The Cat’s Whiskers
Lucy Maloney sighed. What a miserable birthday this had turned out to be.
“Thanks mum. Thanks dad,” Lucy forced herself to smile. “My presents are lovely. Just what I wanted.”
Lucy stacked her new telephone, shower gell and books together and got to her feet, “I’ll just take these upstairs to my room.”
“See you later Lucy,” her mother smiled, “I’ll go and check the meat, dinner should be ready in about an hour.”
“I hope you like your presents,” Lucy’s dad grinned at her from behind the cover of the book he was reading.
“Thanks, they’re great,” Lucy forced the smile back onto her face, fighting hard to keep away the bitter tears which were threatening to spill down her face. It seemed to take forever to open the lounge door, it was hard to turn the handle and balance the pile of presents she had in her arms, but finally the handle turned, and Lucy stepped out into the quiet of the hallway.
She sank down on the stairs, vaguely aware of the faint noise of the television from the lounge and the sound of her parent’s contented chatter. They thought she was happy. They thought she was enjoying her birthday. That she loved her presents. That everything was ok. It wasn’t. Lucy hated the new house, hated living out in the countryside. She was so lonely. Of course, her friends from school came out to see her regularly but it wasn’t the same as having them around all the time.
When they’d lived in the town, she could easily tell her mum where she was going and walk down any of the roads in the estate where they had lived and find someone to hang out with.
And of course, she saw her friends at school every day, it wasn’t as if they’d moved far away. It was just that being out in the countryside wasn’t the same. Her parents had been so excited when they had found the new house. Much more space for us, they’d said, loving the big house as soon as they’d seen it.
The house was nice. Of course. It was big, so much more space than they’d had on the town estate. With a big garden and plenty of rooms. Lucy had a huge bedroom with a view over the surrounding fields. And her own bathroom. She loved that. She’d started collecting fancy shower gells and body lotions and arranging them on the shelf above her sink. Her school friends had been very envious when they’d seen the space she had to herself. Lots of them were sharing with younger, or worse, older sisters.
She understood why her parents had wanted to move out to the countryside, to a bigger house. The new baby brother or sister who was going to arrive later during the year had helped her parents make the decision to move. The town house had been small, with just two small bedrooms, one for them and one for Lucy. With a new baby they needed more space. She really hadn’t liked the idea of sharing her bedroom with a baby, or when they grew up a younger sibling, especially if they were a boy. She’d been excited at the start. The thought of having a baby brother or sister was something she had longed for. Someone to play with, to teach how to read and write, play games with.
She’d even been excited when they had all started looking at houses. The thought of having more space, a bigger bedroom, a playroom of her own, a big garden was very appealing, but somehow she had never contemplated what it would be like to be out in the countryside away from everyone and everything.
Lucy pulled the arm of her sweater down and wiped her eyes. Crying was not going to help. It was just that she was so lonely. She wanted some company. She’d really wanted a kitten. Something to play with, a friend who would always be there for her. Who would curl up on the bed beside her. Who would snuggle onto the sofa beside her in the room downstairs Lucy’s mum had given to her to play in, watch television and to do her homework. She’d asked and asked for a kitten, even found a litter locally. A few weeks before her birthday Lucy had seen a poster in the local shop. Someone had a litter of kittens they wanted to give away to good homes. What could be a better home than she could give? She’d shown her mum the poster, asked her dad, begged and pleaded with them. ‘We’ll see,’ was all they’d said in that distant way grown ups have when they just want to be left in peace. Lucy had really hoped they’d have got her the kitten for her birthday. She had asked if she could have one for her birthday. Her Dad had just ruffled her hair with his hand and said, “we’ll see.”
“Maybe,” was the vague answer Lucy had got from her Mum when she had asked the same question.
She’d hoped and hoped that when she had got up on the morning of her birthday her parents would be downstairs with the kitten she so wanted. She’d been so disappointed when she went into the kitchen and found nothing but ordinary normal presents.
