Living with Arnold was quite nice, really. She began to look forward to his warm greeting when she came home to the flat after a long day at work, and loved the way he always had time for a cuddle when she needed cheering up. He was clean and tidy, never made a fuss about what she gave him for supper, as long as there was plenty of it, and loved her to distraction. What more could she want?
Well, maybe it would have been nice if Arnold had been a man instead of a cat, and then he could have talked to her a bit more. As it was, his conversation was a bit limited and somewhat predictable. He wasn't even very good-looking.
He had a rather ordinary sort of grey coat, one white sock on his front left paw, and a gingerish patch over one eye, which made you wonder whether or not he was winking at you. For all that, Arnold was always there, and he loved her, even when she had a spot on her nose or was getting slightly wobbly around the tummy.
He was better than Jeremy, who had been a man, with his aristocratic face and his red sports car, who had whisked her off her feet with lavish courtship until he discovered that she couldn't cook, couldn’t ride and, worst of all, couldn't fit into the size 8 Designer dress he had bought her so she'd have "something decent" to wear when she met Mummy. He had departed swiftly among swirls of fuschia-coloured silk, muttering something nasty about people who couldn't keep their hands off the chocolates. She opened a packet of toffees and wondered how he could possibly have chosen fuschia if he had ever noticed what colour her eyes were.
Arnold was even preferable to Tim, the student reading geography at the local university, who had loved her untidy flat, enthusiastically devoured her 4 different recipes with a tin of spaghetti, and cuddled her wobbly bits quite happily. In fact he felt so at home with her that he brought her all his washing, mending and ironing to do. One day she came home to find that Tim had brought her all the dirty kit from the second eleven's home game, and had eaten all her chocolate supplies while he was waiting for her. Something made her realise that this was not the man she had waited all her life for, so out went Tim and in came Arnold.
There was only one drawback to life with Arnold - the tray. Try as she might, she could not persuade him to use the shiny new catflap she had installed at no small expense, and at the sacrifice of her best fingernail, in the kitchen door. There was something too irresistible about the sight of that squeaky clean litter compared to the rather untidy little jungle at the back of the flat - Arnold just couldn't bring himself to do his daily offering anywhere else. She decided that when the weather turned warmer she was going to get really tough with him, but in the meantime, Arnold continued to slope off behind the washing machine and emerge looking smug, while she reached, once again, for the scoop.
A cat may be a girl's best friend, but this cannot last forever. Soon there was Gavin, the only saving grace of some ghastly cheese and wine do at the publishers where she worked. He was one of their up-and-coming new authors and was attracting the undivided attention of the girls from Accounts who were fluttering around him in their Dorothy Perkin's pastels, letting off high-pitched giggles and desperately trying to appear sophisticated.
He hadn't noticed her until she spilt some cheap red wine on his Pierre Cardin socks, while trying to rescue a ladybird that was about to suffer certain death under somebody's stiletto heel. Brushing aside her frenzied apologies and the cackling attentions of the Accounts department, he assured that he had several other pairs of socks, and proceeded to stare deep into her eyes and tell her all about the plot of his new novel. Unaccustomed to such pressing male attention, or to cheap red wine in such quantities, she blossomed, and soon they were enjoying a late supper in an intimate little Bistro he knew in Chelsea.
For a while, Gavin filled the gap in her life, taking her out most evenings telling her she was wonderful, and how he'd soon be taking her out running to help her get into shape. Everything seemed to be going so smoothly, until he insisted on coming round to see her flat. “It can't be that bad, darling" he protested, so she gave in. The evening was a disaster. The bolognaise sauce burnt in the pan and the spaghetti was waterlogged. The gooseberry fool she'd struggled to make was delicious, but unfortunately Gavin hated gooseberries. Eager to enveigle his way into the affections of anyone attached to his mistress, Arnold sat on Gavin's lap and attempted a sardine-flavoured kiss. Horrified, Gavin leapt to his feet, throwing Arnold to the floor, but not before he had deposited numerous hairs on Gavin's immaculate mohair trousers. The atmosphere was becoming distinctly strained, so Gavin offered to make some coffee. She nodded glumly and watched his silk-shirted back disappear into the kitchen, when she remembered Arnold's tray. It was too late.
After that, the romance seemed to disappear from their relationship. Since Gavin now refused to come anywhere near her flat, she was spending more and more time away from Arnold, and was beginning to miss him. However, a few weeks after Gloria, a glamorous secretary with a 20" waist, arrived in the office, Gavin
suddenly stopped 'phoning her, and life returned to normal for her and Arnold.
This little disaster finally served to convince her that men brought nothing but trouble, and she decided to forget about them and concentrate all her emotions on Arnold, who really was much easier to live with.
Now that spring was coming, she began to feel more positive, and spent a whole weekend repainting her flat in fresh, bright colours. She even decided to make a determined effort to lose a little weight, and earned the undying love of the little boy in the flat upstairs by giving him the entire contents of her chocolate hoard.
That Saturday, she woke to sunshine and put on a pair of white trousers she hadn't been able to get into for years. At the supermarket she sailed happily past the shelves full of chocolates and went straight to the cat food. Arnold's favorite pilchard and herring brand was on offer at an unbelievable price. Eagerly stuffing her trolley full of this unexpected bounty, she hardly noticed that tins were disappearing into the basket next to hers at a similar
rate. Thinking how delighted Arnold was going to be, she reached feverishly for the last tin, only to find herself holding hands with the young man standing next to her.
“Oh, sorry....you take it," they both blurted in unison, giggling nervously. After some embarrassed discussion, during which she noticed the laugh lines round his eyes and he noticed the curve of her bottom in those white trousers, they decided that she would keep the tin, and that he would buy her a coffee.
They squeezed into a corner of the coffee house, between a bawling baby and a middle -aged man berating his wife for the extortionate amount she had just spent on a distinctly unbecoming felt hat. Oblivious to this mid-morning humanity, they chatted as if they had known each other for ages. She learned that his name was James, that he worked with computers, drove a well –loved old MG and liked singing in the bath. He lived alone with his cat, Sophie, adored eating, and was always cooking amazing meals which he had to eat by himself, since Sophie displayed a stubborn preference for pilchard and herring.
He didn't laugh when she admitted to liking Barry Manilow, and he didn't get embarrassed when she dropped her contact lens in the sugar bowl. He thought she had pretty dimples in her cheeks and wondered if she cried at sad movies.
Coffee led to a drink at the pub, which led to lunch at the local pizza place, and still they hadn't run out of things to say. After demolishing two slices of cheesecake, he offered to drive her home. Frantically trying to remember whether she'd left her undies drying on the radiator, and hoping against hope that Arnold hadn't been too busy in the kitchen, she asked him in for tea.
“It’s not very tidy " she started to prattle nervously, as James took her hands in his. “And there's Arnold, my cat. I must warn you. I'm afraid I can't get him to go outside, he's always..." James silenced her swiftly by pulling her towards him and kissing her very, very gently.
When, what seemed like hours later, she opened her eyes, she was amazed to find herself still in the kitchen with James's arms around her.
“About that cat of yours " James was gazing over her shoulder into the garden, where he could see a small ginger and grey figure digging with all the might of his two front paws and scattering earth all over the few daffodils.
“I don't think you need to worry about him anymore “he said. Just then the catflap opened and Arnold strolled through, looking terribly pleased with himself. He gave James what looked for all the world like a big wink, and came to purr contentedly around their legs.