Today we are looking at the book The True Story of a Not So Crazy Cat Lady by Catherine Walker.
The story as the title suggests is about a woman and her best friends CATS. Harriet the main actress of the book breaks up with her partner and in the moments of her deepest sorrow finds a litter of abandoned kittens who soon bring joy and happiness back to her life!
She soon gets branded as crazy cat lady by her family – I wonder why people can’t see that it should be called CARING instead of CRAZY. 😉
As the story progresses she meets a new man in her life and is soon torn between the love for her cats and the love for her “new man” in her life!
This book is the perfect present for any cat lover / owner may this be your best friend, partner or work colleauge! The book is full of emotions and will draw readers in. I especially loved how the book reminds us of the true companionship that our fur-friends devote to us!
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Update: The book is also available through Barnes & Nobles in the US!.
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They came into my life, quite by chance, the same week as my husband walked out of it. I’d dragged myself out of the house to stock up on ice cream, chocolate and DVD rentals and although it was May, the sun seemed about as enthusiastic with life as I was. Alone in the corner of the supermarket car park, I heaved the bin bag of clothes Richard had left behind from the boot of my car and dropped it into the charity bin, dusting off my hands as though that meant he was out of my life for good. It was then that my attention was drawn to a cardboard box sitting amongst the puddles, almost buried beneath a mountain of recycling encircling the glass bottle bank. Rats, I thought as it shuffled and I backed away but then, quite unmistakably, the box meowed. Frowning I pushed aside the rubbish, lifted the box lid and found myself nose to nose with five kittens. One was white, another grey, two were cinnamon coloured and the last was a spotty mix of everything. They looked up at me unsure and afraid, and I stared back, already falling in love all over again.
Less than two months later I opened the cards on my twenty-ninth birthday to find that there was a cat on the front of all but one. I smiled and stood them in a line along the kitchen table then took another sip of coffee and looked over at my laptop as it made a number of irritated beeps. Bea was standing on the keyboard, her tail held high as she looked back at me with large innocent eyes. But innocent she most certainly was not. Of all the kittens I’d acquired that May day there had been only one boy. Modi I’d called him and like Bea, he was predominantly cinnamon coloured. He was also well mannered and hassle-free, two things his sister was not. Although the runt of the litter, what Bea lacked in size she made up for in spirit and once she realised I was eating toast she made a dash for my knee, knocking over the birthday cards on her way. I didn’t put up much of a fight and broke her off a small piece, then I stood the cards back up trying not to notice that I was two shy from last year. Sophie had been my best friend for years and bridesmaid at my wedding. Richard had once promised that this year I’d spend my birthday in Venice, but as I sat alone at the kitchen table I couldn’t help but wonder if right now the two of them were there together. I shook my head, telling myself not to think about such things, and surrendered the rest of my toast to Bea. It was time to go to work.
My cottage sat on the outskirts of a small village perched on the edge of the Peak District, surrounded by grassy hills and dry stone walls. The day looked warm beyond the French blue painted windows and I called,
‘See you later guys,’ as I picked up the car keys and opened my front door. ‘Be good,’ I smiled as five pairs of eyes looked back at me from various vantage points of the kitchen.
I walked towards the gate, an azure blue sky overhead, and then climbed into my rumbly old Citroen CV, the roads still quiet as I headed into town.
Squeezed in between a florists and Harper’s Bookshop on the main street, Brambly Antiques had an elegant black shop front with gold lettering and two storeys of red brick above. Inside, the exposed beams were lime washed white, the terracotta floor blanketed in Persian rugs and the room abundant with treasures from throughout the ages. Ramblers and tourists were already strolling down the town’s cobbled streets as I opened up the shop and suddenly I felt hungry to get stuck into some work.
‘Hi Harriet, sorry I’m late.’
‘No trouble,’ I said as Charlie arrived ten minutes later and shrugged off her jacket. Charlie had olive skin and dark hair and at twenty-three, had been working for me for almost twelve months.
‘Lovely day isn’t it? And of course, happy birthday!’ Charlie pulled a purple envelope from her bag followed by a small box.
‘How cute!’ I said, this time faced with a litter of kittens as I opened the card. Inside the box was a pair of cat silhouette shaped earrings and I smiled. ‘Thank you.’
Charlie was the sort of girl who loved buying gifts and looked pleased with my response. I stood the card on the counter and she asked, ‘Up to anything special tonight?’
‘I’m cooking dinner for my family.’
‘All of them?’ She looked impressed. ‘That’s quite a gathering.’
‘I’m looking forward to it,’ I smiled. ‘There’s a lot of catching up to do.’ Having hammered in a nail, I picked up a painting and hung it on the wall, squinting as I nudged it straight.
