Pet lovers will remember Helen Brown as the author of Cleo, an endearing book about the cat that seemed to double as her family's emotional healer. When Cleo passed away, Helen was understandably hesitant to find a replacement, but even at first sight she couldn't resist the seductive stare of Jonah, the attentive little Siamese pet shop refugee. Like his now mourned predecessor, this new addition to the household quickly charmed the Brown family with his daredevil antics; but what became apparent over time was how he provided comfort in times of stress and family transitions. Cats and Daughters is an equally endearing sequel to one of the most beloved cat chronicles.
Cats and Daughters: They Don't Always Come When Calledby Helen Brown
Some say your previous cat chooses your new feline. If so, what in cat heaven's name was our beloved Cleo thinking when she sent us a crazy cat like Jonah?
Helen Brown swore she'd never get another cat after her precious Cleo died. But that was before a cute Siamese with an intense blue gaze wrapped her around his paw. Demonstrating the grace of a trapeze artist&… See more details below
Some say your previous cat chooses your new feline. If so, what in cat heaven's name was our beloved Cleo thinking when she sent us a crazy cat like Jonah?
Helen Brown swore she'd never get another cat after her precious Cleo died. But that was before a cute Siamese with an intense blue gaze wrapped her around his paw. Demonstrating the grace of a trapeze artistand a talent for smashing anything breakableJonah seduced the household with his daredevil antics and heart-melting purr.
With her son getting married, her daughter setting off on a potentially dangerous personal quest, and a recent brush with her own mortality, Helen faced a whirlwind of joys and challenges. Yet Jonah proved just the thing to ease the busy household's growing pains.
Uplifting, witty, and wise, here is a story of love and familyfour-legged members included.
Don't Miss Helen Brown's Beloved Bestseller, Cleo
"A buoyant tale, heartfelt and open." Booklist
"An absolute must." Cat World
"Even non-cat-lovers will be moved." Good Housekeeping
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Cats & DaughtersThey Don't Always Come When Called
By Helen Brown
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2012 Helen Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhisker's Tip
I never thought we'd end up with a cat crazy enough to want to go for walks. But felines change people. I should know that.
As evening shadows crawl across the kitchen, Jonah's footsteps drum down the hall. He appears in front of me, his red harness snared between his teeth.
"Not now," I say, peeling a carrot. "Dinner's only half an hour away."
His eyes widen to become a pair of lakes. He sits neatly in front of me, snakes his tail over his front feet, and examines my face. What do cats see when they look at people? They must be appalled by our lack of fur.
After a moment's reflection, Jonah, still carrying the harness, stands up and pads toward me. He balances on his back feet and stretches his impossibly long body against mine. Patting my abdomen with his front paw, he flattens his ears and puts his head to one side. Lowering himself to ground level again, he drops the harness at my feet and emits a baleful meow.
Crouching, I clip the harness around his soft, athletic body. The cat arches his back in anticipation. His purrs reverberate off the cupboards.
"Cruel, too cruel!" I hear Mum's voice saying. "Cats are wild animals. What are you doing to this poor creature?"
It's strange how Mum stays inside my head, even years after she's gone. I wonder if it'll be the same for my daughters and they'll hear me wheedling and encouraging them when they're in rocking chairs.
In an ideal world, Jonah would be free to roam the neighborhood. But times have changed. We live in cities. Roads are plagued with cars.
A normal cat would hate going out in a harness. Three years with Jonah have taught me he's anything but ordinary. Apart from the fact he's learned to love his harness, his obsession with gloves, florist ribbon, and women's evening wear is beyond the realms of feline sanity.
He's complicated. While he can seem incredibly intelligent sometimes, he thinks cars are for hiding under. It's not that I want to keep him prisoner, but we live in perilous times. He needs to be safe.
Carrying him into the laundry room, I attach the harness to a leash, which is connected to an extension lead, allowing him as much freedom as possible. His purrs vibrate up my arms as I open the back door and place him on the grass.
Standing motionless for a moment, he lifts his nose to savor the warm evening breeze. Its perfume carries stories of mice and pigeons, fluffy white dogs, and cats—both friend and enemy. Tales my human senses are too primitive to detect.
