• Ellen Dorrington

Biscuit (a short story)

Updated: May 11, 2020


Biscuit is lost. Biscuit is our cat. He can’t ask for help, because he can’t talk. He can talk, I think, we just can’t understand what he says. Meow Meow Meow, Biscuit says. My name is Biscuit. I live on 44 Spruce Street.

I’m looking for Biscuit. I haven’t ever been on this road by myself before, but I was playing in the garden, and I saw a flash of orange, just like Biscuit. He is the colour of a ginger nut and his fur is soft and he is fast. I chased after him, and now I am on a different road.

I’m going to ask that old lady for help. She’s standing right by the traffic lights, peering at the button for the green man. I am good at waiting for the green man, and I’ll tell you a secret: if you look at the bottom of the button a special knob spins round and round, and you can’t see it, only if you’re little like me and know where to look. Mummy says the secret button is for blind people, and I also know that it is for spies.

The old lady is too close to the cars. When I get to her, I can feel the big metal whirring of them speeding past, roaring like dragons. I tug on the bottom of her t-shirt. She doesn’t look at me.

Her t-shirt is grass coloured with little pearls embroidered on it. There’s a big soup stain on her chest, like a splodge, to let her know where her heart is.

‘Hello!’ I say. Still no answer. ‘Hello?’

Maybe she is deaf. There is a boy in my class who is deaf and I know how to say good morning and one song, kookaburra, all in sign language.

I do a sign for the old lady but she doesn’t pay attention. I jump three times.

‘Hello! Hello! Hello!’ I say, with each jump.

Only then does she fix her little eyes on me. They are bright blue, watery blue, and too shiny for my liking. It looks like crying eyes. Maybe I shouldn’t ask her for help.

But she smiles. She has very few teeth. They are far apart from each other and they are yellow. This old lady needs to clean her teeth, like how I do, for two whole long minutes, and my toothbrush plays a song to tell me when to stop. The music makes it not so bad. I do a dance in the bathroom until my big brother Andrew tells me to stop.

‘Hello,’ The old lady says, looking down at me. Her voice is rough like sandpaper. It sounds as if she hasn’t spoken for a long time, like her voice has been strangled out of her. Maybe she has a cold, even though it’s summer, and nobody gets a cold in the summer.

‘I’m looking for my cat.’ I say. Talking to her now makes my tummy hurt. The old lady is shuffling away from the road. Her back is curved like a giant letter C and she plods one foot in front of the other. She moves like a tortoise, and comes to stand in front of me.

I want to go back home and to my mummy but I need to find Biscuit. Biscuit can only meow and he doesn’t have pockets so he doesn’t have any money.

‘I’m looking for Eileen,’ The old lady tells me. She peers at me very closely, like I might be hiding Eileen somewhere.

‘Is that your cat?’ I ask her. She laughs, but as soon as she makes one chuckle she starts coughing. She wobbles as she coughs, and the cough comes from deep inside her lungs, like something bad bad is there. It is rattling around inside her. The old lady coughs for ages before she stops and when she does she is puff puff puffing. Her breath is rasping, which is a new word I learnt in school, and Mrs Woods gave me a sticker for using it in a sentence.

The old lady is rasping.

‘Do you need a doctor?’ I ask her, and then my insides feel all twisty, and I say, ‘Are you going to die?’

‘Me? No!’ The old lady said, still puffing. She puts her hand on the green man box to steady herself, and I watch her to make sure she does not fall.

‘I’m too young to die,’ The old lady says. A pause. ‘I’m looking for Eileen.’

‘I’m looking for my cat.’

‘Maybe they are together,’ The old lady said, ‘Maybe Eileen has your cat.’

‘Maybe!’ I am excited. I think Eileen might be another old lady, and Biscuit likes old ladies. When my Nana came to visit from Jamaica, Biscuit jumped in her lap and she yelled and pushed him off. My Nana does not like cats but once I saw her, in secret, stroking Biscuit on the very top of his head, where he likes it most. He started purring like a cat robot. I saw his bright orange hairs all over Nana’s black skirt.

You can collect these things when you’re a spy. They’re called clues, and it helps you work out what is true. Sometimes grown-ups lie and it’s a spy’s job to work out why.

‘I think Eileen has gone to the seaside,’ The old lady says, ‘She liked it there.’

The seaside seems very far away. We went there last summer for our holiday, and the car ride was long and made me sleepy. Biscuit wouldn’t be at the seaside because he doesn’t like water and I’m not allowed to put him in the bath, only Mummy is allowed to wash him, and when she does I hear her shouting ‘bloody cat!’ which is a swearword and I’m not allowed to say it.

‘I don’t think Biscuit is at the seaside,’ I say to the old lady, but she is not listening. She is humming a song to herself, and I think it is the one we had to sing in assembly, oh I do like to be beside the seaside. But I could be wrong. Spies sometimes are wrong.

