Lulu and the Cat in the Bag
By Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company Copyright © 2011 Hilary McKay
All rights reserved.
The Cat in the Bag
The bag on the doorstep was enormous.
Tied at the top, like a giant shoe bag.
Heavy and lumpy, as if it were filled with potatoes.
Warm as sunshine, and ...
"Snoring!" said Lulu, bending close to listen. "It's something alive!"
"Alive?" asked Lulu's cousin Mellie, who was staying at Lulu's house, and she stepped hurriedly backward.
Mellie was a thinker. She could think of lots of alive things that might be in that bag that should not be let out.
"Alive?" repeated Mellie. "Don't just open it then, Lulu! Figure out what it is first!"
But Lulu was already struggling to undo the hard knot of cord that tied the bag. She tugged with her fingers, and when that did not work she tugged with her teeth. She was doing this when she was grabbed from behind by Nan.
Nan was the grandmother of Lulu and Mellie. She was also staying at Lulu's house. She was taking care of the girls while their parents were away. Mellie's mother had won a competition. The prize was a getaway, a week in a hotel in a Spanish city. Lulu's parents had gone as well.
Lulu and Mellie could have gone too, but "A week in a city?" Mellie had wailed. A morning at the shops was almost more than Mellie could bear.
Lulu had not been pleased either. "A hotel?" she had asked. "The dogs won't like that!"
"A week in a hotel in a Spanish city is a grown-up holiday!" said Nan. "I will look after the girls!"
Lulu and Mellie had sighed with relief.
Nan and Mellie came to stay at Lulu's house so that Lulu's very large collection of animals did not have to be moved anywhere.
That was kind of Nan, because she really was not an animal sort of person. Small creatures, like hamsters, made her squeal. Larger ones, like rabbits, that looked so cuddly and yet had such sharp claws and teeth, made her nervous. Parrots, thought Nan, were perfect for jungles—but definitely not perfect for living rooms.
Dogs were dirty beasts—large and smelly and best out of doors.
That was what Nan thought, but all the same she bravely packed her bag and moved across town to stay with the girls.
"It will be no trouble," she said.
Now, already, on the very first morning, here was trouble. A bagful of trouble, tied up at the top and snoring on the doorstep.
"Leave that bag alone!" said Nan as she grabbed Lulu.
Nan was little and snappy and quick and kind. She was also a good, strong grabber. She hung on to Lulu and she said, "There could be any savage creature in the world in that bag!"
"Oh, Nan!" protested Lulu, while Mellie said fairly, "Not any, Nan! Not any savage creature! Nothing much bigger than a small crocodile would actually fit. Or a bear cub might, I suppose. Or a bundle of snakes ..."
"Mellie!" groaned Lulu. "Stop it! Don't!"
"Start Nan off," said Lulu, but it was too late. Nan had already started.
"Snakes!" she cried. "Snakes! Don't you touch it, Lulu! Wait till I get help. Whatever it is, this house needs no more animals! This family needs no more animals! You need no more animals, as I have said a thousand times."
"A million times," said Lulu, wriggling away from Nan. "At least. There's a cat in that bag."
"There's more than a cat," said Nan. "One cat is not that size. What are people thinking, leaving such a thing on someone's doorstep? Lulu, come away!"
"Those snores sound like purrs," said Lulu, not coming away.
"Purrs, or growls," said Mellie.
"Growls!" said Nan. "Growls! I'll complain to someone. The police. The wildlife park. The Humane Society. Whoever is responsible for great growling bags on people's doorsteps! I will call them all right now. Lulu—do not touch a thing! Mellie—watch her!"
"Yes, Nan," said Mellie, but Lulu did not say yes too. In fact, the moment Nan was gone she turned back to the bag and began tugging at the knot once again.
"Nan will be mad," said Mellie, watching.
"Poor Nan," said Lulu. "She just doesn't understand about animals. She likes flowers best. There!"
The knot was undone.
The bag was open.
Whatever was inside woke up.
"MeeeOW!" said the inside of the bag, and out jumped the most enormous cat that Lulu and Mellie had ever seen.
A glow-in-the-dark orange cat with eyes like lime-green sweets. Fur like a cloud. Paws like beanbags. A tail like a fat feather duster.
"WOW!" said Lulu and Mellie, and they reached out admiring, grabbing hands.
Perhaps the cat thought they wanted to put it back in the bag. It definitely did not want to be grabbed. It leapt away on its beanbag paws, into the street, across fences and gardens. It vanished like an orange rocket fired off into the sky.
At that moment Nan came out again. Neither the police nor the wildlife park nor the Humane Society had been any help at all. They had played her annoying music, and recorded her irate messages on their answering machines, and that was all.
"Useless!" said Nan, who would have liked rescue vans with flashing lights and sirens, and she went back outside feeling grumpy. Then she saw the empty bag on the doorstep, and that made Nan go off like a rocket too.
"Lulu! For goodness' sake!" she exploded. "You opened that bag? You might have been attacked! The minute my back was turned! What a girl! What a granddaughter! Where have you put the creature, anyway? Do you even know what it was?"
