The Last Song – chapter eight

Katarina’s father called again. “Come down! There is someone to see you.”

Katarina turned to her mother. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she whispered.

“No, of course not. Why would you have done?” replied her mother, but her eyes were wide. “What have we come to?” she murmured and squeezed Katarina’s hand.

They ventured down the stairs together and as they turned the corner onto the half-landing that over-looked the hall, they saw a teenage boy standing awkwardly next to the grandfather clock. It was Seamus.

* * *

Seamus looked surprised at the greeting he received from both mother and daughter. Mr Rohinton raised an eyebrow, too, at their wide smiles and the way Katarina skipped down the stairs.

“Mother, Father, this is Seamus McIntyre! He’s from school. Seamus, meet my parents.”

There was much shaking of hands and welcoming until suddenly the room fell silent and no-one knew quite what to say or do.

Seamus recovered first. “I hope you don’t mind my calling round like this but I was wondering about some homework. I’m really stuck you see. Mrs Rohinton,” he smiled across at her. Though he was only a couple of years older than Katarina he was almost as tall as her father. “Katarina tells me that you are rather an expert at languages. And I’m not you see and I’m falling behind. And I came to see if maybe you would be kind enough to give me some tutoring. I could … well, my father could, pay.”

“Oh, of course. That wouldn’t be necessary. I’m sure I could help you out a little here and there.” Mrs Rohinton smiled warmly at him.

“Seamus said he’d help me with my maths,” Katarina broke in.

“Well that would be kind, Seamus, though my husband does what he can to help.”

To her own surprise, Katarina found her heart sinking a touch. “But sometimes it’s not convenient and Seamus has done the syllabus…” She blushed slightly. “Can I make you a cup of tea?” she blustered.

“Er, thank you,” he replied.

Katarina clattered mugs in the kitchen half-listening to her mother discussing when Seamus could come round for tutoring. They seemed to be agreeing on the following Monday after school. She smiled and reached for the milk jug. As she did so she caught a glimpse of something grey outside the window. It was Ditto balanced on the windowsill looking in. He opened his mouth and Katarina could hear a faint ‘miaow’. He rubbed his face against the glass and mewed again. She reached over, raised the catch on the window and opened it.

The cat strolled in, leaped elegantly over the kitchen sink and onto the floor. He rubbed round her legs then padded across to the door. Katarina followed, tea tray in hand and opened the door. The cat marched into the hall.

“Ditto! What are you doing here?” Her mother’s voice was sharp. The cat was rubbing around Seamus’s legs.

“Ditto?” asked Seamus leaning down to stroke the cat behind his ears.

“The cat. He lived next door.”

“With Mrs Malcolm?” asked Seamus.

Mrs Rohinton looked surprised. “Yes.”

“That was bad, wasn’t it?” Seamus continued.

There was silence.

“What she did, I mean” he added.

Katarina stared at him. He was looking coolly at her mother, not, apparently, in the least flustered by the fact that he might have been misunderstood.

“Yes, yes, terrible,” her father broke in shifting awkwardly in his carpet slippers. He was dressed for a restful weekend but was always full of nervous energy, especially in the presence of strangers. “Come and sit down and have some tea. Come through…what’s that cat doing?”

Ditto was heading up the stairs. At the half-landing he paused, turned and looked at them and mewed.

“Come back! Naughty cat!” called her mother.

Ditto mewed again and slipped off round the corner of the stairs.

“I’ll get him!” Katarina set off at a run.

“Can I help?” asked Seamus and came after her, the cat dancing ahead, just out of reach. Ditto gave a delicate leap onto a wooden plant stand on the landing, batted a green tendril hanging down from the plant and jumped off.

“Here Ditto!” Katerina knelt down and reached her hand out towards him but the cat put his head to one side as if thinking, mewed once then turned and walked into Katarina’s bedroom, tail held high. The next moment his tail was disappearing under the bed.

