Alfie the Lockdown Cat by Rachel Wells

We suddenly find ourselves in very strange times. There is a virus sweeping the world, which is bad, and people are getting very sick. Everyone is scared, and the situation is not like anything I have ever experienced before; it’s incredibly sad. In order to protect ourselves we are being told to stay home – or our humans are anyway. We’re unsure as to how far this staying home business applies to cats. The debate in our house went something like this:

‘I heard a Belgian cat got Covid-19,’ Claire said.

‘I’ve researched it, love. The general thinking is that there is no evidence that cats or dogs can be infected,’ Jonathan replied.

‘Should we keep Alfie and George in, just in case?’

‘Meow.’ No way. I flicked my tail in horror. This lockdown is bad enough – having the humans home so much isn’t easy, let me tell you. It would be devastating if our freedom was curtailed too. By we I mean myself, Alfie and my kitten, George (he’s not much of a kitten anymore but you get the idea).

‘I’ve asked the vet and she said that, unless the household have the virus, it’s fine for cats to carry on as normal,’ Jonathan finished.

Phew. Because although this is anything but normal, it seems to be our new normal for now.

***

Jonathan is having to work from home, which has made him grumpy because he says he can barely concentrate with the noise levels in the house. School is closed so Summer and Toby are home all the time, and, although Summer is pretty happy because she was never a huge fan of lessons, Toby misses it terribly – he’s always loved going to school. Claire doesn’t have a job as such, but she looks after us: the children, cats, Jonathan and the house, and she’s suddenly having to take on the role of home-school teacher as well as her usual cooking, cleaning, shopping and keeping-everyone-happy role. She’s being run ragged! It’s a lot of work normally, but now she’s even busier. She says she has a new respect for school teachers, because it seems to her to be the hardest job in the world.

George and I are’nt used to having the family home so much. At first, I thought it would be lovely but, honestly, the novelty has worn off pretty quickly. Jonathan was right, it is a very noisy house.

And if that’s not chaotic enough already, Pickles the pug is staying with us, because his owners, our very good friends, have had to self-isolate for two weeks because someone coughed or something like that. So, we get Pickles on account of him needing walking and lots of attention. It means that while some people are apparently moaning about being bored, us cats are busier than ever trying to keep our humans and Pickles in check. Like Claire, we’re exhausted by it all, but of course trying at the same time to make the best of things.

An area in the living room hasd been set up as the ‘school’ and the children are sat at the table, with their workbooks.

‘Mum, Summer keeps talking and I’m trying to do maths,’ Toby complained.

‘Maths is boring,’ Summer replied.

‘Guys, stop arguing, you have to get your work done. Is it too early for wine?’

‘Meow.’ It was too early; it’s only eleven in the morning. Even during lockdown that was definitely too early to drink.

‘How do your teachers cope?’ Claire was baffled.

‘Well, Summer is always in trouble for talking in class,’ Toby pointed out.

‘I’m not even in your class,’ Summer retorted.

‘I hear it from others in school, actually.’ They started squabbling again. George jumps on Toby’s lap and tried to nuzzle him. I know exactly what he’s doing, trying to diffuse the situation. Claire throws him a grateful look.

‘Not now, George I am trying to work!’ Toby gently puts George back on the floor. ‘My maths is very important if I’m going to be an astronaut.’ George raised his whiskers. I raised mine back; there was just no pleasing people sometimes.

‘I have to have a conference call with an important client,’ Jonathan’s voice boomed from upstairs where he had turned the spare room into his office. ‘So, can you all be quiet?’

I very much doubt we can.

***

‘I’m bored,’ Pickles says, as we’re banished from school room. He got into trouble because Summer tried to encourage him to eat her workbook – and he was actually going to,  until Claire intervened. Now, he was snuffling around the kitchen, looking for food. George and I had learnt quickly not to leave any of ours laying around. Dog food, human food, cat food, paper – none of it was safe from Pickles the pug.

‘I know,’ George says, examining his paw. ‘Why don’t we go and see what Jonathan is doing?’

