Adriana Island Cats #1 (Humor)
Holly and Ben take early retirement, moving to five acres on a small west coast island. The situation is not as idyllic as it sounds, however. Ben wants a second career in market gardening but Holly hates the country. Holly wants a cat, but Ben thinks cats are boring and useless. They agree that if Holly truly cannot stand the farm after a year has passed, they’ll move back to the city. Holly crosses her fingers that she can keep the cat forever.
When George the Magnificent, tabby/Siamese ruler of all he surveys, is adopted by the couple, it doesn’t take him long to convert Ben to an animal activist. The menagerie quickly expands to include Henry, a stray cat with a Buddhist nature, a Samoyed dog and chickens, never mind the wild birds, deer and raccoons that Ben thinks he should feed. Add to this mix the renovation of dilapidated farm buildings, unexpected guests, invading cattle, and a well that runs dry, and Holly begins to wonder if the year will ever end.
And when it does, will she have the heart to deprive Ben of the land he loves so much?
What People Are Saying
George’s funny antics will have you nodding your head and very often laughing out loud. I really enjoyed this cute, funny story and highly recommend it.
— Marilyn Clay
Clever humor, sharp dialogue and engaging characters.
— Barbara McDonell
The charming tale is a wonderful cat story, but it also works on another level, about needs and hopes and reaching to be more than you thought you could be.
— Deborah MacGillivray
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I – A NEW YEAR, A NEW LIFE
I had to yell to make myself heard over the night club’s orchestra and the shouts and laughter of other New Year’s Eve revelers. “If you insist we buy a farm, I insist on having at least two or three cats around!”
“I don’t want cats on our farm,” Ben shouted back across the table. “They’re boring and brainless. All they do is sleep and shed hair.”
“That’s not true! Cats are a lot of fun. And they catch mice. Didn’t you listen to all those stories I told you about how funny they are?”
“I listened; I just don’t believe it.”
This ritual argument had been going on for the entire fifteen years of our marriage. We lived in a condo near Beacon Hill Park and pets weren’t allowed but I’d managed to partly assuage my longing for those furry, cuddly, crazy little characters called cats by visiting my Aunt Peggy, who always had two or three in residence.
Now my life was changed completely. Ben had just taken early retirement so he could fulfil his life-long dream of living on a small farm. Aunt Peggy, much to my sorrow, had passed away in November. She’d left me the house but her cats had gone to a friend. I’d tried persuading Ben to move into the house, where I could keep Peggy’s cats in their familiar territory and he could have a big garden in the back, but he was determined to have his farm, far away from city noise, traffic and hectic work schedules.
Reluctantly, I’d rented out the house and quit my job. I wouldn’t miss the job, but I didn’t know how I’d survive without the city, my friends and my bridge group. I had to keep telling myself I’d finally have enough peace and quiet to write the short stories I’d been playing with for years. I wouldn’t have to get up early or wear pantyhose. I could have as many cats as I wanted and prove to Ben, once and for all, what wonderful animals they were.
Rusty, who had been Ben’s ex-boss for all of five hours, tapped my arm and said, “This farming fantasy of Ben’s won’t work, you know. You’re both city people.”
“That’s right.” Jean, Rusty’s wife, shook her head at me. “Holly, you don’t have a green thumb; you can’t even grow house plants.”
That was true. My thumb was so brown it was darn near black. It was Ben who loved gardening and wanted to grow carrots and peas and potatoes, not me.
“I grew up on a farm,” I said.
“And I’ve done a lot of reading,” Ben added.
“Doesn’t matter.” Rusty signalled the waiter for another round of drinks. “You don’t have any experience and that’s what counts.”
“We’ve agreed to give it two years,” Ben said. “If I can’t make a go of market gardening, or Holly really can’t stand country life, we’ll be back.”
“I’ll bet you’re back within a year!”
“Wanna put your money where your mouth is?” Ben winked at me.
“Sure!” Rusty pulled a bill out of his wallet and waved it around. “Fifty bucks says I’m right. And I’ll even give you your job back so you can pay me off.” He looked at me mournfully. “Best cost accountant I ever had and he’s gonna go raise chickens and goats!”
Three months later we stood at the gate of our new property on Adriana, a small island in the Strait of Georgia.
“There it is, two hectares of the best soil on the island.” Ben beamed as he gave me a hug. “And look at that view!”
