Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas

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Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas Page 3

by Sheila Norton

  Well, after a little while she did stop crying, and the two girls played with me nicely indoors with a ball and an empty cardboard box. Yes, I know you might think I was a bit old for that kind of stuff, but we cats never grow out of the cardboard box thing. It’s just so much fun, I never get tired of it! While we were playing, I could hear Martin and Sarah talking quietly in the kitchen. They probably thought none of us could hear, but perhaps they forgot what sharp ears we cats have.

  ‘I hope we’re doing the right thing,’ Sarah said, sounding worried. ‘She hasn’t cried that much since the day it happened.’

  ‘Then it probably is the right thing. She’s been bottling up her feelings.’

  ‘I know. She’s hardly spoken since it happened, has she? I keep trying to encourage her to talk about the accident, but she won’t.’

  ‘In her mind, the two things are linked. She ran into the road after Sooty…’

  ‘Well, Martin, let’s face it, they are linked! But she can’t accept that it wasn’t her fault.’

  There was a silence for a while, apart from the sound of saucepans and things being moved around. Apparently they were preparing Sunday Lunch. That was something I knew about, from all those busy times in the pub. It made me feel a bit homesick.

  ‘I just hope it’ll cheer her up, having Oliver here,’ Sarah suddenly went on. ‘She’s refused to go out and play with the other children all through half-term, and Grace hasn’t wanted to go out without her. So they’ve both been stuck at home for the whole holiday. It’s a good thing they’re going back to school tomorrow really. It might take her mind off it.’

  ‘Poor love, she can’t really forget about the accident at all until the cast comes off her arm. And they’re both obviously missing poor old Sooty.’

  ‘Yes.’ I heard Sarah’s sigh, all the way from the next room. ‘Brownies would have helped cheer her up – she normally loves going to Brownies.’

  ‘But they can’t hold their meetings, can they, while the hall’s out of action.’

  ‘Exactly. I don’t know what’s going to happen there. And it’s not just Brownies, of course. The Cubs’ meetings are there too and, well, everything that goes on in the village! The senior citizens’ club, the WI, the nursery and the pre-school…’

  ‘You’re right. It’s going to be a long time before the hall’s fit for purpose. All those pensioners will miss their meetings, for sure. And the parents who work. How will they manage without the nursery?’ He paused. ‘And there was I, worrying about missing my dominoes matches in the pub.’

  ‘Typical!’ Sarah gave a little laugh. ‘I don’t know how everyone’s going to manage, Martin. But I feel like I ought to try and do something to help. Christmas isn’t that far off, and unless we can find another venue, everything’s going to have to be cancelled. All the children’s parties, the pensioners’ dinner – everything! Perhaps I’ll have a word with Brown Owl and see if she’s got any ideas. That’d be a start.’

  They went quiet, then, and although I was still enjoying sitting in the box, peeping over the top of it and making Grace shriek with laughter, all I really wanted to do, after hearing all that, was to sit on Rose’s lap and try to cheer her up. I was sad about Sooty, too, and it made me shiver inside to think about what must have happened to him. I was beginning to realise I wasn’t the only one, cat or human, with problems. My two new foster families were helping me, and I only wished I could help them in return.

  * * *

  When I woke up on my nice comfy armchair the next morning, I could hear Grace chatting in the kitchen and Sarah talking about breakfast and lunch boxes and something called a PE kit. I did my stretching and yawning, gave myself a good wash, and by the time I’d strolled into the kitchen the children had been sent upstairs to finish getting ready for school. Martin was talking quietly to Sarah, saying he hoped Rose was going to be OK at school, and that he’d see them all later.

  ‘Aha, look who’s come in for his breakfast,’ he said, spotting me walking round and round the empty food dish on the floor. I gave a couple of loud meows to show how ready I was to be fed, and he laughed and bent down to stroke me. Even though I’d decided now that I liked him, I still shrank away from his touch. I couldn’t help it, it was such a deep instinct in me. Then I felt bad about it, because he was feeding me and giving me a nice warm house to stay in, after all, and I hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings. So I rubbed myself against his back paws a few times to make up for it.