Slowly she got up and went upstairs to her room with her presents. She was lucky to have such nice books, Lucy told herself, and the phone was one that she had wanted for a long time.
Lucy unpacked her new phone and plugged it in to charge. She found her favourite music app and flicked through the songs and found some she wanted to hear. She lay on her bed as the music began, hating herself for feeling so ungrateful. Her mum and dad had gone to a lot of trouble to get her presents, she should be happy. But she wasn’t.
Lucy looked at the posters she had put up all around her room. Her favourite bands. Their smiling faces looking out at her. What good were they? They couldn’t talk to her, or play with her.
She had wanted a kitten so badly.
“I miss living in town,” Lucy had told her parents, trying to explain how much she missed having her friends around.
“You’ll make new friends in the village,” Lucy’s Dad had replied. ‘We’ve worked hard to buy this house, to move out of the town. Really Lucy this is going to be a lovely place to live. And when the new baby arrives you’ll be glad of the space.’
He had looked so cross that Lucy had never mentioned it again. She didn’t want to remind him about the life she missed so much.
It was hard, though. Lucy had lived on the town estate, surrounded by other houses and her friends until a year ago. Then, when she was ten they had moved.
The village was nice, everyone was very friendly, and Lucy’s mum loved having so much space. She spent lots of time getting the nursery ready for the new baby, buying a lovely white cot. Lucy had helped pick out a mobile which would go above the baby’s cot, for them to look at.
Her mum didn’t even mind having to drive a long way to the shops or for the school run. She didn’t even seem to mind leaving her friends on the estate behind. There was a constant stream of her friends coming to visit. Lucy would often find them sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and chatting to her mum. They all had cars and the ten mile drive into town didn’t matter to them, they weren’t stuck out on their own like she was.
On the estate there had been lots of dogs and cats, everyone she knew had a pet. Lucy missed them. A kitten would have been something to care for. But that wasn’t going to happen.
The last track of the album she’d been listening to came to an end and Lucy slid off her bed. Maybe she would ask again when it was Christmas. Maybe then her parents would get her a kitten. She sighed, they’d probably tell her then that it was too dangerous to have animals around the new baby in case they got bitten or scratched. She imagined a life of loneliness, out in the countryside, with no one to talk to, no one to play with.
“Lucy, come down, lunch is ready,” Lucy’s mum’s voice carried easily up the stairs in the small house.
Quickly Lucy checked her reflection in her bedroom mirror to make sure there was no trace of the tears she had shed. She pushed back her straight blonde hair and peered into the glass. Her cheeks looked a bit red and her eyes slightly puffy. She went into her bathroom and splashed cold water on her face and dabbed at her cheeks with the towel. There, she thought, looking at the mirror again, now she looked slightly better. The last thing she wanted was to have her mum quizzing her about why she was upset. She’d told both of her parents how much she hated living in the countryside. She’d even asked if she could go and live with her granny who lived close to the estate where she’d grown up, but they had said no. They said she’d get used to living in the countryside and that she would grow to love it too. She knew how frustrated they were because of how hard they’d worked to buy the house and how much they loved it. She hated the thought of upsetting them.
Sure that her eyes didn’t look too red, Lucy headed downstairs.
“I thought you had dropped off to sleep,” said Lucy’s dad as she walked into the kitchen.
“No, I was listening to an album on my new phone,” Lucy took a deep breath, inhaling the delicious smell of roast meat.
“Is the phone any good?” her mum asked, lifting a handful of knives and forks out of the cutlery drawer.
Lucy nodded, taking the knives and forks from her mum, “I’ll do that,” she said. “Yes, the phone’s great, thanks.”
‘I read up on them,’ her dad said, ‘that model has the best camera, so you’ll be able to take lots of pictures.’
‘Yes,’ Lucy nodded, ‘One of my friends has one, she loves it.’
