A recycling trash can from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this week washed up in Mulranny Beach on the Irish west coast, 5,500 kilometres away. People have various theories as to how it got there, but this is what actually happened…
Lydia had been asleep on the seat of an empty gondola on the Myrtle Beach Skywheel, warmed by the late afternoon autumnal sun. She woke now and stretched long and gracefully, as only a cat can do.
She stepped from the gondola and onto the boardwalk that ran along the shore, a boardwalk as usual populated by walking families, weaving skateboarders and panting joggers.
And a big dog, walking with its owner, and not on a lead.
The dog growled, then ran at Lydia, who turned and fled. From behind she could hear the token admonitions of the owner as he pretended to care as the dog thumped past toddlers and elderly strollers, frightening them with its loud barking.
Lydia ran on, unconcerned, confident that she could outrun the pile of teeth and slobber, who was already beginning to wheeze. His bark, though, seemed strange, coming from all directions as if he was barking in surround sound.
Lydia suddenly realised why. There was another dog ahead of her, an even bigger one, lumbering toward her like an overfed Baskerville hound.
Lydia stopped. She had a sheer wall to her left, and the sea to her right. The wall was too high to climb and the sea was, well, water.
She was trapped.
She looked frantically around. There was a trash can at the side of the boardwalk, and just as the dogs reached her she ran to it, took a really deep breath, and hurled herself into the narrow opening. Her claws quickly extended and gripped the far wall inside, leaving her clinging just above the pile of rubbish below.
The two dogs tried to pull up but slammed against the side of the bin. Their impact put pressure on the screws that held the bin to the ground and these screws, rusted and weakened by salt air, gave way. The bin toppled over, rolled gently along the boardwalk, then dropped into the sea.
Lydia’s astonishment as her world was literally turned upside down caused her to gasp, and that gasp caused her to gag. Luckily, though, the bin was bobbing with its opening facing upwards, so was not filling with water, so she put up with her lot, consoling herself with the thought that her owners would soon come looking for her, and that in any case she would soon be washed ashore.
She was wrong on both counts. The independent lifestyle of which cats are so fond has its drawbacks if you are expecting your owners to worry if you don’t show up, and the tide was going out.
After an hour or so she crept to the opening, peered out, and gazed in horror at deepening green waves and a distant line of land, far behind her.
Lydia sighed, and slid dejectedly down into the rubbish.
This rubbish, from which she had so recoiled, was what saved her. That, and the fact that humans have no idea what should go in a recycling bin.
She was able to lick cheese and sauce off pizza boxes. There were half-finished bagels. There were forty-seven styrofoam coffee cups, each with at least a half-inch of coffee at the bottom.
So she was able to eat and drink. As she drifted out to sea, though, conditions worsened. The bin began to rotate as it rode the waves, surprising her by rekindling a repressed kittenhood memory of being trapped in the drum of a washing machine.
And not only did the motion make her seasick, it meant the bin began to fill with seawater.
Again the detritus came to her aid. There was a bucket and spade in the bin, and while Lydia felt a pang of compassion while imagining the sad, tantrum-filled tale behind their being there, she fell upon them as life-saving gifts from the Gods – presumably Egyptian ones, since they are mostly cats.
She used the bucket to bail water out of the bin, then by gathering the now sodden and therefore heavier rubbish on the side opposite the opening, she managed to keep the bin mostly open side up.
She used the spade to row, and if you think rowing across the Atlantic using only a child’s spade would be very tedious and would take a very long time, well, you would be right. Her spirits were kept up purely by the innate confidence of her species, and by the fact that she knew nothing about geography.
Every day brought certainty that she would see land, every nightfall brought disappointment that she hadn’t, until the day that a long dark line on the horizon, which she at first took to be an approaching storm, grew slowly into a definite shoreline.
Lydia felt a thrill in her soul at the first scrape of the bin along small stones, and again at the hiss as the waters broke and bubbled before her on soft sand. The bin rocked forward one last time, a final wave retreated from beneath her, and Lydia was on dry land.
She leapt from the bin, raced to a hidden spot in the dunes, and licked herself clean for five hours.
She then heard voices and saw a family gathered around the bin, reading the wording on the side and gabbling excitedly. She followed them back to their village, watched its few days of fame as television and press gathered to film the bin, interview the locals, guess at the facts.
She lives in the village now. She has got used to the colder weather, preferring it to the humidity that on bad days made her look like a cheerleader’s pom-pom. She has realised that she can sleep in the sun on only about twelve days of the year, and instead slumbers happily on the warm bonnets of recently driven cars. She has learned that you do not mess with magpies.
And she loves the natives, though she has no idea what they are saying. Having grown up hearing the long-drawn vowels of South Carolina, she is baffled by the lightning speech of her new neighbours, a sound like words performing Riverdance. But the people are friendly, each family assumes she belongs to one of the others, and there is an good-natured affection behind their gentle shooing of her from their gardens, or from their car bonnets. Lydia is happy.
Once she has had her coffee. She is now addicted.