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Authors: Jacqueline Wilson

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BOOK: Paws and Whiskers
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Using his paws, Peter was able to zip himself up easily. He stood, and took a few steps. What a delight, to walk on four soft white paws. He could see his whiskers springing out from the sides of his face, and he felt his tail curling behind him. His tread was light, and his fur was like the most comfortable of old woollen jumpers. As his pleasure in being a cat grew, his heart swelled, and a tingling sensation deep in his throat became so strong that he could actually
hear himself. Peter was purring. He was Peter Cat, and over there, was William Boy.

The boy stood up and stretched. Then, without a word to the cat at his feet, he skipped out of the room.

‘Mum,’ Peter heard his old body call out from the kitchen. ‘I’m hungry. What’s for supper?’

That night Peter was too restless, too excited, too much of a cat to sleep. Towards ten o’clock he slipped through the cat flap. The freezing night air could not penetrate his thick fur coat. He padded soundlessly towards the garden wall. It towered above him, but one effortless, graceful leap and he was up, surveying his territory. How wonderful to see into dark corners, to feel every vibration of the night air on his whiskers, and to make himself invisible when, at midnight, a fox came up the garden path to root among the dustbins. All around he was aware of other cats, some local, some from far away, going about their nighttime business, travelling their routes. After the fox, a young tabby had tried to enter the garden. Peter warned him off with a hiss and a flick of his tail. He had purred inwardly as the young fellow squealed in astonishment and took flight.

Not long after that, while patrolling the high wall that rose above the greenhouse, he came face to face
with another cat, a more dangerous intruder. It was completely black, which was why Peter had not seen it sooner. It was the tom from next door, a vigorous fellow almost twice his size, with a thick neck and long powerful legs. Without even thinking, Peter arched his back and upended his fur to make himself look big.

‘Hey puss,’ he hissed, ‘this is my wall and you’re on it.’

The black cat looked surprised. It smiled. ‘So it was your wall once, Grandad. What’ya going to do about it now?’

‘Beat it, before I throw you off.’ Peter was amazed at how strongly he felt. This
his wall, his garden, and it was his job to keep unfriendly cats out.

The black cat smiled again, coldly. ‘Listen, Grandad. It hasn’t been your wall for a long time. I’m coming through. Out of my way or I’ll rip your fur off.’

Peter stood his ground. ‘Take another step, you walking flea circus, and I’ll tie your whiskers round your neck.’

The black cat gave out a long laughing wail of contempt. But it did not take another step. All around, local cats were appearing out of the darkness to watch. Peter heard their voices.

A fight?

The old boy must be crazy!

He’s seventeen if he’s a day.

The black cat arched its powerful spine and howled again, a terrible rising note.

Peter tried to keep his voice calm, but his words came out in a hiss. ‘You don’t take ssshort cutsss through here without asssking me firssst.’

The black cat blinked. The muscles in its fat neck rippled as it shrieked its laugh that was also a war cry.

On the opposite wall, a moan of excitement ran through the crowd which was still growing.

‘Old Bill has flipped.’

‘He’s chosen the wrong cat to pick a fight with.’

‘Listen, you toothless old sheep,’ the black cat said through a hiss far more penetrating than Peter’s. ‘I’m number one round here. Isn’t that right?’

The black cat half turned to the crowd which murmured its agreement. Peter thought the watching cats did not sound very enthusiastic.

‘My advice to you,’ the black cat went on, ‘is to step aside. Or I’ll spread your guts all over the lawn.’

Peter knew he had gone too far now to back down. He extended his claws to take a firm grip of the wall. ‘You bloated rat! This is my wall, d’you hear. And you
are nothing but the soft turd of a sick dog!’

The black cat gasped. There were titters in the crowd. Peter was always such a polite boy. How splendid it was now to spit out these insults.