  ‘All right, boy! Grub’s coming,’ he said, getting a tin of something out of the cupboard and opening it up. Salmon! I purred my head off in gratitude and fell on the food hungrily.

  Sarah was watching me. ‘I’ll have to stock up on tinned cat food,’ she told Martin. ‘We can’t keep on giving him things like that.’

  What a shame. But still, hopefully she’d buy nice cat food.

  * * *

  After Martin said goodbye and went off in the car to drive to his work, wherever that was, Sarah and the children put their coats and shoes on to walk to the school bus-stop. Grace was complaining that she was nine and a half now, and Rose was nearly eight, and they were both big enough to walk round to the bus-stop on their own, but Sarah gave her a frown and said ‘Shush, Grace. I want to come with you this morning.’

  Even I, with my little cat’s brain, understood that it was because of Rose being upset, and having the broken paw, that she wanted to go with them. I think Grace understood too then, because she didn’t say anything else. Rose hadn’t said a single word since breakfast. She looked pale and sad and forgot to say goodbye to me. I wanted to go with them, but Sarah closed the door on me, calling out that she wouldn’t be long. Luckily, I’d already clocked that there was a cat flap in the kitchen door because of Sooty, and it wasn’t locked, so I jumped out, found my way round the side of the house and followed them down the street.

  ‘Oh no!’ Grace said when she noticed me. ‘Will he get lost, Mummy?’

  ‘I don’t think so. He only lived just down the road from here before, you know. In the pub.’

  Just down the road? I could hardly believe my ears. I’d been completely lost in that wood, imagining myself miles and miles from home, and yet after being carried for only a little way in Daniel’s rucksack I was now just down the road from my pub? I felt a quiver of excitement go through me. Sure enough, as we made our way down the road I was beginning to recognise places. There was the village shop. There was the house where the noisy big black dog lived. I ran past that one quickly! And there was the village green, with the children’s swings and the benches where people sat and chatted when it was warmer weather. And there … oh my goodness. I stopped, staring at my pub – the only proper home I’d ever known – and I felt a terrible howl of anguish rising up in my little chest. Sarah and the children had walked on, and I ran to catch them up, crying as I went.

  ‘What’s the matter with Oliver, Mummy?’ Grace asked, and Sarah turned back to look from me to the blackened, ruined buildings over the road. She gazed for a minute at the sky where the pub roof used to be, the gaping empty holes where the windows were, the remains of curtains flapping in the breeze, and bits of black, burnt furniture left half in and half out of doorways. She turned and looked at the village hall next door, which looked like a giant animal had sat on it and made the top cave in, and then she shook her head, bent down to stroke me and said to the children:

  ‘He’s crying because his home’s burnt down.’

  ‘Poor Oliver,’ said Grace. Then she looked up. ‘Mummy,’ she said in a hurried, anxious little voice. ‘That boy in front of us is Michael Potts in my class, and he’s not very nice.’

  Sure enough, there was a young male human, a bit bigger than Grace, staring at us from further down the road.

  ‘Has your sister got another cat?’ he called out to Grace. ‘Is she going to kill that one too?’ And he laughed in a horrible, rude way. I don’t know why he thought it was funny, but it certainly wasn’t. I was so furiou
s to think that it might start Rose crying again, I didn’t even stop to consider the fact that he was a strange male. I ran straight up to him, hissing and spitting with anger, my fur up on end, my ears flat to my head and my tail huge with threat. I had my claws out and would have jumped up his legs and scratched him if Sarah hadn’t come running after me.

  ‘Hey, hey, that’s enough, Oliver!’ she said, but she wasn’t being cross with me. She sounded quite pleased in a funny way.

  ‘That cat’s dangerous,’ the nasty boy said. He’d backed away from me and was looking at me with big frightened eyes. ‘You ought to keep him indoors.’

  ‘Cats go wherever they want,’ Sarah said calmly. ‘That’s why sometimes, sadly, they get hit by cars on the road. I’m sure you heard that’s what happened to our Sooty.’

  She was giving him a hard stare that made him open his eyes even wider.

  ‘Y … yes, I know,’ he said in a scaredy-cat squeak.

  ‘So I presume you also heard that Rose ran into the road to try to save him?’ she went on. ‘She did it without thinking, but she was too late. She got hurt herself. She was a very brave little girl.’

