Beethoven's 10th

Beethoven’s Tenth

a story about reincarnation

Too slow, am I? If you’d had my life, you’d be out of breath, too. Just wait till I get recover, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you about it!
Stupid they are, looking at me like that, as if I’d come from the moon. Makes you want to…. well, do something drastic.
Not that I’m really in a bad mood. The sun was shining on my back when I woke up this morning. I felt warm and cared for and the scabs on my skin were hardly itching at all. Not like a year or two ago…..
Stop staring, you nosy lot. It’s not polite….
Blasted nuisance….Always climbing over the wall into our garden and pinching our food….Then when I tell them to skid off – which in my mind I’ve a perfect right to do – they look at me as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths…
Now where was I? … Oh, I remember… I had salmon for supper last night. Put me in a really good frame of mind, that did. Made me glad I’m still here…..It was definitely the right decision.
You haven’t gone yet, you horrible creatures? I can’t hear myself think with all that racket going on!
That’s another thing. I’ve got such delicate ears, you must understand. An ironic quirk of fate. Nemesis. Who would have thought it possible? But you might want to say that it’s all a matter of choice, and you’d be right. Except that you don’t always know what you’re choosing at the time of deciding and afterwards it’s too late. How was I to know that felines rely almost entirely on their ears for their very survival!
For pity’s sake, stop squabbling, will you?
Was I shouting? Sorry if I made you jump. They can hear the tiniest squeak in the cellar, so it’s just pure bad manners to ignore me like they do. It’s a matter of principle. They have to think I can hear every move, when in reality I can only keep in control thanks to my dynamic personality. No one’s going to take unfair advantage of me, that’s for sure! And what I’ve been through almost defies description, although I’ll give it a try, just for the record!
Now take women. They still haven’t really achieved much, considering the opportunities they’ve had. Not that the women I’ve known seemed any the worse for being just a little subservient to me. But that’s because I happen to be a really good sort. One in a million, you might say. I had the choice, but there was very little to choose from. Nearly all those who achieved anything came to a sad end, and being martyrs to their cause they had little to hand down, to put it bluntly. And further down the line it gets even worse. I know. I’ve seen it all – or I thought I had. So after weighing up the pros and cons, I settled for the outfit you see before you when it came for me to choose again….
I dithered for ages. You have many choices to make. Are you going to be a new identity, with no background experience, nothing to call on, or are you going to carry on achieving something? I spent ages deciding, because I did have a responsibility to my own recent past – me having been famous in my own right. But there comes a time when you have to break with the trappings of fame, even if it does mean sacrifices. And by then I’d dithered for so long that the decision came as an ultimatum. Now or never again. Given that choice, you’d have done the same as me, wouldn’t you?
Imagine the shock I had when I realized that I would have to take over his age as well as his artistic temperament. But that’s how they wanted it, so I had to comply! Even though no-one would know who I was, deep inside I would still be me, like all these other creatures are them and no one else. And that’s only one of the hazards. And I confess I hadn’t realized that going feline would solve nothing. Nothing at all. Let’s work it out mathematically – 57 divided by 7, that makes 8 and a bit, so I’m just a teeny-weeny bit past my prime. I can see you’re surprised. I certainly don’t look my age. It’s my broad, intelligent head and furrowed brow. And of course my modesty helps, too.
If you small fry don’t shut up, I shall find way to silence you for good!
Always a bit neurotic, I was, even without the demands of modern life. But I never realized how asserting my authority would play on my nerves just like it always did in the old days. Mind you, these other creatures here have had their experiences too. We don’t talk about it. That’s strictly against the rules. It’s just that I hadn’t reckoned with so much opposition.
Stop eavesdropping, Cleopatra, or you’ll be back where you came from before you can say ‘snake’.
I shouldn’t have done that. We’re supposed to be incognito.
God help you if I catch you, Napoleon. I haven’t forgotten that wasted overture.
Take the neighbour’s dog. He’s not a transmutation, just an ordinary cur without a history, but I like to pretend he is. It gets rid of aggression if you can find a scapegoat. The biggest disappointment of my life, that Buonaparte fellow. You believe in someone, then he let’s you down. But that Napoleon had a few lucky escapes before they finally got him. This one has a terrible time despite his size. He’s gets really worked up if you go anywhere near him. And he’s vain. Tells you to mind his fur because he’s just been brushed. I tell him to mind his manners and clear off before I scratch his eyes out.
Like a chase, would you? Grrrr………
There he goes, tail between his legs, the coward. He’ll hide behind his kennel until his owner comes to rescue him from his latest folly. Then he’ll prance down the road head high and pulling on his diamond studded lead, growling at all the dogs in the neighbourhood.
Now where was I?
