A Protest At the Cat Café by Suzanne Ross Jones
Not everyone was as excited as Maxine about her plans to expand the business. . .
WHAT on earth . . .?” Maxine pulled her car into a space outside her cat café and stared in surprise at the small gathering waiting there.
They surely couldn’t be guests. She recognised a good few members of the crowd as locals who had never troubled themselves to visit before.
Besides, the café was shut this morning – a big sign in the window warned passers-by of that fact.
Maxine had deliberately kept the diary clear of bookings so that the builder, Ed, could measure the place.
“I wonder what they want,” she muttered to herself.
But, catching sight of her fiancé Angus’s empty shop unit, she had a nasty feeling she might know after all.
Maxine stepped out of the car.
“We need a word, please,” a man called from the back of the crowd.
“This really isn’t good enough, Maxine.” Mrs Watkins forged to the front of the delegation to make her point.
“What isn’t?” Maxine asked innocently.
“The shop,” Mrs Watkins continued. “Angus closing has left us high and dry.”
Maxine could have explained that he hadn’t meant to close so suddenly, but an opportunity to work with an old colleague and refresh his skills as an electrician had arisen unexpectedly.
Angus kept his hand in while running the shop, but the chance to work full-time was too good to turn down if he wanted eventually to launch on his own.
Somehow, though, Maxine guessed her explanation would fall on deaf ears.
“He can’t keep running the shop at a loss,” she told them calmly.
“Running at a loss?” Mrs Watkins seemed affronted. “That wee shop’s a goldmine.”
“That might have been true in years gone by,” Maxine said, maintaining a polite exterior. “But modern shoppers prefer to make their purchases in other ways.”
With perfect timing, the dedicated minibus laid on by the out-of-town supermarket pulled up to pick up passengers, only feet away from Angus’s door.
“Yes, but . . .” Mrs Watkins’s argument faded to nothing as she followed Maxine’s gaze and saw the bus.
The reception inside was much nicer, with smiles from Ed and meows from assorted cats.
“That lot didn’t seem too happy.” Ed nodded towards the window at the dispersing crowd.
“They want it all ways – they want to buy their main shopping in the big supermarket, and have Angus’s place for convenience.” “That’s people for you.” Ed wrote something in his notebook, then tried in vain to replace his tape measure. You didn’t leave an open box around here without soon finding it full of cats.
“So, what’s the verdict on the café?”
Ed rubbed his chin.
“It will be a big job. We’ll need to consult an engineer and speak to the council. I can put you in touch with an architect who can project manage, if you’d like.”
Maxine nodded. “That would be great, Ed, thank you. And we’ll need to co-ordinate a start date. I’ll have to close the café.”
It all seemed to be coming together at last – though she knew it wasn’t going to be easy with 15 cats on the premises.
Ed frowned at his toolbox. Maxine plucked Gladys up from her chosen sleeping spot.
“I’ll arrange for some sub-contractors to help, so you can reopen the café as quickly as possible.”
Ed fastened the toolbox shut and stepped towards the door.
Maxine was glad. The faster they reopened, the fewer customers she would have to disappoint.
Angus was back in time to join Maxine in her flat for tea.
Maxine gave him a quick summary of what Ed had said, then shared the news of the disgruntled delegation that had called by that morning. Angus frowned.
“I’m going to have a word with Mr and Mrs Watkins.” He got to his feet. “I won’t have them harassing you for something that was my decision.”
“No, Angus.” She took his hand and pulled him back on to his chair. “Finish your meal.”
“They’re not going to speak to you like that.” His jaw clenched. “I won’t allow it.”
“We can’t afford to make enemies – especially not now we’re expanding the café.”
Maxine smiled. She could stand up for herself, but it was nice that Angus was so outraged on her behalf.
“They’re upset, that’s all. Your place has been a grocer’s shop for as long as they can remember, and they don’t like the thought of change.”
“What I do with the shop is none of their business. Not when they hardly ever bought anything from there while it was open.”
He tickled Gladys’s chin as she strolled past, earning a contented purr from the cat.
“What do you think we should do?”
“I’m going to invite them to the café,” she told him, taking a deep breath. He raised an eyebrow. “So they can ambush you again?”
“No, so I can talk them round.”
“If anyone can do that, I reckon it will be you,” he said with admiration in his voice. “After all, you convinced me, and I was dead set against the café, if you recall.”
“Yes, I do remember.” She smiled, thinking of the grumpy man she’d first met. Funny how things turned out.
She was hopeful her operation to charm the townsfolk would be equally successful in its own way.
