Bill had seen the cat throughout the summer and noticed the gradual deterioration in condition as the months wore on. The sleek glossy black fur now lacklustre, dull and matted, the tip of one ear missing. Regular as clockwork the cat showed up twice a day for food which Bill had been only too happy to provide. 

Bill wondered who the cat belonged to. He had obviously been a family pet at some time because he had once looked so healthy. Bill felt a mixture of sadness that the cat had been thrown out and rage that the family could do such a terrible thing. How could they just dump the family pet and leave him to fend for himself?

One morning, unexpectedly, Bill had a breakthrough. Rain was lashing down and as Bill opened the door to see if the cat was around, he shot through Bill’s legs into the kitchen. The cat stood shaking, fur plastered to his body, showing ribs and spine.

Bill moved slowly and spoke in a quiet soothing voice.

“Now, now then, little one. Let’s give you some breakfast, shall we?”

Carefully he put the dish down near the cat and almost in slow-motion he moved to his chair set at an angle to the dining table.

The cat ate hungrily, every now and then looking up at Bill. Bill slowly opened and closed his eyes several times. Reassured the cat continued to eat.

When the dish was empty the cat looked at Bill expectantly.

“You want some more, little one?” He stood carefully, not wishing to frighten the cat.

He put down another bowlful of food and watched the cat eat. Bill sat back in his seat as the cat cleaned every whisker and had a good wash. He patted his lap and to his surprise the cat jumped up, purring loudly as Bill stroked him.

“My Gemma would have loved you,” he spoke quietly to the cat, stroking his head, still wet from the rain.

He was rewarded with a rumble of a purr as the cat pushed his head into Bill’s palm.  He carried on stroking him and before too long the cat lay down on Bill’s lap and settled into a restful sleep.

“Well, little one, we’d best give you a new name and find you a comfy bed. Looks like you’re here to stay.”

As the cat slept, Bill looked across to the old painted dresser where family photos sat alongside mugs and plates and other paraphernalia.  He sought out one photo in particular and smiled as he found it.  There she was – there was his Gemma, tall, slim, in her long white wedding dress, and standing next to her was a tall man in a rather natty suit.  He smiled to himself.  They cut a good-looking couple back then and he knew he was the envy of all his friends who had all fancied their chances with the shy, quiet, almost aloof young woman.  It was Bill who caught her eye though and their romance was the talk of the village. 

Their wedding was a lavish do, thanks to her affluent parents, with most of the villagers attending both the wedding in the little church and the grand reception at Gemma’s parents’ house.  They had honeymooned on the Greek island of Crete and both had likened it to a fairytale.

They had only been home a couple of weeks, settling into married life, and enjoying the preparations for Christmas.  Their little cottage already had the tree decorated and other little ornaments and nick-knacks were dotted about the small front room. Bill had been working late at his office in London and Gemma had driven into town to buy the last of the presents she needed for Bill and her parents and a few friends.

The police said it was a drunk driver weaving all over the lane and as it was getting dark he misjudged a bend in the road.  He hit Gemma’s car head on. 

Bill went into a fog filled world after that.  They had only been married a month or so and Christmas came and went with him sitting in the darkened house, not wanting to get involved with family or friends.

Somehow, he managed to return to work and after a decent amount of time, friends and work colleagues tried to pair him up with available women but Bill wanted none of it.  He was happy just to go to work, get through his day, return home and eat a microwaved dinner in front of his television.  He went through the motions, keeping the house reasonably clean for Gemma’s sake, knowing that she would not have wanted him to neglect their home.

He had been on his own now for five years and Christmas was once again, just a few days away.  And now, for the first time in those five years, it looked as though he might have company.  Bill found himself smiling again as he looked down at the cat, which was in the middle of a thorough wash and brush up.

He put the cat gently down on the floor and went to the cupboard.  He found a little dish that Gemma had bought in a market. “For when we get a cat,” she’d said.  He hadn’t had the heart to throw it out and now he filled it with water for the cat to drink.