“Don’t talk to me in metric,” I said, “it’s five acres.” He was right about the view, though.
The land lay on the eastern slope of the central north-south spine of hills, facing the Strait. Fifty yards beyond the maples, cedars and Garry oaks fringing the bottom of our meadow, the sea sparkled blue and serene under the March sun. Robins and sparrows warbled. Crows flapped lazily across the sky and seagulls soared over the beach. The air smelled of new growth and salt sea. I looked at the dilapidated buildings and moaned.
“We’ll have the place in shape sooner than you think,” Ben said, giving me another squeeze.
The old two-story house was big – at least we could have plenty of company – and I loved the wide front veranda facing the island-dotted sea. I could see myself sitting out there every morning with a mug of coffee, watching sunrise spread gold over the water and listening to the sleepy chirping of birds while I scribbled immortal prose. But not until we fixed the cracked siding and completely renovated the interior. Then there was the back door, which faced the road where we stood and seemed about to fall off its hinges. The chicken house resembled a pile of rubble. The two-foot high lawn was booby-trapped with abandoned iron bedsteads and bits of wire. The orchard looked like it hadn’t been pruned since the Second World War.
“I’ve got it all planned out,” Ben said. “Renovating won’t be a problem.”
I thought he was as overly optimistic about the renovations as he was about my learning to love living on a farm. Mora Bay, the ferry terminal and main town on Adriana, was small and we’d probably have to go to Victoria for major supplies. The five miles of gravel road to Mora Bay, twisting through cedar-scented forest and a scattering of tiny farms, took fifteen minutes and the crossing to Victoria an hour. Add the amount of time it would take to drive to a building supply store, pick up materials and make the trip home and we’d blow a whole day just getting a bag of nails. I reminded myself that clocks didn’t matter any more.
Ben had assured me, all through the purchase negotiations, that the house looked worse than it was. He said the structure and plumbing were sound and the only major expense, other than replacing the inner and outer shells, would be some electrical work.
Ben patted my arm. “Come on, Holly, quit worrying. The house is livable.”
“Just barely.” One burner was gone on the stove, the fridge motor gave a death rattle when it shut off and the linoleum was worn down to the backing. In the first glow of finding affordable land that pleased Ben and a view that consoled me – a little – for leaving the city, I hadn’t paid much attention to these little problems. Besides, Ben kept consulting his cost estimates and telling me to look at the big picture. So I had. I’d looked at the meadow and the sea and dreamed of going back to the city. And shut my eyes to that disaster of a house.
But renovating, no matter how tough, had to be less of a pain than my years of being a legal secretary, where the only good thing was the salary. And Ben had agreed to my having one cat. A far cry from the six I wanted, but it was a start.
“Don’t forget the pool,” he said. “When the weather gets warmer we can have a leisurely dip every night before cocktails. More luxury than we had in the condo.”
The real estate agent told us that the pool had been put in six months before, the only new structure on the place. Ben was yearning to strip off the blue plastic cover and dive in but the pool wasn’t heated and, even for a water enthusiast like him, March is not the time to go swimming in southern British Columbia. As far as I was concerned, water was only useful as a hot shower or in a glass with ice. A pool was merely something to sit beside with a book, a plate of munchies and a martini.
Footsteps crunched on the gravel road to our left. A lanky man with graying carroty hair sticking out from under a baseball cap stopped beside us. He held out his hand. “I’m Cal Peterson from next door. Saw your furniture van come yesterday.” Cal towered over me and looked to be a good six inches taller than Ben, which made him well over six feet.
We introduced ourselves and Cal asked, “You folks work in Victoria?”
“We’re retired,” Ben said.
“Go on, you’re way too young.”
Blond, blue-eyed men are lucky; Ben looked forty-five rather than fifty-five. Aging had merely turned his hair and beard the color of faded straw and he could outlast me at the gym without even breathing hard. Dark women aren’t so lucky; my long braid of black hair was laced with silver, though Ben tried to convince me that I hadn’t changed a bit since our wedding day.
“Well, I’m not really retired.” Ben waved his hand at our land. “I’ve always wanted to have a little farm. No more rules and regulations, no more eight-to-five routine. Fresh home-grown vegetables and fruit.” He looked at Cal. “Have you lived here long?”
“Born in that house right there.” Cal pointed to a mossy, cedar shake roof barely visible beyond the blackberry bushes marking our northern boundary. “Anything you want to know about the island or getting things done, just ask me.”