‘You’ll be birds’ breakfast,’ the black cat warned, and took a step forwards. Peter snatched a deep breath. For old William’s sake he had to win. Even as he was thinking this, the black cat’s paw lashed out at his face. Peter had an old cat’s body, but he had a young boy’s mind. He ducked and felt the paw and its vicious outstretched claws go singing through the air above his ears. He had time to see how the black cat was supported momentarily on only three legs. Immediately he sprang forwards, and with his two front paws pushed the tom hard in the chest. It was not the kind of thing a cat does in a fight and the number one cat was taken by surprise. With a yelp of astonishment, he slipped and tottered backwards, tipped off the wall and fell head first through the roof of the greenhouse below. The icy air was shattered by the crash and musical tinkle of broken glass and the earthier clatter of breaking flowerpots. Then there was silence. The hushed crowd of cats peered down from their wall. They heard a movement, then a groan. Then, just visible in the gloom was the shape
of the black cat hobbling across the lawn. They heard it muttering.

‘It’s not fair. Claws and teeth, yes. But pushing like that. It just isn’t fair.’

‘Next time,’ Peter called down, ‘you ask permission.’

The black cat did not reply, but something about its retreating, limping shape made it clear it had understood.

The next morning, Peter lay on the shelf above the radiator with his head cushioned on one paw, while the other dangled loosely in the rising warmth. All about him was hurry and chaos. Kate could not find her satchel. The porridge was burned. Mr Fortune was in a bad mood because the coffee had run out and he needed three strong cups to start his day. The kitchen was a mess and the mess was covered in porridge smoke. And it was late late late!

Peter curled his tail around his back paws and tried not to purr too loudly. On the far side of the room was his old body with William Cat inside, and that body had to go to school. William Boy was looking confused. He had his coat on and he was ready to leave, but he was wearing only one shoe. The other was nowhere to be found. ‘Mum,’ he kept bleating. ‘Where’s my shoe?’ But Mrs Fortune was in the hallway arguing with someone on the phone.

Peter Cat half closed his eyes. After his victory he was desperately tired. Soon the family would be gone. The house would fall silent. When the radiator had cooled, he would wander upstairs and find the most comfortable of the beds. For old time’s sake he would choose his own.

The day passed just as he had hoped. Dozing, lapping a saucer of milk, dozing again, munching through some tinned cat food that really was not as bad as it smelled – rather like shepherd’s pie without the mashed potato. Then more dozing. Before he knew it, the sky outside was darkening and the children were home from school. William Boy looked worn out from a day of classroom and playground struggle. Boy-cat and cat-boy lay down together in front of the living-room fire. It was most odd, Peter Cat thought, to be stroked by a hand that only the day before had belonged to him. He wondered if William Boy was happy with his new life of school and buses, and having a sister and a mum and dad. But the boy’s face told Peter Cat nothing. It was so hairless, whiskerless and pink, with eyes so round that it was impossible to know what they were saying.

Later that evening, Peter wandered up to Kate’s room. As usual she was talking to her dolls, giving them a lesson in geography. From the fixed expression
on their faces it was clear that they were not much interested in the longest rivers in the world. Peter jumped on to her lap and she began to tickle him absent-mindedly as she talked. If only she could have known that the creature on her lap was her brother. Peter lay down and purred. Kate was beginning to list all the capital cities she could think of. It was so exquisitely boring, just what he needed to get him off to sleep again. His eyes were already closed when the door crashed open and William Boy strode in.

‘Hey Peter,’ Kate said. ‘You didn’t knock.’

But her brother-cat paid no attention. He crossed the room, picked up her cat brother roughly and hurried away with him. Peter disliked being carried. It was undignified for a cat of his age. He tried to struggle, but William Boy only tightened his grip as he rushed down the stairs. ‘Ssh,’ he said. ‘We don’t have much time.’

William carried the cat into the living room and set him down.

‘Keep still,’ the boy whispered. ‘Do what I tell you. Roll on to your back.’