Jonah charges ahead, straining at the lead, harness jingling, as we scamper down the side of the house. His youthful energy is exhausting. His confidence, terrifying. Not for the first time, he reminds me of our older daughter Lydia. In fact, sometimes I think this beautiful, headstrong creature is more like Lydia than like our previous cat, Cleo.
As Jonah pauses at the front gate to sniff the rosemary hedge, I can almost feel Cleo looking down from Cat Heaven and having a good chuckle. Half wild and streetwise, she thought harnesses were for show puppies.
Cats step into people's lives with a purpose. Many of these magical creatures are healers. When Cleo arrived nearly three decades ago, our family had been shattered to pieces by the death of our nine-year-old son Sam. His younger brother Rob had seen Sam run over and was traumatized. Yet I was so paralyzed with grief and anger toward the woman driver I was incapable of giving Rob the support he needed. Part of my anguish came from the thought of Sam dying alone on the roadside. As it turned out, I'd been misled. Years later, I received a letter from a wonderful man, Arthur Judson, who said he'd been on the roadside and stayed with Sam the whole time.
It took the arrival of a small black kitten called Cleo to make six-year-old Rob smile again. Cleo seemed to understand we were in crisis. Through cuddles, play, and constant companionship, she'd helped Rob embark on a new life without his older brother. For the first time I understood how profound the healing powers of animals can be.
Our lives changed after Sam's death and our hearts never healed completely. But through the years, Cleo stood guardian over us as we slowly pieced ourselves together. She'd curled around my expanding girth through a subsequent pregnancy, then kept me company during endless nights of feeding baby Lydia. A few years later she'd been my divorce buddy and, when I was ready, cast a feline eye over my pathetically few suitors to make sure I chose wisely. As it was, Philip—the first man Cleo approved of—turned out to be the right choice, even if he spends most of his life on a plane these days. Before our daughter Katharine was born, Cleo resumed her tummy-curling duties and was with me during the breastfeeding again.
Of all our children, Rob had forged the strongest bond with Cleo. She'd played kitten games with him throughout his boyhood and watched over him when he was struck by serious illness in his early twenties. That little black cat had seen us through grief, migration to Australia and, ultimately, a messy kind of contentment. Then, around the time Rob fell in love with the girl of his dreams, Chantelle, Cleo took a gracious step back and suddenly sprouted white whiskers. It was almost as if she felt her work was done with Rob grown up and happy, and our family on its feet, more or less. She was finally free to leave us and move on to Cat Heaven, if there's such a place.
I swore I'd never get another cat after Cleo. But when life started getting complicated again, a so-called Siamese kitten exploded into our household.
This is the story of how one cat leads to another, and how rebellious felines and daughters have more in common than you might think. And how I learned compromise and medication can be okay.
Jonah's the cat I swore we'd never get. But as Mum always said, it never pays to swear.
Your old cat chooses your next kitten.
"When are you getting another cat?" asked my neighbor Irene, leaning over the front fence.
What a tactless question, I thought. You don't go out shopping for another mum the moment her coffin has been lowered into the grave, do you?
I squinted up through sharp sunlight at Irene. She was wearing sunglasses and one of those silly hats from an outdoor shop. Laughing in an offhand way, I asked what she meant.
"You're always out there in the mornings talking to that shrub you buried Cleo under. It's not healthy."
Healthy? What would she know? I thought, staring into my coffee mug. Talking to a deceased cat after breakfast was harmless, and not half as batty as some of the other stuff I'd started doing, like wearing my clothes inside out and buying birthday cards six months in advance. Not to mention my increasing obsession with crosswords and television game shows. Besides, it was my choice if I wanted to converse with a dead cat.
"A friend of mine has just had three kittens," she continued. "Well, ha ha, I don't mean she personally gave birth to them ..."
There's no end to the craftiness of people trying to offload kittens. "Just come for a look," they'll croon, confident the moment you've set eyes on some three-legged, half-bald creature with no tail your heart will liquefy. The trick is to get in quickly, right at the start. It only takes two little words. "No" and "thanks."
The thing is, there wasn't an animal in the biosphere that had a chance of replacing Cleo. It was a year since Philip had shoveled spades full of earth, damp and heavy, over her tiny body. I'd walked away to weep bitterly, Mum's voice scolding inside my head: "Don't be silly! It was only a cat, not a person."
