Arlo Twittle and The Island of Antoria
2. The Strange Mrs. Butcher
It was a warm and sunny day in the middle of July. The school holidays had started and as usual, Arlo had found himself packed off for the day to Mrs. Butcher.
He walked up the broken, cobbled path to the front door, rang the bell and waited. Four cats were fast asleep on the windowsill. Others, he noticed, were charging around the front garden, chasing butterflies.
Hearing Mrs. Butcher slip slapping up the corridor in her slippers, he turned back to the door, which opened with a loud creak.
“Hello Arlo, come in, come in,” she said, pulling the door further open.
How does she do that? he thought. It always surprised him how she knew. It wasn’t as if she could see him.
He gave up trying to work out the ‘how’s-and-whys’, stepped in to the hall and headed along the tiny corridor to the kitchen. Mrs. Butcher slip-slap-shuffled behind.
“So, what shall we do today,” she asked.
Arlo shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
“Don’t know. Well, we will have to think of something,” she added as she leant on the table. “How about a game of snap?” Arlo sat at the table while she went off to get the cards.
Although Mrs. Butcher’s house was old, smelly, and a little dusty, the place was still homely. He often wished his home were like hers. Well, except the smells of course. He looked around the kitchen at the mismatched cabinet doors. The flowers and herbs on the windowsill. The tiny crystals that hung from string from the curtain-pole. Those he loved the most. When the afternoon sun flooded through the window the whole room shone like a rainbow, and this was the best time of all. Because colour—of any description—wasn’t allowed at home. Except on his mother, who dressed in the most shocking of colours.
One of the cats, whose name he couldn’t remember, jumped on his lap, patted his legs a few times then made itself comfortable and fell asleep. He brushed a hand across the soft, white fur and tried really hard to think of its name. Nevertheless, there were so many of them, he could never work out which one was which.
The sound of Mrs. Butcher’s slippers shuffling along the corridor disturbed the cat. Its eyes opened and stared up at him, and Arlo was sure he saw the cat smile before it settled back down and went to sleep again.
They spent the morning playing snap. Arlo found it difficult to concentrate, pondering instead about the weird, smiling cat and ended up losing every game.
He was grateful when lunchtime arrived and nibbled at the ham and cheese sandwiches and sipped slowly at the glass of orange squash. After he had finished he went to play in the back garden, leaving Mrs. Butcher alone to make the cake for afternoon tea.
After a wasted game of hunt the lion, he sat quiet, hidden in the jungle of tall grass under the shade of a rather oversized plum-tree. Flies and bees were buzzing in the lazy warm air. The odd chirping of a cricket joined in the melody as it rubbed its legs together.
Arlo closed his eyes and breathed in, smelling the earthy scent of grass and flowers. A sweet chocolaty aroma floated on the light breeze to where he was sitting and he licked his lips.
Mrs. Butcher had told him once, ‘when you smell the cake baking it’s almost done’, and she had never been wrong yet.
He flopped back, filling the air with a billowing cloud of dandelion-fairies. Stretching, he caught one in his hand and stared up at the twisted branches full of dark green leaves.
I wish for a book. Pirates or wizards would be nice. Please fairy. Make my wish come true, he whispered inside his head. Then with one puff, he watched as it spiralled upwards to join the others and they drifted slowly away.
All of a sudden, three cats bounded out from the grass beside him eager to chase the fluffy seeds. They jumped and danced on their hind legs. Clawing and biting. Mewing and growling, as they desperately tried to reach them.
One cat in particular (a rather plump, grey stripey-looking thing), decided to use Arlo’s stomach as a trampoline. It proceeded to jump up and down, up and down, until Arlo couldn’t help but giggle.
The cat stopped. Looked and smiled, and then pounced forward, lost in the grass once more.
What is it with these cats today? he thought, a frown crinkling his small button nose.
“Tea-time Arlo,” Mrs. Butcher called.
* * * *
“So, I think it’s someone’s birthday tomorrow,” she said, as he stuffed the last morsel of chocolate sponge in his mouth.
Arlo nodded and sipped the warm, sweet tea.
“I have a special surprise for you,” she said.
He sat upright in the chair, his legs swinging excitedly as he waited to see what she had for him.
“Ah, but not yet,” and she chuckled.
His shoulders sagged; he didn’t know if he could wait until tomorrow.
* * * *
That night in his bed, he wondered what his surprise might be. Socks. A new ball. Maybe another jumper like she gave him last year. But, he knew he was only guessing. Sighing, he turned and looked at the stars twinkling in the sky. He made another wish, hoping the stars wouldn’t think him too greedy, and then closed his eyes and went to sleep.Copyright © by Sarah Neeve
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