The cat meowed and pawed at the front door. Richard tried to ignore her. Amidst the commotion in the house it should not have been difficult, but the little brown cat kept at it. She was tenacious when she wanted something. Eventually he could stand it no more and shoved his laptop aside and opened the door. The cat paused for a couple of seconds in the doorway before slinking outside.
Richard shook his head and dodged his children running through the house to get back to his laptop. The month had been chaotic enough already trying to sell and clear the house, start a new job remotely and get the children into new schools in a different state, without the added hassle of adopting and relocating his late-uncle’s cat on top.
“Kids, lunch time!” his wife called, walking in. Her tired eyes looked at him as the commotion upstairs intensified, footsteps thundering down the stairs. “Come honey, let’s try to maintain some normalcy at the moment.”
Richard nodded, closing his laptop and joining the rest of his family.
“No – wash your hands first before you start touching the food kids!” It was chaos.
Richard’s phone rang three times during lunch. Once from the new house owners to re-confirm their moving in date, once from Chloe’s parents asking what day they would be arriving (again) and once from the vet confirming tomorrow’s appointment for a final check-up and sign-off the cat’s health in order to move across the state border.
“Where is Muffin?” the youngest asked during lunch.
“She went outside dear. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.” Chloe replied, balancing cleaning up from lunch as Richard tried to get back to his work. He was far behind where he had planned to be by this stage, but starting a new job without being able to ask anything in person was difficult.
It was evening when Richard finally closed his laptop for the day. He rubbed his eyes, and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He peeked in the living room on the way, the two children were content in front of the television while Chloe was napping on the couch.
He had just poured the boiling water into a mug when something caught his ear. The unmistakeable sound of two felines squaring off in that low, grating, growl could be heard from outside. He started to groan and headed for the door as the commotion escalated sharply.
A loud, hollow crash of the recycling bins falling over rang through the air. A high-pitched squeal followed. Rustling and shaking noises from their front lawn grew louder as Richard, joined by Chloe, opened the door to the cats fighting on the ground. They rolled off each other, eyes locked, hissing and circling.
“HEY!” Richard shouted and clapped his hands together so hard they stung.
The neighbourhood cat hissed and ran away immediately while his own cat crouched low to the ground with her ears flat and eyes wide, looking up at him.
A large red gash on her hindquarters made him gasp and he reached down to see her properly. She meowed and pulled away from him, trying to hide in between two bushes.
“Chloe, call the vet!” he shouted. Then he cursed under his breath, just what we need right now – a damn out-of-hours vet bill.
Within a couple of hours they were at the vet’s clinic, a day earlier, and much later in the day than scheduled. The vet was stroking their cat on the table and the animal purred away, completely calm.
“She’s fine. All the damage is superficial, and very unlikely to get infected. The only problem is the health certificate. Her health certificate tomorrow will not be able to get signed-off until she has had a blood titration test to prove she is disease-free, mostly rabies, given the fight she had. Exceedingly unlikely, but theoretically this close to her vaccinations she could pick up a disease if the other animal was infected.”
“So what does that mean?” Richard asked. The vet drew a breath and he knew it would not be good.
“It means she will almost certainly be fine, health wise, but she won’t be able to move with you until the blood test comes back. Unfortunately the only lab that does it in this state is always running a backlog. It would normally take about a month.”
“A month?” Richard gasped. “We need to move next week – the children have to start school...my job is expecting me...”
“I know. I’m sorry Richard. Like I said, it is very rare anything would happen, but because there is a possibility it could, I can’t sign off the health certificate until we confirm that is not the case. I would lose my license otherwise.” She left the cat on the table and went into her office, coming back with a large sample of business cards. “One of these kennels should be able to hold her for a month. I’ll take the blood sample now and get things started. As soon as it is back she can come in for the sign-off.”
“Thanks.” Richard said. He looked at the cat on the table, sitting contently and staring at him, unblinking. “I hope you’re happy,” he grumbled, and put her in her box to take her home, muttering to himself the whole way.
His tea was cold when he got home. Chloe made him put the children to bed while she started calling up local kennels – something to take his mind off things. He walked downstairs to the kitchen after they finally agreed to go to sleep.
“You’re sure there is no way to squeeze her in? She’s only a small cat...It’s really...I know I just....Ok. Thank you. Let me know if it changes...Yes, that’s my number.” She put the phone down and looked up at him. “I just boiled the kettle.”
He gave her a quick kiss and set about making a new cup of tea. The cat was sitting in the middle of the kitchen watching them. What do you want now? He thought to himself.
“That call didn’t sound good...” He handed her a cup.
“It’s the middle of the summer holidays. All the kennels are full. They might have something in two weeks time when people come back, but there’s no guarantee.”
There was a soft meow from the cat as they stood talking in the kitchen.
“Oh go away.” Richard growled. “You’re not even supposed to be here.”
She meowed in response.
“Do you think we can ask any of our friends to come and feed her while we are out?” his wife asked.
“Maybe. I already asked Jack on the way home but he’s allergic.”
They spent over an hour phoning friends, and running through their contact list together, but it was pointless. None of their friends could manage more than a couple of days, and there were just too many gaps in the schedule. At least the cat was being quiet, now lying on the floor, still in the kitchen with them, her head on her paws.
Eventually Richard put his phone down and rubbed his temples again.
“Ok. I have one more option.” He paused as Chloe breathed in heavily. “My contract isn’t supposed to start until next month, so they said before that I can work remotely for another month, given the house-moving and everything. We can find a short-term apartment this week and I stay here with the damn cat until the blood test is back.” Chloe didn’t say anything immediately. “But the kids can’t stay out of school, and your parents are desperate to see you.”
