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Authors: Jacqueline Wilson

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BOOK: Paws and Whiskers
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‘They could live in the old barn,’ Susan said. ‘Nobody ever goes there but us. There’s that dovecote up in the loft, with all those holes in the wall where the doves flew in and out.’

‘We can take hay up there and make them a place to sleep,’ Hank said.

‘Purr,’ said Roger.

Very softly and gently Hank raised his hand and stroked Roger right between the wings.

‘Oooh,’ said James, watching. He jumped down off the stump and came trotting over to the children. He sat down near Susan’s shoes. Very softly and gently Susan reached down and scratched James under the chin and behind the ears.

‘Purr,’ James said, and drooled a little on Susan’s shoe.

‘Oh, well!’ said Thelma, having cleaned up the
last of the cold roast beef. She arose in the air, flew over with great dignity, sat right down in Hank’s lap, folded her wings, and said, ‘Purr, purr, purr . . .’

‘Oh Hank,’ Susan whispered, ‘their wings are furry.’

‘Oh, James,’ Harriet whispered, ‘their hands are kind.’

by Ian McEwan

I’ve often wondered what it feels like to be a cat. They seem to have a very happy relaxed lifestyle – lots of eating, lots of sunbathing, lots of sleeping, and an occasional exciting hunting spree at dawn or dusk. I stare into Jacob or Lily’s eyes and try hard to imagine what they’re actually thinking. They look so wise and profound you’d expect them to be contemplating the secrets of the universe, but they’re probably just wondering when I’m next going to feed them.

Ian McEwan has clearly wondered what it’s like to be a cat himself. He’s a famous literary novelist for adults, but he’s written one very interesting, slightly weird book for children. His main character, Peter, is a daydreamer, and all sorts of magical things happen to him. There’s a distinctly creepy chapter
about a Bad Doll with only one fat pink leg who comes alive. The following extract comes from my favourite chapter, where Peter changes places with his cat, William.


When Peter snatched up his satchel, and took one last look around before running out of the house, it was always William he saw. His head was cushioned on one paw, while the other dangled carelessly over the edge of the shelf, dabbling in the rising warmth. Now the ridiculous humans were leaving, a cat could get in a few hours of serious snoozing. The image of the dozing cat tormented Peter as he stepped out of the house into the icy blast of the north wind.

If you believe it is strange to think of a cat as a real member of a family, then you should know that William’s age was greater than Peter and Kate’s together. As a young cat he knew their mother when
she was still at school. He had gone with her to university, and five years later had been present at her wedding reception. When Viola Fortune was expecting her first baby, and rested in bed some afternoons, William Cat used to drape himself over the big round hump in her middle that was Peter. At the births of both Peter and Kate, he had disappeared from the house for days on end. No one knew where or why he went. He had quietly observed all the sorrows and joys of family life. He had watched the babies become toddlers who tried to carry him about by the ears, and he had seen the toddlers turn into school children. He had known the parents when they were a wild young couple living in one room. Now they were less wild in their three-bedroomed house. And William Cat was less wild too. He no longer brought mice or birds into the house to lay them at the feet of ungrateful humans. Soon after his fourteenth birthday he gave up fighting and no longer proudly defended his territory. Peter thought it outrageous that a bully of a young tom from next door was taking over the garden, knowing that old William could not do a thing about it. Sometimes the tom came through the cat flap into the kitchen and ate William’s food while the old cat watched helplessly. And only a few years before, no sensible cat would have dared set a paw upon the lawn.

William must have been sad about the loss of his powers. He gave up the company of other cats and sat alone in the house with his memories and reflections. But despite his seventeen years, he kept himself sleek and trim. He was mostly black, with dazzling white socks and shirt front, and a splash of white in the tip of his tail. Sometimes he would seek you out where you were sitting, and after a moment’s thought, jump on to your lap and stand there, feet splayed, gazing deeply without blinking into your eyes. Then he might cock his head, still holding your gaze, and miaow, just once, and you would know he was telling you something important and wise, something you would never understand.