Bill went up the narrow staircase to the second bedroom and looked in the small built in wardrobe.  There he found a soft squidgy red fleecy bed with a rim around the edge. “Yes, Gemma,” he said, “for when we get a cat.”

Taking the little bed downstairs he put it near the fireplace in the front room where a wood burner glowed.  The cat looked at him and looked at the bed.  Bill crouched down and patted the bed.  The cat sniffed the bed and looked at Bill again as if to say “For me?” 

The cat climbed into the bed and began to have another leisurely wash.  Bill went back upstairs and brought the Christmas tree and decorations down from the loft.  He teased the branches into shape as he added baubles and tinsel to it and dotted decorations around the room. 

After he had finished, he stood back to admire his handiwork.  It was the first time in five years that he’d had a Christmas tree and they had decorated their first one together.  He hoped Gemma would approve.

“I won’t be long, little one,” he called out to the cat as he put his coat on, and collected his keys.  “I need to buy you some proper food and get something in for our dinner on Christmas Day.”

The cat just looked at him and with the warmth of the fire nearby relaxed in his new warm fleecy bed.

While Bill was walking around the supermarket picking up things he thought the cat might like, and buying bits and pieces for the basics of a Christmas dinner, he wondered what to call the cat.   

He ran through the names that he and Gemma had thought of when they had talked about getting a couple of rescue cats but none seemed right for this beautiful boy.  “Gemma, tell me what you’d like me to call him,” Bill implored as he finished his shopping trip.  “What do you think he should be called?”

As he walked back to the car park with his bags, the sound of carols being sung drifted on the air.  He put the bags in the car and walked back to the mall.  A group of children from the local school stood clutching song sheets in a semi-circle with their teacher keeping them in time to the music. 

‘The first Noel the angels did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields where as they lay,’

“Thank you, Gemma! I knew you’d come up with a name! ‘Noel’ it is then!”

Bill drove home with the words of the carol going round in his head.  He smiled to himself.  The fog that had descended five years ago had finally lifted.  Somehow, he knew that he was going to be all right.  A little stray cat that had come from nowhere had made him see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that in reaching out to love something else, he was being loved in return.

He turned the key in the lock.  The cat was sitting on the bottom step waiting for his return.  Bill brought the shopping in to the hallway and bending down, picked up the cat.  “How does Noel sound to you?” he asked the cat.  “Would it work for you if I called you Noel?”

Noel leaned over and nestled into Bill’s neck.  Bill stroked the cat and felt a surge of love, the like he hadn’t felt in a long time.  Noel looked at Bill’s face and licked his chin. A purr from deep inside his belly took them both by surprise and Bill wondered how long it had been since the cat had known real love and affection.

“Time for us both to get on with our lives, Noel,” he said.  “It’s you and me now.”

The next morning was Christmas Day and Bill got up and put the turkey into the oven.  Before long the wonderful aroma of Christmas food filled the little cottage.  He presented Noel with catnip mice, a scratching post, a new food bowl, and other assorted toys which the little cat accepted graciously.

After they’d eaten a good dinner they lay on the sofa, Noel lying down Bill’s chest, looking into his eyes. He seemed to be saying, “thanks, I’ve had a good day today.” 

“You’re welcome, Noel.  I’ve had a good day too and thank you for being the best present I could have ever wished for.”

He looked across at the picture of Gemma and himself which he’d brought into the front room.  “Happy Christmas Gemma,” he smiled as he looked at her, while he stroked Noel. “I never thought I’d be able to open my heart to love again, but you’ve shown me that I can.” 

As the afternoon wore on, Bill and Noel slept on the sofa, Noel every now and then licking Bill’s hand.  He had certainly known some tough times in recent months since his family threw him out and he’d tried hard to fend for himself. Finding Bill’s little cottage all those months ago had paid off.  He knew Bill was a good man, he could just tell in the gentle quiet way he went out of his way to be kind to him.

Yes, this was his best Christmas ever, too.  He had certainly landed on all four paws.  

My thanks to Frances Gillotti who drew the amazing illustrations for my story.

 

            

 

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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