From New York Times bestselling author Helen Brown comes a funny and moving account of her life-changing month as a foster mother—to a homeless cat named Bono.
When Helen Brown arrived in New York for a much-anticipated visit, a fellow animal lover talked her into fostering a shelter cat. Helen visualized a sweet-natured cuddler who blinked and dozed a lot. What she got at Manhattan’s Bideawee shelter was a wide-eyed and unpredictable Persian with a punked-out haircut and a feisty attitude.
Bono had become homeless during Hurricane Sandy, had survived a serious infection, and needed daily medications. As a “special needs” cat, he was an unlikely candidate for adoption. But as affection between them grew, Helen resolved to see that Bono found his forever home. She didn’t know that he would change her life in ways she never dreamed possible and teach her lessons she would cherish ever after. Just as this sweet, beleaguered, and hopeful guy deserved a fresh start, Helen too was ready for new beginnings. And so began a heartwarming, uplifting, lasting kind of love . . .
Praise for the works of Helen Brown
“A buoyant tale, heartfelt and open.” –Booklist
“An absolute must.” —Cat World
“Brown gives inspiration with her witty, adventurous story.” —RT Book Reviews
“Brown writes eloquently about women, daughters, and felines.” —Kirkus Reviews
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About 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, the internationally beloved Jonah. 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. Cats & Daughters entertained her readers with publication in six countries, and her novel Tumbledown Manor showed her storytelling talents at their best. You are invited to visit Helen at www.helenbrown.com and follow her on Facebook.
The author will donate a portion of her earnings from this book to BideaWee animal shelter and hospital. Learn what you can do to help at www.bideawee.org.
Read an Excerpt
A cat must embrace every one of her nine lives.
There's no law against flannelette pajamas as far as I know. This particular pair was dark green plaid, however, and identical to the ones Dad wore through his later years.
Not only that, they were out of season. We were sweltering through a particularly hot summer. Winter weight nightwear was the last thing he needed.
"What do you think?" Philip said, swaggering into the bedroom with the nonchalance of a seasoned fashion model.
I adjusted my head on the pillow so I could finish the crossword without the assistance of a neck brace.
How could I tell my beloved husband that, without realizing it, he was mutating into my father?
It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to work out what had happened. Philip had been wandering through a department store during one of his lunch breaks when some shop assistant sniffed him out as easy prey.
Blonde, 25, and with teeth that would have bankrupted her parents, she'd have beckoned him over to stroke the fabric. Helpless as a terrier in front of a plate of fillet steak, he would have trotted through the underwear displays to her counter. She would have beamed up at him and stroked last winter's flannelette with her manicured talons. He would have been mesmerized as she pointed out the white piping edging on the collar and flattered him into believing it was retro. Honestly, straight men should be banned from shopping alone.
My husband of twenty-two years is an exceptionally kind and tactful man. He has never once grumbled about the oversized T-shirts I wear to bed (100 percent cotton, the only type that breathes properly) or the accompanying beige granny pants (giant knickers finishing at the waistline are the world's best kept secret).
A sensible woman would have rolled onto her side and completed the crossword ("10 Down: Cooking fat (4)"). But common sense has never been my forte. I had to open my mouth and say the new pajamas weren't very exciting. In no way was I making fun of him. I was just talking the way people do once we've nudged past 50. The instant the words rolled off my tongue I regretted them. He had every right to retaliate with observations about the extra twenty pounds I'd piled on while writing the last book, or point out that my idea of clothes storage is to toss them on the floor.
But he just smiled in that understated way that has always intrigued me. "Be careful what you wish for," he said, lifting his side of the quilt and climbing in beside me. "Excitement has a price."
The words hit me with the force of a cast iron wok landing on my head. Grateful as I was for our marriage, the wonders of modern medicine, our grown-up kids, and two beautiful granddaughters, in recent months I'd fallen into a confusing state of restlessness. Our life together had begun to feel a little, well, ho-hum. Excitement may come at a price, but I was almost ready to pay it.
My life hadn't always seemed so dull. Nothing could surpass the ecstasy of gazing into the faces of my four children for the first time. On countless occasions, a burst of bliss had popped out unexpectedly from the dampness of a kitten's nose, or the cool caress of grass under my feet. But the life I'd once led as a journalist, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, seemed a million moons ago. In those days, I could pick up a phone to hear some PR person begging me to do a one-on-one interview with Pavarotti or to take a trip to Alaska or Tahiti for the price of a few lines of travel writing.