There was nothing Peter liked better on a winter’s afternoon when he came home from school than to kick off his shoes and lie down beside William Cat in front of the living-room fire. He liked to get right down to William’s level, and to put his face up close to the cat’s and see how extraordinary it really was, how beautifully non-human, with spikes of black hair sprouting in a globe from a tiny face beneath the fur, and the white whiskers with their slight downwards curve, and the eyebrow hairs shooting up like radio antennae, and the pale green eyes with their upright slits, like doors ajar into a world Peter could never
enter. As soon as he came close to the cat, the deep rumbling purr would begin, so low and strong that the floor vibrated. Peter knew he was welcome.

It was just one such afternoon, a Tuesday as it happened, four o’clock and already the light fading, curtains drawn and lights on, when Peter eased himself on to the carpet where William lay before a bright fire whose flames were curling round a fat elm log. Down the chimney came the moan of the freezing wind as it whipped across the rooftops. Peter had sprinted from the bus stop with Kate to keep warm. Now he was safely indoors with his old friend who was pretending to be younger than his years by rolling on to his back and letting his front paws flop helplessly. He wanted his chest tickled. As Peter began to move his fingers lightly through the fur, the rumbling noise grew louder, so loud that every bone in the old cat’s body rattled. And then, William stretched out a paw to Peter’s fingers and tried to draw them up higher. Peter let the cat guide his hand.

‘Do you want me to tickle your chin?’ he murmured. But no. The cat wanted to be touched right at the base of his throat. Peter felt something hard there. It moved from side to side when he touched it. Something had got trapped in the fur. Peter propped
himself on an elbow in order to investigate. He parted the fur. At first he thought he was looking at a piece of jewellery, a little silver tag. But there was no chain, and as he poked and peered he saw that it was not metal at all, but polished bone, oval and flattened in the centre, and most curiously of all, that it was attached to William Cat’s skin. The piece of bone fitted well between his forefinger and thumb. He tightened his grip and gave a tug. William Cat’s purr grew even louder. Peter pulled again, downwards, and this time he felt something give.

Looking down through the fur, and parting it with the tips of his fingers, he saw that he had opened up a small slit in the cat’s skin. It was as if he were holding the handle of a zip. Again he pulled, and now there was a dark opening two inches long. William Cat’s purr was coming from in there. Perhaps, Peter thought, I’ll see his heart beating. A paw was gently pushing against his fingers again. William Cat wanted him to go on.

And this is what he did. He unzipped the whole cat from throat to tail. Peter wanted to part the skin to peep inside. But he did not wish to appear nosy. He was just about to call out to Kate when there was a movement, a stirring inside the cat, and from the opening in the fur there came a faint pink glow which
grew brighter. And suddenly, out of William Cat climbed a, well, a thing, a creature. But Peter was not certain that it was really there to touch, for it seemed to be made entirely of light. And while it did not have whiskers or a tail, or a purr, or even fur, or four legs, everything about it seemed to say ‘cat’. It was the very essence of the word, the heart of the idea. It was a quiet, slinky, curvy fold of pink and purple light, and it was climbing out of the cat.

‘You must be William’s spirit,’ Peter said aloud. ‘Or are you a ghost?’

The light made no sound, but it understood. It seemed to say, without actually speaking the words, that it was both these things, and much more besides.

When it was clear of the cat, which continued to lie on its back on the carpet in front of the fire, the cat spirit drifted into the air, and floated up to Peter’s shoulder where it settled. Peter was not frightened. He felt the glow of the spirit on his cheek. And then the light drifted behind his head, out of sight. He felt it touch his neck and a warm shudder ran down his back. The cat spirit took hold of something knobbly at the top of his spine and drew it down, right down his back, and as his own body opened up, he felt the cool air of the room tickle the warmth of his insides.

It was the oddest thing, to climb out of your body, just step out of it and leave it lying on the carpet like a shirt you had just taken off. Peter saw his own glow, which was purple and the purest white. The two spirits hovered in the air facing each other. And then Peter suddenly knew what he wanted to do, what he had to do. He floated towards William Cat and hovered. The body stood open, like a door, and it looked so inviting, so welcoming. He dropped down and stepped inside. How fine it was, to dress yourself as a cat. It was not squelchy, as he thought all insides must be. It was dry and warm. He lay on his back and slipped his arms into William’s front legs. Then he wiggled his legs into William’s back legs. His head fitted perfectly inside the cat’s head. He glanced across at his own body just in time to see William Cat’s spirit disappear inside.

BOOK: Paws and Whiskers
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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