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The Marmalade Cat


Carlisle Mulrooney was three years old. He sat by the living room window with his chin on the sill, sniffing the musty old windowpane glass while he stared at the tree in his strange new yard.

Raindrops splattered against the glass and dripped from the roof with a rhythmic plop.

     Carlisle got up from the window and moped towards his room, past brown cardboard boxes marked with black magic marker, stacked not too neatly all over the house.

     Carlisle’s new bedroom was upstairs at the end of the hall.  He hopped up the stairs one by one, swinging his arms and stomping his feet, all the while chanting “Ribbit Ribbit Ribbit”, pretending he was a frog.

  Carlisle asked his mom where the elevator was.  Their apartment in the city had been on the fifth floor.  He used to love pushing the buttons ‘til they all lit up, riding the elevator right to the top. 

Carlisle’s mother laughed and gave him a hug, explaining that he was a big boy now, and big boys climbed up the stairs to get to their room.

     The upstairs hallway in Carlisle’s new house was empty, yellow and echoed.  Carlisle tested the echo with lungs full of air ’til his mother’s face appeared through the door and she told him to hush and go play in his room.

  Carlisle’s sneakers squeaked on the shiny wood floor when he scuffed his feet, so he scuffed his way down to the end of the hall.

     Carlisle’s bedroom was crowded with boxes and things.  He’d searched the boxes already for toys but found mostly clothes.  Carlisle’s bedroom was painted purple like grape lollipops.  Carlisle jumped on his bed and rolled back and forth ‘til he felt slightly dizzy and had to sit up.

     Tired of jumping and rolling on his new bed until he made himself dizzy, Carlisle jumped off the bed to inspect the edge of the room. He inspected a crack between the floor and the wall.  There he found dust balls, a penny and an upside-down ladybug crying for help.

     Carlisle put the penny in his pocket and rescued the ladybug. 

When his mother checked in on him, Carlisle showed her the penny he’d found. She promised that if he was good, they could go to the store later that day and buy gum.

     Carlisle’s mother went downstairs to work in the kitchen, scouring cupboards and mopping the floor.  By noon Carlisle’s mom had pulled all the dishes from their moving boxes and put them away. She called to Carlisle to come downstairs for lunch.

     It was cool outside and continued to rain. Carlisle went downstairs for lunch, completely bored and feeling a bit blue.  He sat on a box, munching a peanut butter sandwich, crunching bites from a great big dill pickle and slurping down gulps from a glass of fruit punch. 

His mother looked tired and a little bit grumpy, so Carlisle quietly finished eating his lunch without making a mess and went back upstairs.

     Carlisle’s bedroom window looked out towards a big shady tree in the yard.  He could sit on his bed with his feet hanging down and see a musty old shed and a fence behind the big tree in his new yard. 

     It was raining too hard to go outside to play. Carlisle stood up and pressed his nose to the glass, looking straight down all the way to the ground.  The rain had made puddles as big as a lake.  Carlisle couldn’t wait for the sun to come out so he could find a big stick to make into a boat, or maybe he’d fish for a polka-dot shark.

     Carlisle fell asleep dreaming of fishing and boats and polka dot sharks that ate hot dogs with ketchup and relish for lunch. 

Meanwhile, out in the dark shadowed coolness of the musty old shed, watching the rain from a perch on a shelf, another small creature fell slowly asleep, tired from doing nothing fun or exciting all day, and certainly not going out in the rain.

     Now Tom was just that – a high stepping, yellow eyed, marmalade cat, claiming the old shed as his bachelor’s pad.

Tom wandered the fences and back yards at night, dining from garbage cans when their lids weren’t shut tight.

Tom’s favorite garbage can feast was fish fry, fresh from the neighborhood’s Friday night trash.

     One afternoon Carlisle was playing out in the yard. Carlisle still felt lonely and not quite at home.

     Suddenly, Carlisle saw something dart through a hole in the fence near the back of the yard.

     Carlisle ran over and got down on his belly to see.  He scrunched his face right up to the hole with his head tilted sideways and one eye shut tight. Staring back from the other side of the hole were the yellow-orange eyes of a marmalade cat. 

Carlisle smiled at Tom, but Tom strutted off with his tail held high.  The last thing Tom wanted in his yard was a tail pulling brat.

               Carlisle asked about cats at supper that night.  Where did cats sleep?  What did cats eat? 

Carlisle imagined the marmalade cat slept in a cat bed in the shed and chased mice and birds to fill his tummy while he awaited the next neighborhood garbage can Friday night fish fry feast.

     Carlisle decided not to tell on the cat.  He kept it a secret all to himself.

     Tom was careful how he came and went.  Every night after dark, Tom would sneak out through the hole in the fence.  He’d come home each morning at quarter past three, to sleep in the shed in his spot on the shelf.

     Carlisle sat watching the hole for a while each day, hoping to catch a glimpse of the marmalade cat, but nothing appeared except ants on parade.

     Sometimes Tom would peek through the window from his perch on the shelf, spying on Carlisle and chuckling to himself.

     Then suddenly one day without warning, Carlisle’s dad put a new latch on the shed and shut the door tight ’til it closed with a THUMP! Tom watched through the window from his shelf hiding spot in the shed.

“OH NO!”

Tom thought to himself.

“What Happens Now?!!”

     That night Tom got no dinner to eat.  Tom awoke in the morning with a growl in his tummy.  He was a little bit frightened and getting quite hungry.

     Tom was afraid he’d surely be found and carted away to the stray cat pound.  He’d seen other cats being carted away and put in cages with no room to play.  Tom did not want to stay trapped there inside that cat jail.

     Tom stared out from cat jail into the yard.  There he spotted the boy who he’d met at the fence. Tom didn’t want help from any tail pulling brat, but his tummy was growling, and he needed a snack.  So, Tom let loose with a great big MEOW!!!  Tom meowed several times from the dusty old shed, trying to make Carlisle hear what he said.

     Carlisle sat making dandelion piles, wishing he could play in his yard with a friend, when he heard meowing from inside the shed.

  Carlisle went to the shed window to see what was making the noise.  There trapped in cat jail sat the marmalade cat.

Tom looked at Carlisle with big yellow eyes. 

“Just open the door,” Tom wanted to say.

“Just open the door and help me escape this cat jail, and I’ll be the best friend you’ll ever have with a tail.”

     Carlisle unlatched the latch and creaked open the shed door just a crack. Tom scooted out and escaped his cat jail through the hole in the fence.

     When it was lunchtime and his tummy grumbled, Carlisle sat munching a peanut butter sandwich, dill pickle and a glass of fruit punch.  Carlisle was a bit sad that the marmalade cat had run off.  Carlisle wanted a friend who would play and share lunch.

     Carlisle kept one eye on the hole in the fence.  He didn’t see anything but ants on parade. He was bored with the dandelion pile he’d made, when a strange sort of noise suddenly made him look up. Right there above him, stretched out on the fence, purring and twitching his whiskers a twitch, was the marmalade cat, just snoozing a bit.

          Carlisle looked up at Tom with a grin.  He’d found a new friend to share his lunch with. 

     Now Tom was still a bachelor cat, but on hot sunny days, he’d stretch out on the fence watching Carlisle play.

     Tom never got trapped in cat jail again.  Carlisle unlatched the shed door each day, making sure it was creaked opened just a crack for his friend.    

    Carlisle looked out his window before bed each night. Sometimes when the moon was quite bright, Carlisle could see the high stepping marmalade cat strutting by, with his tail in the air and a gleam in his eye, heading for a dinner of garbage can pie.

     Carlisle drifted off to sleep every night after that,

dreaming of lunch with his marmalade cat.