Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas

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Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas Page 12

by Sheila Norton

  ‘Julian, I really think you’re overreacting,’ Laura started to say, but he turned on her angrily.

  ‘Overreacting? Can I remind you that this is my daughter, my only child, the only person I have left to care about in my life? Wasn’t it enough that she had to have this bloody awful illness and go through months of treatment that made her sick and weak and…’

  ‘And she’s getting better, Julian. Yes, she’s still weak, but she’s getting stronger every day. You’ve got to stop treating her like an invalid. She wants to make friends, she needs company. It’s only people with colds and germs she needs to keep away from, not everybody. She was going crazy with boredom until Oliver started visiting.’

  ‘Oliver? That animal? You mean to tell me this has been a regular occurrence – he’s been coming here all the time, encouraged by you, behind my back?’ For a minute I thought he was going to grab hold of Laura by the neck like he did with me, but Caroline spoke up.

  ‘It’s not Laura’s fault, Daddy. I made her let him in. It’s true, I was bored. It’s been lovely seeing Oliver every day. I feel better because of him.’

  The man just ignored her, though, and carried on shouting at poor Laura.

  ‘I employ you to care for my daughter, not to put her health at risk by letting cats into my house. Do you understand?’

  ‘Yes. I’m very sorry, Julian. I won’t let the cat in again.’

  Everyone seemed to have forgotten I was still in the room.

  ‘You’d better not,’ he said in a quieter voice that somehow sounded even more dangerous than the shouting. ‘Or you’ll be out on your ear. Plenty of other nurses would jump at a nice little job like this.’ He glanced across the room and finally noticed me quivering in the corner by the doors. ‘Let that cat out now and don’t let me ever see it here again.’

  Caroline was still crying, and I could tell Laura was shaking as she opened the door for me. But I’m afraid I was too terrified for my own life to stop and give either of them a purr or a tail-wave in goodbye. I shot straight out of the door and round the other side of the house. I wasn’t even going to risk running back down the driveway until I was sure that angry man was nowhere around – I’d feel too exposed out in the open. There was a wooden shed just round the corner of the building that gave me a vague memory of the place I was born in. The door was ajar, so I crept inside, found a dark little spot behind some flower pots, and lay there panting and mewing softly to myself, waiting for my heartbeat to settle back down.

  * * *

  You’ll find, as you get older, little Charlie, that stress does funny things to us cats. Once I’d calmed down a bit and felt relatively safe, I must have gone straight off to sleep. The next thing I was aware of was a man’s voice. I stiffened, immediately scared again, but soon realised this was a different man, a younger one with a quieter voice.

  ‘So he didn’t actually throw the poor little cat out of the door?’ he was saying.

  ‘No. But he grabbed him round the neck.’ I sat up in surprise. It was Laura, the nurse. I could see her in the doorway of the shed, but I could only see the back view of the young man. ‘And when the cat dug his claws in – you couldn’t blame him! – Julian dropped him. He wasn’t hurt, but it must have really scared him.’ I heard her sigh. ‘And it was all my fault.’

  ‘Oh, don’t say that. You were only trying to do your best for the child, weren’t you?’

  ‘Of course I was. The cat was giving her so much pleasure. If only Julian would relent and let her have some company – other than me, I mean. She needs other youngsters to chat to.’

  ‘She doesn’t know any kids round here, though, does she? I mean, she hasn’t been to school since they moved here. She was in hospital, and since she came out, she’s been…’

  ‘Lying on the sofa, poor little love. No, I thought it’d be good for her to meet some of the children in the village. But when I suggested that to Julian, it was almost as bad as when he found the cat. Anyone would think all the kids in Little Broomford are carriers of some deadly disease.’

  ‘He’s being unreasonable, if you ask me.’

  There was a silence for a moment.

  ‘Well,’ Laura said, ‘I know that’s how it seems. And he did really upset me – and Caroline – about the cat. But you know, it’s only because he’s been so frightened of losing her. He told me, when he first took me on, that since his wife died, Caroline is all he’s got, and the shock of her cancer nearly killed him. I know he seems like a bully sometimes but the poor man’s been through a lot.’

