I virtually never venture into fiction, but the idea for this short story popped into my head after watching a WWF advert. That’s World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation. Anyway, I make no claims to literary merit, I just found it fun to write.
The debris of last night’s birthday party confronted Kitty as she thumped downstairs, ruefully surveying the wasteland of empty glasses and overflowing ashtrays. After rummaging in the kitchen cupboards for black sacks, she began to make a half-hearted sweep of the front room, brushing paper plates, stale ‘party nibbles’ and everything else into the bag between her fingers. As the bag filled, Kitty started to tie the ends together in a neat bow, but paused when she noticed an unopened envelope that had accidentally been picked up with the empty ones. Another card. Putting the bag down – and spilling four crumpled paper napkins from it as she did so – she tore at the seal, and withdrew a card:
Kitty! Happy Birthday, chicken! The big Three-Oh! LOL!
I didn’t think you’d want ‘stuff’, so – guess what? – I’ve adopted an animal for you! You know, from a sanctuary in Africa. Well, I think it was Africa. Might have been Kenya. Anyway, exotic! And saving the planet! LOL! Happy birthday again!
Auntie Deborah xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Kitty was puzzled. She didn’t have an aunt called Deborah. Perhaps it was some obscure family friend, who called herself ‘Auntie’. The kind of woman who sent do-gooder gifts, and probably disappointed children at Christmas by donating a goat on their behalf to a village “somewhere poor, you know?!” Kitty couldn’t place the name, but shrugged it off as she finished tidying up. For the time being, Auntie Deborah and her card were forgotten.
* * *
One week later. Kitty sat in her front room, ostensibly ‘working from home’ but wondering whether she could justifiably take her fifth tea break of the day. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. A welcome distraction, even if it was a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Pulling open the front door, Kitty’s “Hello?” floated into empty air. She saw nobody on the doorstep. Disgruntled, she was about to close the door again, when a cough sounded from the region of her knees. Sitting patiently on the doorstep was a leopard, with a small suitcase beside its left paw.
“Good morning,” said the Leopard politely. “I’m looking for Miss Kitty Prince?”
“Yes… er, can I help you?”
“You were expecting me?”
Kitty’s mind fogged for a moment, like the bathroom mirror after a shower. Then – she remembered the birthday card.
“Oh. Right, then. I suppose you’d better come in.”
“Thank you.” The Leopard glided sleekly past Kitty’s legs, leaving her to pick up the suitcase (neatly labelled Mr Leopard) and carry it into the hallway. He looked around curiously, eyeing the pictures on the wall and the coats hanging on their hooks, as Kitty held open the door to the front room to allow him in. The leopard padded over to the sofa, climbed onto it, and stretched himself imperiously along its length, front paws and tail-tip peeking over the edge of the cushions. There was no room for Kitty – who, in any case, would have felt rude sitting so close to the Leopard – so she perched uneasily on a dining room chair.
“So…” said the Leopard, expectantly.
“So…” said Kitty. She paused, unsure of how to phrase her next question without offending the Leopard. “Excuse me, but I didn’t realise that you were supposed to come to my house. I mean, I didn’t receive any information. I was told that someone had adopted an animal on my behalf but… well, I didn’t think that meant, you know, actual hands-on responsibility.”
“Oh, you’re not responsible in that sense,” chuckled the Leopard in a growly kind of way, waving a paw as he did so. The term ‘adoption’ is rather misleading in that sense. You don’t owe me any kind of legal responsibility, nor are you considered to be acting in loco parentis – which would be rather stupid anyway, given that I’m clearly not a cub! No, I think the best way to regard me is as a kind of an exchange student, of sorts.”
“So then – you haven’t come to stay?” asked Kitty, with a slight sense of relief. There was a spare bedroom in the house, that much was true, but she wasn’t entirely happy about the idea of sharing her house, much less with a leopard she didn’t know. He certainly seemed polite but – those teeth! Those claws! And he didn’t even have references, presumably.
“Not permanently, but I intend to be here for a while. I’ve enrolled on a course at the local college, you see, and I’m trying to start up my own web consultancy firm. So I might as well make myself comfortable while I’m here. On that note – if you don’t mind – where’s the bathroom?”
“Top of the stairs, it’s the first door on your right. Er… can you… can you, you know, use a bathroom? Would you rather go in the garden?
“The garden?!” The fur on the back of the Leopard’s neck stood on end. “No, I do not want to go in the garden. I’m not some lion, you know!” He padded haughtily out of the room, and his footfall could be heard going up the stairs.
Kitty began to ponder writing to her local MP, or possibly visiting the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, but couldn’t work out exactly how to frame her complaint. Pest Control seemed a step too far, and besides, the Leopard probably had legal rights. She was about to Google “leopard imposition problem,” when a flushing sound from upstairs warned her that the Leopard was about to come back. Hastily shutting down the Internet (yes, all of it), she turned to face him.
“You’re nearly out of handwash,” he said laconically.
“Never mind that. Here’s the thing, Leopard – ”
“LEO-pard,” he interrupted.
“It’s not LEPPARD, it’s LEE-OH-PARD. You’re pronouncing it incorrectly, just like every human I’ve ever met.”
“No,” countered Kitty, “It’s definitely LEPPARD. It’s always been LEPPARD.”
“For you, maybe. But, forgive me, I think that I would know how to pronounce my own name. LEO-pard, if you please. Or Panthera pardus pardus for the most formal occasions.” He had a point, conceded Kitty. “Look, what do you call that stretchy garment that gymnasts wear?”
“Exactly. LEE-OH-TARD. Not LETTARD. So, LEE-OH-PARD, not LEPPARD. Say it with me: Leo.”
“Thank you. Now, you were about to say something?”
“Yes, I…” Kitty thought for a moment. The Leopard (which we must now all pronounce as LEO-pard) didn’t seem like a bad sort really. And he wasn’t staying permanently. “Never mind,” she said. “You can stay if you like, there’s a spare room. But you’ll have to do your fair share of the housework and contribute to the groceries. I suppose you’ll eat a lot of expensive steak and so on.”
The Leopard looked down at the floor, and blushed slightly. That is to say, his spots got slightly darker. “No, er, no meat for me thanks,” he mumbled. “I’m… a vegetarian.”
“A vegetarian leopard?”
“Sorry, yes, ok, a vegetarian leopard?”
“I know, I know! Why do you think I applied to be part of the adoption scheme? All the other leopards laugh at me, I can’t live around them! And I can’t live with giraffes or zebras either – they run as soon as they see me! I’m a pariah! A pariah, I tell you! But I can’t eat meat, I can’t and I won’t!” To Kitty’s horror, the Leopard began to snuffle audibly, and a big leopardy tear rolled down his face.
“There, come on, don’t be sad! You can stay here, and you can get your web consultancy business up and running. Then maybe you’ll be ready to branch out, get your own place, and eat whatever you want without anyone judging you!”
“So, I can stay?” asked the Leopard hopefully, ceasing to snuffle.
“You can stay,” nodded Kitty. “We’ll go to the supermarket and stock up on salads and things.”
“Organic?” asked the Leopard.
“Don’t push your luck!”
“Alright, alright. Can I steer the trolley though?”