“Thanks.” Ben nodded at the set of parallel iron bars set flat into the ground between our two gate posts. “Okay, first question. What are those for?”
“Cattle guard. Guess you folks don’t know much about farming.”
“I learn fast,” Ben said. “But I never saw one of those before. How does it work?”
“See, it hurts the cow’s feet, stepping half on the bars and half on the empty space between. So they stay off it. You planning on raising any cattle?”
“Maybe one cow and a calf each year for the freezer.”
“We might raise cats, too,” I said, tongue in cheek. “I’ve had some experience with that.”
“We aren’t going to raise cats,” Ben retorted. “I know purebred kittens sell for big prices but the costs are bound to wipe out any profit.”
I should have known Ben would do the research. Cost accounting was in his blood and he’d even got into the habit of applying profit principles to our private lives. His desk was always awash in detailed budgets. I was hoping retirement would cure him, because I had no intention of raising kittens to sell. If I lucked into any kittens, I intended to keep them forever.
Ben pointed to the right of our tattered house. “See the fenced area there with the little shed? Figured I’d plow it up for a garden and sell vegetables.”
Cal rubbed his jaw. “That’s near two acres. You’ll need a better fence to keep the deer out. Anything under eight, ten feet, they’ll jump it.”
A rabbit popped out of the blackberry bushes hedging the west side of our land from the road. I hadn’t noticed there were vines on three sides of the property; Ben’s first cash crop might be blackberries. Unless I took up making blackberry wine to drown my sorrows. The rabbit stared at us in astonishment, waggled its ears and scooted away.
“Could have a problem with rabbits, too,” Cal added.
“Not with a good dog around,” Ben said. “I’m going to get a pup and train it. But first I want to build a carport and a workshop, fix up the chicken house.”
“Our house needs fixing, too,” I reminded him.
Cal removed his cap and smoothed back his hair. “The agent tell you that well’s inclined to go dry in summer?”
The well was fifteen feet from the back door, on the orchard side, and the real estate blurb had referred to it as ‘picturesque.’ It was four feet in diameter, protected from the elements by a thigh-high stone wall and a peaked wooden roof. A wooden lid kept debris out of the water but the small oaken bucket and crude winding handle suspended beneath the roof were purely for show. The pump house, attached to the back of the house, had apparently been built for midgets. The only way Ben could get in was on his hands and knees. When, at his suggestion, I’d crawled halfway in to see what a water pump looked like, spiders and strange little black insects scuttled in every direction. I backed out too fast and banged my head on the door frame.
“The agent said it was only twenty feet deep,” Ben said, “but with all the rain we get on this coast, I don’t think there’s much danger of it going dry.”
“Uh huh.” Cal reached in his shirt pocket. “Well, you want any help, let me know. I do electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, just about anything you need.” He handed me a business card that said ‘Mister Fix-it’. “I’ll drop around again when you’re settled in. Gotta go feed my Angoras.”
After he strolled away, I said, “Do you suppose he has Angora cats or Angora goats?”
“Could be either. He seems like a bit of a character.”
“If he meant cats, I want to see them. But I guess that can wait.” I gazed at our tumbledown kingdom. “We need a name for our farm. How about Adriana Acres?”
“This country has been using metric for years. Make it Holly Hectares.”
“No thanks!” I’d finished high school before the government introduced the metric system and I still hadn’t got the hang of it. Mostly because I didn’t want to.
“Let’s finish unpacking. We can think of a name later.”
“I’m going to organize my office.” It was hard to believe I actually had my own space. Now, with time and country quiet, perhaps I could polish the short mystery stories I’d been scribbling for years. I’d picked the big room in the northeast corner of the house, with one window overlooking the veranda, meadow and sea and another with a view of the old orchard screening Cal’s farm from our house. The scenery would keep my mind off the peeling wallpaper until we redecorated but the place stank of mouse droppings.
“I want to get a cat soon so we can put the run on those mice.”
“Traps work just as well. And they’d be cheaper.”
“Ben, cats have personalities the same as people and they’re a lot of fun. You’ll enjoy having a cat once you get to know it.”
“When we get a guard dog, you can make a pet of him. I just don’t see the point of having animals unless they earn their keep.”
Ben’s attitude was another challenge, like the house, the chicken coop and all those things Cal had said about rabbits and deer. With the right cat, though, I was sure it would be the easiest to overcome.