“But I bought this here yesterday!”
“I’m sorry,” he shakes his head firmly. “You’ve got the wrong place. We’ve always sold gifts here. Not pets.’
The pet carrier swings violently in my grasp as an enraged ball of feline hate and improbable strength rampages inside. I plonk the carrier down on the tarmac and remove my ankles to a safe distance from the grill at the front where a set of flickknives-cum-claws are poking through with evil intent.
“Look,’ I try and summon my final scraps of patience. “I haven’t got the wrong place. I pass here every day on my way to work – I get my coffee from next door – and I know you’re normally a gift shop. So that’s why I was very surprised to see that yesterday it was a pop-up pet shop.”
The man screws his face up. “A pop-up pet shop?” His incredulity makes me realise how totally absurd it sounds.
“Yes. A pop-up pet shop. A pet shop that’s only there for one day.”
“Oh? And what happens to the animals after that?”
“How should I know?!” My exasperation is making me sound mad. “I agree, a pop-up pet shop is a silly idea. But, nonetheless, I bought this cat here yesterday and I wish to return it.”
‘You are saying you bought this cat from me, in my shop?”
“Yes! Well, no. I bought it in this shop but I didn’t buy it from you. It was a woman.”
“No woman here. Just me.”
“There was a woman here yesterdray. The whole shop looked different – the outside was the same, this little wooden cabin thing’ – he scowls at me – ‘but inside it was completely different. All those little shelves and cabinets had gone. So had the till. It was stacked with cages full of all sorts of animals. I mean, mainly cats, but there were other creatures too – unusual ones. A tiny alligator, several snakes, a big black dog, a fierce rooster…And the woman had a big ginger cat over her shoulder – though I don’t think that one was for sale.”
“Creatures? No, this wasn’t here and I’m closing now. You’ve got the wrong place.”
He starts to pull the shutter down between us, anxious to get rid of the lunatic. “Please!” I grab the shutter. “Please, you’ve got to help me. Please. I bought this cat here yesterday when it was a pop-up pet shop. A lady sold it to me – he looked really sad and cute and I’ve wanted a cat for ages. I moved into a garden flat a few weeks ago so I thought it was perfect timing. Serendipity.”
He nods encouragingly. “Yes, yes – lovely cat. Having a lovely time in your garden,’ and he starts to close the shutter again. I heave it up.
“You don’t understand. He’s a hellcat!” I’m shouting again and it’s accompanied by a timely, terrible hiss from the box at my feet. “He’s ripped half my flat to shreds, I’ve got bitemarks all over me – I’ve got to get a bloody tetanus jab – he is a psychopath.”
The man smiles sympathetically. Then, to my surprise, reaches over and pinches my armpits so that I drop the shutter and he slams it down, bolting it from the other side. I hammer on it for a while, in an increasingly deranged fashion, until I think to pop round to the back of the cabin where I discover there’s a handy door which he probably escaped through ages ago.
Well, that’s it, I’m stuck with the evil monstrosity for now. I want to find that bloody woman and give her a piece of my mind, as well as a rabid beast of a cat. But I see now that I’ve been scammed. I’ll have to ride out the embarrassment and take this thing to the RSPCA. First thing tomorrow.
While all this has been going on, the area’s emptied. All the commuters have shot past, all the other cabins are packed up. I’m exhausted. I lug the box containing The Thing to a bench just by the grass and try to come to terms with being stuck with the ghastly creature for another night.
I’ve been sitting for a while, ignoring the yowling coming from the box, when I notice I’ve got company – a woman on a bench a little further down. With a ginger cat draped over her shoulder.
With gritted teeth and hair flying, I stride over to her, gesturing at the box. ‘I want a refund! Take this furry bastard back.”
She smiles at me, amused. “Oh, dear, sit down. You’ve not been getting on with Jonquil? You just have to get to know him.”
‘Oh yes, he’s one of the best familiars going. He really is. Here, have a sip of this.” She pours something from a thermos that smokes alarmingly.
‘Let’s have a little toast. It’s not everyone that can see us dear, as you’ve discovered. You’ve got quite a talent there. And quite a career ahead, I’d say, if you and Jonquil get on. He’s a wonderful assistant if you can keep him in line.”
And she downs the smoking liquid in one. And she cackles.