‘So where did you nip off to last night?’
I stiffened, surprised Charlie had guessed that anything had been up. ‘Nowhere special, dentist appointment,’ I spluttered, my gaze lingering unnecessarily on the painting. The last thing I was going to tell her was the truth. I’d only agreed to go on the date to stop Lou nagging. The phone rang and I dashed perhaps a little too eagerly towards it. ‘Brambly Antiques, how can I help you?’
‘Sis’ hey, it’s Ryan. Happy birthday!’
‘Thanks, how are things?’
‘Well, I’m ringing because Karen can’t come tonight.’
‘Oh what’s up? You know you can just say if she hates my cooking.’
Ryan laughed. ‘No, she’s feeling rough. She’s got a cold, lost her voice, the works.’
It was common knowledge that Karen didn’t get on with her husband’s side of the family, with the exception of my mum, and I wondered whether she really was so conveniently unwell or not. Either way I wished her my best and told my brother I looked forward to seeing him later.
‘I’m just going upstairs Charlie,’ I called as I headed for the wooden staircase in the corner of the room. I was trying to avoid further interrogation and Charlie knew it. ‘You okay with everything down here?’
‘Sure,’ she said.
The treads creaked underfoot as I bypassed the first floor full of more antiquarian curiosities and climbed to the second. My workshop was light and airy compared to the rooms below but as usual it was a mess. I could already hear voices downstairs as I walked over to the sash windows and heaved them open, welcoming the sunshine in, and for a minute I gazed down at the street below and then glanced over the rooftops of the buildings opposite, just able to glimpse the turrets of the castle on the other side of town. I’d known the view since I was a child, when the workshop belonged to my father.
Turning back to the room I looked at the mound of newly acquired stock stacked in the corner. Every weekend I went to local flea markets and car boots, on the hunt for unique treasures that people were throwing out, unable to see their potential as I did, and I rarely went away empty handed. Last Sunday had been no exception and amongst the goods I’d returned with were old baskets, copper pans, books and silverware. I crouched and lifted the lid of a vintage trunk, surveying the damage that years of neglect had inflicted. It had to be late nineteenth century and I frowned as I caught sight of a label stuck inside the lid and tried to read the handwriting. It had once belonged to a Madame Jeanne Hecquet from Paris and I pondered how it was that it had come to be in the middle of England. A little tender loving care would be required before the trunk was ready for the shop but I had seen worse.
Beside it sat a heap of enamelware and I picked up the nearest pitcher. It was a little rusty and chipped in places but once the dust was wiped away I knew it would look charming downstairs, perhaps displayed with some flowers in. My gaze then ran over a copper kettle and the ornate frame of a mirror before stopping on a painting. I leant forwards and picked it up. It was a landscape, the sky moody above a large majestic lake, and my eyes wandered over the surface of the canvas as I remembered the last time I had visited the Lake District. I’d been to many countries and places but nowhere for me had matched it. Richard had always been disparaging, unable to see what I did. To him it was just the place where he had grown up, nothing more, but if there was one thing I thanked him for, it was introducing us. The painting was shrouded in a crude frame and the glass was ill-fitting, but its housing for the past goodness knows how many years had at least kept it safe. I took it back to my desk and propped it up against the wall. Then I reached for a bottle of cleaner and a heavy copper pan.
By the time Charlie took her lunch break I had polished a set of six copper pans and a whole host of silver flatware, and I carried them downstairs where I set them down on a table. An elderly woman was deliberating over a coffer across the room, whispering with her friend, and having returned to the counter with a handful of books which needed pricing, I looked towards the door as it was pushed open. The man who walked in was tall and blonde, a few years older than myself with a smile that made me wish he had been sitting opposite me last night. Slowly he began to peruse the room and I looked back down at the book, but before I had chance to jot the price inside the cover he was standing in front of me.
‘Hi,’ he said. He was even better looking up close.
‘Hi,’ I repeated.
‘The tapestry hanging up behind you; is it French?’
‘Flemish,’ I said. ‘Fifteenth century.’
He wanted a closer look and before I could say personal space he had skirted around the counter and was standing next to me. I subtly shuffled backwards until I felt something behind my knees.
‘It depicts the Sybil of Cumae,’ I offered. ‘Here, you see?’
‘Yes, yes,’ he murmured, looking across at me with another smile and he only looked away after I did first and immediately I wished I hadn’t. I started reeling off some other facts, not to sound smart but to fill the slender gap between us with something other than an awkward silence, completely unaware that the woman interested in the coffer had crossed the room and was trying to get my attention.
