They stole him and he won’t ever come back. Stole him and he won’t ever come back. Gone. Won’t be back. Thieves took him. Mine – no longer mine. Gone! Mumblings inside her own head – never heard in the outside world. They spoke to her clearly – there was nothing left for her, only emptiness.

She threw the pink slippers off her red swollen feet. Chilblains, almost frost bitten. Too many days and nights spent in an old draughty miners’ cottage. She stretched out, yawned, sprawled like the cat in her head. Sooty’s dead! but the fire was alive, that was something. The flames licked the hearth rug with their spluttering cinders. She liked to play a game where she tempted her feet into the fire as if it was a cool stream. Dripped them into the fiery furnace where the only heat pumped out of her impoverished home.

Sooty’s dead! she yelled aloud, but no-one heard. She was talking in her head yet didn’t know it. She bit into the remaining half of soggy dripping toast and peanut butter. A spark hit her pink panther slipper and in her delayed reaction she swept it away leaving a black sooty hole.

A knock at the door. She wasn’t used to knocks, to visitors at any hour. She wasn’t used to people. People usually locked her away. She crept towards the thick murky green curtain and spied into the outside world. If she looked out of the corner of her eye she could see who it was beneath the light of the street lamp – a hunched up figure in a dark overcoat. She bent down and crouched behind her favourite and only armchair. She stared at the torn leather backing, the frayed cotton underskirt. She tried to remember the Lords prayer or another prayer she once knew for protection. The footsteps marched away. She heard the crunching in the snow and then silence again. 

Only the soft whisper of snowflakes falling from a black sky echoed in her world now. She breathed out gushes of air like a windmill trying to work again. She rushed towards the door and checked the locks. Make sure it’s all locked up. No-one can take me away from here, not if they can’t get it. Not if I don’t let them in. Then the tears welled up. If they hadn’t taken Sooty I’d be all right. He’d protect me. Cats are like that. They protect their owners. They don’t do anyone any harm. I’d be all right if I had my sooty here. The tears would go on for the rest of the night like a flooded stream breaking into a waterfall. They always did. 

That was Sheila’s world. A place where people didn’t exist, not friendly people. Where the only souls worth talking to had fur or claws, where a knock at the door meant she may be taken away. Where her screams were silent, even to herself. Where the only solace had been taken away from her, where there was a fire and a miners cottage in a small northern town which most people walked by without noticing the thick black fog of loneliness and fear that dwelt within.

Dear Annie

I wish you were with me now. I am alone but I write poetry and talk to God. I wish I was dead sometimes. I wasn’t here when the man knocked, not really, so they can’t take me again. They told me the baby’s all right. They won’t give me back my baby. Sooty’s dead now. I was all right till they came along. The cottage is cold. I can’t keep warm. I stay up late. It’s 3 0’ clock now. I’m burning my yellow candle – the one you gave me. It’s cheaper than burning the gas. The oil is going to run out one day Annie. There’ll be nothing to keep us warm any more. No more trees. They’re all going too. I wonder if I’ll still be alive when all the oil and all the trees have gone. Do you miss me Annie or are you all right on your own? We had good times me and you, when you were alive. Don’t worry, I’ll be joining you soon. I don’t like it here. I got a rope and my medication so I can go when I like. I’m afraid at night Annie. I hear noises. I’m going out to look for Sooty. Maybe he’ll turn up sometime. Maybe they haven’t killed him yet. I prayed to God last night. He might help. There’s no-one else Annie. Only you and I can’t see you any more. Do you like this song? Can you hear it? I got to go out tomorrow – get some bread and milk. I don’t like going out Annie. They all laugh at me. People laugh at me. I don’t know why. I got to go now Annie. I got to go to sleep.

She put her strong steel pen down with the rest of her tools. It was all she had. Social services, doctors, nurses and psychiatrists had left her a long time ago now, at least from a hospital ward – they still looked in at her now and then. She looked out of the dusty cobwebby window and spied another time. She often did this. Her mind leapt back or forwards a few years or centuries and she could see into these other worlds; places where miners had trekked back from the hills with their blackened faces or thread bare women had wept in the streets for their last child taken by TB or pneumonia. You had to be tough to live in this part of Yorkshire. Icy winds often blew in from the hills. Reddened faces crawled around the back streets or tore across the hills on bikes. She was used to the cold.

She instinctively placed the palms of her hands on the walls – cold, but warmer where the chimney stood. Tomorrow she would have to collect firewood. She touched the coldness then put her chapped hands roughly onto her cheeks. The walls were as cold as her icy skin. She missed fur.

