I was alone for the first time in ages. Shadows hugged the room where I sat in my favourite armchair, an anglepoise lamp bent into the best position for reading, a cup of tea beside me. I was engrossed in a book of short stories.
A sudden chill disturbed my pleasure. Stopping at the end of the paragraph, I pulled the rug I was snuggled in a little higher. The cottage was prone to drafts and I hadn’t turned on the heating yet. October winds were playing havoc with the trees and hedges outside and rattling in the air vents. Before I could return to my story, the lightbulb flickered and died. Rigid in the pitch black, I waited for the tingle of terror to subside and the fizzy lights on my retina to stop teasing my imagination.
Before, when the electricity failed, disappointment would drop like a stone; no television, radio or music meant my husband, Seb, would be grumpy all night. But I was enjoying the quiet solitude and wasn’t going to let a power cut spoil it. They happened so frequently in the autumn and winter months that we kept a torch handy. I wrestled myself free from the rug wound tightly around my legs and shuffled into the kitchen to find the box of matches. There was a large scented candle on the table next to the armchair that would keep going well into the night.
I was reaching out for the matchbox on the mantelpiece, when I felt something brush past my legs. I looked down into inky shadows, shone the torch around the kitchen floor and into the corner by the utility room; emptiness echoed back at me. I decided extra candles would brighten up the place and I’d feel less gloomy, so I fetched a few more from the dresser, lit them and placed them in each corner of the room. I was ready to continue with the story, but when I returned to the armchair, it was occupied.
Topaz eyes glowed from the rug, which I had left in a heap on the chair. A black and white cat was sitting in my seat.
‘How did you get in?’ I asked.
The cat’s ears moved a fraction and its tail twitched where it lay on top of the rug.
‘Well you’re gorgeous,’ I murmured as I approached it. ‘Make yourself at home but leave me some room.’
I perched on the edge of the chair and pushed back gently. The cat moved to the arm and I manoeuvred the rug across my knees. Once I was comfortable, I looked at it more closely. It reminded me of Winston, my feline companion of eighteen years. The cat stretched along the length of the arm, had a peremptory look around the room, and then moved onto my lap, kneading the rug and emitting a rumbling purr.
‘You’re friendly as well as handsome,’ I said, reaching out for the book with one hand and rubbing under the cat’s chin with the other. I carried on reading, basking in warmth I hadn’t felt in ages.
I awoke to the acrid aroma of smoke; the scented candle was sputtering, about to relinquish its flame. The book lay on the arm of the chair, open at the last page. The cat had gone. I searched the downstairs rooms with the torch before cleaning my teeth and then looked upstairs. No cat. The emptiness of the house filled me with dismay. I undressed, burrowed under the covers and stayed there until grey morning light filtered through the curtains.
Later, as I pottered about in the kitchen, the memory of the cat faded. It wasn’t until I remembered that Seb should be on his way home that I wondered: if the cat returned and didn’t belong to anyone, maybe we could adopt it.
I gathered my purse, car keys and a shopping bag and got into the car. I needed a few things from the supermarket – I could pick up some cat food at the same time. I checked left and right for cars and pulled out onto the road. There was a flash of white and a sickening thud. But when I got out, there was nothing. I reversed back onto the drive. It was then that I spotted the cat sitting in the front window next to the urn containing Seb’s ashes.
‘All right, Seb,’ I said. ‘I can go tomorrow.’
© Kim M. Russell, 2015
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