‘Excuse me?’ she tried again in a meek voice.
This time I heard her and as I span back to the room my fingertips brushed the man’s thigh. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like such a clumsy fool and I didn’t need a mirror to know that I had instantly turned an unattractive shade of crimson. I clenched my fingers into fists, and biting my bottom lip I looked back at him.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I spluttered.
He didn’t say anything but it was clear from his expression that he was amused. I asked the ground to swallow me up but as the seconds on the grandfather clock ticked loudly by in the otherwise silent room, it seemed I’d have to make it out of there on my own. I looked down, my face screwed up in agony and at last sidled out from behind the counter.
‘How can I help you?’ I asked the elderly woman, trying to keep my voice level. She had all the characteristics of a mouse, from her rounded shoulders to the small hands which clutched her handbag tightly. She opened her mouth to speak but it was her friend beyond her shoulder who answered first.
‘We’d like to know your best price on this?’ she said curtly, her voice masculine and her expression stern.
She was the shape of a diamond but lacked the elegance of one and when I gave my answer she rebuffed it with a snort.
‘I don’t think so Julie, not for that.’
Julie glanced from me to the coffer and then back at her companion with fidgety lips as though she wanted to speak but daren’t. I could see it in her eyes that she wanted to say yes but her friend was already walking away, directing her towards another chest that was far inferior in quality and was reflected so in the price tag. ‘This one’s much better,’ she stated confidently.
Julie knew she was obliged to follow but didn’t.
‘It’s a lovely piece,’ I smiled, leading her back to the original coffer in question. ‘It’s made of oak and the craftsmanship is superb.’ I lifted the lid so that she could look inside and I watched as she gently ran her fingers over the dark wood. ‘It’s likely Elizabethan as you can tell from-’
‘It’s not as nice as this one,’ Julie’s friend interrupted as though determined she would be the one to decide.
Julie pulled back her hand like a child whose fingers had been caught in the biscuit tin and like a spurned hound, she peered over her shoulder before loyally, albeit with great reluctance, thanked me for my assistance and caught up with her companion.
I closed the coffer lid, unsure whether to be amused by the pair or not, and then sensed that someone was standing behind me.
‘I’ll take it,’ the blonde guy said as I turned around. ‘Could you hold it until next week?’
‘Sure,’ I said.
He left a deposit and a smile and when the doorbell rang again it was Charlie returning from her lunch break.
‘Hello, I’m back,’ she called but then stopped in her tracks as she saw me perched on the bottom tread of the staircase, lost in my thoughts. ‘Are you all right?’ she frowned.
‘Yes, I’m fine,’ I lied as I stood back up and walked over to the counter and the books that still needed pricing. I knew she didn’t believe me. I was a bad liar but I was incapable of putting what I felt into words even if I had the courage to talk about it out loud.
‘Nothing,’ I said, offering her the most convincing smile I could muster. ‘The tapestry’s sold by the way. A man’s coming back next week for it.’
When I got home I could see Modi lounging in the garden, soaking up the late afternoon sunshine, and I knew the others wouldn’t be far away. I unlatched the gate and suddenly they appeared, dashing towards me like I was the pied piper playing their favourite tune. I appreciated the greeting.
‘It’s good to see you too girls.’
Flicks was a meek white cat and loved to sleep in the most unusual of places. From the looks of her fur, speckled with compost, the wheelbarrow was currently her favourite spot to kip. Coco had undoubtedly spent the afternoon playing in the garden shed amongst the stacks of plant pots if her cobweb covered head was anything to go by. She was an adventurous sort and her fur a spotty mishmash of browns, white and ginger, almost as though she were wearing camouflage face paint. Then there was Mona, named so because she loved her food and didn’t stop moaning until she got it. She had a beautiful long grey coat and dewy eyes that never failed to win me over. Bea was hungry too but as usual one step ahead of everyone else, including me. I heard the shopping bag at my feet fall over and then saw, not to my surprise, her ginger tail poking out of it.
‘Hold on there you,’ I said, persuading her out and then picking the bag back up. ‘We’re not inside yet.’
Modi was still climbing to his feet, stretching as though he’d been in that spot amongst the geranium’s all afternoon, but by the time I unlocked the front door he’d caught us up. Excitably they circled my feet as we crossed the kitchen, their trust in me outweighing any fear of being trodden on, and then once I’d filled their bowls I continued on into the living room alone.
