The scene occurs near the end of the story. A cat named Isabelle (called “Belle” for short) is being transported from Wellington, New Zealand, to Menton, France — thus creating a kind of symbolic link with Katherine Mansfield. A small miracle within the story has allowed the cat’s owner, a mother named Sky Blossom, to visit her young daughter in France after many years of separation. It’s a momentous journey for them, but the travel itself is presented from the cat’s point of view:
“Train Ride to Menton” or “Villa Isabella”
Isabelle – whose ancestry goes back to Lord Southhamptom, the well-known “silver-gray tabby” of the 1890s who won twenty-nine cat shows in Wakefield, England – wasn’t accustomed to so much movement.
The serpent roads of Wellington, the shaking and swinging, the roaring, vibrating, interminable flight, the moving walkways and trams, the escalators, lifts and stairs, the potholes and cobblestones of Paris, and for the last several hours, in the train, she’d felt herself falling sideways – everything, the hills and forests with their cabbage-growths of villages and church towers, the sprinkler’s long white worms of water leaping across the artichoke fields, and later (we’re in the South of France now, reader), the pale pink and yellow buildings with the orange tiled roofs and the blue-shuttered windows bearded with potted flowers and hanging clothes, the rock-walled roads and ravines, the lantana and honeysuckle, cascading bluebells and palm trees and stairways everywhere, and through the gaps, flashes of the mint-blue Mediterranean – all of it zipping by at a tremendous speed and cocking Isabelle’s ears backward, fixing her teal-blue face in a flinch.But now, at last, having arrived at the Menton station and climbing a short but steep distance to the perched portico of a three-story villa, the earth relaxed; the train and a leaf-blower and the perpetual mouse-squeal of her cage’s handle grew quiet; the two-day pandemonium of scents – car exhaust and diesel fumes, detergents, the dog-droppings and dog-spray of Paris, her wintergreen-smelling blanket, lemon-scented tissues, not to mention the sour fragrance of her own vomit which had dried in the front corner of her carry-crate – gave way to aromas of sweet honeysuckle, shady lawns, chestnut and fig and sea broth. A motherly breeze searched her fur for fleas. The shrubs were afizz with little blue butterflies. And the balusters were squat and yellow and inviting her to rub against them. She would grow to like this place, similar to Wellington in its verticality, but warmer, lazier, and wondrously insect-infested. In fact, the locals would so closely associate the villa with its cat, that the house itself became known as Villa Isabella.
Today’s poem is posted as part of the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.