A new friend for Henry

Henry was a big, old tabby cat who had lived with Annie since he was a tiny kitten.  Henry liked his life with Annie, which was cosy and secure, with few upsets or nasty surprises.  What Henry liked best was curling up next to Annie after tea with his head resting on her knee, while they watched television or she read a book, while stroking him absent-mindedly.

One Saturday morning Annie came downstairs carrying Henry’s travel basket.  Henry felt the fur on his back start to stiffen with fear and worry.  The travel basket always meant something horrible was going to be done to him.  Perhaps they were going to see the vet; that place with all those other animals and smells and being picked up and pulled about by a strange person who smelt of chemicals and stuck needles and worse in you.  But, no, surely it wasn’t time to go back already.  He was pretty sure it that it hadn’t been a whole year ago since they last went, and it wasn’t as if he was sick or anything.

Then Henry had another scary thought.  Perhaps he was being taken away to the animal prison, where cats and dogs were locked up in cages while their owners went away.  This hadn’t happened for ages, as since the time when he’d got the sneezes after being locked up, Annie had arranged for that nice girl, Louise to come and feed him.  That wasn’t so bad, even if Annie wasn’t there, Louise would talk to him and stroke him when she came to feed him every day.  Anyway, Annie would have put lots of her clothes and things in a big bag by now if she was going anywhere for long.

But none of this happened.  Annie put on her coat, grabbed he handbag and picked up the basket without putting him in it.  As she went through the front door she said:”I’m bringing back a surprise for you, Henry!”  Henry didn’t like surprises.  He wandered over to his favourite chair by the radiator next to the French windows and settled into a slightly disturbed nap.

About an hour later, Henry was woken by the sound of Annie’s key turning in the lock of the front door.  As soon as she opened the door, Henry could smell something strange and definitely unwelcome.

“Here we are little Luna, this is your new home!” Annie said to the cat basket.  “Come and meet Henry.”

Henry stood up in his chair and stretched.  He eyed the basket as Annie put it on the floor in the centre of the room.  He could see through the mesh at the front of the basket that something was moving inside.

“Come on Henry, come and meet you new little sister,” Annie called to him.

Henry jumped down from his chair and approached the basket.  There was a small black and white cat inside.  He looked from the basket to Annie.  “Luna’s coming to live with us.  She’ll be company for you when I’m out.”

Henry stared at the small black and white cat through the wire mesh.  The small cat stared back with beady black eyes.  Henry approached the cage and sniffed delicately.  The little black and white cat arched her back at him.  Henry stepped back warily.  He wasn’t happy at all.  He didn’t want ‘company’, he didn’t want this strange little cat invading his home and he didn’t want to have to share Annie with it.  Perhaps if he ignored it, it would go away.

He turned his back on the basket and sat there for a moment.  Annie was crouching down making crooning noises.  “Shall we let you out so you can meet each other properly?”  This was too much.  Henry got up and stalked into the kitchen.  Pausing briefly to check his food bowl, he put his nose to the cat flap and stepped out into the garden.  Ignoring Annie calling him back, Henry strode purposely down the path to the bottom of the garden, where he jumped onto the wall and settled down for a good long sulk.

When Henry returned to the house, the little black and white cat was still there.  Worse still it was on his couch playing with Annie.  Henry stared at them in dismay.  “Come on Henry, come and say hello,” Annie patted the couch next to her.  Thinking it part of the game, the little black and white cat jumped onto her hand.  Annie scooped her up and held her close to her face, peering at the little cat: “Funny little thing, aren’t you?” she said lovingly.  Poor Henry, he slumped off back to his chair, where he sat paws curled under him glaring at Annie and the little cat.

Henry nodded off.  When he woke, the little cat was nowhere to be seen and Annie was in the kitchen making her tea.  He wandered into the kitchen, looking suspiciously behind the door and under the cupboards.  “Looking for Luna, are you, Henry?  Well, she’ll be sleeping in the spare room until she settles in.  I’ve put her in there now, so you’ve got me all to yourself this evening.”

At least Henry would have Annie to himself in the evenings, Henry thought.  However, the following day, when Annie had let the little black and white cat out into the garden under her watchful eye and she’d skipped around and whooshed in and out of the cat-flap a few times and nothing bad had happened, she was allowed to come and go as she pleased, just as Henry was.

