“Look! Quick! Look now! It’s doing it now!”
She turned to see what her husband was shouting about, drying her hands on a tea-towel.
“What?” she looked at the mess in the living room. “What’s doing what?”
“That bloody cat! It’s watching me again. It wants to do something to me!”
“She’s just looking at you. She probably wants some food.”
“Well it’s going to be disappointed then, isn’t it!” He picked up a newspaper and brandished it in the direction of the motionless cat, laughing as it jumped from the arm of the chair and scrambled to hide under it instead.
He shot his wife a challenging look, daring her to criticise or to comfort the scared animal. She turned back to the sink, shaking her head as she heard him stomp up the stairs. It wouldn’t have killed him to take the some of the pile of ironing upstairs to put away; even if he just left it on the bed.
As she reached up to put the dishes away in the cupboard, she could see the cat, now curled up in a lazy ball on the back of the couch, her tail draped across her nose like a separate entity. Walking into the room, she sighed and began to clear away the papers and empty cans that charted the progress of her husband’s day. Wiping up the numerous spills that adorned the floor and surfaces, she could hear the noise of the Xbox upstairs.
Eventually, she was happy with the state of the room and shouted up the stairs “Tea?”
“Yeah. And biscuits!” came the reply, followed by a burst of gunfire and curses as he dropped a life in his game.
“I’ll look.” She muttered.
While the kettle boiled, she searched through the cupboard but drew a blank; as she closed the door, the cat appeared on the worktop and she stroked its ear, enjoying the sensation of a loving being nudging against her hand for greater contact.
“You’re lovely aren’t you?” she murmured as the cat purred more and more loudly. “Let’s find you something nice.”
She rummaged through the fridge and found a slice of ham to toss into the cat’s bowl, then watched as it finished it off in seconds.
“Where’s that tea?”
She jumped. She had been so engrossed by the cat’s company that she hadn’t heard him come down.
“You feed that fat moggy more than you feed me. Where are the biscuits?”
“You’ve eaten them all.”
“Just bring me some toast then!” he said as he headed back upstairs. “With jam.”
As she watched the television alone, later, she stroked the head of the cat as it snuggled on her lap. The film was an old one she could remember watching with her sisters and parents many years earlier, when she had still been happy. There were some jumpy moments, but she felt safe as she exchanged warmth with the ball of fur on her knee. “You wouldn’t treat me like dirt, would you? No, you wouldn’t!” she crooned, as the rhythmic stroking stripped the layers of tension from her day.
During the night, she felt the bed bounce as her husband came back from the bathroom, yet he seemed to be asleep in seconds, while she lay awake for hours, listening to him snore, with the stink of his sweat pervading the room. It was almost morning before she managed to doze off, so when the alarm rang, she felt as though she hadn’t slept, and her first thought was “I hate my life.”
As her husband slept on, she washed, dressed and headed for the bus-stop, carrying her uniform in a bag. At the hospital, she slipped into the changing room and dragged on her work clothes, before heading for the kitchen, where she spent the day preparing food, washing dishes, cleaning the surfaces. It was almost like being at home, except here she wasn’t expected to fetch and carry for him as well. Her feet throbbed by lunchtime, but she barely had time to sit and wolf down her lunch before she was back on them again.
On the bus home, she rested her head against the window and the drone of the engine filtered through her skull, soothing her until she drifted into a deep sleep. She woke with a jolt, hearing the hiss of brakes. In a panic, she looked out of the window and, realising she had missed her stop by quite a distance, she leapt from the seat and hurried to the front of the bus to the exit. It was raining.
“Oh God, Oh God, he’ll go mad!”
She hurried as fast as she could through the wet streets, but it seemed as though every road had gained extra traffic, specifically to stop her from reaching the house, so when she finally did … she was really late, soaked through and panting.
“What the hell are you playing at?” he roared as she pushed open the door?
“I’ve been sitting here starving and you’ve been gallivanting about for hours! Where were you?”
“I missed my stop …” she began, but he cut her off with a slap.
“You missed nothing, you lying bitch! It’s a bus. It’s not rocket science!”
With stinging eyes and a sore throat, she stayed in the kitchen until his food was ready, leaving briefly just to carry in his tea. She looked down as the cat rubbed against the side of her leg and looked up with bright, sympathetic eyes. She knew. She always knew.
Throughout the next hours, she didn’t once look at him, afraid that he might find some reason to start on her again and thankful that he seemed distracted by the football and his evening beers. Eventually, without saying a word, he went upstairs to spend the last couple of hours playing his game from the comfort of their bed. She waited until she could hear his sleeping rasps before heading after him. As she left the living room, she stooped to where the black cat lay on her blanket and whispered “It’s time!’
In the morning, she stepped nimbly over her husband’s crumpled body at the foot of the stairs. She picked up the phone, dialled 999 and said “Ambulance. My husband’s had an accident. I think he must have tripped on the stairs. I think he’s dead.” At her feet, the cat leant against her, flicking her tail and purring.