Don’t Judge a Canberra Cat by its Cover (including audio)

To celebrate Fathers’ Day 2014, I returned to the roots of Capital Yarns and wrote a story for my youngest daughter, who requested three interesting items:

Guinea pigs + a Cat (that eats guinea pigs) + Parents

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApicture of family on carGuinea Pigs

Podcast Version

Text Version

The happiest day of Belinda’s life was her fourth birthday. She awoke when the first rays of light shone into her room, through the tiniest crack in her curtains. As her eyes flew open, she leapt out of bed and ran into her parent’s room.

Strangely, they were still asleep.

‘It’s my birthdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!’ she squealed with delight, leaping onto her father.

She landed on him mid-snore, and he let out a strange mix of grunt, snort and cry as he was awoken.

‘Eww, you have bad breath dad,’ Belinda exclaimed, squeezing herself between her parents.

‘Happy birthday,’ her mother murmured next to her, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

‘Would you like to unwrap some smaller presents here, or look at the special present outside?’ Mum asked.

‘Outside!’ Belinda shouted, her eyes wide.

The noise was too much for her elder sister, Joanna, who stumbled into the room.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked sleepily.

‘We’re going outside to see the special present!’ Belinda exclaimed.

The family made their way outside, Belinda running in front while the other three, still half-asleep, tried to keep up.

Belinda immediately saw part of her present sitting on the back lawn: a small, wooden hutch. Inside two small animals were scurrying about.

Guinea pigs!’ she called, running towards the hutch.

Joanna looked over at Mallard the cat, as Belinda opened the hutch, and swept one of the guinea pigs into her hands.

‘I’m not sure Mallard likes the look of our new pets,’ Joanna said cautiously.

Mallard was staring intently at the new pets from across the yard.

Belinda was too excited about her new present to notice.

‘I’m going to call this one, Larchey!’ exclaimed Belinda. ‘You can name the other one Jo.’

Jo looked closely at the two guinea pigs. The one Belinda was holding, who she had named ‘Larchey’, was a light brown in colour, with splotches of white. It was cowering closely against her tummy. The other, hers to name, was completely white in colour, with piercing red eyes. It was huddled in the furthest corner of the cage.

‘I think I’m going to call it Poppy,’ Joanna announced, picking it up gently from the cage and holding the tiny animal against her body.

From across the yard, Mallard looked on.

To the surprise of her parents, Belinda was upset when they called her inside an hour later to get ready for her party at the Adventure Playground.

‘But I want to stay and play with Poppy and Larchey,’ she exclaimed, still nursing the guinea pig gently against her chest. She was holding a water bottle to its mouth, which the guinea was gratefully sucking water from.

Mum looked over at Mallard. It appeared the cat had not moved from its vigilant stance, eyes still fixed on the girls and guinea pigs.

‘Mallard, behave yourself,’ Mum said.

Mallard continued to stare, as though oblivious to what she had said.

‘We have to see your friends Belinda, and you’ve been excited about going to the Adventure Playground all week,’ said Mum.

Dad pressed some buttons on his phone and began to read out what was on the screen.

‘According to HerCanberra, Kambah’s Adventure playground has two slides, a small climbing wall, and a spinner.  There is a also big spider net for the climbers and flying fox for the most daring kids.’

‘Thanks for that darling, that all sounds very exciting,’ said Mum. ‘How about we go and experience it, and we can play with the guinea pigs when we get back.’

Belinda didn’t move.

Dad started sniffing the air, much like a guinea pig.

‘What’s that strange smell? Is it grass? No, I don’t think it’s grass. Too chocolatey for that.’

Belinda looked up from the guinea pig, curious at her father’s strange actions.

‘There is some flour in there to… maybe sugar, eggs… cake, that’s what I can smell cake! I think it has four candles on top… perhaps some Frozen characters. Oh, it smells delicious, I think I’m going to find it and eat it all up.’

‘No!’ Belinda and Joanna shouted in unison.

‘Better come now then,’ suggested Dad.

Reluctantly Belinda and Joanna put the guinea pigs down, and watched excitedly as they ran quickly back into their cage.