In many ways, Cleo had been more than a person. People come and go in any household, but felines are a constant presence. Over nearly twenty-four years, Cleo had been part of everything that'd happened to us.
But then cats and people never abandon you completely. I was still finding unmistakable black bristles in the depths of laundry cupboards.
"Why don't you come along with me and take a look at the kittens?" Irene persisted. "Fluffy and stripy. Gorgeous little faces."
"I'm not interested in getting another cat," I replied, the words coming out more vehemently than intended.
"Not ever?" she asked, adjusting her sunglasses on her nose.
As a hibiscus flower sailed from the tree above my head and landed with a plop beside my foot, I was surprised to feel a tiny bit tempted by Irene's proposition. Most people have hibiscus bushes but ours had sprouted into a twenty-foot tree laden with hundreds, possibly thousands, of pink flowers. It was so spectacular in summer we'd had a semicircular seat built to fit around its trunk so I could sit under it swilling coffee, swatting mosquitoes and doing Scarlett O'Hara impersonations. In autumn it wasn't so picturesque. As the days grew colder, every one of those flowers swooned to the ground like a Southern belle and waited to be raked up. Only one person in our household specialized in raking. If I went on strike and refused to scrape the hibiscus flowers away, they exacted revenge by rotting into slime. The rest of the family managed to tiptoe over the killer goo without doing themselves bodily harm. I skidded and fell painfully on the paving stones.
The same thing would happen if we got a new cat. Like everyone else in our house and garden, it would develop a giant-sized personality and I'd end up doing all the work. Another cat was out of the question.
"You will," the neighbor said, waving a finger mysteriously at me. "Haven't you heard the secret of how cats come into your life?"
I feigned interest.
"Your old cat chooses your next cat for you," she said.
"Yes, and once your new kitten has been found, it makes its way to you whatever happens," she replied. "And it'll be exactly the cat you need."
"There's no sign of any cats around here," I said, yawning in the sun. "We obviously don't need one."
The neighbor reached up and picked a hibiscus blossom from the tree.
"Your old cat hasn't got around to choosing one for you yet, that's all," she said, then tapped the side of her nose, stuck the flower in her hat, and went off on her morning walk.
Watching her disappear down the street, I drained my coffee mug. The idea of Cleo trotting about in some parallel feline universe sussing out a replacement for herself was intriguing.
She'd need to find an intelligent half-breed with heaps of street wisdom and soul.
But anyway, a new cat was off the agenda. After more than three decades of motherhood, I needed a break from nurturing. The kids were nearly off our hands. Once Katharine was through her final exams, I was going to take a gap year, sampling the world's great art galleries and all the other stuff I'd missed out on as a teenage mum. Another dependent—four-legged or otherwise—was the last thing I needed. I beamed a silent message to Cleo, if she were in Cat Heaven, "Please no!!"
Hard as I tried to forget, Cleo was everywhere. Apart from her remains under the daphne bush and the black bristles in laundry cupboards, her favorite sunbathing spot under the clothesline was still marked by a circle of flattened grass. Inside the house, memories were embedded like claw marks in every surface. The living room door still bore scars from Cleo trying to break in while we were eating takeaway chicken. When a shadow moved across the kitchen I had to tell myself it wasn't her. For the first time in twenty-four years, I could leave a plate of salmon on the kitchen counter safe in the knowledge it wouldn't be pilfered. Out in the garden and under the house, mice could safely graze.
Maybe the neighbor was right and I was grieving for Cleo on some level. Come to think of it, bewildering "symptoms" had set in around the time she died. Without going into detail, recent months had brought new meaning to words like flooding, leaking, flushing, chilling, and sweating. I'd become a mini environmental disaster zone. But when I'd raised the subject with women friends a couple of times I'd regretted it almost immediately. Their suffering was infinitely greater. Some made it sound like they'd hurtled straight from adolescence to menopause, interrupted by a brief interval of blood-and-guts childbirth.