Having dropped into my chair I listened to the silence and my gaze bore into the vacant chair across from me until tears blurred it into obscurity. Richard had been there, in the back of my mind all day. Like every day. No matter how hard I tried I missed him. I was supposed to hate him after what he’d done but still I closed my eyes wanting to hear his voice. If I tried hard enough I almost could. I pretended I could feel his breath on my face, his hand in my hair, unable to imagine replacing him with someone else as he had done me. With a deep shaky breath I wiped the moisture from my face with the back of my hand and then opening my eyes felt, against all the odds, a spark of amusement lighten my load. Suddenly sitting in Richard’s chair and looking back at me, was Modi. I got up, walked over to the chair and sat down on the carpet then reached out with my fingertips and stroked his head, smiling as he nuzzled back into my hand. His fur was so smooth and as his chest slowly rose and fell beneath my hand and he looked back at me with large yellow eyes which seemed to gaze deeper than the surface, I felt a surge of love for him which had beaten back my tears more than once before.
‘What would I do without you?’ I said as he reached out towards my face with a paw as though trying to dry my cheeks.
Modi gave me strength at times like this like no person could and I knew that as long as he was there, I’d be okay. He was the man of the house now and I just hoped that unlike his predecessor, he would never abandon me.
‘Wow!’ My eyes widened as I looked at the cake my sister was holding, a large twenty-nine blaring more boldly than I felt from the iced summit. ‘Thank you,’ I said, retreating into the kitchen and welcoming Lou and her fiancé Tom indoors. ‘Drink?’
‘Oh yes,’ Lou replied, finding a space to slide the cake onto the counter. ‘Wine for me.’
My little sister had large green eyes and disciplined blonde hair that, as always, framed her face perfectly. Her dress was elegant but not over the top, her legs long and toned and suddenly I felt as though I’d gained twenty pounds, got dressed in a train toilet cubicle and completely forgotten to do my hair. I didn’t miss that her clutch matched Tom’s shirt either.
‘I’ll have a beer,’ he said.
Lou looked around and smiled. ‘It smells great in here.’
‘The others are in the living room,’ I said as I gave them their drinks and then tucked my loose blonde curls behind my ears.
There was another knock on the door. ‘Happy birthday Harriet.’
‘Last but not least,’ I smiled as I hugged my youngest brother. ‘It’s been way too long.’
‘You look nice,’ he said.
‘Thanks. You look great yourself!’ Ollie had a Mohican but that evening left it down so that his blonde hair fell limp across his left eye. His stubble was a couple of days old and he wore a leather jacket and jeans. ‘How are you?’ I asked.
‘Good,’ he nodded. ‘The train was hectic but I made it in one piece.’
‘I would have picked you up from the station you know?’ I said, smiling.
‘It’s okay, I knew you’d be busy.’
‘You want something to drink? Beer?’
I opened the fridge as laughter erupted from the living room which was by then very full and uncharacteristically bustling, chairs and stools fetched from all over to accommodate for everyone.
‘We’ve all been looking forward to seeing you,’ I said as I turned back to him. ‘Shall we go through?’
‘After you birthday girl,’ he said.
‘Ollie! Hey,’ my eldest brother cried as we walked through the door. His name was Will and he worked in advertising which is where he’d met Mel, the latest in his string of girlfriends. Then there was my brother Ryan, an architect and as I’d been told to expect, no Karen. Lou was a textile designer and had been engaged to Tom since New Year’s. My younger brother Chris was a journalist and had just moved in with his girlfriend Emily, and then, in the midst of their grown offspring were my parents.
Ollie was the youngest of us all and for him, music was his life. Since his band had been signed six months ago he’d barely seen any of us and as he was greeted with hugs and slaps on the back, I tried to remember the last time we had all been together in the same room. Out of the six of us, I was the only one who had not left the area where we had been raised and so occasions such as these were few and far between. Then I realised it had been the day I’d married Richard.
‘To you Harriet!’ Suddenly everyone was staring at me, their drinks held aloft. ‘Happy birthday!’ my dad said.
I smiled appreciatively, sipped my wine and waited for the talking to resume before I slipped off to the kitchen. Pull yourself together, I told myself angrily and then sighed as I knocked a spoon onto the floor. Bending down to pick it up I only then noticed that the four legged members of my large family were hiding under the table and the creases fell out of my brow.
‘Don’t be scared,’ I whispered. They weren’t used to so many people.
Startled, I glanced up to find that Lou was standing in the doorway. I didn’t think she’d waste much time in cornering me but still I hadn’t expected her onslaught of questions just yet, and from the look on her face she was getting straight to the point.
‘You didn’t return my call last night,’ she said. ‘How did it go? What did you think of him?’
I stood back up and grabbed an oven mitt. ‘Nice, I guess.’
‘Nice?’ Lou sounded less than impressed with me.
