The Marmalade Cat and the Marvellous Coat, by Louisa McLennan

The Marmalade Cat and the Marvellous Coat (excerpt)

Zahra found the shell at the tide line. It was the size of a corncrake’s egg, and covered with barnacles, like lace. A wishing shell.

She wrote her wish on the inside, then hurled it into the waves – teeth chattering.

She didn’t see the marmalade-coloured cat, watching her from the machair.

***

A tide later, the cat walked along the beach, with his person, Maggie.

He pawed at a shell encrusted with barnacles.

“What’s that, Tweed?”

Maggie read the message.

“I wish for a coat, from Zahra (8).”

“How unusual,” Maggie said, “for a coat to matter so much that a child would spend a wish on it.”

Maggie was a weaver. She had won trophies for the tweed cloth she made, but now, her knees ached, her eyes misted, and her loom stood silent and riddled with woodworm.

But she could still make a wish.

“I wish that child’s wish would come true,” she whispered.

***

The next day, Zahra was back, alone. This rocky island felt strange to her, but the ocean was a familiar friend. When she was homesick, she came here to hunt for treasures.

She pulled an odd-shaped spoon, with one flat side, from the sand.

Something rubbed Zahra’s legs.

“Hello!” she said to the marmalade-coloured cat.

He strolled away and Zahra followed – towards a wee white house with a tin shed at the side.

***

Inside the shed, Maggie was scattering crumbs for the mice.

“Silly, to think that I might still make a coat,” she said to them. “I don’t even have crotal to colour the fleece.”

Maggie heard laughter.

Outside, Tweed was playing with a girl who had a crotal spoon tucked into tangly hair. Despite the whipping wind, she wore no coat.

Maggie fetched a pan. “Maidainn Mhaith,” she said to the girl, and headed towards the rocks.

Because the cat followed, Zahra did too.

Maggie pointed. “We need this,” she said. “Crotal.”

Zahra climbed and Maggie guided, and with flat-edged spoons they scraped leafy lichen from the rocks.

***

Maggie lit a fire. They poured water into a barrel, then added an old white fleece and their crotal flakes. Zahra stirred the bubbling mixture, like a magic potion, and soon the fleece was dyed.

It was now as orange as an island sunset.