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Willow and I

‘Thanks for this, mum.’ Emily rummaged in her bag and produced a box with a grinning cartoon cat on the front. ‘Food for Willow.’
  Mary’s eyes widened. She thought she was just keeping an eye on her daughter’s flat while she was away, not her cat as well. Her smile froze as she reached for the box.
  Emily noticed. ‘You don’t mind, do you?’ she asked as she walked past her. ‘You’re the only person I know who has a cat flap.’
  ‘It came with the house,’ Mary called after her as she followed Emily to her car watched her reach into the passenger seat. Waves of pride and envy crashed over her, as they so often did when Emily popped in. Twelve months of travelling adventure lay ahead of her daughter, how was she going to get through the year without her. Emily retrieved the cat basket and carried it into the house as if it was expensive hand luggage. She carefully placed it on the kitchen floor.
  ‘I feel a bit guilty as I’ve only had Willow for a month, but this opportunity to travel was too good to miss. Anyway, I think it will do us good.’
  ‘Us?’ asked Mary.
 Was Emily talking about her or Willow? Mary gnawed at her lip as she watched Emily coax Willow out of the basket. Had she come to rely on Emily’s company too much? Mary gave a start. Emily was talking to her.
  ‘Promise you’ll send me photo updates.’ Mary’s brows pinched into a worried frown as she nodded she would. ‘It will be fine, mum,’ Emily reassured her. ‘You’ll love her.’ She wagged a finger in mock admonishment. ‘Just don’t lose her like you did the last one.’
  Don’t lose her. Those three words reminded Mary why she didn’t like cats. She had lost a cat once – her future mother-in-law’s! She’d been tasked with the job of looking after him while she was away. Unfortunately, Mary had opened the door to coax him outside far too early in his stay. In a blink of an eye, and before she could rectify her poor judgement, the cat’s lithe body had turned into a blur of speed as he escaped. Mary had searched for days, but her efforts came to nothing. Her soon-to-be mother-in-law’s cat was gone and he was never coming back.
  Her fiancé’s mother was livid, of course, and so was her fiancé. Soon after, their relationship began to crumble. He eventually called off their engagement – by telephone. Mary’s eyes had brimmed with tears, as she’d stared at the phone in one hand and the positive pregnancy test still clutched in the other. That day she came to the conclusion that cats had the power to ruin her life.

Mary watched Willow from across the kitchen. Her daughter had left five minutes before, rushing off in a flurry of airborne blown kisses and enthusiastic waves. Suddenly, Mary felt lonely again. With nothing better to do, she reluctantly trailed behind Willow, as her unwanted guest nervously explored her new surroundings. They occasionally eyed each other warily across the kitchen floor, but neither having the motivation to say hello.

The next day Emily asked for a photo update. Mary glanced at Willow, who was walking away from her with a ramrod straight tail. It twitched at the tip as if Willow knew she was watching her. Mary took a hasty snap and sent it to Emily. The image was a little blurred, but at least it proved she hadn’t lost her.
  The second request for an update compelled Mary to try harder. She dug out her antiquated camera and blew away the light film of dust covering it. Despite its appearance, the camera could produce beautiful, crisp and vibrant photographs – or at least it did once. Mary pressed the button which caused it to click and whirr provocatively in her hands. She smiled. Photography had been her passion once and the old camera had been a reliable companion during many exhilarating photo shoots.
Mary aimed her camera at Willow as she sat on the window sill. Willow slowly turned towards Mary, unfazed by the apparatus pointing at her. The camera clicked and whirred as it captured the first image. Willow’s calm attitude encouraged Mary to take more. An hour later, Mary examined the images she’d captured. She glanced up at her daughter’s cat in surprise. Willow’s eyes were beautiful – wide, full of wisdom, with flecks of vibrant cedar sprinkled in their depths. Why had she never noticed them before?

The months slipped by. Mary continued to use her camera to chronicle Willow’s stay.
  Willow chasing a butterfly, her soft, white paws spread like paddles in mid-air.
  Willow basking in the sunshine, her snow-white stomach exposed for tickling.
  Willow ready to pounce on a tumbling autumn leaf.
  Willow silhouetted against a low harvest moon.
  Willow inviting Mary to join her in the photograph, by way of her contented, slow blinking eyes and feline grin.
  By late Autumn, and with help of a self-timer, Mary succumbed to the temptation.
  Mary and Willow sharing chicken sandwiches by a glowing, open fire.
  Mary and Willow gazing into each other’s eyes as they snuggle under a duvet on a cold winter’s night.
  Mary and Willow, side by side, watching giant lace snowflakes fall from the dark winter sky through a window edged in frost.
  Mary and Willow, examining the first flowering shoots of spring.

Emily returned home, travel weary, happy and on the very day Mary’s photography exhibition, titled Willow and I, opened.
  ‘I think you’ve fallen in love with Willow,’ said Emily as she studied one of the images on the art gallery wall. ‘Your affection for her shows in every photograph you are in together. Do you want to keep her?’
  ‘Would you mind?’ asked her mother quietly.
  ‘No. I can see that Willow has fallen for you too, as I knew she would. And maybe …,’ said Emily smiling, ‘that was my plan all along.’