I’m gonna find him. He’s not dead. They may have stolen him but he’s not dead. Not my Sooty. It was early morning, six thirty. She often went out at this time – less people about. Air was fresh. Trees blowing. Curtains closed. She felt the soft crunching as her feet wedged themselves into the milky snow covered pavement. Eyes watching her at every corner. The big eye upon her wherever she went. Snuggled up in her lemonade overcoat and rats skin boots she felt safe somehow. She carried a casket of peppermint tea in her rucksack, a couple of oat biscuits and a jar of peanut butter. She was used to carrying food around with her. It meant she would never starve, even in a crisis. Even when all the oil ran out and all the trees were dead, she’d always have her peanut butter oat biscuits and peppermint tea. And she was adept at building fires. It was all she could afford in the little miners cottage though she always said a prayer for every tree she burned.

Sheila walked the northern white streets in solitude, observing every flake, every eye upon her, every rustle of tree or crunching of footstep behind her. She was heading towards the hills. The paper boy, milk float, screaming baby from a far off street and homeless person’s howl in the darkness – sounds inside and outside her head.

I am watching you. Do not think you are alone. I will be observing you today to check you are not doing anything wrong. Did you remember to lock your door? Will you be safe? Is your house safe? What if someone threw a knife from the other corner of the street? What if a lunatic like you was to accidentally kill someone? What if someone breaks into your cottage and steals your last jar of peanut butter? How will you survive when the oil runs out? What will you do when all the trees have gone and there’s no more fuel? How will you survive you miserable little urchin?

The voices had got worse. She had no control over them. Usually she would turn back, lock herself up in the cottage and pray. The outside world was dangerous but she had to fight the voice. ‘Face the fear and do it anyway’- she read in the book. She was trying to do the exercises – scream back at the voice. Tell it to go away and just carry on. She wanted to get high up on the back hills – feel the wind on her face, the air – fresh air, not black soot filled air. There was none left to breathe in the cold miners’ cottage. She had breathed the last drop. Only molecules, particles of debris remained. It wasn’t enough any more. She needed oxygen high on the hills from the last remaining trees. She would hug and kiss the last trees and ask them to wait for her, surrender themselves to her to keep her warm next winter and the winter after that, so she would never be left cold.

The moon was still out, peeping behind a red and golden sky which told of a new story, a new beginning. She didn’t know yet which direction to take. There didn’t seem to be one, only empty air.

She thought of Sooty and all the people who had gone. The life she once knew and a place she’d never known. Like globules of water from a dripping tap she began to drip watery tears. Water onto frozen water. The snow started to melt beneath her huddled up body as the water dripped, dripped onto white. She didn’t notice the cold any more. Nothing except the icy cold inside her – gripping her like a frozen claw. 

  And then she saw it, like the mad moment in a horror movie when the heroine is gripped from behind in the chill of the night by some ferocious monster. She saw the claw. It was small at first, just a tiny foot that appeared from behind a rock, then bigger, two, then three of them: 3 lost kittens in the snow. How did they get here and who were they? Where did they come from? Immediately she forgot about her own thoughts and feelings. It was mesmerising to see 3 small creatures in the middle of the blazing white snow and she did not know what to do. ‘SOOTY!’ she called out to the wilderness. She knew it was not sooty. These kitties were pure white. White against white in the frozen snow. And her Sooty was black. He could never be mistaken. It was only 6.50am. She looked at her magic watch which had the hands of a magician turning the wheels of the great hands which spun round and round trying to tell her when she needed to do different things.

Maybe Sooty had left her these kittens in place of him? Maybe he’d been up to his old tricks, trying to please her and make it all better. Maybe the kittens were a gift from God or a hallucination! She never knew what was real and what was not real any more. They looked up at her purring, contented, trying to please her just like Sooty. She wanted to smother them with kisses and cuddles. But first she wanted to see if they would come up to her voluntarily. First one, then the other 2 trotted up to her past the first. They were beautiful, no collars or labels. She picked one up and she purred. So contented and so fearless of her. 

I know you’re mine, all of you: Snow – I’ll call you all snow. But one will be snowflake, the other snowfall and the third will be snowstorm

She bundled them all up in her basket and strolled off homewards with a happier look on her face. The kittens were safe, only too glad to be going with this kind and friendly human. They did not resist her and willingly snuggled up together in the basket. For little kittens out in a blizzard and thick snow, they did not seem in a bad condition. They were angel cats, angels without the wings, earth angels or something else. She was not sure. Maybe Annie had arranged this for her, or her guardian angel, Philuk. A medium once told her she had this guardian angel and she had heard his voice on many occasions. She called on him now.

