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Melissa Daley

Molly and the Cat Cafe

For Suse and Louis

Behind every successful woman there is often a rather talented cat



I don’t remember much from my early kittenhood, but when I close my eyes I can vividly recall the delight on Margery’s face when I was placed on her lap for the first time, a mewling ball of tabby fluff.

‘Well now, who’s this?’ she said gently, as I gazed up at her with not-long-opened eyes.

Margery’s friend answered, ‘This little thing is Molly. She’s eight weeks old. Her mother was a stray. The others from the litter have all been homed, so she’s the last to go.’

I squinted into Margery’s face as I sat on her lap. Her skin was soft and downy, settling into deep folds around her kind-looking eyes. She had short silver hair carefully groomed into waves that framed her face. But what I remember most about Margery in those days is her smile. It was a smile that made me feel I was the most important thing in her world or, as Margery would have put it, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’.

‘I thought you could do with some companionship,’ the friend continued. ‘I know you’ve been lonely, since Malcolm passed away. A nice lap-cat could be just what the doctor ordered.’

‘Well, I think Molly is . . . the cat’s whiskers.’ Margery answered softly, and there was no mistaking the pleasure in her voice.

And, with that, it was settled: Margery was to be my owner. She tickled me under the chin and I started to purr, tentatively at first, but as I relaxed my purr grew to a loud, steady rumble. Margery began to laugh at how much noise ‘a little scrap’ like me could produce.

As the months passed and I grew from kitten to young adult cat, Margery and I established a cosy partnership, based on mutual adoration. Margery enjoyed having someone to talk to and take care of, and I relished being the object of her loving attention. As an active, growing youngster, I was constantly hungry, and Margery seemed to delight in my insatiable appetite. She not only bought me the choicest cat food available, but would also make sure to save a portion of her own meals for me: chicken, lamb chops, a nice piece of salmon – whatever Margery cooked, there was always a Molly-sized portion put to one side in a dish on the counter.

Margery’s house quickly became my domain: I could nap where I chose and do whatever I liked. With such a comfortable life indoors, I never particularly felt the need to explore the world outside Margery’s home. From her bedroom window I could see the roofs of houses in the village and the rolling slopes of the fields that lay beyond. I did, on occasion, wander out of our cul-de-sac, but to be honest the village we lived in held no great appeal for me. There was not much to it: a parade of shops, a church and a couple of pubs. I knew that other cats from the village enjoyed hunting in the churchyard; but, being so well fed at home, I rarely put my hunting skills into practice.

You are probably thinking I was lucky, and I would have to agree with you. Life with Margery was all that a cat could hope for, and I loved everything about it. But that was before Margery’s sadness started.

‘There you go, Molly,’ Margery whispered one day, when I was about a year old. She bent over, using one hand to steady herself on the kitchen worktop, and placed my food bowl carefully on the linoleum floor. I began to purr in anticipation, I was hungry, and had been waiting patiently while Margery moved slowly around the kitchen, completing the domestic chores that always preceded my teatime.

I hopped down from the kitchen table, but a quick look in my bowl confirmed my worst fears. I sniffed warily at the contents, hoping that the beige-coloured mushy substance might conceal something feline-friendly, but my hope quickly turned to disappointment.

‘It’s mashed potato, Molly – your favourite,’ Margery said helpfully, noticing my reluctance. Suspecting this was the only meal I was going to be offered, I gingerly licked the contents of the bowl. With trepidation I took a tiny mouthful. The taste was bland and the consistency lumpy, and as I attempted to swallow it, I realized something solid had become lodged in the back of my throat. I felt my body spasm as I retched the offending mouthful back up onto the linoleum. I peered at it closely. It was a piece of unmashed potato, grey-looking and inedible. Not for the first time in recent weeks I realized that an evening hunting expedition would be required to satisfy my appetite.

Trying to ignore the hunger pangs in my stomach, I glanced up at Margery, who was now busying herself at the kitchen sink. Something about the way she was muttering worried me. I had grown familiar with her domestic routines (she had carried out the same tasks every day for as long as I could remember), but I could sense that she was feeling uncertain and anxious. She carefully washed up a saucepan in the sink, taking time to dry it thoroughly with a tea towel. Afterwards she stood clutching the pan to her chest, looking nervously around the kitchen. She opened the fridge and placed the pan inside, then tutted to herself and removed it again. She proceeded to open the doors of various kitchen cupboards, frustrated to find them full of glasses or chinaware. I knew this was not her normal behaviour; or, rather, it hadn’t been normal in the past, but there was no escaping the fact that incidents like these had been happening increasingly frequently of late.

Leaving my bowl of sludgy mashed potato behind, I padded across the kitchen and stood in front of the one cupboard that she had not yet checked. Standing proudly with my tail erect, I meowed loudly.

Margery was looking around the kitchen distractedly, and it took a few yowls to attract her attention.

‘What is it, Molly?’ she asked, her tone slightly irritated.

I rubbed my head profusely against the cupboard door, willing her to understand my gesture.

Margery paused and stared at me vacantly for a moment, before leaning down and pulling the cupboard door open. ‘Oh, Molly, you clever girl!’ she exclaimed, on seeing a neat stack of saucepans inside. She placed the pan in its rightful place, then rubbed me behind the ears. I purred, touched by her gratitude, but underneath I felt a sense of disquiet deep within me.

Margery and I had been through this routine countless times in recent months. I had grown adept at watching her movements closely, noting whenever she did anything out of the ordinary, such as placing her reading glasses in the fridge or her house keys in the bathroom cabinet. When, as inevitably happened after such an occurrence, she became distressed, I would help her retrace her steps, meowing at the spot where I knew the missing item to be. At first I thought it was a game that she and I were playing together, and I congratulated myself on my powers of observation and memory. But over time I noticed that Margery didn’t enjoy the game as much as I did. In fact she was often upset and agitated, scolding herself for her stupidity.

From the outside, our life looked as though nothing had changed: Margery still pottered around the house, dusting and tidying while I dozed on the sofa, and I did my best to help her with the crossword, by sitting on the newspaper and batting at her pen while she filled in the empty squares. But she was smiling less and less, and sometimes I would find her crying in the armchair as she gazed out of the window. I did my best to comfort her, rubbing up against her cheek and purring loudly, but I sensed something was wrong that was beyond my power to fix.