She nodded slowly, reluctantly. She finished their tea and they discussed the details. The cat just lay there on the floor, her tail gently swishing about, content as far as anyone could see.
With no other options the next week was an even more frantic blur of activity. The house was packed-up, and the moving van sent out of the state. Richard said goodbye to his family, wishing them well and settled into a short term one-bedroom studio with his miniscule desk space as an office, and a litter tray for the cat.
He set everything up and shut the door. The cat sat in the middle of the small room and looked up at him.
“You are not going outside for the next month ok? You got lucky this time, if you delay another month, I will give you to a shelter, even if the kids cry about it.” No reply, of course. Richard sighed and muttered, “It’s going to be a long month...” He sat down and started to his work.
The month started slowly. Richard spent most of the day inside, working away on his laptop, trying to get caught up on everything going on at his new company, so he was ready to go as soon as he got there. He would speak to the children in the evening, and wish them goodnight.
“Where’s Muffin?” they asked.
“In the corner kids, over there,” he replied, turning the camera to the corner of the apartment where the cat was playing with a pen that he had dropped earlier.
“Go play with her!” they called in unison.
“Good night kids!” he waved goodbye at them and shut the call off. The cat flicked the pen and it landed halfway towards the bed. She looked up at him expectantly, but he just shook his head and lay down.
She certainly could be difficult at times. She went as far as jumping on his desk and walking into view while he was trying to hold a video conference with his new. Several of the team thought it was wonderful, and started to go off-topic asking to see her face. He begrudgingly pointed her towards the camera so they could see, and promptly placed her back on the floor, to the sound of an annoyed meow.
“Sorry for that everyone. Back to business...”
At the end of a particularly conference heavy day he sat down on his small bed with a cup of tea and looked at the cat. She was lying on the floor, staring at the laces of his shoes. She made a couple of grabs at them, and Richard wondered how bored she must be to want to play with the smelly shoelaces. She seemed to sense him staring, and looked up at him.
“You think I’m any less bored than you?” She just kept staring. “Don’t look at me like this is my fault!”
She looked back at the shoelaces and he looked at the clock. It was a little too early to go to sleep just yet. “I’d much rather be with the family now instead of here...”
He sighed to himself and looked around the room. A pair of cheap headphones caught his eye. Still sitting on the bed, he leaned over and picked them up, and dragged them along the floor near the cat. She pounced, trying to gnaw at the lightly bouncing earpieces, grabbing at them, slipping, and then giving chase again. He smiled to himself, and dragged them a few more times around the tiny room, the cat stalking and leaping on the headphones in quick succession. Eventually he let her get hold of them, smiling at her attempts to try and bite the slippery plastic. His tea was cold when he stopped and he had to make a new one.
He woke the next morning to her furry face staring at him, and he awoke with a start. She is on my bed! He grabbed her roughly and dropped her back onto the floor. “No!” he growled at her.
On Saturday, it was the same story. He groaned to himself. He really couldn’t be bothered to fight her today. As it turned out, he didn’t have to. His phone started to ring and she jumped on the floor as he answered it to his boss needing something clarified urgently. When he lay back down she jumped back up, curling her feet under herself.
The days dragged on, in a similar way. He would wake with the cat next to him, work, speak to the family and on occasion he would lead the cat around with the cheap headphones. He decided to buy a toy for the cat at one point while shopping for food – a little ball on the end of a string – ostensibly to stop the headphones getting destroyed. It immediately replaced the headphones and pen.
He must have been on week 3 by now, and was watching some bland serial on the TV with an equally bland sandwich when he noticed the cat playing with the toy. He put the food aside and picked up the end of the string, throwing the ball near her. Immediately she pounced on it, rolling over and clutching the ball close as she attempted to gnaw on it. He pulled it free of her grasp, and she was back on her feet, eyes locked on ball as it bounced erratically about the floor.
The game was interrupted by the sharp ringing of his phone. He glanced at the screen, and saw it was work again. He felt a tug on the string and looked to see the cat pawing at the ball. He looked at his phone screen to see his boss was the caller. He paused for a second, and then silenced it. The cat was still pawing at the string and he quickly yanked it away, much to her surprise. He spun the ball slowly in a wide circle around her, her eyes following it intently. She hunkered down, her feet pawing at the ground before she finally jumped up, and missed the swinging ball. She spun and started chasing it, and Richard had to stand and move around the room to stop her from catching up to it. He chuckled at her antics. Maybe Muffin wasn’t so bad.
Eventually the long-awaited phone call came.
“The tests are done! She’s all clean, so bring her in and we’ll get the certificate signed off for you.”
The phone call left him elated. He would finally be back with his family! He made the preparations immediately, and within a day was in the car with the remainder of his belongings, and Muffin in her cage driving towards Chloe and the children, and home.
For once, the drive flew by. He arrived at the new house, passing the state checkpoint without issues to find his family had more-or-less finished all the unpacking and decorating. It was beautiful. Dinner was even ready, with the children having prepared their favourite ketchup pasta for Daddy’s return. He wasn’t about to complain after so long without seeing them, and they were equally all over him. Chloe laughed and ushered them off to bed, leaving Richard alone in the new living room with Muffin.
Chloe tucked the kids in and was heading downstairs again when she heard Richard’s phone ringing. She picked it up, glancing at the ‘Boss’ on the screen and headed to the living room to hand it over to him.
“Honey, it’s-“. She cut herself off as she watched her husband leading Muffin in wide circles, keeping the ball just out of reach as she pounced repeatedly trying to catch it. She muted the phone and smiled.