The old man grasped the doorframe as he looked out onto his small back yard.
The cat must be out here somewhere. She never strayed far. She belonged inside.
She’d been there earlier, sat on his lap, soft in his hands. He’d only closed his eyes for a moment, but now it was a few hours later. At least he thought it was. The clock in his room played tricks on him now, and the days were getting shorter—or was it longer? One or the other, anyway, and sometimes it would suddenly be dark and he hadn’t even had his breakfast yet. Like now—he felt the familiar pang of hunger, and knew he should make something.
Maybe that was why Missa had gone; to find food. That was why she was all attentive, earlier, when she curled up on his lap. She was only nice to him when she wanted something.
“Missa, where are you?”
The name wasn’t only the cat’s. It had been her name too, and in his mind he saw her in the yard, stretched out on a recliner, her clothes in a pile on the grass.
Maybe he’d joined her. He’d been younger then—they both had. Young and impetuous. She’d smiled a lot, and he supposed he must have done too.
She’d go walking in the night. He’d wake to find a space in the bed, her boots and coat gone, and maybe a note on the table—gone walking, back soon. He’d go back to sleep, and at some point she’d come back, flushed from her exertions, and of course he’d be happy to see her. Then he’d make them breakfast, whatever time of day or night it was.
One of their little rituals.
But she grew angry. He couldn’t miss the raised voice and wild accusations. Things would get broken—she’d deny it, of course, but he knew.
He learnt to stay well clear. Sometimes, he’d go for walks. Nowhere far—he didn’t want to leave her for too long. She would need him when she settled. There might be tears, but he’d smooth them away with his words. He’d always been good with words.
Sometimes, Missa’s sister would come round, and would tell Missa what a good thing she had going here. He liked her sister, although her name escaped him at the moment. They were similar, but her sister was thinner, maybe more attractive. Her skin was softer too—there was a patch on Missa’s back that was rough, from an accident many years ago. Her sister didn’t have that.
Of course, Missa shouted at her sister too. Missa threw her out at one point, demanding that she never come back. Her sister smiled at that, said something about already getting what she wanted.
He’d tried to calm things. Of course he had. He’d called after the sister, despite Missa’s beatings on his arms and back, and her cries that she had no family. It pained him to see her this way.
She even shouted at the poor cat.
No. That never happened. Missa the cat came after Missa the person. When he woke to find her side of the bed cold that last time, and when he realised she wasn’t ever coming back, that was when he got the cat. Or maybe allowed the cat to come in. It didn’t matter—one followed the other.
She’d gone to somewhere better. But that phrase didn’t make sense. It came from something she said, about finding someone better. He’d tried to be what she wanted. He’d tried to be strong. But she always wanted more.
He couldn’t give her whatever she wanted, so she’d gone.
Just like the cat—he couldn’t give her food when she wanted, and so she went in search for her own.
But she’d returned—the woman, not the cat. He hardly left the house, but she’d waited for her moment, and she’d trashed the place. At first he’d blamed the cat, but that was ridiculous. How could a cat break a window? How could a cat put a dent in the door?
He remembered that dent, with the stained, splintered wood. He’d got blood on his hand trying to sort that out, and he must’ve sprained something, because it was painful to bend his fingers for ages afterwards.
He remembered mud on them, too, although where that came from he had no idea.
The sun was getting low, and he could feel a chill in the air. It would be night soon, and he’d lock up. He didn’t have a cat flap, so Missa would have to stay out. She’d have to find her own food.
He looked around the sad excuse for a garden one last time, with the fencing leaning at wild angles and the bushes tall tangles of green and brown. He looked at the patch of grass and weeds, reaching over his shoes. And, at one side, the one patch of bright colour in the place; a wild-flower bed that seemed to be doing well. Must be good nutrients in the soil, he thought.
At least there was something good in this pathetic place.
“Missa! Where the hell are you?”
That cat was getting on his nerves. Like her namesake, the feline had a temper. He glanced down at his hands, criss-crossed with white ragged lines, a few still red-raw.
He’d tried to be nice to her. He’d tried his best. He’d held her, stroked her, and he’d listened to her pitiful murmurings as he’d spoken soft words. She was the best, she was so special to him. He’d never leave her, and he’d never let her leave. She was everything to him. She was his, and always would be.
He held her tight, knowing that the struggling would stop eventually.
He took one last look around the garden through damp eyes. There was no point calling for Missa anymore.
A Lesson In Death
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