These days, I was resorting to frankly desperate measures for a bit of excitement, and it wasn't working — for me or anyone else. The purple streak I'd persuaded the world's longest suffering stylist, Brendan, to apply to my fringe had been a disaster. Though Philip and the family were too tactful to say anything, I was starting to realize the new red fishnet stockings were a joke. Every day was a duller replica of the last. On my morning walk to the shopping center, a once opalescent sky bore down like a steely battle helmet. The magpies that used to land at my feet had, with the careless freedom only birds can muster, fluttered off to some other neighborhood. Even the birds were bored with me.
A visit to the doctor was an option, but I knew she'd reach for her prescription pad and tell me to exercise more. I had no intention of joining the army of medicated women with their fake smiles and dilated pupils concealing their shattered emotional states.
If I'd been in a novel, I might have taken off to France to embark on an affair with a lavender farmer. But even if I could do that to Philip, what self-respecting lavender farmer would have me? He'd laugh at my schoolgirl French and hate me for scattering croissant crumbs over his bespoke stone floor.
Instead, to liven things up on one slow Sunday afternoon, I smashed a serving bowl. I've never been a plate thrower. It landed with a satisfying wham at the same time I realized I'd actually quite liked that bowl. It was white porcelain, German, with delicate wavy edges, probably irreplaceable. My old self would have chosen to break something cheap and dispensable, like one of Jonah's feeding dishes. But that nice woman, who would have been too dignified and aware of others' feelings to throw anything heavier than a sock, had vanished. In her place had appeared a madwoman.
The only thing more shocking than the sound of china exploding on floor tiles was Philip's face. His skin went pale. His lips formed a circle. In the hollow silence, I was certain he would grab his car keys and walk out the door. He had every right to. I almost wished he would — I was tired of worrying about him leaving me for being too old, too fat, too me-ish anyway.
Gazing down at the shards of broken porcelain, I waited. Seconds later, I watched shamefaced as he reached for the dustpan and scraped the wreckage off the floor.
Our marriage was by no means on the rocks. If anything, our connection had deepened following a recent brush with breast cancer. During those months after the surgery, we'd clung to each other like a pair of shipwrecked sailors. Once things had settled down, however, and we adjusted to the idea I wasn't about to snuff it, we morphed into well-meaning neutrality. Like conjoined sleepwalkers, we drifted through routines of coffee drinking and sitting in front of the fire with matching iPads. There was Jonah, too, of course. Our deranged, medicated Siamese expected me to devote every waking moment to him.
My prognosis was good. But while I'd been relieved of the burden of arranging my own funeral in a hurry, part of me was missing the intensity of teetering on the edge.
If experience had taught me anything it was to be wary of irrational impulses. Decades earlier, a similar concoction of hormonal overdrive had catapulted me into teenage marriage and motherhood at the age of 19. Still, after my speed date with death, I couldn't help feeling that however much sand was left in the hourglass, I wanted to spend it living as if I was dying. I wanted to seize life with all its dangerous beauty and vitality.
Philip removed his glasses and put them on top of the pile of books on his bedside table. He leaned over, planted a kiss on my nose, and snuggled under the sheets. We always went to bed at 9:30 on Sundays because of the Big Week Ahead. He would be up at dawn pummeling away on his exercise bike before jumping into the shower. After he had shaved and climbed into his suit, he would bring me a mug of tea with toast and raspberry jam. Life together was cozy, but numbingly predictable.
My pen hovered over "7 Across: Boredom" (five letters beginning with E). Distant thrumming from down the hallway interrupted my concentration. The drumroll of paws pummeling floorboards was accompanied by a series of urgent and increasingly loud yowls.
"Here we go," Philip muttered from under the covers.
Clutching the crossword book, I tensed my buttocks and prepared for the assault. Seconds later, a wild-eyed Siamese burst through the bedroom door, sailed through the air, and landed with a thud between my legs.
My husband took a dim view of Jonah's fixation with my thighs. Whenever I tried to explain my nether regions have a well-upholstered squishiness that's irresistible to a comfort-loving feline, he seemed unconvinced. I didn't go out of my way to reassure him. Not when he and Jonah were the only two males on Earth who expressed any interest in my anatomy.
Damp and triumphant from battling imaginary dragons in his outdoor catio, Jonah emitted a victorious meow. He turned around three times, burrowed between my legs, and kneaded the quilt cover. Once he was confident I was satisfactorily pinned to the bed, the cat draped his ridiculously long tail over the mound of my knees. I lowered my hand and massaged his velvety nose with my forefinger. Purring like a tractor, he flossed his teeth on the other available fingertips.
