search
date/time
Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
frontpagebusinessartscarslifestylefamilytravelsportsscitechnaturefictionwhatson
Kaye McGann
Features Writer
7:55 AM 27th February 2021
fiction

Threesome

The first thing he said was he’d found them a flat. The next was that there was a resident cat. Thus it was that instead of beginning their married life as a pair, they began it as a threesome.

Of course, Arnold could not have been said to belong to them. He belonged, as much as anyone ever owns a cat, to Mr. Albert Higgins, the greengrocer whose shop was directly beneath their flat. Arnold was ten months old when they moved in, and really quite frightening to look at. He was huge, the biggest cat they’d ever seen, with a barred tabby coat and unusual ears, sort of pointed and laid back. Mr. Higgins explained it to them.

“Got him from an old mate at Regent’s Park Zoo. Reckoned his cat mated with one of them Scottish wildcats they ‘as there. Anyway, I ‘as ‘im to keep the rats down. Dreadful problem wiv rats at greengrocers if you ‘aven’t got a good cat.”

Certainly they could see there might well be a problem, looking at the crates and boxes of decaying cabbages left lying in the yard at the back. Arnold was nearly always out there, but soon took to coming in if it was raining. He did this by jumping onto the lean-to shed roof, and from there to the gap at the top of the sash window in their bathroom. It was a disconcerting experience for their visitors, sitting on the loo, to find a large feline hurling itself down towards them from the high window.

For all his fearsome appearance, Arnold was a sociable animal, and it was not long before he made friends with the young woman. Gradually his pattern of living altered. He had lived totally outside, but now he spent more and more evenings with the newly-weds, sitting on Anne’s lap and purring. John found that when he tried to give Anne a cuddle it was frequently impossible, because Arnold was in the way, and Anne didn’t like to disturb him. Sometimes it was John’s lap Arnold sat on, though he seemed to prefer Anne’s.

Both John and Anne were very indignant when they found that Mr. Higgins didn’t feed Arnold. They tackled him about it.

“Feed ‘im? Don’t talk wet. That cat can catch all the grub ‘e wants. Don’t want ‘im going soft, do I?”

After that, Anne and John added cat food to their shopping list, and Arnold spent all his evenings and Sundays with them.

A year later, when they moved to Hampshire, where they’d both found jobs, plus a cottage on the edge of the countryside, Anne decided she loved Arnold too much to leave him behind, so they would have to steal him. John, as ever amenable, went along with this. Neither of them told Mr. Higgins they were leaving. They hired a van with a driver for the Tuesday night, loaded up their possessions, gave the driver instructions, put Arnold in their car, and left the bedroom curtains drawn to delay the landlord realising they’d gone. They had paid the rent paid until the end of the month. They left no forwarding address, and Mr. Higgins was never seen or heard of again.

Arnold settled down well in their new home. It would have been dreadful if he’d seemed to prefer his old life back in London, but in no time at all he adapted to his new semi-rural existence. Their cottage was the last house on the road from town before a farm, and Arnold was able to carry on with the hunting he was so good at. Large dead rabbits appeared at the back door, their spinal cords bitten through. Anne soft-hearted, buried them in the garden. The farmer came round to praise Arnold. He said he’d seen him kill a rat of the cat’s own size. He’d hung onto its back, his teeth sunk into its neck, whilst the rat tried to throw him from side to side, Blood spattered the barn walls. Then there was a crunch, and it was all over. The farmer said Arnold was the best ratter he’d ever encountered – and he’d seen a good few in his time.

Arnold was prolific in other ways. Barred kittens made their appearance at the farm for the first time.

Anne found it hard to reconcile this tough killing machine with the loving affectionate cat she cared for. Her neighbour’s little girls wheeled him about in their dolls’ pram, a small hat perched on his head, and a bemused expression on his face. Never, ever, did he scratch anyone. He could be trusted absolutely with children; and he loved his home and hearth.

Not so John. John seemed to prefer ‘The Crown and Anchor’, and spent more and more time there. Anne went with him very occasionally, but there wasn’t much pleasure in it for her.

“I do wish you wouldn’t spend quite so much time at the pub,” she ventured. “I’m left on my own so much in the evenings, and there are things we should be doing to the house and garden.”

“It’s my money, and I’ll spend it how I want, so stop nagging,” John replied. “And anyway you aren’t on your own. You’ve got Arnold.”

John’s amiability evaporated when he’d had a few drinks.

When Anne became pregnant, she thought John might change, and spend more time with her, but if anything he was out of the house even more. When she was hospitalised because of high blood pressure, he would arrive for the evening visiting late, smelling of beer, and seemed to spend the time watching the clock, waiting for the hour to end. As soon as the bell went, he gave her a perfunctory peck, and rushed off.