  ‘That’s no excuse,’ the man said. ‘And as for threatening you with the sack – he’s an idiot. He’d be lost without you caring for his daughter. Six days a week, while he works in London. Not many people would do it. He should be grateful you haven’t walked out on him.’

  ‘I wouldn’t do that,’ she replied quietly. ‘I care too much about Caroline. And he pays me well. I shouldn’t have gone behind his back with the cat. But he won’t really get rid of me, you know. It was just bluster.’

  ‘I certainly hope he won’t, Laura. Well, I’d better get on with mending that fence over the other side of the paddock. Was there anything you wanted or did you just come out for a chat?’

  ‘Oh, I just came to look for a box of old jigsaw puzzles Caroline’s asking for. She thought her dad might have put them in here when they moved in, and forgotten them.’

  ‘I haven’t seen anything like that,’ he said, turning round and scratching his head. ‘But you’re welcome to have a look through those boxes at the back.’

  ‘OK, Harry. Thanks. See you later.’

  He went off, whistling, and Laura came into the shed and started lifting lids off boxes. I hopped out from behind the flowerpots and meowed a hello at her.

  ‘Oh – Oliver!’ she said. ‘You made me jump! What are you doing still hanging around here? I’d have thought you’d have run a mile, after our telling-off.’

  I probably should have done, too. The last thing I wanted was for that Julian to come out and find me here. Now I’d slept off the stress, I needed to get going. I walked round Laura’s legs a couple of times to say goodbye, and to my surprise she sat down suddenly on one of the boxes and picked me up, holding me close to her.

  ‘What am I going to do, Oliver?’ she said softly against my fur. ‘I must be crazy to care about him like I do. He can be so mean sometimes, but I know that’s not the real Julian. He’s just beside himself with worry all the time about Caroline. I wish I could tell him how I feel. All I want is to be able to look after him and make him happy again. But he’s not interested in me, or anyone else, apart from his daughter.’

  To be honest I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I know humans can be quite peculiar in the way they choose their mates, but surely this nice female could find someone kinder and gentler than that bad-tempered cat-hating Julian? I felt quite sorry for her, though – she must have had some kind of problem in her head. He’d been really nasty to her and she was still making excuses for him. Sometimes, Charlie, I wonder if I’ll ever understand humans at all.


  As I finally made my way home from the Big House, I bumped into Suki. She was looking as cross as Tabby had done when I saw him the previous week.

  ‘Oh, hello,’ I said. ‘I … er … understand congratulations are in order.’

  ‘No, they’re not,’ she said very sharply. ‘Think about it, Ollie. How would you feel if your tummy was going to swell up until you could hardly move, and then you were going to go through hours of agony and end up with a mob of squealing kittens to feed?’

  ‘Well, put like that…’ I said, feeling awkward. ‘Er, where’s Tabby, anyway?’

  ‘That’s a very good question.’ She flicked her tail at me. ‘If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him, would you?’

  ‘OK.’ I didn’t know which of them to feel the most sympathy for. It does seem unfair that females have to go through all that stuff, but
there you go – that’s life – and there wasn’t really any point her taking it out on Tabby. I was just glad I wasn’t a female. If I was, nothing would have persuaded me to mate with a horrible randy male like Tabby.

  * * *

  I looked in all the obvious places for Tabby – round the back of the shop, by the swings on the village green, even at his own house. I went as far as jumping over his garden fence and putting my nose up against his cat flap, but there was no sign of him. He was certainly doing a good job of making himself scarce. In the end I finally tracked him down to the side of the big noisy road at the other end of the village.

  ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ I shouted at him. I had to shout, because of the noise of the cars racing past.

  ‘Thinking about running across to the other side,’ he said morosely.

  ‘Don’t be ridiculous! The cars will trample you as soon as you set paw on the road.’

  ‘Maybe. But if they don’t, I can escape.’

  ‘Oh yes? Escape where, exactly?’ I was getting cross with him now. ‘Do you have any idea how it feels to be lost, with no home to go to, and nothing to eat or drink? Have you ever been cornered by a fox, or left in a sack to die? No, of course you haven’t, you’ve had a lovely home with nice humans to feed you and pamper you the whole of your life. How can you even talk about escaping?’