Belinda had a wonderful party at the Adventure Playground, and had nearly forgotten about the guinea pigs when she returned home. But as she entered the backyard and saw the hutch, her memories came flooding back. She ran and peered into the cage, before calling out.

‘Where are they?”

The hutch was empty.

The rest of the family followed into the backyard, and began searching.

‘That’s concerning, the side of the hutch has been prized open,’ said Dad.

Tears began to well up in Belinda’s eyes.

Joanna scanned the backyard, searching for Mallard, and at last spotted the cat emerging from some bushes in the corner of the yard. He was walking quickly towards the cage, and some of his fur was ruffled. At the sight of the family, he opened his mouth, and two wet guinea pigs emerged. They ran quickly into their cage.

‘Mallard!’ Dad shouted in anger.

Belinda began to reach into the cage, to pull Poppy out.

‘I don’t think so Belinda, let’s let them rest for a while,’ said Dad.

He peered into the cage at the two frightened guinea pigs.

‘They seem okay, but being inside a cat’s mouth can’t have been good for them.’

Dad turned his attention to Mallard.

‘That was very bad Mallard, I can’t believe you tried to eat the guinea pigs. You’re lucky I don’t lock you in the laundry. In the meantime, I’m going to fix up this hutch.’

Mallard continued to stare innocently at Dad, as though he had done nothing wrong. Dad spent the rest of the afternoon fixing up the sides of the cage.

The next morning, Belinda trudged sleepily into the kitchen, in contrast a day earlier, she was the last in the family to wake up.

‘What are we doing today?’ she asked wearily.

‘We’re meeting your grandparents at Floriade,’ said Mum.

Dad looked down at his phone.

Floriade is Australia’s biggest celebration of spring. This iconic Canberra event, which is now in its 27th year, runs for 30 days over the months of September and October. It showcases one million flowers in bloom throughout Canberra’s Commonwealth Park and entry is free. The event welcomes more than 400,000 local, interstate and international visitors each year.’

‘Umm, yeah, thanks Dad, I think we all know what Floriade is by now,’ Joanna responded.

‘Ah yes, but do you know about Nightfest?’ Dad continued. ‘Over five amazing nights, Commonwealth Park comes to life after dark with an exclusive program of events featuring great live music acts, renowned comedians, cutting edge DJs, night markets and roving entertainment.’

‘Thanks for that honey,’ Mum said, kissing him on the cheek. ‘How about we all stop talking about Floriade and get ready to go and see it.’

‘Will the guinea pigs be okay around Mallard?’ Belinda asked concerned.

‘I think so,’ Dad continued. I’ve tightened the cage up so it should be cat-proof.

After a wonderful time picnicking and playing amongst the flowers at Floriade, as well as eating a delicious bubblegum ice cream, Belinda ran immediately into the backyard when she returned home.

‘Yay, they’re alive!’ she exclaimed, again peering into the hutch.

Joanna hung back from the box for a moment, watching Mallard.

‘Mallard is sitting staring at their box,’ she said. ‘I think he’s been doing that since we left.’

The girls spent the afternoon playing with the guinea pigs; although, it wasn’t entirely clear if the small pets enjoyed all the attention. Belinda dressed Poppy in some dolls’ outfits, and Joanna wheeled Larchey around the yard in a pram.

Mallard watched on from the corner of the yard, never for a moment taking his eyes off the smaller pets.

‘Behave yourself, Mallard,’ Joanna said nervously a number of times.

At last it was time to go inside for dinner, and the girls reluctantly put the guinea pigs down so that they could return to their open hutch. But their tiny feet had barely touched the ground, before Mallard had leapt from his position. As the girls looked on in horror, the large ginger cat sped across the yard and again scooped the guinea pigs into his mouth.

‘No Mallard!’ the girls shouted.

Dad ran out of the house and chased Mallard across the yard. But before he could catch him, the cat opened his mouth and deposited the two guinea pigs next to their cage, before running into the bushes and disappearing.

‘That’s it, we’re going to have to lock that cat away from the guinea pigs,’ Dad said, puffing and out of breath.

When at last Mallard re-appeared later that night, Dad scooped him up and put him in the laundry.

