Alas, #CatWeek draws to a close today. But, we still have another excluive extract from Molly and the Cat Café.
An exclusive extract from Molly and the Cat Café:
Molly’s Cat Café opened for business the following week. I took my role as the café’s figurehead seriously, sitting on my cushion in the window, looking out onto the street with pride. There was a noticeable buzz around the café on launch day: Debbie had draped bunting in the window, and a large chalkboard stood on the pavement outside, declaring the café ‘Open for Coffee, Cake and Cuddles’. Inquisitive passers-by gathered in front of the glass to peer inside, and a glimpse of the kittens was often enough to tempt them through the door.
Just before lunchtime, my meditative daze was interrupted by the sound of wheels rattling on the cobblestones outside. I opened my eyes to see the old lady with the shopping trolley striding past the café, her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. I instinctively braced myself for confrontation, but she kept her eyes fixed on the pavement, determined not to look in my direction. Watching her trundle away, I felt a glow of satisfaction. Behind me, Debbie was happily handing out menus and taking orders, while delighted customers played with the kittens. The old woman’s attempt to sabotage the café had failed, and there was nothing more she could do to hurt us.
In those early days I sometimes had to open my eyes and look around, to be sure that the cat café was not a dream. Ever since my incarceration in the flat I had prepared myself for the worst, imagining the regretful look on Debbie’s face as she broke the news that she had found new homes for the kittens and me. I had rehearsed the scene in my mind so many times that it felt real, and I would sometimes wake from a nap with a jolt, convinced that when I opened my eyes I would find that the kittens had gone.
About a week after the café’s relaunch, I was woken by the tinkling of the bell on the door. Still half-asleep and momentarily panicked, I scanned the café to check that all the kittens were present. Reassured that there was no cause for alarm, I watched drowsily as a woman pushed an elderly lady in a wheelchair through the café to a table.
I lowered my chin to my paws and closed my eyes, but something prevented me from drifting off. There was a scent in the air that I recognized, but could not place. Unable to sleep, I jumped down from the armchair and followed the scent trail across the café. Unaware that I was stalking up behind them, the two customers murmured to each other as they perused their menus. My feeling of unease was growing, evoking a sensation that I could only describe as homesickness. When I was a few paces away from the customers, I stopped dead in my tracks. My mind and senses were suddenly alert with recognition: the scent was lavender.
I padded around the side of the wheelchair to look at the figure inside it. An elderly woman was slumped low in the seat, her face hidden behind her menu. Feeling the hairs on the back of my neck start to stand up, I lifted a paw and tugged at the folds of skirt around the lady’s ankles. She peered over the side of her chair, two rheumy blue eyes in a face framed by soft waves of silver.
‘Well now, who’s this?’ she asked, extending one hand shakily towards me.
With my heart beating in my throat, I stepped forwards to sniff her papery skin. In that instant, a wave of emotion stronger than anything I had ever experienced surged through me and, before I even had time to think, I had leapt over the arm of the wheelchair and into the lady’s lap.
‘I think that cat likes you, Margery,’ said the young woman at the table, as I rubbed my head ecstatically against the soft folds of Margery’s cheek.
‘I used to have a cat just like this,’ she replied, clucking softly as she stroked my body. ‘There, there, puss,’ she whispered, and I purred so loudly that I thought my heart would break.
When I pulled my back from her face, I saw that Debbie had walked over to the table and was watching in amazement. ‘This is Molly,’ she said. ‘I’ve only had her for a few months. She was a stray.’
‘Oh, Molly, yes – that’s her name!’ Margery replied, her eyes still on me, her face breaking into a smile. ‘Is that you, Molly?’ She took hold of my face gently, between quivering hands. I purred and rubbed her fingers with my whiskers, wanting to leave her in no doubt of who I was.
So many times, since losing Margery, I had sought solace in memories of our life together. Imagining her smile, or the feel of her hands on my fur, had kept me going when I was alone and desperate. Remembering our happy times at home had given me faith that another loving owner might be out there, somewhere, if only I could find them. But, as time passed, Margery’s image had faded, becoming pale and indistinct like the sun-bleached photographs she had kept on the mantelpiece. Then, when I could no longer call her image to mind, all that had remained was the memory of how she had made me feel: safe, and loved.
As Margery cradled me on her lap in the café, I felt transported back to my kittenhood, believing that nothing could hurt me while I was in her arms. My unhappy time at Rob’s house, the lonely journey to Stourton, my bittersweet memories of life in the alley, even my joy at having the kittens – all fell away, and for a few blissful moments it was just me and Margery, and our love for each other. Just as it had been in the beginning.
I have no idea how long we remained like that, utterly absorbed in each other, feeling as if the world had shrunk to the chair that held us both.
Eventually, unwillingly, I started to become aware of the café around us. I heard hushed voices nearby, the sound of the kittens playing and somebody sniffing above my head. When at last I opened my eyes, I saw Debbie standing next to Margery’s wheelchair, dabbing her cheek with a tissue.
‘She moved into the care home last year. I knew she loved cats, so when I heard about this place I decided to bring her,’ Margery’s companion said quietly.
‘Do you think Molly could really have been her cat?’ Debbie whispered.
‘She’s got advanced dementia and gets confused by a lot of things, but she seems pretty certain about this,’ the carer replied.
‘Molly does too,’ Debbie agreed. ‘I’ve never seen her react like this to a stranger before.’
Debbie brought Margery a pot of tea and a Cat’s Whiskers cookie, pulling up a stool beside her wheelchair.
Margery took her hand. ‘This is my cat Molly, you know,’ she said, beaming at Debbie.
‘I know, Margery. Isn’t it lovely that you’ve found each other again?’
Margery’s smile lit up her face.