Miss Maggie shuffled to the stove and gave the cat a pat. He was a massive grey tabby of uncertain temperament called Looky. It seemed to me that he risked being roasted alive but the old ladies said he loved the heat and moved on when the end he curled up on heated up too much for his liking. It was a huge stove, a relative of the AGA, and varied in temperature from sizzling at one end to cat-comforting warmth at the other.
I say old ladies but they were probably only in their late sixties when I was twelve. I’d known Miss Maggie and Lily all my life. They lived on the last farm in the mountains where Dad delivered fuel and orders from the town shops and collected cans of milk and cream for the butter factory. On Saturdays, because there was no school, I often went on the early morning run. I enjoyed all the farm stops but Miss Maggie and Lily were my special loves.
It was mainly because they fed me; I admit to being a greedy child. Miss Maggie was always wrapped in a padded dressing gown, tied tightly around where her waist would be if she had one. She shuffled because she wore her brother’s cast off brown tartan woollen slippers; dragging rather than lifting her feet to progress. She’d reach into the bulging pocket of her dressing gown and bring out a handful of walnuts from the tree in the garden, or some powerful mints sent by a brother in England. I liked best the days she went to the pantry and came back with some savoury biscuits, shaped rather like fish. They were crisp and flaky and tasted vaguely of chicken but mainly of salty pastry. These biscuits, or crackers I suppose they were really, represented the height of sophistication to me who was used to Mum’s gingernuts and jam drops. We never had savoury biscuits!
The kettle on the hot part of the stove would begin to sing, a sign for Lily to emerge from her room and supervise the tea-making. She was also clad in a dressing gown but wore her own well-fitting slippers, and was as thin and bony as her sister was round and comfortable. Her glasses, perched on the end of her nose, steamed up as she warmed the pot then poured boiling water onto the fragrant leaves.
This whole procedure was carefully timed and just as cups were being filled Dad would appear in the kitchen. He’d make himself a piece of toast, turning the thick slab of bread on its wire toasting fork over the flames in the firebox. Today he had a large box with him and I wondered what was in it. Nothing, it seemed, on closer investigation.
There was so much more to come on that dreadful and wonderful morning. When tea had been drunk and toast eaten Dad went to the stove and carefully picked up Looky. The cat was put unceremoniously and firmly into the box which the old ladies tied up with string. The cat in the box was carried out to the truck and placed in the passenger footwell, so I had to sit with my feet resting on it. All the long drive home Looky yowled and cried and I cried a bit too, not being at all sure of his fate.
We turned into the driveway, and I finally asked Dad what was going to happen to Looky. I’d dreaded that he was going to be ‘put down’, a fate threatened to our own pets when they behaved badly. We were all animal-mad and couldn’t believe it would really happen.
‘Why, he’s coming to live with us, of course!’ Dad said. ‘Miss Maggie and Lily have sold the farm and have to move into town with their brother. They can’t have pets so they asked me to help find a home for him. He’s pretty old now and it’s best he goes to someone he knows.’
Surprisingly Looky fitted into the household well and as we only had a small stove, he soon found his own warm spot on the hot water system.
The other day I came across the note Lily had written to accompany him, setting out his habits and food preferences. I realised that his name was actually Loki, after the Norse god of mischief. It figures, she was a classical scholar of some notoriety.