On Throwing a Kitten from a Train


It was a piteous, mewing thing, parted too soon from its mother, eyes gummed shut and they would never open now, its fur matted with dirt and grease. It was on a train in one of those night-time countries, with nameless stations and long stretches of black, stopping inexplicably and then jerking forwards again, six people to a compartment and the air thick with cigarette smoke. Through half-sleep I heard it, a commotion in the hallway, and laughter, and slamming doors, a bag of something, money changing hands, and my mouth dry and I had forgotten to buy water, the train pulling out from the station, clank and grind of metal, and coughing somewhere, and then a kitten crying.

It went on.

I opened my eyes and looked around my compartment. Everyone was asleep. There was an elderly couple by the window, the woman’s head resting on the glass, neck twisted sideways like a strangled goose. They had a child with them, a grandchild I supposed, curled in a knitted blanket. Opposite me were two young men who had been drinking earlier and laughing, but were quiet now, the head of one resting on the shoulder of the other. I climbed over legs and bags for the door, which had a little brass handle, and a pane of dirty glass. In the corridor I found it, skittering across the floor as we rounded a bend. It was too small. I reached down and it attached itself to me, hooked its claws into the skin on the back of my hand. I had it under its stomach, could feel its narrow ribcage and fluttering heart.

I carried it back to my seat. It was hungry. I stroked the front of its skull with my index finger. I tried to unhook its claws but it embedded them deeper. A bracelet of red beads bloomed around my wrist.

One of the young men wasn’t asleep after all. His eyes were open; he was watching me. He looked at the kitten and then back to me and mimed a twisting action with his hands. I thought about it. I wondered about men on trains who break the necks of kittens. I shook my head. He shrugged.

I must have slept because suddenly it was dawn. We were climbing from the plains into the hills, the grass impossible green, and I saw people in the fields, women in headscarves, and there were haystacks and horses and an ancient tractor. The train was waking. Doors rattling open and closed, people folding blankets and coats, ripping chunks of bread from a loaf. The kitten was damp, trembling, its voice grown deeper and harsher. The old woman looked at me suspiciously, muttered something, crossed herself. She took an orange out of a paper bag and peeled it. She broke it into segments and the juice leaked onto her fingers. She passed half to her husband, who rummaged in his pocket for a pair of false teeth, and the rest to the child, who pulled the segments apart one by one, tugged at filaments of white pith, and dropped them to the carriage floor.

There was a knock on the door. It opened, and a gypsy woman appeared.

She held out a Styrofoam cup and grinned. She had a toddler in a sling at her hip, a grubby, curly haired boy. One of the young men shooed her away as if she were a chicken. He lit a cigarette.

I stood, and opened the door to the corridor, cradling the kitten in the crook of my elbow. The gypsy woman was further down the carriage, knocking at each compartment, shaking her cup. I rested my forehead against the window and looked down. We were rushing higher into the hills now, and a river snaked beneath us, deep in the valley, and everything was blue and green, and the sun so bright, and the kitten still crying, and it was me, I did it, I opened the window, and there was a clatter of wheels, and the suck and rush of the outside air. Ahead the track curved and I could see a viaduct, high above the river. And as we turned the bend and thundered across the bridge I held the kitten up to the open gap, and I remember the shivering terror of it, its blind face and open mouth, and the way it clung to me. I threw it, and it somersaulted, its little legs splayed in the air, its outline sharp in the morning sun, and the train rushed on into sparkling day.


Listen to Emma Kate Martin read ‘On Throwing a Kitten from a Train’


Emma Kate Martin grew up in Dunedin, and has lived in Melbourne, Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Wellington. In previous lives she has worked as a film censor, taxi driver and circus performer. She has a PhD in philosophy, and completed the MA at IIML in 2009.