“No!” squeaked Katarina and scrabbled after him, reaching for him as he lay down against the wall, not far from her shell.

“Let me help.” Seamus was down on his knees beside her, his hands sliding under the bed too.

“No!” This time the word came out as a yelp. “I mean, let’s leave him. He seems happy.” Sure enough Ditto was purring. “I’ll get him out later.”

She wriggled back out from under the bed and found her face close to Seamus’s. He gazed at her for a moment before rocking back on his heels and seeming to sniff the air. He gave a half-smile, stood up and offered her his hand as she got to her own feet. But she backed away, pulled herself up and brushed down her skirt. It was a short brown skirt and it suddenly seemed childish.

“Sure,” said Seamus, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Leave Ditto. He’s happy there. And I should go down and drink my tea and talk to your parents.”


The Last Song – chapter six

“Katarina, will you listen to me, please!” It was the third time that evening her mother had had to speak to her like this.

“Will you get along to the shop for the bread and the milk!” her mother said. “I’ve had enough of you mooning around with your head in the clouds! I don’t know what’s got into you.” Her mother looked tired, dark circles under her eyes as if she wasn’t sleeping.

“Yes, mother.” Katarina got up from the table. She scooped up the money her father had counted out for the groceries and tucked it in her pocket before leaving the house for the short walk to Corner Shop Five.

“Hello Miss Katarina.” Mr Ballard, the shop-worker smiled down at her. “What can I get for you?”

“Just a loaf of bread and two bottles of milk, please.” Katarina smiled back. She liked Mr Ballard’s shop with its shelves stacked with tins and packets, its baskets of fruit and vegetables. Her mother had told her that this was the sort of shop that her great-grandmother would have visited but that they had all but disappeared for decades. The Government of National Renewal had brought them back and now they could get all that they needed here and at the other small shops along The High Street. Each Borough had them – greengrocers; butchers; bakers; ironmongers piled high with nails, brooms, hammers, bits of wood, the sort of things that her father would buy in the hope of carrying out a little ‘home improvement’. He never managed it.

“All well down your road Miss?” asked Mr Ballard.

Katarina started. “Er, yes, er, thank you.” She frowned as she counted out the money. Of course nothing was well down her road. Had he not heard about Mrs Malcolm? Or was this a test?

She gave him a quick smile and accepted her shopping bag. He did not smile back but held her gaze until she felt uncomfortable and looked away.

“Take care, miss,” he said as she left.

It was on her way back that she heard a cat. She was passing Mrs Malcolm’s boarded up house when she heard a miaow. Was Ditto inside? If so, how would he hunt for food? She started towards the front door then halted. It was blocked up and, in any case, what if someone saw her?

Instead she veered to the left towards her own house and crashed in through the door, straight to the back room, ready to pour out her worries to her mother. She stopped. Her parents were perched on the edge of the cushioned chairs in front of the television, listening intently to a news programme. Her father held his finger to his lips. She tiptoed forward to stand next to them and placed her purchases on the table.

The news was the normal round of ‘Production is up, crime is down, the Government of National Renewal has the best interests of the people at heart’. Nothing new, apart from a small item at the end: ‘A woman has been charged with possessing subversive material. Greta Malcolm, believed to be the leader of a group of anti-government insurgents, was arrested two nights ago and was charged in court this morning. She pleaded not guilty but police say the evidence of her dangerous activities is compelling. The President praised the security forces for their swift and effective action in this case.’ Accompanying the bulletin was a picture of a woman with fair hair. It could have been Mrs Malcolm 20 years ago.

“They always do that,” spat Katarina’s father. “Dredge up some old picture which doesn’t look anything like them now. I think they change them too, make them look all shifty. They don’t want us feeling any sympathy.”

“Shh!” said her mother, taking her husband’s hand in one of her own, and Katarina’s in the other. She shut her eyes and her lips moved silently. Then she turned to her daughter. “Now Katarina, what’s that bread and milk doing in here? We must have something to eat.”