‘No!’ I reply, as firmly as I can, but George and Pickles ignore me and take off upstairs. I’m father to George and sort of an Uncle to Pickles; as the grown up, they pay absolutely no attention to me, and I have no choice but to follow them. Damage limitation is my goal, but I’m not full of confidence, if I’m honest.

In the office, Jonathan is sat at the desk talking to a computer. Pickles has already bounded in, but George hangs back with me by the door.

‘Ah! Ow!’ Jonathan exclaims.

‘What was that?’ the computer – a man’s voice – seemed to reply.

‘Sorry, nothing. As I was saying, with market volatility, there’s… ah, ah!’ Jonathan’s face turns red as Pickles does his best to climb up his leg. ‘I mean, my projections are quite clear, in the spreadsheet…’ Jonathan looked down and with one hand tried to gently push Pickles away.

‘Jonathan? Are you alright, you’ve gone a funny colour,’ the computer asks.

‘No, it’s fine. Fine,’ he squeaks.

‘Oh Dad, I’d better go and show Pickles how it’s done,’ George says, raising his whiskers.

‘No, George,’ I hiss to his departing tail.

I can’t watch, but I also can’t look away. George runs up to Jonathan and leaps onto his lap.

‘Ahh,’ Jonathan said in surprise. The chair wobbled and then rights itself. Jonathan’s face gets redder.

‘Is that a cat?’ the computer voice asked.

‘Meow!’ George says, proudly.

‘Woof, woof woof,’ Pickles says, trying to climb his leg again.

‘And a dog?’

Jonathan sighs and scoops Pickles up from the floor.

‘Yup, this is George.’ George holds up a paw. ‘And this is Pickles.’ Pickles licks the screen. Watching from the doorway, I can’t help it. I know Jonathan will be angry and we might be banned from this room for the rest of lockdown, but I want in on the action. I suffer terribly from what the teenagers called FOMO – fear of missing out. I jump up onto the desk.

‘Yowl!’ I say, introducing myself. On the screen is a man, staring at us all with a confused look on his face. He looks a bit older than Jonathan, with grey hair and a slight beard, but he grins and hopefully that means he’s nice…

‘Wow, and this is?’ the man asks.

‘Alfie, my first cat,’ Jonathan mumbles.

‘Didn’t have you down as a pet guy,’ the man says, with a laugh.

‘Oh boy. My professional reputation gone in one fell swoop,’ Jonathan retorts, still a little flushed.

Thankfully the man laughs.

‘Cute pets,’ he replies. ‘But maybe we can get back to the figures?’

‘Of course, sorry, just give me a second.’ With Pickles in one hand, andGeorge in the other, Jonathan stands up and heads for the door. ‘You too Alfie,’ he adds, sternly. I follow, with my tail between my legs, and he shuts us all out. ‘I’ll deal with you later,’ he whispers, and I know that we’re in for a good telling off.

***

We find Claire in the kitchen making lists. She seems to have given up with homeschooling as Summer is now watching a film and Toby’s playing with Lego.

‘Hi guys,’ she calls as we walk in. Thankfully she doesn’t yet know we’re all in trouble. One of the many things I love about Claire is that she always talks to us as if we’re humans, which means we generally get to know what’s going on. ‘I’m sorting the shopping. I’ve got ours to do, Polly and Matt’s and a couple of other people in the street, and then I’ve got the phone calls…’

A lot of people we know are on their own, and with lockdown they’re even more isolated, so Claire has drawn up a rota of people to call on the telephone to make sure they get some human interaction. A brilliant idea – probably one of mine actually. I’ve taught Claire practically everything she knows.

‘Meow,’ I say, settling myself on her lap and purring my approval.

‘You cats are so lucky being able to go out, but don’t let strangers pet you. I know Jonathan said you probably couldn’t get the virus but I’m not letting you take any chances.’

‘Meow.’ I don’t really understand what she means but I’m not going too far from home at the moment, so strangers petting me shouldn’t be a huge problem. What is a huge problem is the fact that last week they had been unable to get us our favourite cat food, due to people doing something called ‘panic buying.’ While I appreciate that humans are looking out for their cats it seems selfish, because it isn’t just cat food they’re hoarding. Among other things, toilet paper is apparently like gold dust. It shows no consideration for others in my opinion, and especially for people who can’t afford to buy in bulk. If I owned a supermarket there would be trouble, let me tell you…

‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you plenty of treats. And wine for me. And chocolate for Jonathan and the kids. We need cheering up at the moment,’ Claire says.

