The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton


It is lunch time. Everyone is sitting around the kitchen table chatting. Through the open window they can hear the two dogs next door. They are barking.

"I wish we could have a dog," says Joe. He likes the two Chihuahuas who live over the fence. Their names are Tommy and Coco. They are only small but they are very lively. They race up and down the garden. It would be good to have a dog to play with.

"We can't have a dog," says Mum. "You know that. We don't have fences all round the garden. A dog would run away up the street."

Joe sighs. A dog could be a best friend type of pet. Edward had once thought Jeremy would be his best friend. But Joe thinks a dog would make a much better pet than a lorikeet.

Mum has a thoughtful look on her face. "But a cat doesn't need a garden with fences," she says. "Cats climb over fences. Perhaps we could have a cat."

"Really?" asks Kate. She looks at Dad. Dad isn't a pet lover. Would Dad really let them have a cat?

"We could go and have a look in the pet shop," suggests Mum. "She turns to Dad and says, "What do you think? Shall we take a trip into town?"

"Clean up the dishes first," says Dad. "The quicker the jobs get done, the quicker we can go out."

The children are amazed. Dad is taking them to the pet shop! They can't believe Mum is thinking about a pet cat. They didn't even ask her if they could have one.

As everyone climbs into the van, Mum says, "We are going to look in the pet shop but we might not get a cat. You'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Everyone is very excited. Even though Mum said they might not come home with a cat, they all imagine coming back with a little kitten.

Edward imagines a tough little cat that he could call Tiger. It would have to have stripes. Perhaps it would be a Bengal.

Kate's perfect cat would be a white ball of fluff, a Persian cat that would need to be brushed every day. She wouldn't mind doing all the grooming.

Joe imagines a sleek Burmese cat that would slink around with its nose in the air.

Celeste likes the sound of a rag doll kitten. She doesn't know what they look like but they sound very cute. She hopes the pet shop has one of those.

Lizzie's imaginary cat is soft and cuddly. It would sleep on her lap.

Annie doesn't mind what sort of cat they have as long as she can carry it around. She wants to call it ‘Kitty'.

There are two kittens in the window of the pet shop. They are both magnificent cats. "They are Abyssinians," says Kate. She has read some cat books from the library.

Everyone troops through the door of the shop and a lady comes hurrying to greet them.

Mum asks how much the Abyssinians are. When the lady tells her the price, Dad shakes his head. All the children sigh.

"Have you any other cats?" asks Mum.

"Oh yes," says the pet shop lady. "We have a kitten over here." She leads them across the shop to a cage where a tiny, fluffy, tortoiseshell cat looks out at the Nicklebys. The lady reaches into the cage and picks the kitten up and then hands her to Kate. All of a sudden, the cat starts to purr. It's not a little kitten-sized purr. It is a loud tiger-sized purr.

"Oh she likes us," exclaims Kate.

Everyone wants to hold the kitten. She is passed around. The kitten gets a bit frightened and she digs her claws into Lizzie. Lizzie tries not to complain. She doesn't mind a few scratches as long as they get to take the kitten home.

Everyone has forgotten their imaginary cats. All they want now is this beautiful tortoiseshell bundle of fur. But no-one wants to ask Mum and Dad if they can buy the kitten. Perhaps the answer will be "No." They look at Mum and then they look at Dad.

Mum looks at Dad too. Dad shrugs his shoulders. "You know I am not a pet lover. It's up to you, dear," he says.

Mum says nothing about how a pet involves a lot of responsibility. She doesn't mention all the work that is involved in looking after a kitten. She knows the children remember Jeremy, especially Edward. She knows they learnt a lot looking after that naughty bird.

"Yes, we'll have her," says Mum. Everyone jumps up and down. Mum smiles and tells the children to calm down. They all feel happy and that makes Mum feel happy too.

Soon they arrive back home. Kate has the little kitten in her arms. She thinks, "A few hours ago we didn't have a pet cat. Now we have a beautiful kitten of our very own."

"I didn't realise a cat needs so much stuff," grumbles Dad. He is carrying in the cat's litter tray and her bed and her food and lots of other odds and ends.

Once they are all inside the front door, Kate puts the cat on the floor. It pads down the hall. It wants to explore.

"Can I hold the cat?" asks Lizzie.

"I hold Kitty?" asks Annie.

Mum says the cat needs time to settle in. "Just let her roam about for a while." The children let the kitten continue her exploring but they don't go away. They follow close behind her watching everything she does. They all watch except for Dad. Dad has already disappeared. He has gone into the garage to do some work. He is not a pet lover.

"Why don't you choose a name for her?" suggests Mum.

Everyone starts thinking about suitable names for a beautiful long haired kitten. Edward finds a piece of paper and he starts writing down possibilities. Annie still likes the name Kitty. Someone else shouts out, "Fluff Ball."

Soon Edward has a list of names: Kitty, Fluff Ball, Pumpkin, Muffin, Lily, Phoebe, Poppy, Ellie and Honey. Joe likes ‘Scarface Claw'. But all the girls protest. "That isn't a good name for a beautiful cat." It takes quite some time before everyone can agree on just one name. Then Kate announces, "Our kitten's name is Poppy."

Poppy seems very happy with her name and her new family. She purrs like a little engine. Mum is a bit worried though. All the children want to pick Poppy up at once. They keep fighting over her. Poppy likes all the attention. But Mum does not like all the arguing. Soon she has had enough. She tells the children to put Poppy down and go and do something else for a while. Poppy jumps onto the sofa and curls up in a little ball. Soon she is fast asleep.