“Will Mrs Malcolm be alright?” whispered Katarina.

“Now that’s not something for you to worry about,” said her mother, her voice high and so bright it seemed it might crack.

“You are not to speak of her,” added her father then leant over and did something that he rarely did these days. He kissed her on the top of the head. “Now eat and homework!” he declared. “And then bed!” Katarina could do nothing but obey. At least, she thought, she could listen to the shell in bed.

And when she finally did, among the swelling, heart-wringing notes that poured out of the shell deep into her, she thought she could hear a cat crying. She tiptoed across the room. Ditto was under her window gazing up at her with eyes that seemed to look inside her. She gave him a small wave and padded back to bed.

The Last Song – chapter four

“Can you move your bag so I can sit down?” Katarina jumped at the voice and she swung her head round from staring out of the bus window. She had not expected anyone to want to sit next to her, no-one usually did, but the boy she had spoken to earlier – Seamus – stood looking down at her, the same half-grin as before on his face.

“Please?” He added.

“Sorry,” she muttered and pulled the weighty brown shoulder bag onto her knee where it sat like a dull threat, reminding her of the hours of homework ahead. Often, when she had been working at her homework at the kitchen table, she would look up through the window and see Mrs Malcolm pottering round her own kitchen, shooing Ditto off the side though he always seemed to be back there moments later. Katarina hadn’t realised how used to the image she was. She sighed.

“What’s up?” Seamus asked as he dropped his coat on the seat and sat on it. He settled down in a comfortable sprawl so that his leg almost touched hers. She shrank away.

“Nothing, thank you.” She tried to think of something interesting to say but she was unused to talking to older boys. It was something that her parents and teachers discouraged, especially once she had become a teenager.

“Well, why are you looking so miserable then?”

She blushed and tried a smile.

“Something happened?” he asked.

“No, no! Nothing’s wrong.” She shook her head and turned away from him to think what to say next. She watched the pedestrians as if for inspiration and noticed an elderly woman struggling along the pavement, shoulders hunched against a fine, insistent rain. Katarina’s heart leapt. Mrs Malcolm! She rubbed the misty window and stared again. No, it was a stranger. She felt tears well up and fumbled in her bag for a handkerchief which she tried to bring up to her eyes without Seamus noticing. She failed.

“Come on.” He touched her arm again. “It’ll be OK. What’s the matter?”

“Sorry,” she gulped. “Nothing really. Um, homework.” This time her voice came out in a strangled squeak, like a mouse in distress.

“Yeah, it’s a real pain isn’t it? What you got tonight?”

She blew her nose and looked down at her bag. “Maths, sewing.”

“Maths is OK and I always think sewing looks fun but, of course I’m not allowed to do it. It’s languages I can’t do.”

Katarina considered this. She had never heard of a boy expressing an interest in sewing and she wondered about him. But she didn’t like to look up at him yet because she thought her face might be blotchy and red and she wasn’t sure she had blown her nose successfully. In the end she stared at her lap and fiddled with the end of her plait before saying: “They’re OK, languages. My mother taught me quite a bit you see. She used to be a language teacher and now does a bit of tutoring when I’m at school.”

“Some people have all the luck! I wish my dad could do that. I’m never going to pass my exams at this rate.” She glanced sideways at him and saw a flash of worry cross his face.

“Anyway,” he brightened. “I’m Seamus McIntyre.” He held out his hand in greeting and she placed hers tentatively in his where it was engulfed in his strong grip. They shook hands and he added: “I think I live just a couple of streets away from you. Do you get off by the postbox?”

She nodded.

“I’m the next stop, the telephone box!” His grin widened. “Tell you what! I could help you with your Maths if you wanted.”

Katarina forgot her worries about her nose and stared up at him. “I don’t think I’d be allowed, I mean….” She felt suddenly stupid and childish. “I don’t think it would be allowed by, er, people, school.”