‘No internet though,’ Lucy’s mum warned. ‘Not until you are older.’
‘I know,’ Lucy agreed. Some of her friends were already going on to Facebook and other social media sites. Lucy was surprised their parents didn’t mind and was worried about the way they compared themselves to the glamorous girls whose social media accounts they followed. There didn’t seem any point in that, Lucy had decided. They just seemed to make themselves miserable.
‘Are you sure the phone is just what you wanted?’ Lucy’s dad asked again.
‘Oh Roger, stop teasing her,’ Lucy’s mum ruffled his hair as she walked past.
‘Yes, it’s perfect,’ Lucy said. ‘Honestly.’
“Just what you wanted?” her dad asked.
“Yes, it’s lovely,” Lucy repeated as she walked around the table laying out the knives and forks. She wished he would leave her alone, the tears she had shed earlier were already pricking at the back of her eyes. If he persisted in teasing her she’d soon be crying again and have to make some excuse to run up to her room.
“Really?” Lucy’s dad grinned, lifting his eyebrows in astonishment.
“Yes, it’s….,” Lucy began to say, concentrating hard on the placement of the knives and forks. She stopped as her dad reached under the table and dragged out a large plastic pet container and put it on the floor just beside her legs.
“You won’t be wanting this then!” Lucy’s mum yelled in excitement.
“Ohhhhhhhh,” Lucy felt all the breath escape from her body as she sank to her knees beside the plastic container. ‘Dad…. Mum…’ Her fingers were trembling so much that she could hardly open the door catch.
“Here,” laughed her dad, deftly unlocking the complicated catch mechanism and flinging open the door. He straightened up, running his hand through Lucy’s hair ‘Thank you,’ she breathed, grinning with delight at her parents.
She peered into the gloom of the pet container, there at the very back crouched a small and very frightened looking kitten. It was just what she wanted. Her parents had been teasing her all morning, letting her think they had forgotten to get her the thing she wanted the most in the whole world.
“It’s a kitten,” Lucy breathed, slowly reaching her hand into the pet container. The tiny bundle of fluff drew itself away from her hissing.
“What did you expect a lion?” grinned her dad.
“We had such a job keeping it a secret from you,” Lucy’s mum crouched on the floor beside the pet container, smiling with delight as Lucy slowly lifted out a small, gorgeous black and white kitten. Once she had hold of him the kitten relaxed, feeling safe in the warmth of her hands.
“Isn’t he gorgeous?” Lucy snuggled the kitten to her chest.
“He is,” Lucy’s mum rubbed a finger over the kitten’s jet-black coat and gently tickled his white chest, “look at his four white paws and the white tip on his tail.”
Lucy ran her hand over the kitten’s back, smiling at her parents as the kitten began to purr.
‘I love him so much. Thank you.’ Holding the kitten she hugged both of her parents, tears, now of delight running down her cheeks. She had the friend she had wanted for so long. Now she wouldn’t mind being out in the countryside away from her friends. The kitten was the best friend she could ever wish for.
“What’s his name?” Lucy asked, sitting in the kitchen armchair beside the stove. The kitten settled onto her lap, turned a couple of circles and then curled into a ball, purring loudly.
“He’s called Lucky,” her dad said, “because he is just that.”
“He’s lucky to be alive,” said Lucy’s mum, tickling the kitten under his chin.
Lucy looked at her parent’s faces. ‘Why? What happened to him?’
“One of my workmates, Sean, found him at the side of the road, on the way to the village” Lucy’s dad told her. “He must have been thrown out by his owners. The poor thing was half dead and he wasn’t old enough to survive on his own.”
“That’s horrible,” Lucy scowled, wondering at how anyone could be so cruel.
“But Sean’s own cat had a litter of young kittens herself, so he put little Lucky here in with her kittens and she took to him and reared him as well.”
“And now he’s old enough to come and live here,” Lucy said, softly. “Now he’s my very own kitten. My Lucky.”