by Caroline Geary
Twinings English Breakfast
Mark awoke to the sound of his cat heaving. An unearthly gurgle that had him springing from his bed, ready to sling Hugo, his beloved ginger Tom, out the back door. He did not want his floor decorated with feline vomit. He couldn’t face cleaning up cat sick at the best of times, but especially not before he’d had his coffee. After fumbling with the lock of the back door, the still retching Hugo under one arm, he managed to swing it open just in time to deposit Hugo onto the back doorstep, where said cat promptly vomited.
Ten minutes later Mark sat with Hugo purring away on his lap. He sipped his coffee, his brow furrowed. This being sick had started a few weeks ago. Mark had taken Hugo to the vet twice now, and even though he had spent the best part of a couple of hundred pounds, neither the vet nor Mark was any the wiser as to what was wrong. Mark tried to think of anything he’d done differently in the last few weeks, but only one thing stood out. The arguments with his elderly neighbour Edith. They had never got on. Since he had moved in a year ago she had been a miserable old windbag. She had moaned that his car obscured her drive (it didn’t, and she didn’t drive anyway) She complained his music was too loud (even when it was Crowded House at a very modest volume). She also moaned that the cat did his business in her garden (he didn’t, he did it in the other neighbour’s garden, Mark had seen him) and she moaned when he fed the birds as she claimed the birdseed attracted rats. (she might have a point with that one)
So could it be. thought Mark, that she might have something to do with this? Could she be poisoning Hugo? He often went missing for hours at a time and could easily be lured into next doors with a saucer of milk or a sniff of tuna. She could put poison out in the garden too he thought. Weren’t slug pellets poisonous to cats?
He looked out into the garden. Edith, he noticed, was weeding the flower beds. He eyed her suspiciously; she must have sensed him looking as she lifted her head and glared back. Hugo was nowhere to be seen. As Mark made himself a second cup of coffee a plan began to form.
The next morning his delivery arrived early. Good old Amazon he thought as he opened the package labelled Paw Tracker 100. He grinned at his genius.
'Hugo! come here boy,' he called, and Hugo arrived obediently as his feet. Removing Hugo’s old collar and replacing it with the Paw tracker, Mark positioned the camera at the front of the collar and held the button down until the blue light flashed. He was pleased to see the camera had some charge.
'Off you go boy,' said Mark encouragingly. 'Let’s see just what you get up to these days and just what, or whom, is making you poorly.’
Hugo’s huge amber eyes looked questioningly at Mark before he turned, jumped up on a stool, curled up and went to sleep. Mark sighed. This was not going to be as interesting as he had hoped. He set off to work, noticing Edith’s curtain twitch slightly as he pulled away in his old Golf.
When Mark arrived home that evening, he scratched Hugo behind the ears.
'You been there all-day mate?' he asked as the ginger tom was still seated in the same place Mark had left him that morning. Hugo yawned, exposing his little pointy teeth. Mark removed the collar and put the camera on charge cracking open a beer. Soon after, he was slumped on the sofa in his favourite position, feet up on the footstool and Hugo purring happily on his lap. He swigged some beer and popped the USB stick into his laptop. 'Let’s see where you’ve been today mate,' said Mark stroking Hugo's left ear making it twitch in irritation.
Mark was impressed by the quality of the footage, although black and white it was really easy to make out what was going on, even if it was somewhat disorientating seeing the world from Hugo’s perspective.
Firstly, the footage showed Hugo jumping from the stool, finishing the food in his bowl, and slipping through the cat flap. Next the footage went very, very still. The image on the screen showed the back lawn and the footage was moving very, very slowly. Mark had to lean forward and strain his eyes to see what was in the shot. He didn’t see it at first, but then he could identify a small sparrow, hopping around on the lawn. The footage then leapt forward as Hugo pounced towards the bird. And missed.
'Ha old boy! Better, luck next time,’ laughed Mark.
Next Mark could tell Hugo lay in a patch of sun, the image so bright nothing could be made out on the screen, he then washed his paws and tried and failed to catch another bird. Mark was just about to give up on seeing anything of interest when the wall separating his and Edith’s gardens loomed into view. Hugo leapt over the fence the view on screen lurching violently, and up to Edith’s back door. Mark leant forward, interest piqued.
He’s waiting at the door thought Mark. This clearly meant Hugo had been in Edith’s house before. Mark was about to take a swig of beer as Edith's lower legs appeared behind the frosted glass and the door swung open giving Mark his first-ever glimpse of the hallway. It was as he imagined. Old fashioned but classy. The parquet flooring polished mirror smooth, a patterned rug covering much of the hallway. Mark watched through Hugo’s eyes as the cat padded through to the kitchen
Mark was suddenly treated to a cat’s eye view of Edith’s sagging tights.
The camera had no sound, but he was shocked when he saw Edith’s face loom into view. Her expression was warm and smiling. He realised he had ever seen her smile before. Not once and he certainly hadn’t expected Hugo to be the cause of such genuine delight. After a few blurry movements, the next thing Mark saw was Hugo’s favourite dry biscuits being poured into a bowl and then the biscuits looming into view as the whole screen became a blur. It was clear he was watching Hugo wolf the food down. Mark was puzzled. As far as he could see Edith hadn’t added anything to the cat biscuits, He hadn’t seen anything that might resemble a poison. Weird. It was as though Edith was luring Hugo in as she liked him, and not out of spite at all.