“Why not? It’s help with school work. We’re meant to work hard and help each other. The school says so. Don’t you remember?” He raised his voice a pitch and began “As students of the Academy, you will all strive to do your best and to help those we meet.”

“Shh!” Katarina gave a small snort of laughter. Seamus sounded uncannily like the headteacher, Mrs Jennings.

“So, we are meant to help those we meet. I have met you and you need help.”

“I usually do my homework with my parents there,” she replied.

“That’s fine. I don’t mind meeting your parents. And anyway, maybe you or your mum could help me with my languages.” He gave her a hopeful smile. “Are your parents at home?” he asked.

“My mother will be.”

“Well then, I’ll come to the door with you and ask her if I can help you.” He paused. “If you want me to, that is.”

Katarina thought. She did not know whether she wanted him to or not, but it might brighten up the evening a little. There was precious little else to look forward to.

They got off the bus together and set off along the road towards her house.

“You must have heard a lot of noise last night when they took the old lady,” he said.

She nodded.

“Bad, wasn’t it?”

She did not know how to reply.

“The noise I mean?” he added.


“Kept me awake.”

“Yes.” She wished he would be quiet, or at least not talk about Mrs Malcolm.

They rounded the corner into her street. Seamus stopped.

“Look,” he hissed. Coming out of Mrs Malcolm’s house were men dressed in black, carrying plastic bags, and other men in overalls waiting with boards and hammers. Katarina stopped too and stared.

One of the men turned and looked straight at them. He was tall and straight as a metal pole, and his face was a mask of anger.

“Nothing to see here!” he snapped. It was the same spikey voice she had heard last night. Katarina dropped her gaze. She walked on, past Mrs Malcolm’s house, straight to hers. At the gate she turned. “I think it’s best that I do my own homework,” she said.

Seamus glanced at the men and back at her. He nodded. “Bye!” he called.

She gave him a brief wave and pushed open the front door. It was only later that she wondered how Seamus could have heard any noise last night from two streets away.



The Last Song – chapter three

Her mother said nothing about the missing chicken. She said nothing about Mrs Malcolm. No-one did. There were a few mutterings about an arrest the next day at school but only among some of the brasher older boys, who praised the police. What is there to praise about attacking a harmless old lady? thought Katarina, but she said nothing and kept her mouth shut at all times unless they were singing ‘The Song of National Renewal’ in assembly, or she had been asked a question in class. But everyone seemed a little extra jumpy, a little more prone to arguments over petty things.

Katarina herself was extra jumpy about how she was going to feed Ditto. After last night’s near miss she realised how dangerous it could be. What would they have done if the men had found her? Arrested her too? She had heard stories of children being taken in to detention centres and parents being sent for ‘rehabilitation’ to teach them how to bring up their children properly. She shivered.

But she wasn’t going to let the cat down. He had saved her last night and she knew how precious he was to Mrs Malcolm.

As the day dragged on she considered her options. She could save up her pocket money to buy food but she doubted she could afford much. She could steal from the larder but her parents would notice. She could leave him to fend for himself, but would he manage?

She was still pondering this as she mouthed the words of the Song of Gratitude and Dismissal – ‘with thanks for another day of learning, another chance to improve our lives’. As the last bars died away, she was no nearer a solution.

“Come on, everyone’s leaving!”

The voice startled her.

“You were somewhere else.” A boy stood looking down at her with a half-grin. She vaguely recognised him from a year or so above her. Seamus, she thought his name was, one of the ‘untidy set’ that her head of year, Mrs Lessing, would tut about and warn them not to copy. Certainly his hair stood up as if he’d forgotten to brush it and his tie was askew, but he had a friendly face.

“Yes, of course. I must go.” She blushed. “Got to catch the bus.”

“I’ve seen you on it. You live near Corner Shop Five don’t you?”