Poppy has a lot to learn. She has to learn not to scratch everything with her sharp little claws. Dad gets very upset. "She'll ruin the furniture," he grumbles. "Do something about it."

Edward fixes this problem. He brings home a scratching post the next time he goes into town with Dad.

Then Poppy has to learn not to play with the blinds or jump on the table. "She'll have those blinds down," shouts Dad. "And I don't want that cat on the table where we put food."

The children are worried. What if Dad gets fed up with Poppy? They might have to find her a new home. Then Kate remembers the water bottle she used when she was training Jeremy not to nip. It works perfectly with Poppy too. Poppy hates being squirted. She runs away as soon as she is sprayed. After a short time, she runs away as soon as she sees the bottle. Soon she no longer plays with the blinds or jumps up on the table.

The children have a lot to learn too. They have to learn how to groom Poppy. Because of her long hair, she needs a bath once a week. The first time Kate and Edward try to bath Poppy, she claws her way up Kate's arms and clings to Kate's head. Kate looks very funny with a wet cat sitting on top of her hair like a hat. But Kate is not amused. Edward and Kate don't know what to do. They don't want to ask for help. Dad said it is up to the children to look after Poppy. The cat is their pet. But Dad hears Poppy mewing. He pops his head around the laundry door and sees Kate's worried face. "I'll help," he says. His big strong hands hold Poppy firmly. Kate soaps the kitten up and Edward rinses her with cupfuls of clean warm water.

Kate wraps the wet cat in an old towel. Poppy looks so small and thin, more like a rat than a cat. When she has been rubbed dry, Celeste is allowed to brush her fur. Poppy smells so good. She looks so fluffy. But Poppy is not very happy. She crawls off looking for somewhere to hide by herself.

The children also have to learn how to give Poppy her worming tablets. Edward and Kate try very hard to open Poppy's mouth and force her to swallow the little pill. But Poppy just will not take her medicine. Again, Dad comes to the rescue. Even he has a bit of trouble. But eventually the little white pill disappears down Poppy's throat. Edward, Kate and Dad are relieved. They are also tired. It was hard work struggling with the cat. Poppy is not happy again. She crawls off to her secret hiding place once more, feeling very sorry for herself.

Poppy settles into the family very quickly. She is a lot of fun. Edward and Joe roll a ball down the hall for Poppy. The kitten charges after the ball. She skids, she grabs the ball and then she turns head-over-heels as she comes to a stop. Poppy races through her cat tunnel. She plays tug of war with a soft toy. She makes everyone laugh.

And when Poppy is tired she goes looking for someone to snuggle up to while she has a nap. Sometimes she just goes looking for company. She thinks everyone's laps belong to her. Sometimes Poppy is a bit of a nuisance. She sits on everyone's books. She sits on Mum's knitting. Poppy even tries to sit on Dad's computer keyboard. She soon learns Dad does not like this. No-one but Dad minds when Poppy gets in the way.

One day, everyone except Dad has to go out. "What about Poppy?" asks Celeste. "Who will look after Poppy?"

"Poppy can look after herself," says Mum. "And anyway, Dad is at home." But Dad doesn't look like he wants to look after the cat.

A long time later, Mum arrives back home with the children. It is all very quiet in the house. They search each room looking for Dad and Poppy. Kate finds them both in the lounge room. "Look," she whispers. "Look at Dad and Poppy." Dad is lying on his back on the sofa. He is fast asleep. Right on top of Dad, snuggled down under his chin, is Poppy. She is also fast asleep.

Annie makes a bit of a noise and Dad wakes up. He opens his eyes. He feels Poppy's soft fur under his chin. Then he looks up and sees Mum. He says sheepishly, "Poppy was a bit lonely. I had to give her a cuddle. There was no-one else at home. What could I do?" The children smile. "Actually," Dad admits, "Poppy is a rather magnificent cat. I guess I'm a pet lover after all."

Later, Kate and Mum are talking. "I am so glad we have Poppy," says Kate. "Everyone loves her, even Dad. She's the first pet we've had that's become a real part of the family. But I just can't believe we actually have her. I was so surprised when you suggested we went to the pet shop to look for a cat."

"It was a really special moment, wasn't it?" replies Mum. "It was a magic moment. Every now and then things happen that you never expect. You remember those moments forever."

Kate sits quietly, stroking Poppy and thinking about magic moments. She remembers when Mum bought her that gorgeous pink dress she really wanted. She didn't even have time to ask Mum if she could have it. Mum just seemed to know Kate really wanted that dress. That was a magic moment. And how about when Granny turned up on the doorstep unexpectedly and announced that she was taking Kate to the city to see a ballet. She'd felt so special that day. She remembers when Edward suddenly offered to give her his stamp collection. It had taken Edward so long to collect all the stamps. But Edward was willing to give them to her because she'd liked them so much.

Then Kate realises that magic moments don't just happen. People make them happen. It was Mum and Granny and Edward who'd given her all those special moments. And then Kate thinks of something else. Perhaps she can make a magic moment of her own for someone else.

Mum is also thinking about magic moments. She is thinking that when you make someone happy, you feel really happy yourself. She is so glad that the thought of getting a pet cat had popped into her head on that very memorable day. She reaches across Kate, scoops up Poppy and hugs her close.

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