The bonnet wouldn’t stay on Mr. Saucy Staniel’s head. She reached under his chin and tried retying the knot. He squirmed in her grasp. “No, no poppet, you must look pretty today, pretty.” She stroked the cats head soothingly. His eyes glared at her angrily from beneath the brim of the bonnet.
“Who’s my pretty boy? Who’s mommy’s pretty boy?” She gave the cat a noisy kiss and almost yelped when another cat clawed her ankle. She looked down at the other cat, a large tabby named Buttonhole Heimlich Johnson. “Bastard,” she said. “That was my last good pair of pantyhose.” She sighed. “What am I going to do if I have a gentleman caller?”
Pausing for a second, Britta reflected that it had been years since she had taken in a gentleman caller, decades even. Ever since her poor Hector Catchthe Flagg had been killed by a truck carrying haemorrhoid donuts, she hadn’t really talked to anyone.
Oh, she talked to people of course. She took her morning and afternoon walks, followed by a number of her furry feline companions. Every town had to have a crazy cat lady, and why shouldn’t she be the one for Kilkades Dare? Besides, she thought. People like her added character to a city. Or at least this is what she told herself.
She was preparing for a morning walk and had placed Saucy Staniel into the baby carrier and belted him in. You had to belt the cats in, otherwise, they tried to get out and ruined the image. I mean, you couldn’t walk down the street walking a baby pram with nothing in it could you? It ruined the image.
Checking to make sure that her coat and hat were in order, she stepped over a large body of cats that blocked her path. She was about to open the door when someone knocked on it. Odd, she thought, I don’t get any visitors. Damn place smells too much like cat pee.
Giving her hair one final check in the hallway mirror, Britta opened the door. Standing there was a little girl and she was holding a cat. The girl looked up at her with dark, moody eyes. The girl had dark hair and dark eyes that regarded her with interest.
She held up the cat. “I think this is one of yours.” The girl said. Her voice was authoritative and Britta wondered if she was one of the rich girls from the Hill.
Britta’s heart warmed, despite the girl’s odd manner. “Oh, Ms. Tuppence a Bag!” She reached out and gathered the cat to her bosom. Oh, thank you, child. She must have wandered off. Would you like to come in for a drink of thanks?”
The girl looked as if she were on the verge of saying no, but then nodded. “I am Hasenpfeffer Finklestein.” The girl said.
“Oh, I taught your mother in school.” Britta said. “She was such a bright young girl. But that was years ago.” She said.
She led the way into her living room and watched as Hasenpfeffer make her way through a sea of cats that moved and meowed on the floor. Sitting down on the couch, she was immediately set upon by four or five large cats. They were all jostling for a position on her lap.
“Oh, look!” Britta said. “They like you! Isn’t that lovely?”
One of the cats, a feisty tom named Rollie Pollie Tattler Dollie, was showing Hasenpfeffer his bum and was trying to bring it closer to her face. “Lovely is not the word I would use to describe the present situation.” The girl said.
Britta laughed and went to the kitchen to make tea. Britta wondered briefly whether children drank tea; she didn’t know. She had never had any of her own. Oh well, it would have to do. She moved through a small body of cats back to the living room and placed the tray on the table.
Pouring out tea into two china cups, Britta handed one to the small little girl. “Here you are dear.” She said.
The girl took the tea cup and took a sip, giving the older woman a smile. “So why do you have so many cats?”
Britta sighed. She was always asked this question, but she had never answered it. She wondered if the girl would understand her reasoning. Taking a sip of her tea to fortify herself, Britta sighed and then spoke. “Well, my husband died several years ago, you see.”
The girl nodded. “Go on.”
“Well at first, I got a cat so that I would have someone to love. But it wasn’t enough. I mean, I loved Hector so much; so very much. I had so much love to give. And when Hector was alive, he had so much love to give me too. I used to call it boundless, limitless love.”
She wiped a tear away from her eye and took another fortifying sip her of tea. “So I got another cat, hoping that loving two of them and having them love me back would help, but it still wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel I was getting enough love back, so I got more cats, hoping that each of their love for me would make me feel loved like when Hector was alive.”
She paused here; she had told a few people this and they had looked at her strangely or usually backed away from her. Hasenpfeffer regarded her with sharp eyes. “I suppose you think that’s rather stupid.” Britta said. “The delusions of an old lady.”
Hasenpfeffer said nothing for a moment but then surprised her by reaching out and taking one of her hands. “Love is never stupid.” Hasenpfeffer said.
Touched, Britta put her hand on top of Hasenpfeffer’s and felt better than she had in a very long time.
The moment was ruined by a particularly loud howl. Looking over to the source of the noise, Britta was astounded to see Saucy Stanley still belted into the baby pram.
“Oh, mommy’s poor baby!” She said.