Katarina stuffed her books in her bag. “Yes. The bus goes soon. I mustn’t miss it. Bye.” Her bag bumped his thigh as she jumped up.

“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled and fled.

The Last Song – chapter two

Ditto danced around Katarina’s legs all the way along the side of the house until they were in the front garden. Katarina crouched in the shelter of a small tree and stared into the open front door. The men had left it open, perhaps as a warning to anyone else who dared do anything wrong – whatever that wrong was – a reminder of ‘look what will happen if you break the law’.

Even in the pale moonlight she could see that the house had been ransacked. Ditto streaked ahead of her and, crouching close against the wall, she slipped in after him. Inside, her feet crunched on broken crockery and slid on torn books. The furniture was overturned and house plants had been tossed aside as if a ferocious wind had howled through. But what were the men searching for? What would this harmless old lady have that they would see as a threat? She stumbled her way to a clearer patch near the hearth while Ditto wound around her legs, sniffing up at the plate of chicken she held close to her.

“Poor puss,” she whispered, putting the plate down and kneeling beside him. “What are we going to do?” The moonlight caught his sharp teeth as he bit hard into the chicken. He might survive by hunting, but perhaps her parents would let her take him in.

The plate empty, Ditto looked up at her. Then he moved his head forward and rubbed it against the edge of an upturned basket.

“Have you got an itch? Does this feel nice?” she asked him, reaching over and scratching the spot on his head where he had been rubbing.

Mrs Malcolm had kept a collection of pretty stones, bits of driftwood and dried flowers in the basket and these had now tumbled out onto the hearth rug, probably, she thought, kicked over in anger. She began to scoop them up and place them back in the basket. She moved a bunch of dried flowers and her hand grazed a large shell, probably once the home of a sea creature like the ones she had seen in books. She picked it up. It was cold and yet, as she held it, she sensed a faint vibration through her, a hum that grew stronger as it travelled up her arm and into the rest of her body, spreading through her veins, warming her.

Her eyes widened and she smiled, despite the awfulness of the devastation around her, despite the fear that beat inside her. She was tempted to switch on the light so that she could see this shell more clearly, but there could be someone watching the house. She stood up and started towards the window in the hope that the moonlight might be bright enough to see the shell. Then Ditto hissed. His body stiffened, he bent his back legs and turned and leaped away through the debris.

From somewhere outside Katarina heard voices. For a moment she was too scared to move, but she shook herself, seized the plate and, holding the shell close, ran to the door. The voices were somewhere in the front garden, getting louder, so she dashed down the hallway and into the kitchen, hoping to make it to the back door in time. But the top bolt on the back door scraped loudly when she pulled on it and she was sure she would be heard and that they would come after her.

She glanced around. The layout was the same as her house and she turned to the larder, darting inside and squeezing herself under a low shelf, thankful for once that she was still small and had not grown the way many of her classmates had. She hugged the shell. It comforted her, sending warm ripples through her body, making her feel that all was not lost – yet.

The larder door did not close properly and Katarina began to make out what the voices were saying. She did not understand what they meant. A light went on somewhere in the house, probably in the front room, and through the crack of the open door she saw the shadows of two men cast on the hall wall. The men were grumbling together. “I’m sure there’s something here,” said one, his voice sharp like a spike.

“Our men found nothing and you can see they looked!” The other was sullen.

“Your men know nothing. I’ve said before that you need more experts on the team. People who can hear what should not be heard.”

“Can you?”

“Sometimes.” There was a pause. “There’s something here but I don’t know where. I think we should clear the house, take away some more of the old lady’s things. ”

“What? Now?” The tone was even more sullen.

“No. I’ll get the ministry to send someone in; you get your men to board up the house.”

Katarina listened as the men turned and crunched their way back through the room and out to the front door. She waited until she was convinced that they had gone, then rolled out from under the shelf and ran to the back door. The bolts screeched but she pulled them anyway and flung open the door.