  The boy just stood there, looking at the ground, shifting from paw to paw, and Sarah took hold of both the girls and said, ‘Come on, children, or you’ll be late for the bus,’ and they walked on.

  Me? I tried to give the boy the same sort of stare Sarah had used on him. All cats know that’s supposed to be a hostile signal. But by now my bravery had fizzled out a bit and I don’t think it worked very well.

  ‘Stupid ginger cat!’ he hissed at me as soon as Sarah was out of earshot.

  Ginger-and-white, actually. I was proud of my white bits.

  It was all too much for me. I watched until they’d all turned the corner, and then I went back the way we’d come. This time I couldn’t even bear to look when I passed the pub.


  Sarah seemed to be a long time coming back from the school bus. I went out in the garden and had a look around. There were a couple of big fat woodpigeons out there, always good for a spot of chasing, they’re so slow and stupid. I amused myself with them for a while until it got boring. Then I climbed the fence at the side and looked down into the little paved area outside Nicky and Daniel’s house. From here, their house looked even smaller, a bit like the toy house I’d seen in the children’s bedroom, with only one window at the bottom and one at the top. The roof was slanting and covered with moss and everything about it looked sort of wonky. It reminded me of an old tatty cat, struggling to stay upright, whereas Sarah and Martin’s house, although it wasn’t big like the pub, was younger and smarter, like a sleek, well-fed, well-groomed cat. Much like myself. No need to laugh, little kitten. I may not be a youngster anymore but I’m still in my prime, let me tell you. I could still give a little kitten like you a run for your money.

  Haven’t they given you a name yet, by the way? I can’t keep on calling you Little Kitten forever. What’s that you say? They’re calling you Kitty? What sort of a name is that for a boy cat, for heaven’s sake? Oh, I see, it’s just till they decide on a good name. Well, they’d better hurry up about it. I’m not calling you Kitty in front of all the other cats. You’d be a laughing stock.

  Anyway, so I jumped down into Nicky and Daniel’s little yard and had a sniff around, but there wasn’t much there, and they had no cat flap so I couldn’t get inside the house. I remembered them saying they both went out to work all day, so I thought I’d go back and see them later. It was cold, so I was glad to get back inside Sarah’s nice warm kitchen and have a little nap in Sooty’s old bed.

  A little later, I heard voices coming from the lounge. It was Sarah, and another female, and they were making peculiar noises that made my fur stand up in alarm.

  ‘A-cootchy-cootchy-coo!’ Sarah was going. ‘A-boo, cootchy-coo!’

  Was she trying to imitate a pigeon? I sat up in bed, my head on one side, wondering whether it was safe to go into the lounge and look.

  ‘Ah, look at his little face!’ she was saying now. ‘Do you want your dum-dum, diddums?’

  Dum-dum, diddums? Was this some foreign language I hadn’t come across before? One of the regulars in the pub used to speak something they called Spanish, and someone else spoke normal English but with a very funny accent they called American, but this was different altogether.

  ‘He probably wants feeding again,’ the other woman said in a more normal voice, sounding kind of weary. ‘Is that what you want, little man? Milky-poos?’

  Milky-poos? It sounded disgusting, put like that. I slunk out of the kitchen, keeping to the walls, and peered around the lounge door. There was Sarah, sitting on the sofa with the other woman, and on her lap was this tiny, tiny human. Honestly, he was probably smaller than me! Well, I knew humans had kittens, obviously, like we do, but I never realised they started off so small. Not only that, he’d now started meowing just like a cat-kitten. It was all very confusing. As I watched, the new woman lifted him up, undid her shirt and started feeding him. This made a bit more sense. It reminded me of being fed by my own mother, along with my brothers and sisters, before … everything terrible happened, long ago. I couldn’t help myself from giving a little mew of sorrow at the bittersweet memory, and both women looked up and saw me.

  ‘Oh, here he is!’ Sarah said. ‘Oliver, our new house guest – but of course, you’ve met him already.’

  Had she?

  ‘Oh yes.’ The other female smiled at me. She looked nice, probably a slightly younger female than Sarah, but her dark hair was tied back off her face as if she’d done it in a hurry, and her eyes looked like she needed a good long cat-nap. ‘What a little hero he is!’

