that he was under observation. He opened his eyes and saw Zofia regarding him.


“Crik wee pik pik queek?” the kitten asked.


“Yes, of course I was sleeping. You woke me...” replied the older cat.


“Er er week crik.”


I speak funny?” Neville frowned and lay his head back down on the rugs. “Go away. I was having a nice dream. I was running through green fields; I felt like I had wings.”


“E whee mip. Kip kip kip kip kip!” Zofia laughed.


“Not wigs. Wings. Oh, for... What do you want? I assume you want something.”


“Creek week mikk mikk er wee pik pik queek er...”


“A letter to your mother?” Neville raised his head again. This was an unexpected requested. “Do you know your mother? Where she is?” The older cat was incredulous, but when the youngster answered, his expression softened. “Well, no, I don’t suppose you need to, in order to write her a letter. Why do you need me?”


“Week crik whee mip creek week mikk...”  Zofia’s eyed the rug and she scratched at it absently.


“That’s not surprisingly: you can barely speak comprehensibly, never mind write.” Neville paused; to give him time to think, he scolded Zo for scratching the rug. “You have posts for that. Dr Belln goes to some trouble to provide them.”


“Er mikk er wee pik pik queek!” pointed out Zofia.


“Well, what if I do? I’m old. I’m incorrigible  - and no, I won’t explain what that means. Very well, then, I’ll help you write your letter.” Neville gestured. “We’d better go to the Library...”


The Library was a small room filled with books. Most of the residents didn’t read - Miss Josefina von Chubs had been the biggest reader at the sanitarium - but many found it a tranquil spot. Especially favoured were the heated beds to be found there. A newcomer to the institution, Imogen, was asleep on one of them. Neville had to caution Zofia not to wake her.


“Let me find some paper, and a pencil.” Neville searched a desk’s drawers and found what he wanted. The sanitarium provided its residents with however much stationery they needed, though, like the books, it was rarely used. “All right, tell me what you’d like to say to your mother.”


“Wee pik pik queek er er week crik whee mip creek!!” began the kitten.


“Shh! Please, you are not the only cat here. Don’t become over-excited. All right, start again...”


As Zofia dictated, Neville wrote, the sound of his pencil and the squeaky voice of the young cat being the only sounds in the otherwise silent room, the two noises alternating. The letter took longer to compose than Neville had expected, as his companion had much to say, but little idea of how to phrase it. Extensive use was made of the pencil’s eraser.


At last the missive was completed, and Neville looked at the abused paper on the writing table before him. It was covered with corrections, tears from vigorous rubbings and annotations. The older cat glanced sidelong at the younger.


“Well, it’s done. I think I should read it out to you, to make certain it’s what you want.”


“Mip creek week mikk...”


“Let’s go to the Sun-room...”

The Sun-room - or Conservatory, as Dr Bellen kept trying to have it called - was a bright and warm room that was very popular with the residents. At this time of year, though, the sunshine spilled through its glass walls directly only in the morning, and in this late afternoon, the room was rather dim, and empty. Zofia pulled herself up onto a chair that was covered with a blue and white striped towel. Neville sat next to her on a similar chair. He cleared his throat.


“Dear Momma.


“It’s been years and years since I last saw you, maybe even eight months, but I think of you still. I want you to know that I am safe and happy. Some things happened to me after I was taken from you that were scary. I was all by myself outside. It was cold and injurious to life and limb...”


Neville glanced up and asked, “Are you sure you want to use that phrase?”


“Week mikk mikk er wee pik pik queek!”


“You heard it on a television programme, did you? Yes. Of course.” Neville cleared his throat again.


“It was cold and injurious to life and limb... But a kind human lady took me in. It was warm and safe in her house, and I met nice cats. Then I was sent to the sanitarium. I met my good friends, Horace and Hector. Them and me...” Neville glanced over the sheet of paper at Zofia, who looked pleased at the letter’s progress.


“Them and me...played and cuddled and played and cuddled. They were like my big brothers. There were other cats, too, but they were grumpy and old...” Neville paused in case Zofia wanted to make a correction at this point, but the kitten only prompted the reader to continue. Neville sighed.


“Then Horace went to his own home, and then Hector did, too. I was lonely, but Dr Bellen - he’s the chief human here - he made sure I was played with lots, and had lots of cuddles. And the grumpy old cats got to like me, too. Or at least they stopped hissing at me. Ha Ha.”


Neville peered at Zofia, whse long legs almost reached the floor from where she sat in the big chair. She was excited at the way the letter sounded.


“Whee mip creek week kip kip!


“Yes, well... But now, I will have a home of my own, just like you always wanted for me, Momma. I will have a family of humans and another cat to play with and cuddle with. Dr Bellen told me all about it. I will miss being at the sanitarium, but I will be happy in my own home. It will be scary at first, but not like when I was outside.”


“Mop mip mikk crik wee?”


“Yes, quite right, Zofia: scary in a good way,” said Neville. He returned his eyes to the letter. “I wanted you to know I will be happy and safe, Momma, and I will be loved. I love you and miss you. Zofia.”


Neville put the page down and asked if Zofia was satisfied with the letter.