Philuk, I love you so. Did you really bring these angel cats to me? Are they from you? Should I look after them now forever? Does Sooty want me to have them? Does he?

A reply came back to her immediately, ‘You are loved Sheila, always. No matter how hard it is for you in your earthly world, we, the angels of light shall look after you. And you feel that all is lost, something will be found again, once more. We the angels from heaven are guarding you always. We bring you the unity of three, the white ones, for you to look after and to have their warmth, love and comfort with you at all times. You cannot live with humans it is true. They can hurt you much, but see the unconditional love of these kittens. They will do you no harm and they will give to you much healing and love. Be kind to them always Sheila, for sometimes they will demand much from you too. They have their needs and wish to be well looked after. I am the angel, Philuk. I give to you strength and gratitude on this day. Farewell for now with my love.’ A tear trickled down Sheila’s cheek. She was hearing from the angelic realms again. The bad voices had gone for a while and now she was left with the pure white snow kittens. The kittens who had come to her in the coldest of weathers but who would now give her warmth. She loved them all instantly and this love in her would grow and grow, until the whiteness of her true soul would return to her and the darkness disappear. 

She understood it now. Sooty was a part of her own darkness. The horrible times of the past when she was an abused child, shut up in a cupboard unable to breathe. Told she was bad, no good, up to mischief all the time, when she was just trying to draw or paint and make colour everywhere. She had been told to clean the house from top to bottom when she was only 5 or 6. She had been told off for singing too much or too high or too low. She had been told constantly she was no good and that she did not even deserve to live. She was threatened with a hard broomstick which hit her on her arms and legs and back. She had been covered in bruises. She had cigarettes burnt on her knees and told to run a mile to get food for her ailing mother. She was only 5 at the time. She had barely survived but had counted always. She used to count from one to five and then six to ten. She found methods of filling her mind up with numbers. Then the bad voices would go away for a while. 

She got good at maths at school. She got commended many times. It was the only subject she was good at apart from art and music. But her little mind couldn’t cope with all the numbers in her head all the time. It made her loose track of everything else that was going on. She had to keep counting otherwise the bad voices returned: You are no good Sheila. You need to be locked up, locked away. You have a bad voice, a bad smell. You will never be good enough for anything. You are noisy, messy and no good for anything. She would fight these voices always but unless she was counting in her head they always returned. She would see the dark, enclosed space of the cupboard and feel afraid. She would fear there would not be enough oxygen and she may die. She thought she would die. And that’s when she had her first panic attack.

She placed her three little white kittens by the hearth and started to light a little fire. They were being warmed now and started to purr. Their fur frizzled up as they engulfed the warmth of the fire and the warmth from Sheila. They sat together by the warm glowing fire while Sheila stroked their fur and counted how lucky she was. As they all huddled up together on her lap they stared into the glowing fire and laughed a silent laugh and played an invisible game. There were no bad voices or bad thoughts for now. They were a new and happy family and Sheila would never look backwards at the past that had tormented her all her life. She had new life now, and this was to be her salvation. 

She looked at the embers from her first family fire, ‘I love you Sooty, wherever you are. You came back to me in a new form. I don’t know how, though Philuk knows. I know your spirit is here somewhere. Please help me to heal Sooty wherever you are. I want to be well again. I want to be a proper human being without the bad voices. I want you to love me Sooty and find others who will love me too. Then I will be better. I know I will. I just want someone, at least one person to know who I really am. I’m not mad, really. I just need to heal. Then I’ll be all right. I will be all right, won’t I Snow, Snowflake and Snowstorm? I will won’t I? We all will, now we’ve got one another – we’ll build a new life, a new home. I know we’ll be all right? Won’t we?

She placed a mattress on the floor by the fire with lots of cushions and blankets. Here she lay and slept all night with three white kittens on top of her belly. And as the kittens lay there, they performed their invisible healing. They sucked out her wounds and gave her warmth. And this was how they all lay every night in that little minor’s cottage. Sooty never returned, but in a sense he had, but even better than before. Sheila thanked God every night in her daily prayers for her new family – and God provided her with many more gifts from then on. The voices gradually disappeared and Sheila made friends with a local girl who also had a cat – but that’s another story, and this one will now end because Sheila found what she was looking for and the snow kittens found their perfect home. It was now a home of love.