The trouble was that Henry had his routine.  After breakfast he would go out and patrol the garden, taking in new sounds and smells.  This done he would return to his favourite chair and doze the day away until Annie came home and it was time for supper.  But the little black cat was young and curious and keen to play.  Although she had started to spend quite a lot of time trotting round the garden, when she came in as soon as she’d had a brief nap, she wanted to play.  And when Annie wasn’t about, she wanted Henry to play too.

Her favourite game was to start a pretend fight.  She would pounce on Henry when he was snoozing calmly and start to wave her little white paws in his face.  Sometimes Henry would chase her away, which of course she thought was part of the game.  Other times, Henry would simply hold out a front paw and place it on her chest and because his legs were so much longer than hers, she couldn’t reach him with her little flailing paws and before long she would give up and find something else to do.

The evenings were just as bad.  Rather than being allowed to cuddle up quietly on the couch with Annie, the little black and white cat would be jumping about, asking to be stroked and generally trying to win Annie’s attention.  Poor Henry was fed up.

Over the next few weeks, Henry tried to get Luna into trouble with Annie by knocking things over, spilling the food and water bowls and even bringing a live mouse in from the garden.  But even though Annie believed that Luna was to blame for these things, including one of her favourite vases being broken, she just laughed, called Luna a ‘funny little thing’ or a clumsy little cat’ and blamed herself for not moving things out of Luna’s way.  And although she was obviously a bit cross about the mouse, all she did was look at Henry saying: “I’m sure she’ll grow out of it, like you did,” with a fond little stroke under his chin.

The little black and white cat didn’t seem to understand that Henry was trying to do, or even think that he didn’t much like having her around.  Henry did his best to discourage her, but he was too much of a gentleman to actually hurt her, although he had resorted to snapping at her and giving her a cuff over the ear with his claws carefully sheathed.  She still seemed to think it was all a game.

Henry took to sleeping in parts of the garden where the little black and white cat wouldn’t find him.  It wasn’t as comfortable as his chair by the window, but at least it was peaceful.

One day, Henry was snoozing behind a large overgrown plant pot which was set against the wall at the bottom of the garden, when he suddenly became aware of a very unwelcome presence.  It was the big scary white cat from a few gardens down.  Henry had fought with him a few times in the past and once been badly bitten on the leg by him.  The bite had been so bad that Annie had to take him to the vet to have the wound stitched up.  Henry hadn’t seen him for a while but he was afraid of facing him again after the last time.

Henry kept very still.  He knew his tabby coat would disguise him well, but he also knew that if the white cat got close enough he’d be able to smell him.  Henry tried to calm himself, but the pads of his paws were sweating and his little heart was hammering in his chest.  The white cat paused and slowly turned his head towards Henry’s hiding place.  His golden eyes narrowed as he stared into the undergrowth.  The white cat crouched down and slowly started to creep towards Henry, moving around to the side of the pot, cutting off Henry’s escape route.  Henry was trapped!

Suddenly, Henry heard the sound of the cat-flap opening.  The white cat heard it too.  He turned his head to see Luna scampering across the grass, with her ‘play with me’ look on her little black and white face.

Henry seized the moment and shot out from behind the plant pot, bounding down the garden towards the house, almost knocking Luna off her feet.  Henry stopped and turned to face the white cat, but Luna trotted on curiously stopping just short of the white cat’s reach.  Luna sat down in front of him, head on one side regarding him inquisitively.

The white cat arched his back, his mouth forming into a snarl.  Henry forgot his fear and charged towards the white cat, just as the white cat launched himself at Luna.  There was suddenly a whirlwind of screeching cats, paws and claws spinning and fur flying over the lawn.

It was all over in seconds.  The three cats sprang apart.  Head down, the white cat sprinted away across the garden and over the wall.  Henry and Luna watched him go.  Henry slowly stalked back to the house, through the cat-flap and up onto his favourite chair.  Luna trotted after him.

When Annie came home, both cats were curled up together on the couch.  Bending down to stroke them she saw that Luna had a scratch on her little black nose and Henry had another lump missing from his ear.  Annie was puzzled; surely they hadn’t been fighting each other?  But when she glanced through the French windows and saw the clumps of white fur blowing gently across the garden, she understood.  Henry stirred under her hand.  He lifted his big, soft stripy head and tenderly licked Luna’s little scratched nose.

From that day onwards Henry and Luna lived together happily.  Henry would play with Luna for a little while every morning and Luna would let Henry sleep undisturbed in his favourite chair every afternoon. They never saw the white cat in their garden again.

©2018 Chris Hall

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