Fats Domino. Ever heard of him? Ever heard him thump on the piano keys as he belted out one of his stomp-inducing classics? Blueberry Hill? No? Well, if you'll excuse the cheap and cheery pun, ain't that a shame. He was affectionately known as Fats, or perhaps less affectionately as The Fat Man. I don't suppose he would have minded. Nom de dieu, I hear our French compatriots cry, Poking fun at the expense of a mild-mannered and humble entertainer. Of personal torment, though, we find no evidence. And rightly or wrongly (please choose your preferred weapon), in 1955 it wouldn't have caused the general public at large any loss of even a single night's sleep to hear a fat man be referred to as fat. And anyhow, Fats exploited his nickname to its full potential. Ten top-ten hits in the charts from 1955 to 1960. He did once have to jump out of an upper floor window at one of his own concerts when an integrationist riot broke out. But, so what, he would have probably shrugged. I own fifty suits and one hundred pairs of shoes. And it's only 1957! Why, he might have sung, if he'd ever written a song about it, should I complain. Oh, and he travelled everywhere in a bright pink Cadillac. Awarded a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1987. Even Hurricane Katrina couldn't do him in. His home was swamped by flood-water. Rumours of his death, as they say sometimes, were grossly exaggerated. in 2006 he released an album entitled Alive and Kicking. He died in 2017, aged eighty-nine. it could probably be said that he had a rough, tough, rollickingly eventful life, during several decades of sometimes life-threatening strife in the American deep south. But what a crazy and exhilarating rollercoaster ride it all must have been. Maybe he was determined to survive to the age that he did, dying in his own bed in Louisiana, just to spite everyone. Sort of nice to think so. Sometimes the nice guys don't die young. Sometimes they have the last laugh.
None of which has got anything remotely to do with cats, dogs, lions or antelope. Not to mention time-travel. So, I won't. Mention it, I mean. Only, I will. If only to explore the disturbing possibility that they are here among us, today, in the here and now. Or should that be the here and then? No matter, I suppose. Anomalous entities is what they are. Peculiarly evasive, you might say. Liable to vanish at the drop of a hat. There one second, enjoying an extra-hot latte, discussing the finer points of Occams's Razor or expounding on chaos theory. Then, whoooshhh! Gone into the forward or the back of beyond. Usually performed, one would imagine without as much as a by-your-leave or any of the normal social graces we expect of anyone in civilised society, time-travelers or not. The thing is, in such a circumstance, and faced with such rudeness, it would serve no purpose to remonstrate through a mouthful of tea-cake as the tangible suddenly became intangible. You could shout all you wanted. You might even swear a bit, tut tut for all you were worth. All for nothing, I fear. They'd already have dissolved away, leaving you sitting there with the nagging suspicion that your unbeknown time-traveling companion had suddenly found your company so tiresome, so excruciatingly painful that they somehow willed their molecules to depart en mass, before your disbelieving eyes.
There is hope, though. Clues to watch out for. It's a bit like spontaneous combustion, but a lot quicker. Signs to be cognizant of with the approach of a sudden disappearance? Well, let's draw on the evidence we can see all around us, everyday. The things that go unnoticed. Modes of behaviour. Unusual mannerisms. Oddness (although I wouldn't rely on this trait too heavily as a tool for identification. Take my neighbour, for example. Odd? I could tell you stories....) Blankness is the usual prelude. It's that person in the library you see at the end of the aisle, between Politics of the Twentieth century and Needlecraft for Beginners. They stand there, a strange quizzical expression etched on their face. The eyes are open, unblinking. They don't shuffle or twitch. Arms straight at their side. You could be fooled into believing that you are witnessing confusion and nothing more. A perfectly common and human trait. Entirely understandable in the enforced hush and sometimes worrying silence of the library. After all, who but the most masterly stoic of person has not experienced that unsettling calmness, both a joy and a terror?
So, there they are, almost inviting your approach, your intervention. Still the object of your intrigue doesn't move. The eyes have fully glazed over by this time. Somehow, they are still holding onto their book. Your gaze wanders in fascination from the visage to the tome. You turn your head sideways as you strain to read the title on the cover. You may feel that somehow this is important. That it matters. It might yield some bizarre clue. It will be by an obscure and long-forgotten Russian exile, in all probability. Igor Popolov, would be my guess. Or Dimitri Schukin. Some author you will never have heard of (and there are so many). Tractors of the World 1913-1972. You might wonder if it would be a good read. You consider yourself an amateur in most things, but an aspiring and serious bibliophile. Your interest is piqued, for no logical reason. Tractors. Why would the arcane history of mechanised farm vehicles be of any possible interest. You are unable to rationalise this erratic sensation as you stare at the man, his immobility and his fascinating book - the very last word on all-things tractor. But you know you have to read the book. Because this is how it happens. You gaze for long enough at the hypnotised man and you yourself fall under the same spell. You succumb to the eeriness of that which you are unable to explain. You become the man in his transfixed state. Why the tenacious grip on the book?
Then, you make the fatal mistake. Your eyes might begin to water. It feels like hours since you last blinked. Your vision blurs as tears well up. For a mere moment you look away and in that instant a fullness of consciousness returns. But you have looked away. Only the snap of a finger. And when you look back, when your heart flutters and there is a strange moment of panic and you absolutely have to look back, the man is gone.
Of course he has. And he has taken the book with him. Away to who-knows-where.
Another soul you will never meet and the definitive book of tractors gone forever. And a thought might occur to you then, as you tell your rational self that no, of course another human being hasn't time-traveled away to another reality. You turned away for longer than you thought you had, obviously. What you imagined was a second might have been thirty. The man left, of that there can be no doubt. But out through the door, the same way he came in. Time-travel? Do you really expect yourself to believe that? Would anyone? Would you?
Which sort of not very neatly introduces the cat, the dog, the lion and the antelope.
The very next time your docile and not entirely loyal cat regards you with the kind of contemptuous expression usually reserved for heartless criminals, or your supposedly faithful old dog refuses to be enticed into his nightly walk and instead looks both at you and straight through you, you might pause. You might pause and shiver and wonder. What if cats and dogs not only possess some mystical power beyond our understanding, but unseen and unprovoked, can on a whim put that power into practice. Makes you wonder where all those disappearing cats and dogs end up when they suddenly vanish for no apparent reason. And why are the lions and antelope so scarce? Is it boredom?
And I wonder what Fats would say. Would he write a song about it do you think, surrounded by all those old library visitors, cats, dogs, lions and antelope? Has he already?
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