PEGGY by Judith Kelman

Peggy looked with some displeasure at the large birdcage in the corner of her cluttered living room. How much nicer it would be if they had a cat! Cats, she thought to herself, are more companionable; they sit on your lap, and sleep on your pillow and groom your hair.

As if it had heard her thoughts, the exotic green bird flapped its wings and squawked at her, “I’m a pretty bird.” The bird belonged to her companion Alison, who disliked cats, but had other redeeming qualities that sort of made up for it.

Peggy and Alison lived in a rambling 1930’s house on Hampstead Heath. Alison had been widowed at 43 but Peggy had never been married in her 63 years. A retired teacher, Peggy considered herself to be socially aware, and was an enthusiastic and committed socialist. Since her retirement she had had many adventures, helping needy children and women in her locality. A quiet and self-effacing woman, Peggy had a passion for books, and the history of women in particular. All her rooms had at least one bookcase, and almost every week she came home from her trawl of charity shops with newly found treasures to fill up the already overflowing shelves.

With a sigh, Peggy glared at the bird and told it she was going to get a cat one day. “Then look out! Why shouldn’t I have a cat?”

It was six years since her lovely Poppykins had taken her last journey to the Vet. Alison shouldn’t have everything her own way, and anyway, birds in cages did not seem right at all.

Not having married, Peggy’s one regret in life was not having had any children, and she secretly worried about dying alone and not being found for weeks. Meeting Alison at a history appreciation class was like a gift falling into her lap. Alison needed a home and Peggy needed company. They got on well, Alison was like the daughter Peggy never had, and the compromises Peggy had to make seemed small in comparison to the benefits of a companion. Her yearning for another cat was put to the back of her mind so as to accommodate ‘the bird.’

Turning to leave the room, Peggy’s eye was caught by her reflection in the mirror. “Oh goodness!” she breathed, “What a mouse I have become. How did I become so old?” Fluffing up her hair and straightening her shoulders, she walked quickly towards the kitchen to begin cooking lunch.

“Mm-yes.” she murmered to herself, “Let’s have some music while we work. Brian Ferry should do the trick.”

Peggy found the music she wanted and was soon humming along when there was an unfamiliar sound along with Brian Ferry’s singing that she hadn’t noticed before. “I don’t remember that noise in the music before.”

She listened intently for the high-pitched squeaking sound, then realized it wasn’t coming from the disc player, but somewhere in the room. Turning off the player, Peggy listened again.

“Meow.” Then “Meow, meow, meowow!”

She spotted him on the outside of her window: a small, black and fluffy bag of bones that looked like he hadn’t eaten for weeks. Peggy ran to the door and looked out. The little cat did not hesitate, he jumped down from the windowsill and ran straight in.

“Oh dear, what can I give you? I haven’t had a cat for so long, I don’t have any cat food now.” Peggy searched in the refrigerator and found some milk and a leftover piece of ham, which she offered the little cat. All of it went in a flash and Peggy ventured a little stroke of his fur. He didn’t flinch. So far so good.

Peggy went on to prepare her lunch and afterwards sat down to listen to the radio. The little cat followed her and soon they were both asleep, the cat curled up in her lap.

Some time later they were surprised by Alison’s return from work, and Peggy instinctively reached to protect her new acquisition, fearful that Alison would object.

“What’s this? asked Alison, glancing anxiously towards her little green bird. “You can’t keep it!”

“It came to me,” retorted Peggy, “he came to me. What could I do? He’s all alone and he’s been neglected and starved. Would you want me to put him back outside in the cold?”

“What if he attacks Alfie? How will you feel then?”

“Well.” Peggy put on a persuasive voice and struggled to find the right words. “Mmn yes, but maybe he won’t hurt the bird at all. Not all cats catch birds. We’ll be careful.” She clutched the little cat even closer to her and he purred loudly.

“Oh dear” sighed Alison. “I don’t really like cats. Wouldn’t it be better if you took him to a rescue centre?”

“Well, I do like cats, and I have been wanting another one for a long time, but I haven’t had one because of Alfie.” Peggy’ lip trembled and she stroked the cat possessively. “Maybe Alfie could stay in your room, at least to start with. Don’t let’s fall out.”

Alison compromised and took Alfie to live in her room for a while. She just hoped he wouldn’t keep her awake at night. Peggy was kind, she had taken her into her home, and of course she should have a cat if she wished to.

Next day Alison arrived home with a present for Peggy, a bunch of flowers and some cat food. Peggy had been upset all day and felt so relieved that Alison was being reasonable after all.

“I think my charity work will include cats from now on,” Peggy smiled through her tears. Alison gave her a hug and they sat down for a cup of tea and a chat about their day, and what ever had been in the news.

“Did you hear on the news today that women bishops might be a reality soon?” Peggy had strong views on the subject. “I can’t wait for the day!” She smiled at Alison.

They both looked fondly at the little black cat asleep on Peggy’s chair. “What will you call him?”
“Mmn yes, what about Bishop? It might help to make him grow fit and strong.”
The cat woke and stretched out a paw towards Alison.
“Hello Bishop,” she called. “Welcome to the family.”