Peter Cat had little choice for the boy had pinned him down with one hand and was searching in his fur
with the other. He found the piece of polished bone and pulled downwards. Peter felt the cool air reach his insides. He stepped out of the cat’s body. The boy was reaching up behind his own neck and unzipping himself. Now the pink and purple light of a true cat slipped out of the boy’s body. For a moment the two spirits, cat and human, faced each other, suspended above the carpet. Below them, their bodies lay still, waiting, like taxis ready to move off with their passengers. There was a sadness in the air.

Though the cat spirit did not speak, Peter sensed what it was saying. ‘I must return,’ it said. ‘I have another adventure to begin. Thank you for letting me be a boy. I have learned so many things that will be useful to me in the time to come. But most of all, thank you for fighting my last battle for me.’

Peter was about to speak, but the cat spirit was returning to its own body.

‘There’s very little time,’ it seemed to say, as the pink and purple light folded itself into the fur of the cat. Peter drifted towards his own body, and slipped in round the back, at the top of the spine.

It felt rather odd at first. This body did not really fit him. When he stood up he was shaky on his legs. It was like wearing a pair of gumboots four sizes too
large. Perhaps his body had grown a little since he had last used it. It felt safer to lie down for the moment. As he did so the cat, William Cat, turned and walked very slowly and stiffly out of the room without even a glance at him.

As Peter lay there, trying to get used to his old body, he noticed a curious thing. The fire was still curling round the same elm log. He glanced towards the window. The sky was darkening. It was not evening, it was still late afternoon. From the newspaper lying near a chair, he could see that it was still Tuesday. And here was another curious thing. His sister Kate was running into the room crying. And following her were his parents, looking very grim.

‘Oh Peter,’ his sister cried. ‘Something terrible has happened.’

‘It’s William Cat,’ his mother explained. ‘I’m afraid he’s . . .’

‘Oh William!’ Kate’s wail drowned her mother’s words.

‘He just walked into the kitchen,’ his father said, ‘and climbed on to his favourite shelf above the radiator, closed his eyes and . . . died.’

‘He didn’t feel a thing,’ Viola Fortune said reassuringly.

Kate continued to cry. Peter realized that his parents were watching him anxiously, waiting to see how he was going to take the news. Of all the family, he was the one who had been closest to the cat.

‘He was seventeen,’ Thomas Fortune said. ‘He had a good innings.’

‘He had a good life,’ Viola Fortune said.

Peter stood up slowly. Two legs did not seem enough.

‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘He’s gone on another adventure now.’

The next morning they buried William at the bottom of the garden. Peter made a cross out of sticks, and Kate made a wreath out of laurel leaves and twigs. Even though they were all going to be late for school or work, the whole family went down to the graveside together. The children put on the final shovelfuls of earth. And it was just then that there rose through the ground and hovered in the air a shining ball of pink and purple light.

‘Look!’ Peter said, and pointed.

‘Look at what?’

‘Right there, right in front of you.’

‘Peter, what are you talking about?’

‘He’s daydreaming again.’

The light drifted higher until it was level with Peter’s head. It did not speak, of course. That would have been impossible. But Peter heard it all the same.

‘Goodbye, Peter,’ it said as it began to fade before his eyes. ‘Goodbye, and thanks again.’

by Jean Ure

I’ve been friends with Jean Ure for many years, so we often send each other our books when they’re newly published. I think my absolute favourite is
Ice Lolly.
It’s probably not surprising that I’m so fond of Laurel, the main girl in the story, because she loves books and cats more than anything else, and so do I!

Ice Lolly
is quite a sad story, because Laurel’s special mum has died and she has to go and live with her aunt and uncle and their children. With her she takes boxes of her mum’s books, and Mr Pooter, her beloved cat. Auntie Ellen is very houseproud and particular. Nearly all the books are put up in the attic – and poor Mr Pooter is barely tolerated.

BOOK: Paws and Whiskers
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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