‘You can live here until we know we can trust you again,’ he said. He put the plastic square into the cat flap so that Mallard could not come and go from the house as he usually did.

Belinda and Joanna both ran home from school the next day, eager to once again play with the guinea pigs.

‘You can only play with them for an hour,’ Mum said as they entered the yard. ‘I need to go and do some shopping at the Belconnen Markets.’

‘Ahh, the Belconnen Markets,’ Dad began, glancing at his phone. ‘Canberra’s oldest fresh food markets, synonymous with some of the finest selections of nutritious locally grown food in Canberra since 1976. A place where shopping is an adventure, offering a wide selection of speciality stores where you’ll be spoilt for choice, discovering gourmet ingredients to create delicious, healthy meals for the whole family. And complete with a children’s playground covered by a giant mushroom!’

‘That actually sounds pretty cool dad,’ Belinda replied. ‘I’m just going to grab a hat from inside, do you want one Joanna?’

‘Yes please,’ Joanna replied, opening the hutch so the guinea pigs could come out.

Belinda entered the house through the laundry, and saw Mallard sitting in the corner of the room, staring intently at the cat flap. As she entered, he sniffed the air and became agitated. He stood up and began walking purposefully towards the door.

‘No Mallard,’ Belinda said. ‘We can’t trust you near the guinea pigs.’

Mallard appeared oblivious to her words, his eyes staring outside the door. Belinda turned to check on the guinea pigs, and then looked back at Mallard.

He didn’t appear to be staring at them after all, but at something further away near the bushes. Belinda turned again to look outside and focussed on the bushes.

It took her a moment to see what Mallard was staring at; two small eyes were peering out. And then suddenly the bushes were moving;  in a blur, a small animal sprang fourth and ran towards the guinea pigs.

Belinda felt a rush of wind between her legs as Mallard flew out the door, also heading towards the tiny guinea pigs, who were sitting in the middle of the yard nibbling on grass, oblivious to the sudden commotion.

All Belinda could do was look in horror.

‘Joanna!’ she called desperately, but before Joanna could even turn around, the two blurs that were Mallard and the animal from the bushes had reached the guinea pigs.

Belinda could now see the animal which had emerged from the bushes as it reached the guinea pigs; it was a small red fox, and it had its jaws wide open.

But just as she was convinced the fox would gobble up both guinea pigs in a single bite, Mallard reached them. The cat expertly scooped the tiny pets into his mouth, snatching them from the open jaws of the fox. Without breaking stride, Mallard continued running, stopping only for a moment to deposit the guinea pigs back at their hutch before continuing to run back inside the house and through Belinda’s legs once again.

Joanna, Mum and Dad were looking on in amazement.

The fox, for his part, seemed stunned by what had happened. It took it a moment to realise a number of larger human were now staring at it, but when it did, it quickly turned and ran back into the bushes. The family heard a scurrying as it made its way over the fence.

Belinda came running out of the house.

‘Did you see that! Mallard saved Poppy and Larchey!’

‘I think he did,’ Dad replied.

‘What a hero!’ Joanna said.

The family walked back inside the house together, to find Mallard curled up on his mat inside the laundry.

‘I’m sorry we misjudged you old boy,’ Dad said, opening the cat flap once again.

‘Good boy!’ Joanna and Belinda said, stroking and cuddling Mallard, who seemed to be enjoying the attention.

‘Your favourite tuna for dinner tonight, Mallard,’ Mum continued. ‘Maybe we should all get a nice dinner to celebrate Mallard’s heroics. Perhaps Ricardo’s?’

‘Ahh, Ricardo’s,’ Dad began looking at his phone. ‘A Canberra institution with a wonderful selection of sweet things, set right next to a playground. The cafe serves…’

‘Yep, thanks Dad, we get the message!’ Mum, Belinda and Joanna all said in unison, laughing together.

Dad laughed too.

‘Before we go, I’ll see if I can fix that fence to stop that fox getting back in.’

And that’s just what he did, preventing the fox ever returning.

Mallard and the guinea pigs continued to be the best of friends; as they had been from the very beginning.

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