Still, I was going to have to stop talking to the daphne bush. Word would get out. It wouldn't be long before people crossed the road rather than run the risk of bumping into me. Not that it worried me. We'd always been the neighborhood oddballs. Now every second house was being pulled down and replaced by a concrete monstrosity I felt even less at home. When Irene had shown me plans of her McMansion-to-be I'd struggled to conceal my horror. Not only was it going to overlook our backyard, its columns and porticos echoed several ancient cultures all at once.
The aspirational tone of the neighborhood was wearing me down. I'd never be thin, young, or fashion conscious enough to belong.
Changes needed to be made. Dramatic ones.
Another hibiscus flower fell, this time right into my coffee mug. That was it! So obvious, it was a wonder I hadn't thought of it before.
I rescued the drowning hibiscus flower from the coffee, flung it into the shrubs, and reached for the cell phone in the pocket of my track pants.
I'd escape the horror of watching Irene's Grand Design loom over us and years of raking hibiscus flowers in one hit. Never again would I listen for Cleo's paws padding across the floorboards. Or stumble over her discarded beanbags under the house. As for the daphne bush, it could retire from cemetery plaque status and go back to being an ordinary shrub.
Philip's prerecorded voice said he was sorry he couldn't get to the phone right now, but if I'd like to leave a message after the tone ...
"We're moving house," I said, then pressed the off button with a satisfying click.
A home is a second skin. A new one takes time to grow.
"Who'd live in a house called Shirley?" asked Philip, peering at the brass plate beside the front door.
Honestly, he could be so annoying sometimes. Our old house had sold faster than expected. We had to move out in four weeks. And here he was quibbling over a name plaque.
"Lots of houses had names in the old days," I said. "If you're going to call a house anything it might as well be Shirley."
It was clear he was unimpressed. Deep down, I knew he wanted to move into something white and modern, like a refrigerator. Instead, Shirley reared up over us in a children's-home-meets-Colditz style. Built early in the twentieth century, its red bricks and tiled roof whispered of an era when mothers packed their sons off to war, and sex before marriage was unthinkable. Any glamour Shirley might've possessed had long since evaporated behind cracked bricks and unadorned windows.
The brickwork ran in wavy lines and the gray stuff holding it together didn't seem entirely committed to the job. The orange roof tiles looked like rows of broken cookies, some of which appeared to be sliding earthwards. There was no reason to point any of that out to Philip. If we didn't find a house we wanted to buy soon we'd have to rent, causing more uncertainty and disruption.
I'd thought finding a new place to live would be simple, yet we'd spent weeks looking at town houses and inner-city apartments, demolition jobs and building sites. They were either too cramped, stupidly expensive, or spread over so many levels that rappelling gear should've been included in the price. We didn't want to downsize, but a Brady Bunch house in the 'burbs wasn't right, either.
I'd always liked the raffish inner-city suburb of Prahran (an Aboriginal name pronounced "Pran" by locals) so I'd been excited when I'd first spotted Shirley near the corner of an unpretentious cul-de-sac just off High Street. All the houses in Shirley's street had been built between the wars, giving the neighborhood a pleasing unity that is rare for Melbourne. Most were single-story, semi-detached affairs. I liked their white picket fences and quirky gardens. There was something Alice in Wonderland–ish about them. Thanks to a preservation order, apartment blocks and modern buildings were banned.
Unlike our current neighborhood, nobody living on Shirley's street appeared to be afflicted with a lawn-mowing fetish. In fact, there seemed to be an ongoing competition to see who could let the grass outside their house grow the longest.
Shirley's front garden, a rectangle of sandy soil alongside the double car pad, was technically a desert. Concrete paving stones masqueraded as a path to the front door. The only hint that Shirley might've once been a setting for family life was an ancient apple tree with a twisted trunk leaning against the veranda.
"C'mon," I said to Philip, "let's go inside."
But my husband refused to budge. He was still glaring at Shirley's brass rectangle nameplate, freshly polished for the open home inspection.
Excerpted from Cats & Daughters by Helen Brown Copyright © 2012 by Helen Brown. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Helen Brown was born and brought up in New Zealand, where she first worked as a journalist, TV presenter, and scriptwriter. A multi-award-winning columnist, Helen now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her family and feline. Cleo rose to the top of the bestseller lists in its first weeks in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Australia, and has been translated into more than sixteen languages.
You can visit Helen Brown at www.helenbrown.au and follow her on Facebook.
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