Anne found that she missed Arnold. She hoped John was feeding him all right, but knew that even if just left to his own devices, Arnold would never starve. She worried about the state of the house. They’d done some decorating, but the nursery wasn’t finished, and she did so want everything to be nice for the baby. The garden, too, needed attention, especially the boundary fences. The front hedge was really ragged, and the gate had been broken since before they moved in. Still, there was a lovely old apple tree at the back, where she planned to put the pram on nice days, so the baby could look up and watch the branches moving, and the light playing through the leaves.

When Jamie was born, both Anne and John were overwhelmed with delight. There had never, ever, been such a beautiful, wonderful, advanced baby in the whole history of the world. He was absolutely perfect, and John visited each day with tales of how he was using all his spare time to get the nursery finished. John’s mother was the only dampener.

“You’ll have to get rid of that cat, now you’ve got a baby,” she said. “You can’t have cats with babies. Cats try to lie on them, and smother them, and also their bits of fur can choke babies if they get some in their throats.” Privately, she had thought silly the affection showered on Arnold, particularly by Anne. It was obvious the cat had been a child-substitute. They wouldn’t need it now they had a real baby to love and look after.

Anne saw it differently. “Arnold is part of this family,” she said firmly. “Both John and I love him, and it will be good for Jamie to have a pet when he’s older, too.”

The elder Mrs. Hart was furious. John would never have spoken back to her like that, but his wife was a different kettle of fish. She wouldn’t forget this in a hurry.

This exchange made Anne even more determined to smooth things for Arnold. It would be difficult for him to have to share her attention with the baby, she knew. However, she need not have worried. Arnold, gentle as ever with people, seemed to take to Jamie immediately. He sat by Anne, watching as she did things for Jamie, fed him, bathed him, changed his nappy. Once, her heart in her mouth, she found Arnold standing on his back legs, his front paws on the carrycot side, gazing in at the sleeping baby. Anne kept quite still, and after a short while the cat sat down and started to wash himself. That was the nearest he came to getting on Jamie.

John, meanwhile, soon reverted to spending his free time out of the house. It was the cricket season, so now he went to net practice two evenings a week, and each Saturday and Sunday went out at ten-thirty in the morning, and returned at about eleven at night. Of course, the matches did not go on for so long, but there was drinking in the club-house afterwards.

“There’s nothing to stop you coming along if you want to,” he said, when Anne remonstrated with him. “Lots of the other wives do.”

“Lots of the other wives haven’t got a young baby,” Anne replied with anger.

“Well, you wanted a baby,” John said. “It was your decision, so don’t blame me if you feel tied down. You’ll just have to lump it, won’t you?”

Anne was heart-broken. Jamie had been wanted by them both, and now John was acting as though the baby was just an encumbrance. She could not get over the contrast between how John spoke to her, and how he spoke to his mother. She tried speaking to Mrs. Hart about John’s attitude, but her mother-in-law had not forgotten the conversation about the cat.

“I’d like to help you, Anne dear,” she said, “but you know I never interfere.”

John continued with his cricket and socialising afterwards, and stepped up his evening visits to the pub. The nursery decorating appeared to have used up his nesting instinct in one go, and no other jobs were undertaken. The garden became more overgrown, and the front gate remained unmended. More than once Anne had chased off dogs, which were using the front garden as a lavatory. It was all she could do to keep the grass cut, on top of the extra washing, and the time it took to look after the house and Jamie.

He really was a lovely baby though, with a happy temperament, and he seemed to be thriving. After his six o’clock feed, Anne ate her solitary meal, leaving John’s to keep warm in the oven, and settled down to knit and watch television, or to read, Arnold curled up companionably beside her on the sofa, occasionally stretching out a paw to touch her gently. What would she do without him?

As Autumn approached, the leaves on the apple tree began to wither and turn yellow. The days were warm, though, and Anne put Jamie out in his pram under the tree for an hour each afternoon, the cat net firmly in place. Arnold always took up position beside the pram, almost like a sentry, sitting alert, ears pricked, looking round, a self-appointed guardian. No other cats dared to enter his territory, with the exception of Sally, his long-time mate from the farm. But she hadn’t been seen for a few days, and the farmer had told Anne there’d been another litter, two of them bearing the barred stamp of their father. With previous litters, Arnold had spent his daytimes round at the farm, keeping a paternal eye on his offspring, but with the advent of Jamie he spent most of his days at home, watching him instead. He really did seem proud of Jamie, in the same way he was of his kittens.