"It was a cat," said Lulu when she at last got a chance to reply.
"A cat? There was more than one cat in that bag! That looked like a bag full of cats! Now, Lulu, tell me, where did you put them?"
"It was one cat," said Lulu, "and I didn't put it anywhere. It ran away."
"Like a rocket," added Mellie. "Whoosh, and then gone!"
"Good," said Nan. "Ran away! Good!"
"Bad," said Lulu.
"Listen, Lulu," said Nan, her irritation fizzing away like the last sparks of a firework. "You don't want a cat! You have enough pets, goodness knows. Dogs. Fish. That parrot. Those terrible squeaking things in the shed ..."
"Guinea pigs," said Lulu.
"Bad enough having all them," said Nan. "But cats? Worst of all! Bringing in dead birds ... Bringing in dead mice ... Who would want a cat?"
Charlie, the boy from next door, came along just then, riding his scooter. He heard what Nan said and stopped to look over the fence and say, "We have a cat."
"Yes, Charlie has a cat," agreed Lulu. "A lovely black-and-white one called Suzy. She doesn't bring in dead mice and things, does she, Charlie?"
"Not dead ones," said Charlie cheerfully. "Live ones, though! She's always bringing in live mice. They get under the fridge."
"Your poor mother," exclaimed Nan. "See, Lulu! What did I tell you?"
"Once," said Charlie, enjoying Nan's horror, "you remember, Lulu, because it was at my birthday party and you were there and Mellie was too—there was a bang under the fridge and all the electricity went off. Even my Xbox. And it was ages before it was fixed again."
"Terrible, terrible, terrible," moaned Nan.
"Yes," said Charlie. "I got two new Xbox games for my birthday and I couldn't play either of them. And there was no light or heat or hot water either. Or toast. For days. And all because the wires had been chewed up by one of Suzy's mice ..."
Nan shook her head and groaned. Lulu began to wish very much that Charlie would shut up and go away.
"... or maybe one of Suzy's rats," said Charlie.
Nan shrieked, and Mellie got the giggles, the way she sometimes did. Choking, silent giggles, like inside explosions.
"I wonder if anyone's looking for you, Charlie," said Lulu. "Maybe you should go and see."
Charlie paid no attention. He loved making people shriek and giggle.
"Birds are worse than rats and mice," he told Nan. "They can fly, that's why. So they flap around the house smashing things and they go crazy at the windows. You should see the mess the pigeon Suzy brought in yesterday made! Poo everywhere!"
"Charlie!" yelled Lulu. "Do you have to go on and on and on and on?"
"I haven't told you the worst yet," said Charlie. "About the great big ..."
Mellie had a very good idea. She picked up the empty cloth bag that had held the cat that was still lying on the step and pulled it over Charlie's head. He stopped speaking mid-sentence, very surprised.
"Mellie!" said Nan. "Take that bag off Charlie's head at once!"
"It's all right, I like it," said Charlie from inside the bag. "Want to see me ride my scooter up the street with this bag on my head?"
"Yes, please!" said Lulu and Mellie.
"NO!" cried Nan, and took the cat bag off his head before he could try.
"OK," he said, looking disappointed. "I better go anyway because guess where my family is going any minute now? (That's what I came out to tell you before you kept wanting to know about Suzy.) Away to the seaside with my friend Henry's family! In two motor homes. My family in one motor home. Henry's family in another motor home. Suzy the cat in her cat carrier. We're almost ready. We've got lots of air freshener and everyone's boots and the metal detector because of what happened last time ..."
"Last time," explained Lulu to Mellie and Nan, "Charlie and Henry buried Charlie's mom's bag for buried treasure and the tide came in before they could find where they put it ..."
"Was it lost forever?" asked Nan, horrified.
"Yes," said Charlie. "And everyone blamed Henry and me! As if it was our fault that the sea has tides!"
"One of the things that was lost forever was the key to their house!" said Lulu. "We had to help them break in when they got back home."
"We had to break into the motor home too," said Charlie, remembering. "That was even worse because Suzy had been shut in for hours and hours ... Gosh! Pooh! It was awful! We had to sleep with all the windows open and Suzy got out and went beach combing and came back with a stinky dead crab. That's why we've packed all the air freshener ..."
"Uh!" groaned Nan and went back into the house so that she did not have to listen to any more Suzy stories.
A few minutes later, Charlie (with the bag on his head again) was loaded into a car and driven away. Then Lulu and Mellie were left alone on the doorstep with nothing to show that their mysterious, snoring surprise had ever existed.
"Not even the bag," said Mellie sadly.
"Let's go and look for it!" suggested Lulu.
"Charlie took it. Didn't you see?"
"Not the bag! The cat!"
But Nan was not pleased with this idea. "Who in the world would want a cat after hearing Charlie?" she demanded. "Anyway, it's not possible to go cat hunting just now because ... because ..."
Nan searched her brain for a very good reason not to go cat hunting.