Jonah flashed me a sapphire blink from behind his dark chocolate mask. He clucked appreciatively, and yawned. I lay still and waited for him to doze off. When the purring faded to a gentle rattle, I figured it was safe to reclaim my hand. I tried to inch it away, but a proprietorial paw stretched across my wrist. Jonah unsheathed his claws and squeezed my skin without quite puncturing it — his way of reminding me my status was several notches below his. Still, there's nothing more flattering than a cat including you in his life, even if he regards you as little more than a mobile cushion.
With Philip on one side and Jonah wedged between my legs, I felt like the filling in an alpha male croissant. Much as I loved Jonah, he was the most demanding cat in the world. A Velcro cat, he clung to my lap, my arms, my neck, and never let me out of his sight. He bellowed like a moose when things weren't going his way, which seemed to be most of the time these days.
Once they'd settled in and were drifting into their parallel dream worlds, I started to retrieve my hand inch by inch. With Jonah anchoring me to the mattress, I reached for the bedside light. My body emitted an involuntary groan, part of a symphony of noises it was making by itself these days.
Staring into the darkness, I wondered what was going on inside my husband's head. He seemed to have transitioned from the high passion of our early years to midlife contentment with hardly a glitch. Either that or he was an actor of Oscar-winning potential.
I supposed it was inevitable that French kisses should morph into Sunday night pecks. Love has many layers. Sex can be transporting and addictive, but to lust after the same person over and over again is asking a lot of the imagination.
Movies make a big deal of the first kiss and rapturous nights in bed together, followed (ninety minutes later) by the frantic dash to the airport when he thinks she's leaving him. Hollywood seems to have little interest in portraying the everyday and astonishing achievement of sustaining love through all the reincarnations two people go through in a lifetime together.
His breathing was becoming deep and regular.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"Whaaa?!" he said, tugging the sheet over his shoulder, and encasing himself like a caterpillar. "A good night's sleep wouldn't go amiss."
"No, I mean it," I said, tapping his shoulder. "If you had just a few years left, how would you choose to spend them? Is there something you've always dreamed of, a place you've wanted to go?"
The room fell silent. He'd either fallen asleep, or was thinking.
"Antarctica," he said after a long pause.
He knew my theory on Antarctica. Some places on Earth are so sacred people should leave them alone. Besides which, I can't stand the cold.
"A shack by the sea, and maybe a little boat to knock about in."
He'd always talked about having a beach house, but I could think of nothing worse. Being in charge of two kitchen sinks, having double the number of beds to make and a house full of sand sounded like slavery. As for boats, I hadn't earned the title of Vomit Queen for nothing.
Jonah stirred and made licking sounds. A ball of panic settled in the back of my throat. It wasn't so much that my life was nearly over, but that I might have chosen the wrong life. There was every chance this restlessness was nothing to do with second adolescence but a sign I was wasting my days cooking dinners and sifting through the litter box of an imperious cat. Maybe my soul — if I had one — was telling me I didn't belong in a ramshackle house on a dead-end street in inner Melbourne, and that my real home was somewhere altogether more glamorous?
At first, the voice in my ear sounded like tinnitus, but the message grew loud and clear: Time's running out. Grab all the excitement you can. I'd I sank into a whirlwind of turbulent dreams. Since I'd opened up to the idea of excitement, it seemed to be rushing in with cyclonic force. Though I'd never experienced a super storm, I'd seen how the one called Sandy had engulfed Manhattan a few months earlier. Watching the televised images of waves swallowing up the city moved me deeply. At the time, I had no idea that hurricane's force was far from spent. It would soon be driving another form of tumult into my life. I needn't have worried about lack of adventure. In an animal shelter across the world, a bundle of excitement was sitting inside a cage, licking its fluffy black paws ... and calling across space and time to me.
Heaven or Hellhole
A feline is seldom what she seems.
The following morning, I woke with a plan so perfectly formed it practically qualified as a vision. If it were true that I'd ended up in the wrong life in the wrong city, I'd change it, at least for a little while. And where better to move to than New York?
After all, New York and I had unfinished business. Though I'd never lived among the city's skyscraper canyons, I'd spent a tantalizing time there a few years earlier celebrating the launch of my first book, Cleo. The parties were every bit as glittering as I'd dreamed, the people warm and fascinating.
