NCLA New Writing:
Extract from ‘Goodnight, Tom’ by Gavin Hetherington
GOLDEN leaves cried from the sky as a gentle breeze swept them up in a calm tornado. They danced around the young boy, walking stiffly from the only car in the parking lot. It was colder than usual. He looked down, his eyes heavy. In his hand was a pet carrier. Within the pet carrier was Tom, his beautiful black cat.
“Oh, God.” The words erupted from the depths of his throat. He turned his eyes away, not baring to look. His knees expired as he exhaled noisily. Now crouching, he scrunched his eyes shut, fruitlessly containing the water that escaped down his face.
They were still together. They still had time together.
He opened his eyes slowly. Tom was looking at him through the bars. The cat was alarmed, almost frightened. He didn’t understand what was going on. His eyes never left the boy. The boy’s eyes never left the cat. The moment carried on, that fleeting, blissful moment where both were connected. But the boy knew what was coming.
It took a force of courage to erect the boy. His grip on the handle of the pet carrier tightened. He never wanted to let go, even as he took his first steps toward the entrance of the veterinary. The world was at a standstill. No cars passed on the highway. Nobody crossed the street towards him. It was just him and Tom.
The bell of the door supposedly rang, but the boy never heard it. His footsteps echoed around the reception, but again he never heard it. He was greeted by the man behind the desk. He never heard it.
He looked at the man. His mouth moved. He was smiling. Why was he smiling? What possible reason did he have to be happy? People don’t come to veterinary hospitals with animals that are healthy.
“Can I help you?” The man’s words finally managed to break through the boy’s barrier.
“I have an appointment.” The words croaked from his mouth reluctantly. The more he spoke, the more the lump in his throat threatened to break him. He gave his name and waited for the man to allow him to leave his gaze.
He took a seat in the waiting area. On his lap he rested the pet carrier, allowing Tom to look right at him. The boy smiled at the cat. He wanted to speak to him, tell him it was all okay, but the bough behind his eyes was breaking each time the clock ticked.
It was summer 2004. The boy was with his siblings when their aunt drove past a pet shop. They’d always wanted a cat. How incredible would it be to get one and surprise their mother with it when she finished work that night? His aunt already had two cats so she knew what she was doing. The boy didn’t. As excited as he was, a deep-rooted fear also sank in. What if he couldn’t look after it?
Eleven years later, he sat there with the cat he loved so much. The initial fear of being responsible for a life returned to him, despite years of happiness together – the times Tom would meow for attention; the times Tom would shit right next to the litter box just to see him clean it up; the times Tom would wedge his way under the blankets on cold nights just to lie right next to him and keep warm.
It will be cold tonight.
Gavin Hetherington is a Readers’ Favourite Book Award-winning author of the Abyssal Sanctuary series that began publication in 2013. He is also a journalist for SpoilerTV. Gavin currently studies English Literature with Creative Writing at Newcastle University.