Ah yes. Well……I’m me and I’m not me, if you get my meaning. The name’s the same, a different age, a different skin and a different home, but the same brilliant mind and passionate soul. No one who matters knows I’m me and I’d like to keep it that way, for old times’ sake. Call me Tom, Dick or Harry, and I’d have closed the door once and for all on the past, as all the others have done when they came back. That’s what usually happens. You can start from scratch then. But it was just my luck somebody gave me a name without due care and attention. So my past caught up with me before you could say ‘allegro con brio’. That’s the rule. You resume the former identity once it’s been re-established though recognition. If you’re lucky, you remain disassociated and free. If you’re lucky.
But they started telling each other I looked like some renegade uncle or other when they saw me in the garden just getting familiar with the geography. So they called me Ludwig. And that’s not all. I’d hardly taken up residence when the garden flat was let.
“He’s got jowls like the alabaster bust on the piano”, the woman downstairs remarked the very day she moved in. That was the nastiest moment of all. Her recognition was my doom. My fur stood on end and I began to see crotchets and quavers like some people see stars. In a desperate battle of wills I tried to make her forget what she’d said, but gnarling made not the slightest impression her. In fact, she ignored me until I had to decide to make the first move, choosing a juicy ankle as battle-ground. To no avail. I had to change tactics, or I would have lost my last vestige of dignity and the home ground I’d gained. Not friendship, you understand, just truce, with the single worthy aim of getting nearer the food and keeping a roof over my head, even if it was only the garden shed. Once you take on the instincts of a feline, you have no choice but to behave like one.
I knew she wasn’t thinking of the uncle who was intended to be my namesake. She hadn’t even known him, you see. If that had been the case, it wouldn’t have been such a sticky wicket. I would, by virtue of his reputation, have been guaranteed free board and lodging for as long as I chose. But now I would have two souls in my breast, those of both the profligate uncle who spent his last years cooped up in the back room, coming out only when nature called or to collect his daily food ration, and the creative genius who left a legacy of beauty to entrance the world for all time.
My predicament was that I didn’t know what should happen in such a situation. I hadn’t thought to ask and my instructions did not include coping with a double identity. But whatever the inner conflict, survival was my first priority.
For the time being, the downstairs flat remained an enemy camp, because to my horror it turned out to be occupied by a manic-depressive spinster cat with unattractive blotchy fur, who either crouched behind some object of furniture in a torpid state, or leapt out from behind bushes, inflicting indiscriminate bodily injury and inevitably making me to think again about my attitude to the so-called fairer sex. Nothing is fair in love or war. I tried scaring her with my most fearsome roar. We had some terrible quarrels, which usually ended with my beating a dignified retreat, so as not to ruffle my fur too much. Until one day she decided to ignore me.
I should have been glad, but it’s not very flattering, since us males rely on our element of choice to maintain our influential position in society. You cannot reject if you have already been rejected! I fell into a deep depression.
It was boring, too. Even in my days as a musician I had more success with the ladies. Now I was doomed to sitting on the wall counting the beetles and waiting for someone to ask my advice on something.
I must have looked out of sorts. Someone started to grind up little yellow pills and mix them into my breakfast. As if I wouldn’t notice. I’m not going to take any potions, I thought to myself. They might be poison. I took to waiting till the others had licked off the yellow bits, although it required super-human discipline to wait with a rumbling stomach. I observed the condition of those who had unwittingly taken my medicine. They seemed none the worse for it. But you never know, do you? And sometimes there was nothing left by the time I got to the plate, so I had to go hungry except for the bits of old sausage thrown down onto next door’s garage roof from the fourth floor. Those were hard times. I got quite thin, and if I hadn’t resorted to desperate measures, that would have been the end of me.
All right! All right! You can all scoff, living in the lap of luxury, not even having to eat the mice you torture to death with such culpable enjoyment.
(I thought we were rid of them. I expect they’ve been listening. Much good may it do them.)
To go back to the old days. I was pretty discontented with life then. Not just because of the war. The really bad part came later. Playing my music and not being able to hear it. What an absurd state of affairs. Like a blind painter.
Napoleon lost his war. I’d been consumed by his ideals, absorbed by the idea of freeing Europe from its torpid decadence. I even wrote an opera about it. Though to tell you the truth my own deficit may have helped me there. Singing is not an attractive operation, after all, even if you can hear the cause of all the grimaces. But the audiences stuck it out. They even forced me to take a bow.
I decided there and then that I would never, never return as a musician, perhaps to hear some dreaded truth. Who knows how it all really sounded? But all those years of non-existence left their mark on me. At some point or other all my contemporaries had chosen to come back in some form or other. I was the only one left to stay behind in the nebulous zone. And what a Schubert can do, anyone can do. Anything would be better than nothingness.