  He hung his head. ‘Sorry, Ollie,’ he said. ‘I know, you’re right. I’ve been a lucky cat all my life, and I haven’t had to go through anything scary like you have. And I’m sorry I’ve been rude to you lately, as well. You’ve been a good friend to me. I don’t deserve you.’

  ‘Oh, don’t start getting all melodramatic on me,’ I said impatiently. ‘Just get away from this horrible road before we both end up getting hurt. Come on.’

  He followed me back up the hill, and when we got to the village green we sat under one of the benches and washed each other’s faces like we were brothers.

  ‘Is it just because of Suki?’ I asked him eventually. ‘Is she still yowling at you? I bumped into her a bit earlier and I must say she seemed … um … keen to see you.’

  ‘Just wants to have another go at me, I suppose. I preferred her before she found out she was expecting. She was nice then – gentle, and sexy. Now, whenever we see each other it almost turns into a cat fight. At the end of the day, she was just as keen about the mating as I was.’

  ‘Well look,’ I said, ‘maybe you should just let her blame you, if it makes her feel better. After all, it is her who has to get a fat tummy, and go through agony to produce the kittens.’ I was just repeating what Suki had said, of course. I had no idea how these things actually worked. ‘You might even like the kittens when they’re born.’

  ‘Huh. I doubt it. But you’re probably right. Maybe I’ll go and see her tomorrow. Will you come with me?’

  ‘Oh. I don’t think that’s a good idea, Tabs.’

  ‘Please, Ollie. You’re so much better than me at understanding how females think.’

  ‘Yeah, well, that’s because of being neutered, I suppose.’

  ‘I’m beginning to envy you. Seriously, at least you have your freedom, and don’t feel like you’re going to spend the rest of your life being shouted at by a vindictive female who didn’t want to have kittens.’

  I laughed. ‘You’d better try and persuade your owners to take you to the vet, then. Come on, let’s walk home together. I’m getting hungry. And I want to tell you what happened to me today. You think you have a stressful life? You’ve got no idea.’

  * * *

  As we walked, I told him about the Big House, and Caroline, and being caught by her father.

  ‘What?’ he kept saying. And, ‘I told you not to go back there!’

  ‘I know you did,’ I agreed. ‘And I probably should have listened to you, but I felt like that poor little girl needed me.’

  ‘Your trouble is, you’re too soft-hearted, Ollie. And you didn’t believe me when I told you there was an angry man there, did you?’

  ‘No. I think he’s only there sometimes at weekends, though. So what I’m thinking is, I might go back on Monday.’

  ‘What!’ he yelled at me again. ‘Are you completely raving mad? You’ve just told me how terrified you were, how he picked you up and dropped you.’

  ‘Only because I dug my claws in.’

  ‘But now you’re defending him.’

  ‘No, I’m not, at all. Although it’s funny, he was just as horrible to the Laura female as he was to me. But she defended him. She actually really likes him. She told me, when she found me in the shed.’

  ‘Yes, but there’s no accounting for humans’ stupidity, as you well know. We cats have more sense. If you go back there, I’ll … I’ll wash my paws of you!’

  We’d reached my foster homes now. I stopped outside the gate to Daniel and Nicky’s cottage and turned to face Tabby.

  ‘Did I, or did I not, save your life today?’ I asked him straight. ‘Didn’t I stop you from running out onto the bypass?’

  ‘Not exactly. I probably wouldn’t have done it. But thanks anyway,’ he added quickly.

  ‘Well, at least I hope I’ve talked some sense into you. And have I, or have I not, agreed to come with you to talk to Suki tomorrow, even though I really don’t think I ought to be getting involved?’

  ‘Yes, and I’m grateful. I appreciate it.’

  ‘So I’m going to ask you to do something for me, in return. To show how much you appreciate it.’

  ‘Go on. What?’

  ‘Come with me on Monday, to the Big House.’

  He jumped back as if I’d shot him.

  ‘Not on your life! Sorry, Ollie, but no way. What do you take me for?’

