Pip hasn’t worked in a decade when her new agent calls unexpectedly. A movie role is on offer, and Magda Quest Saxer wants an answer in less than a week. She gives Pip an implied ultimatum. Take it and fly to Sydney for a screen test. Turn it down it and never work again. With no one else to advise her, Pip consults the cats. Kittisack and Amberjill are probably real. Lupin’s cat is made of pottery. All of them think she ought to take the role.
This disruption is bad enough, but Cousin Lupin’s legacy is confusing. Pip risks a call to ask what it’s all about, and within the hour she’s off on a magical mystery tour on a yacht crewed by people she doesn’t know.
It’s bewildering stuff, especially when one of the crew goes missing and the other two don’t seem to care. Pip cares but dialling triple zero has its complications when someone nearby can make the phone jump right out of her hand.
Cousin Jan had gone off in a hurry to meet her daughter, who bore the unlikely name of Clarkia.
That left Pippin Pearmain alone in Lemonwood Cottage—unless one counted the cats who were her housemates.
The original cat, who looked like a seal point Siamese tom, and who answered—sometimes—to the name of Kittisack, had been around for the whole ten years of Pip’s tenure in Jellico Bay. His apprentice, the back-up cat, whose name was probably Amberjill, was of much more recent vintage. The third cat, newly arrived and even more newly unswaddled from its cocoon of tissue paper and sticky tape, had been made of pottery by Jan’s recently deceased sister, Lupin. Therefore, it would be forever known as Lupin’s cat.
Jan said the thing gave her the willies. Kittisack and Amberjill seemed inclined to worship it. They suggested it had been blessed by a guardian. Pip didn’t know what they meant by that. She didn’t really feel like asking.
Nevertheless, she was glad to have Lupin’s cat at the cottage. It was so bizarre, so ugly in form and yet so lovely in colour and decoration, that Pip would never grow bored with the contrast.
Besides, there was every indication that Lupin herself, tastefully stored in a handsome old bucket, would be spending six months of the year on the mantel along with the cat…just like Persephone after she ate the half-dozen pomegranate seeds, as Lupin had put it in the farewell letter she’d written to Pip.
Pip didn’t know if this would really happen. It was one of several matters she hadn’t yet discussed with Jan. They might have got around to it if Jan’s daughter Clarkia hadn’t texted a message which sent Jan off in a hurry.
So much for wondering what I’d do with Jan for a full day…
What will happen will happen, I suppose… That’s what Little Nanna Pearmain used to say.
Pip shrugged and picked up the patisserie box from the table. The cats had raided it while she farewelled Jan. She shook the crumbs they’d left onto a folded newspaper. Maybe Bill the blue-tongued lizard would like them. If not, then the ants probably would, and Bill might like them. Maybe. She knew he liked hardboiled egg and tomatoes, so why not ants? Pip took the crumbs to the woodpile where Bill mostly lived, returned to the kitchen, and shifted her attention to Lupin’s cat.
The larcenous cats had been giving it some love after they finished with the tarts, so she cleaned cat slobber off it with one of the wet-wipes her cousin had left on the table. She carried it to the mantelpiece and set it carefully between Little Pop Pearmain’s brass candlesticks. He’d made them from discarded shell casings after the war.
“Let me know if you’d rather be somewhere else,” she said to Lupin’s cat.
The figurine said nothing, but Pip was aware of its magnetic pull. What had the cats Cat-Morsed? It was charmed by a guardian...and was also unbreakable.
It was somewhat and oddly familiar. She had no idea why. It was one-of-a-kind, and no one would have wanted it or even been able to have copied it.
That’s just creepy.
She turned her back. She would not start worshipping a pottery cat. It was too much like the golden calf of the Israelites.
Why a calf, anyway? Didn’t the Hebrews have enough gold to make a whole cow?
She glanced over to the corner where the Clancy bucket had been. She’d miss that reminder of her old friend Mister Clancy, but it was fitting that Jan should take it for storing Lupin’s ashes. It was a contribution.
Absently, she employed the used wet-wipe to collect the remaining tart crumbs from her table.
She was giving the wooden tabletop a final wipe-over with a dry cloth when she spotted the scattered papers on the floor.
Those cats again…
It wasn’t like them to be so clumsy, or so destructive.
Some of the paper was the tissue-and-tape shell that had encased Lupin’s cat. It was clawed to tatters, no doubt by the diligent cats. Maybe it was some kind of ritual. Possibly they were making sure no one ever used it to re-swaddle Lupin’s cat or, possibly, them. Who knew why cats did what they did?
Pip put the tatters in the bin.
Another paper was the envelope Jan had given her, miraculously unmolested. It had bank account details in it, she recalled—another legacy from Lupin.
Jan had headed her off at the pass when she suggested it should go to Lupin’s more natural heirs…her sister and niece. It was for Pip or for no one.
Trust Lupin to be dictatorial, even beyond the grave.
Oh. Lupin hasn’t got a grave. She has a bucket instead.
The thought was warming. Graves often seemed so cold, and so remote from everyday concerns. A bucket was pleasantly domestic, and the Clancy bucket was undeniably fine.
Pip put the envelope on the mantelpiece next to Lupin’s cat and bent to retrieve the third item of the under-table scatter. It was another envelope—one Jan hadn’t mentioned. Maybe she would have if Clarkia hadn’t called.
Pip hoped it wasn’t something Jan should have taken with her.
I could text her…or ring her. She might have her phone patched through to hands-free. She can’t have got far.
She turned the envelope over and saw her name written on the front in Lupin’s characteristic elegant script, so different from Jan’s left-handed slant and her own meticulously tiny green lettering.
Pippin Picotee Pearmain.
The envelope was lightly sealed, but not as if Lupin had meant it. More as if it had succumbed to pressure when Jan stuffed it in her grey case, Pip decided.
Why the grey case, anyway? Why not stuff Lupin’s cat and two envelopes in her lavender bag? Maybe the case was Lupin’s.
That seemed likely.
She put the envelope on the table.