No one had been more surprised than me when Cleo bounced onto the New York Times bestseller list. For one thing, the book was about a cat and how she'd helped our family heal after my nine-year-old son Sam was run over and killed in 1983.
While Cleo the cat seemed to be an angel from another world through the darkest days of my grief, when I sent her story to literary agents and publishers most had run for the hills. Eventually it was picked up and before long it had been translated into countless languages.
Just when I was thinking it was time to sign up for gardening classes, I was spinning around the world in a whirl of happy disbelief — magical parties in Frankfurt and Vienna, where writers are revered as artists. In Warsaw, Poland, I found people love to read so much they fill a soccer stadium for their book fair. A tour of the tsunami region of Japan affected me profoundly. It was an honor beyond words when people who had lost so much wanted to share their grief with me.
At an elegant lunch on a whirlwind trip to New York, I steadied a glass of chardonnay and hoped my antipodean earthiness and oversized feet weren't too laughable.
Across the table, a woman beamed worldly warmth from under a froth of blond hair. The bright scarf around her neck was pinned together with a vivid enamel brooch the shape of a cat. Feline fanatic to the core, she confessed to keeping three cats in her two bedroomed apartment. When she smiled, the restaurant took on a peachy hue. Her name was Michaela Hamilton, executive editor at Kensington Publishing, and Cleo's US editor.
Now, with a new book soon to be released in the United States, I had a watertight excuse to return to New York. Except this time, I'd stay longer, immerse myself in the city, and put my dreary suburban life on hold. If I met enough fabulous people, some of their glamour might rub off on me. I'd drink champagne with the literati and (if my knee held out) dance down Fifth Avenue at dawn. They might even like me enough to ask me to stay on indefinitely. Only a fool would say no to that. All I had to do was contact Michaela and introduce my other half to the brilliance of the idea.
Philip's side of the bed was empty. I knew the rule. I was supposed to stay put until he brought in the tea and toast. Our sleepy cat protested as I rolled him off my body and leapt out of bed into my dressing gown. Jonah yowled and tried to cut me off so he could wrangle me back to bed for his regular cuddle. I sidestepped the flicking tail and dashed into my study.
According to my calculations, it would be late afternoon in New York.
I was in luck. Michaela was still at her desk.
Excerpted from "Bono"
Copyright © 2018 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for Helen Brown's beloved bestseller CLEO,
Chapter One - Plaid Pajamas,
Chapter Two - Heaven or Hellhole,
Chapter Three - Fostering a Kitten — Not,
Chapter Four - Love in the Gaps,
Chapter Five - An Inspiring Glide,
Chapter Six - Sex, Drugs, and Junk Food,
Chapter Seven - A City with Heart,
Chapter Eight - A Rock Star in Fur,
Chapter Nine - With or Without You,
Chapter Ten - Holy Smoke,
Chapter Eleven - Shopping with Mother,
Chapter Twelve - Cat Ballet,
Chapter Thirteen - The Universe in Amber,
Chapter Fourteen - Love in Hiding,
Chapter Fifteen - In Praise of Melancholy,
Chapter Sixteen - Brinkmanship at Bergdorf's,
Chapter Seventeen - Tearing My Hair Out,
Chapter Eighteen - Starstruck,
Chapter Nineteen - Fur-Filling A Promise,
Chapter Twenty - Broken Window, Open Heart,
Chapter Twenty-one - Alone, Not Lonely,
Chapter Twenty-two - Telling Tales,
Chapter Twenty-three - Becoming Local,
Chapter Twenty-four - Emotional Accountancy,
Chapter Twenty-five - Golden Towers,
Chapter Twenty-six - The Fear Machine,
Chapter Twenty-seven - Holding and Breathing,
Chapter Twenty-eight - Call of the Wild,
Chapter Twenty-nine - Last Chance,
Chapter Thirty - From Another Lifetime,
Chapter Thirty-one - Healers in Fur,
Chapter Thirty-two - Brandy and Big Noting,
Chapter Thirty-three - Invasion of a Door Slammer,
Chapter Thirty-four - Building Bridges,
Chapter Thirty-five - The Happiest Good-Bye,
Chapter Thirty-six - Crossroads,
Chapter Thirty-seven - Moving to the Groove,
Chapter Thirty-eight - Five Guardians,
Chapter Thirty-nine - Waiting for Bono,
Chapter Forty - Old Haunts,
Chapter Forty-one - Living Like a Cat,
Chapter Forty-two - I Remember You Well,
Chapter Forty-three - Islands Apart,