Next it seemed that Edith was retiring to her front room. Mark watched her slippered feet shuffle along the parquet and it was clear that Hugo was upon her lap as soon as she sat down. He could tell by the head movements that Hugo gave that she was rubbing him behind the ears. If there had have been audio on the recording Mark was certain Hugo would be purring like a pick-up. On the screen Hugo turned himself round and Mark was surprised to see that although Edith was smiling whilst talking to Hugo, a solitary tear had run down her cheek. He was shocked at his response; he felt a pang of remorse at his bad feelings towards her. There was something desperately painful in seeing an older person cry. Mark drained his beer and continued to watch. On the recording Hugo had seen a bird in the garden thorough Edith’s window and had jumped up onto window sill. As Hugo paraded up and down Mark couldn’t help noticing the framed photos. One was a wedding picture, clearly of Edith in her younger days, her hair rolled up in elegant curls and her husband's arms around her waist. He wondered when she had lost him. Was it recently? he wondered. There was another photo of the husband in a soldier’s uniform. Mark wondered if this dapper looking husband of Edith’s had been killed in the war. He felt a creeping sense of shame as he realised, he never asked her anything about herself. The third and final photo on the windowsill was one of Edith and husband holding a baby. Mark frowned; he didn’t remember Edith ever mentioning a child and he had never seen her have any visitors. He scratched the back of his neck and fidgeted in his seat. He felt decidedly uncomfortable. Wasn’t it common courtesy, your civil duty even, to check in on your neighbours? Especially elderly ones that lived alone?
Back to the screen and Hugo was back in the hallway. He paused next to a vase of tulips. Oh god please don’t knock that over thought Mark, his lips pulled into a grimace as he watched Hugo sniffing the flowers. The folds and curves of the petals were all Mark could see. He found himself looking at a tulip, which soon became a tulip with half a petal, which soon became a tulip with a quarter of a petal. And then realisation hit him. Hugo was eating tulips. Cat’s cannot eat flowers. And definitely not tulips. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he had heard it somewhere and knew that they were poisonous. He wasn’t sure they were deadly, but it was enough to make a cat sick. The penny dropped and he realised Edith hadn’t been poisoning Hugo, she had simply been lonely and Hugo had been some comfort to her in her time of need.
He shut the laptop lid firmly and sat back in his chair. He sat there for quite some time. Just thinking.
The next day he was up early, he hit the supermarket and filled his basket with English breakfast tea, a novelty tea towel featuring a print of cats carrying out various cooking activities and some ginger biscuits. When he arrived home he went straight to Edith’s front door and rang the bell, noticing that his mouth felt dry and his hands clammy.
She answered quickly. She scowled at him and just said
‘Edith,’ he said, holding out a hand. ‘We haven’t been formally introduced or got off to the best start.' He shifted from one foot to the other ‘And I’d like to apologise. Do you mind if I come in?’ Edith eyed him suspiciously, peering over the rim of her glasses. Mark raised the biscuits ‘Peace offering?’ he said.
Soon he was sitting in Edith’s front room waiting for her to bring in the tea.
Edith arrived then, a little hunched over, but steady on her feet. There were two biscuits on the plate, a teapot complete with a knitted tea cosy. a small sugar bowl and a jug of milk. Mark added two cubes to his tea with a splash then merrily dunked his biscuit. Edith's eyes twinkled in amusement.
‘Like I say,’ Mark began, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been very neighbourly. I promise to do better.’
‘Apology accepted’ said Edith. They were silent for a while then Edith said. ‘It's nice to have company.’
'It is. Do you not get many visitors?'
Edith shook her head,
'No family?' Asked Mark, giving a cursory glance to the photo frames on the window sill.
'No,' said Edith. her eyes had followed Mark’s to the pictures. She shook her head ' I lost Charlie before his first birthday. Pneumonia.'
'I’m so sorry,'' said Mark. 'What about your husband?'
'Ernest?' asked Edith,
'Did he die in the war?'' asked Mark.
'Oh he’s not dead,' said Edith. 'He’s in Oak Lodge.'
It took Mark a second to digest what that was.
'The nursing home?' he asked, finishing his biscuit, 'Do you see him often?'
'I can’t get there,' she said. 'I’d love to but there's no one to take me.'
‘Well I can take you,' said Mark 'It’s no problem, would you like that?'
Edith's eyes sparkled 'Yes, yes, please, I would like that so much!'
‘We’ll go tomorrow,’ said Mark. ‘We could take him some biscuits.'
So it was arranged. Mark would pick Edith up at 10 o’ clock the following morning.
Mark felt much lighter as he walked to the front door.
‘See you tomorrow,' he said.
‘At 10 o'clock,’ said Edith with a smile.
Mark turned around as he left and with the warmest tone he had, he said.
‘Oh and I think my cat Hugo would like you. He gets lonely when I'm at work. He's no bother, his name is Hugo if you call him he’ll come in and keep you company.’
‘Oh how lovely, thank you’ said Edith.
He smiled as he noticed her cheeks colour a bit. He turned to go, then turned back once more and added.
‘Oh but just make sure he doesn’t nibble any house plants if you have them. He has a penchant for tulips.’
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