A Protest At the Cat Café by Suzanne Ross Jones

Not ev­ery­one was as ex­cited as Max­ine about her plans to ex­pand the busi­ness. . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

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.”

Ev­ery­one re­laxed.

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

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