Maxine wasn’t so optimistic when she went down from the flat to the café in the morning. When she tweaked the blinds she found the angry crowd was back.
And this time they were brandishing placards.
Gladys objected loudly to this delay in Maxine going to the kitchen.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Maxine assured the cat. “Just one minute.”
Her heart sank at this latest offensive. At the very least, they were going to put off today’s customers.
If this campaign carried on, they could well close down her business.
Nothing could be done about it for the moment. The cats were getting louder, and Maxine’s priority was preparing breakfast, just as it was first thing every morning.
A chorus of meows followed her as she made her way to the kitchen.
“OK, my darlings, breakfast for fifteen coming up.”
Once the cats were occupied, Maxine turned her attention back to the mob outside.
She grabbed a jacket and let herself out on to the pavement.
An expectant hush fell over the protesters.
“Good morning.” A bright smile was met with fierce expressions and a general mumble that might – or might not – have been reciprocating her good wishes.
“It’s cold out here,” she carried on. “So rather than spending the morning on the pavement, why don’t you come back once the café’s closed and we can talk inside.”
“Why don’t we come in now?” Mrs Watkins suggested.
“I’ve got pre-booked guests arriving shortly,” Maxine countered. “This evening will give us more time to talk. And if you’re not happy with what you hear, you can come back tomorrow to protest.
“The forecast says the weather will be better then.”
The group mumbled agreements.
“Well, I suppose if it means we can talk without you keeping an eye on the clock and throwing us out to make way for your visitors. . .” Mrs Watkins stood with placard still aloft, frown firmly in place.
Maxine smiled brightly in the face of this resistance. “I’ll see you later.”
She would have to nip out of the café before then. There was someone else in town she needed to see. She only hoped they would be amenable to her suggestion.
Word had spread, and at least double the number of the morning’s protesters turned up at closing time.
Maxine took everyone’s orders for drinks, and added a tray of her homemade salted caramel biscuits for good measure.
“Ready?” Angus asked, picking up the tray.
“Ready,” she confirmed. Now that she had a proposal to put to them, she was keen to get it over and done with.
“Thank you.” Mrs Watkins wasn’t slow in helping herself to a biscuit. “Though I’m surprised you let us into your café.”
That shocked Maxine. “Why wouldn’t I let you in? You’re all very welcome.”
“It seems to me you’re keen on courting your fancy out-of-town visitors.”
“That’s not true, Mrs Watkins. And I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel like that.”
This was proving to be more difficult than Maxine had hoped.
The cats watched from a respectful distance – probably surprised that the café was full of people but nobody was making a fuss of them.
“Your objections to the café expanding, as I understand,” Angus began, “are to do with the shop closing?”
“That’s right. What are we to do when we run out of milk or bread? You can’t expect us to run all the way to the supermarket for just a few bits.”
“So if another shop in town started to sell emergency provisions, you’d be quite happy about our plans?”
“Well, I suppose –”
“Good.” Angus sat back and smiled. “That’s settled then. Because Maxine has spoken to the newsagent on the corner, and they would be more than happy to stock bread and milk and other essentials.”
Mrs Watkins was still not happy.
Maxine wanted to address the comment from earlier, that locals hadn’t been encouraged to visit the café.
Before she could speak, Teddy took a flying leap on to Mrs Watkins’s lap.
Maxine sprang to her feet, ready to take action, but a subtle smile on Mrs Watkins’ face as she reached out to stroke the cat’s curly head made her sit back down.
“What a beautiful creature,” Mrs Watkins said, then looked like she immediately regretted it.
But the truth was out. Pauline Watkins was a secret cat lady – and probably had been all along.
“How about,” Maxine suggested, “I keep the first session every Monday morning free for locals. You can pop in for a cup of tea, see your friends, get to know the cats . . .”
Mrs Watkins sat up a little straighter in her seat.
“And that would be a regular arrangement?”
“It would,” Maxine confirmed.
There was a rare sighting of a full-blown smile from Mrs Watkins.
“That’s a brilliant idea, Maxine.”
The deadlock was broken. An agreement had been reached.
“You won’t get any more bother from that lot,” Angus predicted, as they locked up behind the last of the guests.
“I hope you’re right.” “I’m sure I am. She was smitten with Teddy. Whoever would have thought Mrs Watkins would be persuaded by a cat?”
“All the best people can be,” she said with a smile. ■
Maxine hoped she would be able to win over the protesters Teddy took a flying leap on to Mrs Watkins’s lap