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An exclusive extract from Molly and the Cat Café:
I made my way out of the house, slipped under the garden gate onto the pavement and started walking. The streets were empty and the houses were dark, their residents still sleeping. It had been almost twenty-four hours since my last meal, so breakfast was a pressing concern. Fortunately dawn was the perfect hour for hunting, and it didn’t take me long to find a shrew scurrying underneath a hedge.
As the sun rose, the neighbourhood began to come to life. It was a crisp autumn morning. The sun was warm, but there was a cool breeze, which whipped the fallen leaves into flurries along the pavement. I could hear radios playing in kitchens, and watched as people rushed from their houses, slamming their front doors behind them, before jumping into their cars. I knew that it was not too late to change my mind: I could turn around, go back to Rob’s house and carry on as before, as if nothing had happened. But my resolve was firm, and I was certain that I would not be dissuaded from my plan, even if I wasn’t sure yet what that plan was.
I arrived at a small children’s playground at the outskirts of Rob’s housing estate. I had been on my feet all morning, and the expanse of soft grass in the empty playground looked inviting. I squeezed under the iron gate and made my way towards the sunniest corner of the playground, beyond a row of swings. As I got closer, I realized there was already a cat there, washing.
‘Hello,’ I called. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’
She jumped slightly at the sound of my voice, but I was relieved to see that her expression when she turned to look at me was friendly.
‘I’m Molly,’ I said, by way of introduction.
As I got closer I recognized the black cat with green eyes who I had seen around the neighbourhood.
‘Hello, Molly. Be my guest,’ she replied.
I sat down next to her and closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. She continued to wash, and we sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
‘I’ve seen you around. You’re new to the neighbourhood, aren’t you?’ she asked.
I opened my eyes. ‘Yes, I’ve been here a few weeks. Got rehomed here. Don’t think I’m staying, though,’ I added.
The black cat looked at me and I detected a smile in her eyes. ‘Let me guess. Three dogs: one muscle-bound dunce and two psychotic midgets. Am I right?’
I looked at her open-mouthed. ‘Yes, how did you . . . ?’
I stared at her, trying to place the name. It took me a moment, but suddenly I was transported back to David’s car, overhearing Rob talking about a previous cat who had disappeared, scared off by the dogs. Nancy had been her name, I was sure of it.
‘Are you – were you – did you live with Rob before?’ I stammered.
‘Correct,’ she replied, before wrinkling her nose in distaste at the memory. ‘I was wondering how long you’d last,’ she added conspiratorially.
‘Did you know I was there?’ I asked, disconcerted to think she had been observing me for all this time.
‘I was keeping an eye on you, of course. Why do you think you kept bumping into me on the street? You seemed to be coping admirably, so I thought it better not to get involved.’
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this revelation, so I said nothing.
‘So where do you live now?’ I asked after a few moments. ‘Rob said you ran away and he never saw you again.’
Nancy narrowed her eyes ruefully. ‘I don’t think he looked very hard for me. But I’m still around, as you can see.’
‘So, who’s your new owner?’ My heart surged with excitement – perhaps Nancy’s new owner might have room for another of Rob’s refuseniks.
Nancy took a deep breath and her brow furrowed. ‘You know what – I’m not sure that I’m okay with this whole “owner” concept. It doesn’t pay to be dependent on one human. Just look at what happens if you end up with one like Rob, for instance.’
I tilted my head in acknowledgement.
‘My current arrangement is rather more . . . liberal, you could say.’
‘So, you don’t have a home? Are you a stray?’ I wasn’t sure if I liked the sound of Nancy’s ‘liberal arrangement’.
Nancy looked horrified. ‘A stray! Of course not. I have several homes – it’s just that none of them are . . . exclusive.’ She shot me a mischievous look, then started to lick one of her front paws.
‘Oh, okay,’ I replied, wondering whether such an arrangement would suit me. ‘So how many homes do you have?’
She paused in mid-wash and stared into the middle distance, as if counting in her head. ‘Probably around six at the moment,’ she said nonchalantly, ‘Give or take a couple.’
She glanced at me, amused by my look of confusion.
‘You get to take your pick of where to eat, where to sleep, who to spend time with,’ she explained. ‘No commitments, no responsibilities. It’s a good deal – you should try it.’