It was a glorious mellow afternoon in early October when the incident occurred. Anne was inside, ironing, with the French window open to the back garden, and about fifteen feet away was the pram, standing in the dappled shade of the apple tree. The hood was up, the cat net in place, and Arnold sat by the wheels, a daisy chain made by Anne round his neck. Anne was almost happy.

As she watched, she saw a change come over Arnold. He stood up, very slowly, his legs stiff, and gradually, before her eyes, he seemed to swell up. A huge cat anyway, he assumed enormous proportions, his fur sticking out at right-angles to his skin. The daisy chain burst and fell. His ears were flat to his head, his eyes mere yellow slits. The skin drew back from his teeth, and Anne saw his long fangs, like those of some wild beast. From his belly came a deep, deep growl. He seemed to be looking at her. Fear gripped her, her legs went weak. Her baby, her baby! Arnold advanced with infinite slowness, his stiff-legged gait more terrifying than any movement she’d ever seen.

With a sickening lurch of her stomach, Anne somehow managed to stagger through the French window, and saw what Arnold was looking at. Not her, never her. How could she have thought it? There, by the side of the window, was a large black dog, fierce looking, and with its hackles up, a stiff ridge along its back. Its powerful muscled shoulders rippled as it moved forward. The growl in its throat changed to a bark, as it made a rush towards the cat – and towards the pram.

As the dog hurtled towards him, Arnold sprang, and, twisting in the air, landed on the dog’s broad back, his teeth sinking into its neck, his claws digging into its shoulders. Adrenalin rushed surged through Anne. She ran forward, tore off the cat net, and snatched up Jamie, seconds before the enraged dog crashed into the pram, the cat clinging to its back for dear life. Backwards and forwards the dog tried to throw the cat, but Arnold held on, until one big jerk sent them both careering into the tree trunk. Arnold was thrown off, and lay where he’d landed. The dog, blood pouring from its neck, fled whimpering down the side of the house, and out through the broken front gate.

Anne had not known she was screaming, but her screams had alerted the farmer, who came running round. Gently, he picked up Jamie from her arms, and surveyed her blood-spattered dress, the overturned pram, and the prone cat. Then he led her inside, sat her down, put the baby beside her, and rang both the doctor and the vet.

The doctor arrived first. He gave Anne a sedative, and tried to ring John at work, only to be told John had been off work ill for three days with a heavy cold – all lies, as he knew. He didn’t tell Anne. She had enough worries. Jamie was fine. It was just Anne’s screams which had disturbed him. Anne would be fine too, once the sedative took effect. She’d had a very nasty shock though.

The vet arrived next. He carried Arnold inside very gently, and examined him thoroughly.

“He’s going to be all right,” he said, “nothing broken, just all the wind knocked out of him when he hit the tree. And he’s completely exhausted, too, after taking on that dog.”

He went on to say the police were looking for the dog. It had savaged two children outside the school gate earlier that day. He phoned the police from Anne’s house, and told them what had happened, and they were able to tell him the dog had just been captured. Thanks to the injuries Arnold had inflicted, it was unable to evade them this time.

“Your Arnold is a hero,” the vet told Anne. Privately he told the doctor he thought the dog might have killed Jamie, had it not been for Arnold.

When John came home that evening, reeking of beer, he made light of Anne’s story of a savage dog and a heroic cat.

“Oh yes,” he said caustically, “Dramatising yourself as usual. Not enough happening to you, so you have to make it up, for attention I suppose. Well, don’t think I’m staying in to listen to your ridiculous boring lies. I’m off out.”

“It was through you it happened,” Anne said quietly, as though he hadn’t spoken, “through you and your negligence. You didn’t mend that gate, though I’ve asked you time after time. You knew dogs came in the garden, but you weren’t bothered. You’ve put Jamie’s safety at risk, and Arnold nearly died defending him, which should have been YOUR job. This is the last straw, the end. I want you to take your things and go. Go back to your mother. She’ll be glad to have you.”

“You’re damned right she will. I never had to put up with all this nagging and carping and criticising when I lived with her. My time and my money were my own, to do what I wanted. I’ll go back to my mother, and gladly!”

When John had gone, Anne looked up the number of a locksmith. She would get the locks changed first thing in the morning. In the meantime, she barred the doors, just in case.

After checking Jamie was sleeping soundly, she picked up Arnold very carefully, and laid him gently beside her on the sofa. He purred, and leaned his head against her.

“I love you, Arnold. You’ll look after us, won’t you?” she said, kissing his mangled fur. “You, me, and Jamie. I’ll be part of a threesome again.”