‘Eileen liked the seaside. It’s where she met Albert,’ The old lady says, and she opens her eyes and looks at me, urgently. ‘Where’s Albert?’

Who’s Albert? It is becoming hard to keep track of who is missing.

‘We’ll find Albert after we find Biscuit and Eileen,’ I say to the old lady, and she smiles, all of her fear gone. It looks like she has melted. I think she needs to sit down.

My Nana needs to sit down after she has played with me. But it’s okay, because normally she gives me a cuddle. Even though she is an old lady, she is not like this old lady, who is as white as a cloud. My Nana is sturdy. I told her this, and she laughed, and said, ‘Nonsense. I am just fat.’

Why am I thinking about Nana when Biscuit is lost? My thoughts are all jumbly. I imagine them like strings and I pull them together in one big knot. Biscuit is lost. Biscuit is our cat.

‘Do you know how to get to Eileen?’ I ask the old lady.

‘Yes!’

This old lady has a voice that wobbles when she is excited. My Nana has a booming voice, it can be scary when she shouts, but she also laughs more than anyone else and tells me I am the most beautiful girl in the world. This old lady smiles only a few times and it is a rain type of smile. When you try to make the best of things but you wish it was sun sunny instead.

I wish my Nana wasn’t so far away because even though she hates Biscuit she would help me find him.

‘It’s this way,’ The old lady says. She reaches out to grip my arm, her fingers cold and knobbly. They grasp me tightly, and I feel the old lady’s weight, too heavy. She is hurting me.

She pulls me forward, down the street towards the high street and all the shops, including the corner shop that always has a dog tied up outside it, which is cruel, because the dog should be allowed to come inside.

We walk along for a few steps. The old lady walks too slowly, but at least we are not near the cars anymore. I am starting to get annoyed. I try to uncurl her fingers from my arm one by one, but as soon as I get one off and work on the other, she’s touching me again.

‘Please let go of me,’ I said to her, but she shakes her head.

‘You’re taking me to Eileen.’

‘No!’ I don’t know where I am going beyond the shops. I try to line up the roads in my head and make them into patterns, but I have forgotten where to go. What if I forget my way home? What if I am lost like Biscuit?

‘I need to go home,’ I say.

The old lady stops. She sighs, and when she looks at me, she is angry. ‘You’re useless. Why aren’t we going to Eileen?’

Her words feel like little bee stings, but on the inside, in my chest.

Nana never says things like this to me. On the phone, just yesterday, I told her I had lost Biscuit. She said it is okay, he knows the way home because last time she visited me she put butter on his paws, and that helps him find his way back. I asked her when she was coming to visit me and she said not this year.

Mummy took the phone away from me. She had watery eyes, like the old lady.

Into the phone she said, ‘I know, I know. I’ll do it - maybe when the cat comes back. It’ll be too hard otherwise.’

What is too hard?

I do not know where I am. The shops do not look like the shops I visit with my mummy after school. The old lady is still holding me and I don’t know how to make her let me go, how to find Eileen, or where Biscuit is, or who Albert is, or how to get home.

I want to cry. I feel the hotness rising, feel water in my eyes. If I blink there will be tears but I am a brave girl.

I was worried about Biscuit but now I am worried about the old lady too.

‘I don’t know where Eileen is,’ I say to the old lady. I know she doesn’t have a mummy but I don’t know why. My Nana doesn’t have a mummy or a daddy or a husband. She lives with my uncle, in Jamaica.

Last month Mummy went to Jamaica and she didn’t take anyone with her. When you are a spy you look for clues, even when you don’t want to. Even when they make you feel heavy, like when you want to take off your coat off to go and play.

‘You should go home,’ I say to the old lady, ‘Eileen might be at home.’

The old lady nods but she does not move. I wait and it feels like a whole minute goes past before she speaks again. She says, ‘Hello. Can you help me find Eileen?’

I start to cry. I don’t know what to do. Everyone walks past us, looking at us a little funnily, like we are a big dog poo in the street.

I find it hard to breathe. I think what I’m doing now is wailing, noisy, and it makes me feel like a siren. A woman finally stops and bends down, shopping bags in her hands. They clatter to the floor.

‘Hello, love,’ She says, ‘Do you and your gran need help?’

I don’t know how to tell her about everything that is wrong. I cry louder, making little gulpy breaths I don’t know how to stop.

There is a police man now. He is holding the old lady’s shoulder and talking to her, his voice making a shushing sound. He has his special hat on, with a shiny silver badge, so everyone knows he is a policeman. People turn and look at him, at us, because when a policeman is there, it usually means there is trouble.

We are in trouble. We are the trouble.

‘Eileen,’ He says, his round face bright and pale. It reminds me of the moon. ‘We’re glad we found you, Eileen.’

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