“Whee mip creek week mokk wip...”


“Good.” Neville nodded. “I will write this up properly, in ink, and then it will look presentable.”


“Pik queek er er?”


“Oh, well... I thought you’d considered how to send it to your mother...” Neville appeared uncomfortable for a moment. Then he brightened. “What about putting it into a bottle and thorwing it in the river? It will travel with the current down to the sea. It’s bound to float all the way to your mother after that.”

“Mikk er wee pik pik queek gik!!”


“All right. Let me transcribe this. We’ll meet after dinner and take it to the river. There will be enough light before night-time.”


Zofia hopped down from her chair and hurried off to have her dinner. She was very excited at being able to tell her mother about her good fortune, about having a home of her own, and a family. Neville watched her run down the corridor. He considered the letter in his paw and sighed.


“A letter in a bottle...” he muttered, and shook his head.


An hour later, he and Zofia were standing in the water meadows down from the cluster of homey buildings that comprised the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium. The river ran slowly here, its eddies keeping away from the grassy banks the leaves and twigs that it carried from the hills of Verdureland. Birds sang in the trees about the meads, bidding the world a good night before the sun’s light faded.


Neville handed Zofia a bottle. It was of smooth, clear glass, unblemished; within could be clearly seen the scroll-like roll of the kitten’s letter. Zofia took the bottle and glanced at her elder, who gestured toward the river. With a chirping grunt, Zofia threw the bottle away from her. It landed with a wet plop in the water, seemed to sink, but then bobbed, its bottom down, its corked top up. It started following the current, and was on its way to the sea.


Zofia watched the bottle a long time, until she could not see it anymore in the thickening twilight. Then she looked at Neville, and sniffed his nose, finally pushing her face against his. Then she was off, running up the hill to the sanitarium. There was still time for chasing a fuzzy mouse before bed.


Neville sat on the shore of the river for rather longer. Lights came on in the sanitarium’s buildings, deep yellow lights that made the windows look snug and welcoming. A colder illumination shone from the moon that had risen while the two cats had stood together. Neville had a fleeting reminiscence of his own past, a very long time ago indeed. A tiny kitten, his eyes just open, and a huge - or at least it seemed to the kitten - grey female cat, her long hair so warm and gentle that the kitten never wanted to leave it. He felt heavy, contented purring lulling him to sleep. Then the vision was gone.


Neville glanced this way and that. He was quite alone on the strand. He took from his own long fur a second bottle, and quickly tossed it into the water. The river caught it and it was soon lost to sight in the gloom. With a last look at the now-black water, the cat turned and made his way uphill, slower than had the kitten. Soon he too was inside the warm residence, ready for a long-delayed nap.


And through the night, the river carried two bottles to the distant sea, and from there to the shores of Samarra, and perhaps beyond, keeping its unspoken promise.


  1. We know that those two letters reached their destinations.

  2. John, what a lovely story. There's always a sense of wonder when I read your writing in the cats' voices. It seems so truthful and real.

  3. The Feline Sanitarium posts always make me want to cry because they're so touching. This was no exception.

    Have a long and happy life, Zofia. I hope your Mom is being taken care of somewhere, too.

  4. What a wonderful story, John. I love reading your Cosy Sanitarium stories. They're so beautifully written, they always leave me in tears. (I agree with several of your other readers - I think you should consider writing children's books. They would be wonderful!) Ms. Zofia - we wish you much happiness in your new home. Have a wonderful, long and happy life. We'll miss you!

  5. You write so well. I am sure if cats could communicate with us, it would be like this. Miss Zofia, going off to a new home soon..

  6. guyz !!! what a total lee awesum storee !!! ewe did good....noe...grate !!! zofia we wizh ewe all de best in yur new home and lotz oh happeez two ewe.... ♥♥♥

  7. I loved every word. And after Zofia scampered away to the Cozy Sanitarium, I got a sweet, heart filling surprise. Neville had written his own momma too, and cast his message into the river for its journey along with Zofia's. I know they, both messages, will be carried carefully by the river straight to their momma's, who will read their baby's sweet letters and turn their heads toward the place their baby's live. They, both Momma's, will wait for them in Samarra. Neville will know his Mother's warm and soft furs again, and hear her gentle purrs as he snuggles back in...taking up his dream where he left off so long ago. And he won't ever have to leave her.

  8. Such a beautiful story. It has left me with a big lump in my throat.

  9. Yes a home just like a Mother would want for her offspring. It's what we all want isn't it? A home with love and warmth. God speed Zofia.

  10. Zophia, Neville, I think the universe will let your Mothers know you are safe and loved. Purrs to your mums.
    Purrs, Julie

  11. Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant...hope it's o.k. but
    this is going into my pussy~cat folder, along with
    the others you've written John...

    And...l'm gonna check the river on my way to town,
    most days..just in case that letter in a bottle, drifts
    across the ocean and ends up caught in a reed
    perhaps...HeHe! You never know...! Bless! :).

  12. What a beautifully written story. We bet somehow those letters reached your mothers.

  13. Tears were flowing here, ttoo...such love and so many precious thoughts from kitties to their Moms. This needs to be re-posted at Mother's Day I would think?