It's my birthday, and I've decided to bake myself a cake. An elaborate one, a decadent one, coated with a ganache so thick and shiny I will be see my 28-year-old face staring uncertainly back at me as I cut off a slice. Though suddenly solo and adrift in the world, I can see no reason not to. After consulting Donna and Nigella at length, I find the perfect measure of gluttony in a cake loaded with three bars of classy chocolate, almond meal, pure butter and cream (diet fanatics, turn your faces away now). The little boys I live with are delighted, have been skipping around the kitchen like mad things as I weigh, mix and melt my way towards our cocoa heaven.
But when I turn my attention to removing my perfect cake from the oven, the bowl of butter and chocolate atop the saucepan full of simmering water explodes, sending gooey glass shooting all over the oven and floor. It is an unmitigated kitchen disaster and not for the first time I curse Nigella's earthy sensuality which has sent many of us mere mortals into the kitchen in her food-scented wake. The boys sidle over gleefully as I wrap the expensive-chocolate-coated shards in newspaper and dump them in the bin. That's Lily's bowl, one says cheerfully, and it's her favourite. Yeah, you're going to be in big trouble, says the other, and I glower at them. Look - this cake is nearly finished so let's just go and get some more chocolate and finish it off, I grumble, and we pile into the car.
By now, it is Sunday night, and dark. The purple-and-pink haze of the Broome sunset has long gone and a slight chill has set in the air. The boys are gaily discussing just how mad Lily is going to be about the bowl as we pull into the BP in search of couverture chocolate (yes, what was I thinking, you may well ask...). Faced with a selection of el cheapo generic brand chocolate, no dark in sight, my heart sinks as far as the cake by now will be back in the sticky kitchen as I realise we are going to have to drive all the way to Woolworths to finish the damn thing off.
We exit stage left, white knight of a car streaking through the night as I hurry to my destination, and I see it too late to react. It turns its face to me, eyes gleaming in a face as black as the night a mere split second before a thump and the subsequent plummet of my stomach. The boys are horrified and delighted, as only little boys can be. Was that a ... I croak quietly, as they launch into a sing-song catalogue of horror. You killed a cat! You killed a cat! They screech, half hysterical, giggling madly. I peer into the rear view mirror and can barely make out the inert shape lying on the road, its life knocked out in one fell swoop.
I feel sick. I slow down. Keep going, one says matter-of-factly, it's dead and you killed it. Yeah, says the other, come on - we need to get the chocolate. Yes, the chocolate, I think, pulling off to the side. Have to get the chocolate. One sighs loudly, suddenly old, wise, defeatist. It's dead Flip - there's nothing you can do. I look back at the shape, still unmoving. You think? I squeak uncertainly. Yes! They chorus, with kind frustration. Come on.
We drive off and the black shape recedes into the distance. I am sick. I am a killer, a cold-hearted cat-killer with no soul, I think to myself, as the boys discuss how good the cake will taste.
We reach the buzzlit aisles of Woolworths in minutes and locate the chocolate to a saccharine soundtrack that make me feel worse. The boys have kept up their cat-killer chorus and I tell them they have black little hearts for such cute little boys, thinking privately that other people's children are without doubt the most reliable form of contraception there is. Back in the car, we draw near the scene of the crime and I pull over to a chorus of protest.
Ignoring them, I get out and walk to the other side of the road, where the poor black beast lies intact with an eye to the sky and half a fang poking out in a semblance of a snarl. I'm sorry buddy, I whisper tearfully, noting the whippet thin body, the lack of collar, the scarification of a cat that's survived years in the wild. As I lean down to offer my last words of condolence, a few last rites, a four-wheel drive looms in the distance. Standing, I step out into the road and hold out my arm, indicating they shouldn't interrupt this tender, sorrowful moment. But I am forced to jump back as the car roars past me and over the top of this poor, godforsaken cat with nary a second glance. The boys snicker as I head back to the car in defeat, with one last look back to the cat that has haunted my dreams since.
The day started inauspiciously too, when I stood on one of the three-or-so dead mice my own cats have been presenting to me each night. Actually, I lie. It started well and then went wrong, as aforesaid boys woke me up cutely in the morning bearing wholewheat pancakes and coffee and wearing dazzling grins. The mouse came next, when I was cleaning my room in a sparkling mood, enthralled at the prospect of the first birthday in memory spent in the sunshine and with a whole day off. But when my foot planted firmly on something still-warm and furry, hidden strategically under a pile of clothes, my spirits dropped just a tad.
I still haven't worked out the spiritual significance of the two seemingly disconnected events. The day started with a dead mouse and ended with a dead cat. Would the karmic impact be less because I killed one and not the other? Or was it the universe trying to tell me that The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away? Who knows - but all I know that encountering two dead animals on one's birthday does not feel auspicious at all. There's been a worse Mouse Incident since, when wearing shoes I stepped on one and orchestrated the crunch of tiny, tiny bones. I didn't eat breakfast that day.
Later, a friend and I were discussing The Cat Incident on the phone and between us we managed to put a positive spin on it. Essentially, a black cat had tried its hardest to cross my path on my birthday, but I have been enjoying my run of positive and uplifting experiences so much recently that I refused to let it happen and mowed the bastard down.
Last weekend, I held a giant snake (ooh, say the ladies!) at the CALM wildlife sanctuary. I spent a pleasant if somewhat baffling morning listening to a dissection of the habits of migratory shorebirds along Roebuck Bay and during morning tea went to find the toilet. Instead, I came across a room where several people were standing with enormous snakes wrapped around their bodies while tourists snapped pictures and laughed. Drawn by invisible strings and surprising even myself, I walked in and straight up to the snake handler, whose giant python looked me straight in the eye. Can I hold? I whispered. It was so long it had to wrap itself around my body twice, once around my neck and slide down my arm before it could sit comfortably and dip the point of its tail into my handbag. Then we stood there, the snake and I, and waited, twined together. Its body was cold and undulated gently as I stroked at its neck, smoother than I expected. It is an unnerving sensation to look a snake in the eye and I can't say that we became instant friends, but we were ok. The trainer came over to unwrap it, but the snake was by now very comfortable and exploring the inside of my armpit and didn't like being disturbed. It started to squeeze ... and squeeze. It's all right, the trainer said reassuringly, as I felt my ribs being slowly compressed and my neck being circled more tightly. He's just playing. He tugged at the snake again and it flicked its tail in annoyance, but thankfully gave way, slithering off up his arm without a second glance.
And of course there was yesterday. When I'm going about my daily business as a busy journo in this small slice of paradise, and taking a few snapshots of my colleagues outside our office, this giant pig wanders across out of nowhere, grunting and snuffling and for a grand finale pees next to my feet, before strolling off down the second biggest main road in town.