I nuzzled her. She’s doing an amazing job of keeping everyone together. The children who are going stir crazy, only being allowed out once a day; Jonathan who isn’t pleased about working from home with us all under his feet (quite literally earlier); and even us, well we’re all unsettled, especially Pickles. I decide I will be very helpful to Claire from now on and do all I can to support her. That’s the kind of cat I am. It’s a shame I can’t operate a phone though, so I can do little more than offer moral support and do my best to keep Pickles and George out of trouble. That last part was easier said than done. It’s a full time job.

In that spirit, George and I go too when Claire and the kids take Pickles for his walk. Jonathan was still shut in his office, muttering about getting a lock fitted. It’s warm as we set out on Edgar Road, and I can’t help but think how quiet it is compared to normal. People wave at us, either from windows or front doors. We made sure to cross the street when we saw anyone else on the pavement to keep our distance. I greet a couple of my cat friends from afar, but of course I’ll see them later – cats aren’t limited by restrictions yet, after all. I realise then how lucky we are to have so much freedom, and I resolve not to complain about how the humans are encroaching on my space at home so much.

At Polly’s house, we pause and Claire phones Polly, so they can all come to the window and wave at us. Goodness how we miss them, but they look OK, which is the main thing. Pickles is so excited to see Polly, Matt and the children, Henry and Martha, he waggles his bum and barks as loud as he can. Poor Pickles, it must be so hard for him not to be able to see them properly, and as he’s merely a dog, he doesn’t understand the way us cats do. I decide to give him extra attention from now on, and I would tell George to do the same.

It’s funny how a smile and a wave, which isn’t much, feels like such a lot these days. To some people in lockdown it’s EVERYTHING. Sometimes it takes something bad to appreciate the simpler things in life, and this was definitely a lesson to be learnt in this pandemic. Kindness – something I’ve always tried to instill in my cats and humans alike – friendliness, and just love in general. That’s what’s important in this world, and I hope that, when this is all over, people will remember that. I have a feeling not all of them will though; humans can be a bit selfish. But I’m an optimistic cat so I live in hope. My paws will be firmly crossed for change, in any case.

***

That night, after our ticking off from Jonathan (who wasn’t really angry, because his client found it funny), we all snuggle down in the living room. Summer sits with her dad in his armchair, and Toby, Claire, me, George and Pickles all share the sofa. The humans put on a film about a bear who wore a coat and talked, which doesn’t feel very realistic to me, but we are all together and that’s what matters.

‘I will go back to school one day,’ Summer declares as if it were her choice.

‘Yes, you will, sweetie,’ Jonathan agrees.

‘I miss my lessons and my friends,’ Toby says, sadly.

‘I miss my friends but not my lessons,’ Summer adds.

‘I miss my office,’ Jonathan says, looking pointedly at me. I swish my tail. I didn’t start it, did I?

‘But we are so lucky,’ Claire says. ‘We are healthy, our friends and family are all OK. Even Polly and Matt, Henry and Martha seem fine, so they’ll be allowed out of self-isolation soon. We have food and lovely house, and most importantly we have each other.’

‘Claire, you’re so sentimental,’ Jonathan teases. ‘But you are also so right.’

‘It makes you realise, kids, that money and toys aren’t the most important thing after all,’ Claire goes on. ‘People are.’

‘Meow!’ I rinterject indignantly.

‘And cats of course!’ Claire chuckles. Pickles lets out a loud snore.

‘And dogs as well,’ Toby finishes.

‘Our family and our friends, our pets who are our family, that’s what matters. We are so lucky to have each other. We have to remember that. We are one lucky household, aren’t we, Alfie?’ Claire says, stroking me.

‘Meow,’ I agree. We really are, and there aren’t enough pilchards in the world to persuade me otherwise.

Alfie the Lockdown Cat

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