"Because I am taking you out for lunch!" she announced at last. "We will walk through the park and then have pizza and afterward we'll go visiting."
Mellie looked at Lulu to see if she minded doing these things instead of cat hunting. Lulu did not mind at all. She planned to cat hunt all the way to the park and all through the park and after
lunch all the time they were visiting friends.
"How lucky I am to have two beautiful granddaughters to take out to lunch!" continued Nan. "Now then, hurry up! Hands, faces, clean teeth, hair, and for goodness' sake, find some tidier clothes!"
"I thought you said we were beautiful," objected Mellie.
"Beautiful? Yes!" said Nan. "Respectable? No! Lulu! What are you doing with that wheelbarrow?"
Lulu explained that she needed the wheelbarrow to hold the pet carrier. And that she needed the pet carrier in case they were lucky enough to find the runaway cat from the bag. Because if they did, she would catch that cat and put it in the pet carrier and load it onto the wheelbarrow and take it home.
"And that would be perfect!" said Lulu.
Nan did not think it would be perfect, and she was not very pleased about having to take a wheelbarrow out to lunch. It was rather a nuisance in Pizza Hut.
After lunch, however, Nan agreed that it was a good thing they had brought it along. Then they went visiting a whole collection of Nan's friends. Nan's friends all grew flowers (like Nan did) and detested cats (like Nan did) and thought Lulu and Mellie were wonderful (like Nan did) and gave them strange and useless presents which surprised them so much they kept forgetting to say thank you.
Lulu and Mellie took it in turns to push the wheelbarrow home. Now, as well as the pet carrier, the wheelbarrow held:
A large knitted patchwork blanket.
A rather old teddy bear wearing pirate clothes.
A ship in a bottle that needed gluing.
A very fresh lemon cake on a plate, still hot from the oven and with yellow icing dripping off the top like lava from a volcano.
And an enormous bunch of leftover lilies from the friend with the flower shop.
"Achoo!" sneezed Lulu the moment she saw them, and she continued to sneeze all the way home, and so did Mellie.
"Did you say thank you for those lilies?" demanded Nan.
Mellie and Lulu shook their heads and sneezed four more times each and bumped the wheelbarrow with each sneeze.
"It's nice to say thank you when someone gives you a present," said Nan. "Even for something you might not want ... Let me carry those flowers! They are going to slide into the lemon cake any moment!"
Lulu handed the lilies over and Nan began sneezing. She sneezed until she got home, where she thankfully arranged them in a very nice bucket at the end of the garden.
"What are we going to do with the cake?" asked Mellie, lifting it out of the wheelbarrow. It was not as fresh looking as it had been at the beginning of the journey. It was slightly bumped from the ship in the bottle and slightly stabbed from the pirate bear's sword and slightly woolly from the blanket and slightly pollen-dusted from the lilies. It looked more than ever like a volcano.
Nan looked at it thoughtfully.
"Waste not, want not," she said at last. "I'm sure we will enjoy it. Omelettes for supper first. Cake afterward. And by the way, I didn't hear, but I hope you both said thank you!"
They hadn't and they knew it. They had been so astonished at being handed a miniature volcano that they hadn't said anything at all except "Oh!"
"Really!" said Nan. "What terrible manners!"
"I think we looked pleased," said Mellie hopefully.
"Let us hope so," said Nan, picking up the cake. "Now, then! One of you come and help me cook supper. The other, unpack this wheelbarrow and put everything away!"
"You go with Nan," Lulu told Mellie, as Nan hurried inside. "I'll put the things away, and then I'm coming out again to look for that cat."
"I almost forgot about it," said Mellie.
"I didn't," said Lulu, who all through the day, at every glimpse of orange (flower or leaf or fur or woolly square in a knitted blanket), had remembered the cat that jumped out of the bag. Where could she begin to hunt for it now, she wondered, as she climbed the stairs with her arms full of presents.
Then she pushed open her bedroom door and found she did not have to hunt at all.
Because there it was.
Curled up in the middle of her bed.
A gigantic orange heap of fluff.
The cat from the bag!
Beside the cat, a flower, orange, like the cat.
"A marigold," murmured Lulu, who had learned the names of flowers long ago from Nan. "A marigold, and a marigold cat! Perfect!"
The Cat in the Night
The marigold cat had been asleep when Lulu came in, but now its eyes were half open, gazing at Lulu.
"Now what?" they seemed to ask. "It has been a bad day. Thrown out of my home. The time in that bag. No food. No peace. Nowhere to rest (until I found your window open). Now what?"
Lulu understood. She had always found it easy to think the way an animal does. She could guess that although the cat on her bed looked as soft and relaxed as a cuddly toy, underneath its fluff it was wondering: Do I need to jump out the window? Or not?
That was why she did not rush to stroke or cuddle the marigold cat. Instead, she tried to make it feel as if lying on her bed was a safe and normal thing to do.
"Don't worry," she murmured to the cat as she began arranging the presents. "Don't jump. Don't worry about me at all." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont. Copyright © 2011 Hilary McKay. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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