The Cat of Portovecchio

Maria Strani-Potts

Brandl & Schlesinger, 2007


The Cat of Portovecchio, extracts

"I have to find a wife—but on one condition," said Tony. "I don’t want to have any children with her." He got all this out very quickly, in the slight hope that, perhaps by magic, he would be let off the hook.
    Mr Theofillos looked at him bluntly and thought to himself: "I should hope not, you miserable sod." Then, out loud, he said: "I understand, but this makes things doubly difficult, you know. All women want to have children. It will be a huge sacrifice on the other party’s behalf."
    Quickly Tony rejoined: "I can provide a good home. I have a good profession. My reputation is…"
    "Yes, I know all that. But you’re also broke," the marriage-broker interrupted, implacably.
    Tony felt humiliated and angry. Tears throbbed behind his eyes. He gulped to make them disappear. He wanted to grab this man and kick him out. But everything had already gone too far.
    "I need a woman with a dowry. Your commission will be good—you know that." 
    The broker looked at him thoughtfully as if considering some mental notepad. He was a man of few words; he always tried to be short and to the point. He suddenly remembered a village woman whom he’d tried to marry off many times, but without success. Could he try her out on Tony?
    "There’s a wonderful rich country spinster available. She has two apartments in town. Her bank account’s very healthy. She can cook, embroider and clean. She’s healthy and strong. What do you think?"
    "Are you positive that she has money?"
    "That’s been verified by the bank manager, I can assure you." '
(Chapter 2,  Sperna, fig cakes and two unsuitable marriages)

‘Blossom was delighted with the gifts they had brought her from the village. She opened the basket carefully. She put away the eggs and the vegetables and tied the turkeys to the plum tree in the garden. For nearly a week Louisa had a wonderful time with the three noisy birds. She fed them corn, gave them water to drink, and after school would release them from their bondage and take them for walks around the garden. Even Mamee the cat, who had initially objected to their presence, got used to them. Perhaps the cat was more aware than the girl that the turkeys were there temporarily. They were destined to die: one at Christmas, one at New Year and one at the Epiphany.
    On Christmas Eve Blossom got up early. Louisa heard her and did the same. She wanted to decorate her Christmas tree and tie a red Christmas ribbon round Mamee’s neck. After Blossom had tidied up the house Louisa heard her go out into the garden. Louisa waited and waited in the dining room for her to return, to give her breakfast. But Blossom was taking her time. Holding Mamee in her arms, Louisa decided to go out and see what was holding her up.
    She saw Blossom crouching by the pump, hacking off the head of a turkey. The two outraged survivors cackled shrilly in alarm, raising their heads to the bright blue sky.’
(Chapter 9, Tony’s special drink)

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