This story is by Alice Neilson and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She had taken no notice of him at first, bustling past him huddled under her jacket from the rain.
But once she was a few metres ahead of him her feet stopped. She took two more steps, and then stopped again. She sighed and turned around to face him, squinting through the rain and trying fruitlessly to wipe it from her face.
He was stuck in the gutter, slowly lifting a paw to cling onto the edge of the footpath. But water was gushing past him, shoving at his legs and drenching his body. His paw slipped from the ledge, and he fell with a breathless “mew” into the rushing water.
Her face crumpled. He looked just like Toby; the old family cat that got trapped outside in the storm last year. They had found him limp and cold, stuck inside the porch railings. They hadn’t heard his cries through the wind and rain. He’d spent his last night alone, desperately calling out for them, but nobody came.
She’d decided they would never have another cat after that.
She turned to run away home. But she looked back at him, and he stared up at her with wide, beseeching eyes.
She rushed over to him and crouched down. His back legs scrambled beneath him as he tried to heave his paws up to her, but she caught them in both hands.
She thought briefly of her Mum’s face when she arrived home with clothes soaked-through. But decided a little more water wouldn’t hurt, plopped her bum down on the path, and lifted the soggy body into her lap.
He sat on her knee trembling as watery sneezes puffed out his dripping nose, and She felt his heart slamming against her as she stroked his fur.
Her finger bumped up and down when she ran her hand along his spine, and his hip-bones stabbed against his skin so hard it looked like they might pierce through.
She leaned her face in close.
“Did someone throw you away?” She asked, rubbing his head.
She took off her Jacket, tucked it all around him, and snuggled him against her until his heart became a gentle flutter she could barely feel.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, brushing the rain-drops off his whiskers. “I won’t let anything else hurt you.”
When they arrived home her mother’s frown greeted her at the door. But when she held out her small emaciated bundle the frown fell away, revealing a teary-eyed smile.
When he was dry and roaming around the living-room her Mum noticed his swollen belly.
At first, they thought he might have been a she who was carrying kittens. But when he lifted up his tail and it became extremely evident that he, in fact, was not a she, they quickly booked an appointment with the vet.
And now here they were; girl and cat, sitting side-by-side at the window watching water trickle down the glass.
She looked down at her new friend as a sob rushed up from her stomach. A tumour, invading his tummy and squashing all of his insides. He had about a week, the Vet had said, before he became too uncomfortable and the suffering would be cruel.
“What about taking it out?” She’d asked.
But the Vet had said he was too old, it wouldn’t be fair to force him through that.
She stared down at him, and he gazed up at her with leaky green eyes.
“I have a week to love you,” she said, tears dripping onto his fur as she leaned down to kiss him. He “mewed” in response, and nestled himself against her leg, resting his head on her knee.
She hadn’t been able to see his age at the Vet clinic. But now as she stared at him she could see the grey flecked through the black around his nose and eyes.
Still, she didn’t tell her Mum that night when he had a very sloppy accident on her bedroom floor. Instead she crept outside to the sand-pit and retrieved her spade while rain seeped through her pyjamas. Then she scooped the smelly mess into the bin, sponged the carpet, and moved her beanbag over the stain.
She lifted him into bed with her, and held up the blankets for him to crawl underneath. He curled up beside her shoulder and nuzzled his nose into her neck. That was the first time she heard him purr.
The following day the sun managed to break through the clouds, so she took him out into the garden. He sunk down lazily into the grass and rolled over, showing his belly to the sky.
They lay for hours together, watching the birds spread black freckles through the air as the daisies gently swayed around their heads.
Later, she lay on the grass reading while he snoozed with his nose resting on her stomach. His head bobbed up and down when she giggled and he purred loudly, his body a tiny motor at her side.
They stayed that way until the sun drooped low in the sky, and the twittering in the trees slowly drained into the hoots from the owls.
She didn’t tell her Mum when he struggled to make it through his dinner, and she threw the remainder of his bowl out the window.
When he vomited on the kitchen floor she quickly mopped it up with a paper towel, wrapped him up in a blanket and took him off to bed.
She tucked him into his spot beside her shoulder, and laughed as he poked out his tongue to lick her neck.
His purr was loud at first, but as he closed his eyes a small rattling sound crept through. By the time he was asleep the rattles had become squeaky, and his body squeezed in hard at the sides as he breathed.
The next morning she had school, and he sat at the window watching her as she sauntered down the path towards the bus.
She couldn’t really see him from the road, but she could just make out the shape of his little head, and she waved, smiling as the bus pulled away.
When she arrived back home in the afternoon she walked through the door to find him still waiting at the window. Only now he was lying on his side, and his breaths seemed to be stuck inside him, trying to claw their way out. His body heaved, but all he could do was pant.
Her bag fell on the floor as she dropped to her knees, collapsing forward onto the carpet.
Her Mum came and sat by her side while her silent cries morphed into giant sobs.
After a few minutes she pulled him to her and cradled him in her arms.
“That wasn’t enough time,” she whispered. “He hasn’t had enough love.”
Her Mum reached down and stroked his fur. “I think you’ve given him plenty.”
She gently brushed her Mum’s arm away and looked down at him.
He turned his head up to her, and his large eyes stared into hers before his head flopped back down onto her knee.
She slowly looked up at her Mum and nodded.
The smell of anti-septic prickled her nose as she carried him through the clinic door all bundled up in his blanket.
The cool of the room settled on her skin and seeped through to her bones, and the air in her lungs became trapped inside her thick sobs. Her body began quivering, and she hugged him closer to her chest.
He poked out his tongue and brushed it over her hands, softly grooming each of her finger tips as he began to purr.
The small vibrations rippled through her body with a warmth that lifted the air from her chest, and trickled a tiny smile over her face.
The table stood waiting in the middle of the room. She gradually moved towards it, slowly edged him away from her body, and placed him down.
She kept one arm wrapped round him, and tucked the blanket up under his body. He settled himself in, softly kneading the fabric, then curling his legs up beneath him.
Her mother stood by her as the Vet prepped his skin, and they both showered him with little scratches and long, lingering strokes.
Her tears came down as the needle pricked him. But he looked up at her, and his eyes seemed to twinkle as he blinked. She rubbed his fuzzy head and felt her mouth draw up at the corners.
She pulled him in to her as his breathing slowed, and he stared up at her as his eye-lids began to droop.
She cradled his head in her hands, then leaned down so that they were nose-to-nose.
He blinked at her once…twice.
As his chest stopped moving, and his eyes finally closed she nuzzled her face into his cheek.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Nothing will hurt you anymore.”