Monday, December 16, 2019

Casper, Jasper, Pasta and Rasta

In the 2019 film Us, Jordon Peele gives us another (after 2017's Get Out) slice of sociopolitical satire masquerading as a horror film. In it, an archetypal black American family are terrorised by their evil doppelgängers, donning red suits à la The Handmaiden's Tale (and both featuring Elizabeth Moss, which I've mentioned previously). A key scene in the film involves the young daughter of the family getting lost in a funhouse and encountering her doppelgänger in a hall of mirrors (no spoilers here but the film's denouement really knocked me for six).

I was reminded of the film whilst watching Casper watching Jasper watching Casper.

Casper sat in the flat at the large front window looking out at Jasper, who sat on the pavement outside looking inside at Casper. They would both sit in the same positions looking at each other poker-faced for ages at a time, like the tense agony of eternity in a Sergio Leone western just before the quick-draw. Casper was posh, plump and privileged, eating only freshly cooked fish and chicken. Jasper was a street cat, savvy and skinny, who would swipe us one just for walking past him. Both cats were ginger. I didn't actually know Jasper's name; I called him that because it rhymed with Casper, and suited him. I found out later the stone jasper is red-brown sort of orange, so it seemed doubly apt.

Their lives were completely opposite. Casper stayed in most of the time, sleeping and eating. Jasper was outside all the time, trying to sleep under cars and on shed roofs. When Casper did go outside, Jasper was usually hanging around, and we'd open the door minutes later to find Casper pinned against the wall by Jasper.

Summer ended and the rain came then the cold and the wind. Jasper was still outside, all the time. My partner's chance encounter with Jasper's owner revealed that they had a new puppy who Jasper didn't like at all. This was a puppy in addition to perhaps three cats, two kids and a rabbit, whom Casper had encountered a few times when it had escaped from its hutch, and not known what to make of it at all as it bounced past him (he'd also seen a hedgehog and been equally dumbfounded).

One of their other cats was a sweet-looking grey thing, small but a psycho who also attacked us (we blamed the owners and the chaotic-sounding home life). He sometimes hung out on the other side of our house. He was so small Casper actually chased him. We called him Pasta. Rasta we'd only seen a couple of times, a ginger kitten with long legs, with Jasper possibly a parent.

It became that Jasper was outside our front door all day and all night, whining and meowing plaintively. We felt sorry for him, caved in and started feeding him. He was always starving – or good at acting it anyway. We began by putting Casper's unwanted cat food outside and around the corner for him. Then a bit nearer. Then the horizontal rain started, and I stated letting Jasper in. Understandably, Casper didn't like this at all. But they came to a sort of arrangement – when I let Casper out, Jasper would come in, and they would pass each other over the doorway like ships in the night.

Then a change came over Jasper. He started being nice. He came in, quiet as a mouse, and didn't always want food. He didn't attack us, he didn't always attack Casper. He curled up on the sofa, next to the radiator, and slept. He seemed in heaven – warmth, peace and quiet, comfort. He would even sit on our laps, and sort of purr. It had probably been years since his vocal cords had made that noise, and Jasper was obviously unfamiliar with the sound, and not all that comfortable with it – but he did his best.

This carried on a bit awkwardly for a few weeks. I mean, we discussed keeping Jasper – catnapping him, so to speak – but it wasn't fair on Casper, who tolerated the new intruder at best, but would actually attack Jasper if he went for either of his two sacred, fundamental cornerstones: his food bowl, and upstairs (where the bed was).

Then suddenly, Jasper stopped coming. And we didn't see him outside for a few days. We assumed he'd gone home. About a week later, a neighbour knocked on the door. She asked me if Jasper was mine. No, I said, but... I told her the whole story. She said he'd been at her home for days. Her daughter loved him, and Jasper loved her. He hadn't wanted to leave the house. She had plans to take Jasper to the vets, fatten him up, treat him nicely. Sounds amazing, I said, do it.

I told her where I thought Jasper lived. The woman asked if I thought she should ask his owners if she could look after him. Well, I wasn't sure, I mean I guess so but then again it seemed like they abused their pets, so I'd just keep him. She asked me if I knew his name. Yup, it's Jasper, I told her.

I never knew what she did about his owners, and we didn't see Jasper for another week – so a few weeks in total now. Then one day we saw him outside our front door, and hardly recognised him. His coat was shiny and he'd put on weight. He was a new cat. He strolled into the flat when we opened the door, and had a rather regal walk around – he was showing off. Casper was like, hold on, I thought we'd got rid of him. Jasper left on his own accord after a few minutes, and we didn't see him again for days. Then, a rare day of sun, and we saw Jasper sunbathing on the shed roof across the way. We waved and called out to him but he acted like he didn't know us.

Previously on Barnflakes
The enigma of Casper the cat (sadly, Daniel Johnston, who wrote the classic lo-fi song Casper the Friendly Ghost, died in September this year, aged 58.)

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