  ‘What do I take you for? A good friend, I hope. And anyway, you’re always fond of saying that I’m a timid little thing. Well, if that’s the case, and if you’re so much bigger and tougher than me, what are you so scared of?’

  ‘I’m not scared,’ he retorted, puffing out his chest. ‘I just don’t see the point of it.’

  ‘The point is, that little girl’s been very ill and Laura said that ever since I’ve been visiting her, she’s been getting better. So if I stop visiting her, she’s going to get worse again, isn’t she?’

  Tabby looked a bit uncomfortable. ‘You don’t know that for sure.’

  ‘But I wouldn’t want it on my conscience. And if you don’t come with me, to protect me, because you’re so much bigger and braver than me’ – I put a lot of emphasis on the bigger and braver – ‘it’ll be on your conscience too, Tabs.’

  ‘Oh, now, hang on a minute!’

  ‘And you don’t really want anything else on your conscience, do you, what with Suki and her kittens?’

  ‘I thought you were on my side.’

  ‘I am, I am. But I’m just saying … look, I’ve made my mind up. Although it’s true, I was terrified today, and I am only little and timid, I’m going back on Monday, even if it’s just to make sure Caroline’s all right. And if I’m willing to risk it, but you won’t come with me, well, what does that make you?’

  ‘A cat with a bit more common sense?’

  ‘No. A scaredy-cat.’

  It was a terrible insult. I waited for him to clout me with one of his big paws. But instead, he looked down at the pavement, and swished his tail a couple of times. And then he looked back at me and raised a paw in surrender.

  ‘OK, I give in. If you’re determined to go, I’d better come with you, or it’ll be you I have on my conscience when the angry man gets you.’

  ‘He won’t be there, I’m telling you. We’ll go in the morning. I heard them say he goes to the place they call London.’

  ‘All right. But don’t forget I’m counting on you tomorrow, then, to come and see Suki with me.’

  ‘Of course. Call for me here after breakfast, all right?’

  We meowed our farewells, and I went in to see how Nicky and Daniel were. My head was aching at the thought of all th
ese problems I was trying to sort out. It had been a traumatic day, and it had taken all my powers of persuasion to talk that rascal Tabby round. I must admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for the way I’d managed it. But most of all, I just wanted a nice bowl of Kitty-Chunks and a long, long nap.

  * * *

  I slept for a long time, in a comfy chair in Nicky and Daniel’s sitting room, and when I woke up it was getting dark and I could hear Nicky saying, in a loud voice out in the hallway:

  ‘There you are! For God’s sake, Dan, I was just about to send out the search parties. What the hell took you so long?’

  ‘Sorry, Nick. I got waylaid.’ He didn’t sound sorry. He actually sounded quite pleased with himself.

  ‘You did get some firewood, I hope?’

  ‘Yes, look. A whole bag full. And then, when I was on my way back, the guy who lives in the corner house was trying to start his car.’

  ‘Right. Very interesting.’ It’s funny, with humans, Charlie. They so often seem to mean the opposite of what they say. Nicky didn’t sound the least bit interested, in fact she went on quite impatiently, ‘Now, it’s freezing in this house and you must be cold too, being out all that time. If I make you a hot cup of tea, do you think you could use some of that wood to get the fire going? Or is it too damp?’

  ‘It might be. But I’ll give it a try.’

  He came into the lounge, shrugging off his jacket and putting his rucksack down next to the fireplace.

  ‘Oh, hello, Ollie,’ he said as I stood up in the chair and did some stretching and yawning. ‘Have you been asleep in here? Had a busy day?’

  ‘You don’t know the half of it,’ I meowed.

  I watched him for a while as he built up the wood in the fireplace. Nicky was quite right, it was really cold in the room. If it was going to take a while for that fire to warm us up, I’d be better off going next door and getting into my hammock on the radiator. But just as I was about to ask Daniel to let me out, Nicky came back into the room with two mugs of steaming tea on a tray.

  ‘Sorry I snapped,’ she said, putting the tray down on the little table. ‘I just couldn’t understand why you were taking so long. And I was getting cold. I nearly put the heating on.’


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