  A hero? What could she mean? She must be muddling me up with some other good-looking ginger-and-white cat.

  ‘I remember him from the pub,’ she went on. ‘We used to go there for a pie and a pint every Friday night, before we…’ Her face went a bit funny, then, like she was trying not to cry. ‘When I was working,’ she went on quickly. ‘Before I had the baby.’

  ‘You’ll be able to go out again, Hayley. Jack’s only a couple of months old, and things will get easier. When he’s stopped needing the night feeds, you’ll be able to get a babysitter.’

  ‘Will I?’ she said, sounding like she didn’t believe it. ‘Tom booked a table for us for Christmas Eve, you know, as a special treat. He said by then the baby should have settled down a bit, and I could ask one of the mums at the mother-and-baby group to recommend a babysitter. But now the pub’s gone.’

  ‘Couldn’t you go somewhere else? If you can get babysitters for an evening, Tom could drive you into town to the Italian restaurant, or that big chain pub. They do lovely cheap meals there.’

  ‘But there’s no mother-and-baby group now either! I’m so disappointed! I’d only just joined, and I was looking forward to getting to know some of the other mums with babies around here. It’s not just Little Broomford mums who come to the group, apparently. They come from Great Broomford and all the other villages around here, and how else can we get to know people, stuck out here in the back of beyond?’ Her voice was starting to sound like the wail of a cat crying. I wondered if I should go and rub my head against her legs. ‘I miss my colleagues in the office. I miss seeing lots of people every day. I even miss commuting on the bloody train.’

  ‘Of course you do,’ Sarah soothed her. ‘It’s a huge change, being at home with a little baby, after being out at work every day. But you’ll soon get used to it, really you will. Meanwhile, if you and Tom want to book somewhere for an evening out around Christmas time, I could babysit for you.’

  ‘Oh! Sarah, I couldn’t expect you to do that. You’ll be busy – you’ve got your own children. I hope you don’t think I was hinting.’ She went red and put her paw over her mouth.

  ‘Of course I don’t!’ Sarah smiled at her. ‘I remember what it was like, when my girls were babies. You need something to look forward to.’
/>   ‘Well, I was looking forward to Christmas this year. Jack’s first Christmas – it sounded so exciting. But now, I’m just so tired all the time, I can’t even be bothered to think about it. And I wish I didn’t feel so lonely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been really lovely talking to you. It was so kind of you to invite me round like this.’

  ‘It was nice of you to ask me if everything was all right,’ Sarah said. ‘I didn’t even notice you sitting there on the village green till I was on my way back from the bus-stop. You saw the whole thing?’

  ‘I did, yes. What a brave cat Oliver was, fronting up to that Michael Potts like a right little tiger! Scared the life out of him, didn’t he?’

  A little tiger! I don’t mind saying, I purred out loud with pride. Both the women were laughing and giving me affectionate smiles. I did a happy circuit of the coffee table, and then rubbed myself against Sarah’s legs and gave her a blink of my eyes as a kiss. She was one of my humans now and I wanted her to know that I liked her.

  * * *

  When the children came back from school, I was pleased to see that Rose looked a bit happier.

  ‘Her friends were nice to her, about Sooty,’ Grace said. ‘And everyone wrote on her plaster – look!’

  Sarah smiled as she read some of the messages. ‘That’s nice,’ she said. ‘They’ve all written about how brave you were, Rose.’

  ‘And Oliver was brave, too, this morning, wasn’t he, Mummy!’ Grace said, running over to me and giving me a cuddle. I purred again with pleasure. I’d never been called brave or a tiger before today. I’d probably never been brave before!

  Then Rose came over to me too. She was smiling and stroking me with her good paw, and when she said in a quiet little voice, ‘I love you, Oliver,’ Grace and Sarah both laughed out loud like they were really pleased and excited. I felt pretty good myself, too.

  * * *

  After I’d had my dinner, I decided it was time to pop back next door and see if Daniel and Nicky were home. Because they didn’t have a cat flap, I had to stand at the front door making as much noise as possible, and it wasn’t long before Nicky let me in. She seemed really happy to see me.


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