So I came into a world where the effectiveness of even to most harmless tune is judged by its volume, which can penetrate walls as broad as a canon, and from which there is no escape. Where music is stored on round silver discs and people put things in their ears to listen to sounds. I know how it works. One day I came across one of those little plugs and got close to it. There was music going on. Very faintly, but it was there. And I discovered that the boxes with pictures also gave off vibrations. A whole new world was opening up to me. I started to become reconciled to it.
For the last time, leave me in peace, you little horrors.
The jagged ear and the somewhat corpulent figure you see now are the result of alternate brutality and over-feeding. An unsatisfactory mixture of love and hate, you would say. As the runt of a litter of aristocratic mongrels, rescued from drowning by a sobbing child who insisted on calling me Tootles, I reluctantly filled the vacancy left by my predecessor, who had left without warning and was living wild somewhere far away. And who could blame him?
I was imprisoned like the poor devils in my opera, for years and years, with no protection from the deafening bangs and screams their ridiculously small music-box turned out day and night, until I took advantage of the family’s absence to slip past the silly woman who was supposed to feed me. I ran for my life, not pausing once to look back. I was ready to die for my freedom. For about a week I lived on mice and birds, becoming beautifully thin in the process. But my fur started to lose its shine from lack of vitamins, so I had to give serious thought as to where I could get regular meals and perhaps even a warm corner to sleep in.
I was lucky to find somewhere fast. Being of strong character I overcame opposition from some resident creatures whom I eventually forced to let me share their breakfast, until I became such a frequent visitor that I was even assigned my own dish. Providence had taken care of me, and providence was to give me the chance of a lifetime.
Even after regaining some of the weight I had lost, I decided to squeeze myself at the first opportunity through the cat-flap belonging to the hideous, speckled spinster cat, who, I am not really sorry to say, was soon to rejoin her ancestors in that sphere reserved for felines and other people. But having at last got into the house, I must embarrassingly admit to a certain amount of mental confusion. I lost my bearings and couldn’t get out again. On that occasion I was forcibly evicted, bristling at the indignity and humiliation of the experience.
What a storm in a tea-cup! The spinster feline was henceforth hysterical with fear whenever they caught sight of me. We avoid each other where possible, snarling only briefly if our paths accidentally cross. The other inmate is a pretty little thing who keeps herself to herself. If only I were a little more agile….
It took me nearly a year to take up permanent residence. Once I did, I never looked back. Even the son of the house has to admit that I have a sweet nature. I have regular and plentiful meals and a say in what is eaten. I spend my mornings controlling house and garden, my afternoons dozing on whatever window-sill is in the sunshine – except when somebody takes a nap and invites me to become a foot-and-knee warmer – and my evenings and nights sleeping soundly on the best camel-hair blanket in the best armchair. No-one disturbs me.
The family is tolerant, but their feline residents have multiplied through no fault of mine and are rather a handful. But I stand for no nonsense and make my wishes quite clear, commanding respect and – dare I say it?- affection.
There’s only one thing that could make me leave. When my new landlady sits down to play a sonata my fur bristles. I worry about her intentions. At the moment she prefers my colleague Schubert, who has a lot to answer for, having not even finished his ninth.
But who can say what could happen in the future? What if her affection for the music causes her to push me off the piano stool and wish she had a Franz there instead? It doesn’t bear consideration.
I think I’m here for a purpose, you see. So I’m trying to communicate more urgently now with my human, to make sure she knows that I couldn’t possibly have written another symphony at that time.
But now, given the chance…….

Beethoven's 10th

Faith Puleston

Herdecke, Germany

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Ludwig lived in the garden until I moved into the garden flat and made a cat flap for my cats to get in and out. Ludwig decided to move in. He was large, had scabby fur that felt like a hairbrush and was stone deaf. Who knows what he had been through before he found refuge in the garden, where he had been fed on a daily basis by the people who lived in the flat above me. I named him Ludwig because he was deaf. But I discovered that he had already been named Ludwig by my neighbours, after an Uncle who ran off with someone then came back home many years later and was taken in by his wife (the aunt) and allowed to live in the smallest bedroom, from which he emerged only to have solitary meals at the kitchen table and use the bathroom. He was, in fact, ostracized by all, but presumably he endured the punishment because he was penniless and had nowhere else to go. Ludwig the cat had a better time. We developed a very special relationship. But when I was moving out and he saw that I was going to leave him, he became distressed. Overnight he developed a cancerous growth and the last thing I had to do before moving was take poor Ludwig to the vet and have him put to sleep. Another cat to grieve over. I wrote the story to celebrate his life. He was probably already very old when I met him.


cat story

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