‘Wasn’t Richard,’ she interrupted and heaving a sigh I turned away from her. ‘For God’s sake Harriet, you can’t just keep collecting cats until you’ve matched Richard’s body mass in fur and whiskers, although admittedly you’re about there.’
Lou was always quick to get bullish and I wished she’d drop the subject. ‘That’s not what I’m doing,’ I said, my brow creasing, and then Modi crept out from under the table and rubbed against my ankle. ‘Though they do help,’ I added quietly.
‘What helps,’ she said, ‘is getting back out there. Meet new guys.’
How did she know, I thought. How did she know how it felt to wake up in an empty bed, my husband gone and nothing but a letter left to explain it all? Just a letter; as though I deserved nothing more. But, as usual, I didn’t say anything out loud. I knew she wouldn’t listen. I’d lose the debate as soon as start it so instead I nodded dutifully and murmured some sort of agreement then went to take the cottage pie out of the oven whether the top was golden brown yet or not. A room full of hungry guests waiting next door was as good an excuse as any to head for the exit.
‘I just want you to be happy,’ she said, her hand falling on my arm. ‘You know that right?’
I forced myself to look at her and knew she meant it. ‘I know.’
She smiled and then realising Modi was at my feet abruptly she bent down and picked him up. ‘I tell you what though, he’d make a cracking pair of gloves.’
Modi started to squirm and Lou frowned, confused why he’d want to escape.
‘Hey, I didn’t mean it,’ she frowned and then she let out a little scream as he at last wriggled free and ran from the kitchen. ‘He scratched me,’ she said. ‘Look at that,’ she insisted, showing me a minute mark on the back of her hand.
I looked and made the right noises to imply my sympathy but couldn’t deny that behind the facade I was hiding a small smile.
‘Anything I can do to help?’ my mum asked, at that moment appearing in the doorway.
‘Perfect timing,’ I replied. ‘Let’s eat.’
‘Sorry it’s a bit tight,’ I apologised once we’d pushed some tables together in the living room and everyone began to squeeze round.
‘If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s sharing,’ my dad smiled, shuffling along to his seat. ‘We’ve had to do it enough over the years.’
He was right; we’d grown up in a small three bedroom cottage with no back garden. Now elbow to elbow around the table once more I was reminded of those days, and judging from the conversation as we ate, I wasn’t the only one.
When it came to the cake I blew out the candles of which, to my insistence, we were several short and once we could eat no more I was bombarded with gifts. Looking at the assortment of strangely shaped packages in front of me I could already see a certain theme running through them all. If the paper wasn’t covered in cats it was paw patterned and I soon discovered that what waited inside was little different. There was a cat shaped mug; an apron with a cat on the front; a cat decorated laptop bag; a cat tablecloth; cat stationary; and some chocolate mice. Lou’s smile was the broadest of all as I unwrapped a pair of knickers stamped with crazy cat lady on the bum.
‘I couldn’t resist,’ she grinned.
I smiled along with everyone else but couldn’t deny that deep down inside something was niggling at me. What had happened, I asked myself. Not that long ago I hadn’t even considered having a cat, never mind five. In fact until I found that small needy family I hadn’t had an animal in my life. Venturing into the pet aisle for the first time had felt as foreign as finding my way round the plumbing section when there had been a leak under the kitchen sink, and yet it was official; I had become The Crazy Cat Lady of the family. But I wasn’t a slightly insane old woman dressed in fur covered cardigans that watched cat videos on YouTube. I didn’t hold the record for singlehandedly clearing the shop shelves of tinned tuna in thirty seconds flat and as yet I hadn’t put them all in a pram and taken them for a walk as though they were the children I didn’t have.
But I’d found five abandoned kittens, taken them in, and for it I’d been branded. I wondered whether I should speak up. Should I argue my case before it was too late? But it was like being declared insane, anything I said disregarded and simply considered only further evidence of my condition.
‘Karen’s been pestering for a cat,’ Ryan commented, breaking my train of thought. ‘I don’t suppose you have one spare do you Harriet?’
‘I’d love one too,’ Mel added, looking sideways at Chris as though it had long been a point of contention.
I looked back down at the gifts I’d received and realised that this was my last chance. I could still turn back if I really wanted. I could give them all away, pass off the title and indeed put it down to a brief spell of insanity.
But at that moment I saw Bea peep her nose around the corner of the door and smiled. That day, when we’d first met, that box of kittens had rescued me as much as I had rescued them. The rest of the world didn’t have to understand. What did it matter what they thought or said? If I was honest I no longer had a choice, it had been made two months ago, and so despite any doubts my answer to Ryan’s question was no.
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