The cold air slapped her in the face and took away her breath.

“What’s that?” shouted a voice, the sullen man. She backed into the doorway as a torch flashed up the path.

“There’s someone here!” he shouted again and his footsteps thudded on the beaten earth path.

Katarina backed further into the back lobby of Mrs Malcolm’s house, her heart beating so loudly she was sure it could be heard.

“Miaow!” A long howl made her almost cry out and she heard the ‘thwack’ and yelp of a man hitting the ground.

“It’s just a cat, you fool,” sneered the spikey man.

“I heard something, I…ow!” The man was obviously struggling back to his feet again.

“Is this what I have to deal with,” asked the other, a nasty laugh in his voice.

In the lobby Katarina allowed herself a small smile. She listened again. The footsteps, one of them dragging, began to move away. She waited. Ten, 15 minutes passed and she heard no more. She crept forward and peered out. Nobody. She ran, not looking back, down the path and in through her own backdoor. She did not pause until she was safe in her own bed.

Before she fell asleep she dropped the shell down the side of the bed, close to the wall.


The Last Song – chapter one

Katarina’s mother pulled the shutters tight and turned away from the window.

“There is nothing for you to see out there,” she said. “Go to sleep now.” She creased her lips up into a smile and crossed the room to where Katarina sat hunched tight on the bed. “Sleep darling.” She lent over and placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder, the lightest of touches

“I can’t. I won’t be able to.” Katarina shuddered. “Mrs Malcolm…What do you think will…”

“Shh!” Her mother cut her off. “Just lie down and sleep.”

“Stay with me,” Katarina begged.

“Just for a while, but you must sleep.”

“Do you remember when I was little you used to sing to me? It was something about angels and their arms.”

“Shh!” Her mother glanced towards the window and shook her head. “I can’t, I mean it’s better this way.” She sat down on the edge of her bed and reached forward as if to stroke Katarina’s forehead, then pulled her hand back and instead seized Katarina’s hand and squeezed it tightly.

Katarina flinched but squeezed it in return. “But what do you mean? Why did they take her?” she asked. The images of Mrs Malcolm being bustled out of her house by four uniformed men were not going to leave her for a long time.

“That is nothing for us to worry about, darling. The police know best.”

They heard an engine spark into life and the crunch of wheels on gravel. Katarina felt her mother tense as they listened to the van drive off.

“What did she do?” Mrs Malcolm had seemed so quiet, small, smiley, safe, with a house filled with colourful knitted throws, a bobbly rug, cracked and wobbly teapots on shelves, a crackling fire, her cat, Ditto. That poor cat. Who would feed him now? Perhaps she should. Would the men have left him alone? They hadn’t looked like ordinary police. Their uniforms seemed somehow different, smarter perhaps though it was hard to tell in the dark.

“Can’t you do anything?”

“You are not to worry about it, you are not to mention this again!” Her mother’s tension was threatening to bubble over, but she smiled thinly.

“Sleep now.” There was to be no argument. She switched off the light and closed the door with a firm click.

Katarina lay motionless, straining to listen for anything that might give her clues about what was going on. She heard her parents’ voices, muffled by the wall and by the hushed tones in which they often spoke. She thought she heard a sob but she could not be sure. Finally, when the house was silent, she pushed back the sheet and blankets and slid out of bed. She crept to the window and opened the shutters. The dark hulk of Mrs Malcolm’s house sat there, forlorn and empty.

She heard the distant rumble of a night bus bringing the late-shift workers home from the industrial areas, a dog barking, perhaps in the next borough, and finally a faint ‘mew’. The cat. Ditto. She pushed open the window a crack. The ‘mew’ came again, this time clearer and more urgent. It sounded as if he was in trouble. His third call was distressed as if he was in pain, a cry that went right though her, begged her to come out and rescue him.

Pausing to be sure that there was no sound from her parents’ bedroom she felt for her shoes under her bed and tiptoed across the landing and down to the kitchen. There was a little cooked chicken left on the larder shelf; she would take it for him.

The backdoor creaked as she eased it open and she froze, a cold statue in the night, listening, watching. The moon was not yet full but it was bright enough to give her some vision. Her eyes were growing accustomed to the dark and she could see nothing to worry her so she slipped her feet into her shoes and ran from shadow to shadow along the hard dirt path that divided her house from Mrs Malcolm’s.

She stopped. Something or someone was moving ahead, low down against the wall of the house. How stupid she was to have come out. The curfew was on and if the authorities caught her both she and her parents would be in trouble.

Stabbing pains of fear shot through her legs as she pressed herself against the wall and she held her hand over her mouth to stop a cry escaping. Something brushed against her and she heard the ‘mew’ again.

Her shoulders slumped with relief. It was Ditto. “Hello boy,” she whispered. “Are you alright? Did they hurt you? Are you hungry? I’ll look after you now ’til your mum comes back.” She gulped slightly. Mrs Malcolm might not come back.

Ditto rubbed against her and she bent to stroke him but stopped. She could hear his purr but behind it the murmur of a car or a van in the distance. That could mean only one thing – the curfew patrol.

“Quick, into the house,” she said. She wanted to check he had a safe place to sleep tonight. She also wanted to see inside Mrs Malcolm’s house.

A Moving Story

14 Home alone

Ginger Jack is eight years old and has never lived alone. He was rescued from a pet shop where he shared a cage with twelve mewling, flea-ridden kittens and since then he has lived with constant feline and human company. But now there are no other cats. Jack is finally alone, with only human companions, for his big tabby mentor and protector has died and Jack is at last an orphan.
Out of all the six cats who resided in our old house when Jack first arrived, it was the largest, the strongest and the greatest hunter who befriended this feisty ginger kitten who arched his back and hissed to show that he wasn’t afraid. Old Sam took him under the wing of his long-haired striped coat and showed him how to play-fight, how to stalk the birds and how to catch a squirrel. Jack took his lessons seriously and began by dragging the squirrel tail around the garden after Sammy had demolished the entire body.
Together they ambushed the smaller female cats for fun and curled around each other in sleep, Sammy vigorously washing grubby ginger ears and fur. Together they weathered the disruption of removals, the dismantling of the only home they had ever known, where Sam was born. Together they travelled with little complaint to Cornwall for the summer and together they journeyed back again to a new home, where they seemed to both greet the green gardens and fields with a mew of relief and caught mice within a day of arriving. Together they explored the shrubbery, slept on their familiar old sofa and curled on our bed while we read morning papers.
But Sammy was fading. He was nineteen years old on the 3rd of September. He demonstrated his approval of our new home by catching and eating a field vole, staking his claim on a dry sunny patch of grass under the apple tree laced with mistletoe and peeing in the soft ash of the open fireplace. But after three weeks he was tired. One morning he went for a walk in the garden despite the wind and rain. We found him in his sunbathing spot, hunched and cold, protesting at the weather, so we carried him indoors to the sofa near the Aga. It’s too cold outside today, we said and he agreed. From then on he quickly became weaker and the following day he was barely able to stand, so we kept him warm and stayed by his side all day, with Jack looking on and wondering. The sun came out that day so he had one last sunbathe under his tree, wrapped in a blanket, soaking up the rays of the sun. That night we lay him to sleep in a bed on the floor near the Aga’s warmth and that’s where he stayed and that’s where we found him in the morning.
Now Sammy lies in the garden, within sight of the kitchen and his favourite sunny place. His grave is marked with a serene stone lion whose features resemble the dignified, gentle giant we had known so long. And Jack is now alone and needs our company more than before. He seeks us out for strokes and games, even though there are plenty of mice to play with. We’ve asked him if he’d like some company, a budgie or a hamster perhaps. But he says he’d like a kitten. And so would we.