Miss Fraser made a small sound of displeasure
and marched into the parlour.
the cat has been in my room again.”
The woman in the arm chair shifted her
lapful of knitting, continuing to stitch with practiced rhythm.
“Are you sure?”
I’m sure. I always know when he’s been in my room.”
always think he’s been in there, and half the time it’s
Miss Fraser twitched
certainly was not my imagination this time. He was up on my bureau.”
“How do you
he knocked over Mother’s picture, the one in the silver
frame. Right over on its side, it was.”
keep your door shut?”
“I do keep
it shut. I’ve told you and told you that it doesn’t
have Mr. Soto look at it, when he comes to do the garden.”
“Oh for heaven’s
sake, Ida! Lock it then. You have the key, don’t you? Or
did you lose it?”
No, I did NOT lose
it, but it’s a great deal of nuisance to carry it everywhere
I go. And we agreed when I moved in that the cat would not be
allowed in my room.”
Marjorie Selby glanced at the ancient
ginger cat, curled on the rug at her feet.
“You’re a naughty boy, Shadow,”
she said affectionately. “Aren’t you? Aren’t
you a naughty boy? You made Aunt Ida very angry, didn’t
As if in answer,
the elderly animal rose arthritically and crossing the space between
them with amazing speed, flung itself enthusiastically against
Miss Fraser’s sharp ankles. She gave a little gasp of disgust.
think why. I never encourage him.”
you’re a challenge.” Miss Fraser ignored this.
way that I know he’s been in my room is that he smells,
Marjorie. He’s old and smells.”
Mrs. Selby chuckled.
none of us getting any younger, dear.”
don’t all smell. And anyway, I’m allergic to cats.
You know that the doctor said?”
told you that you THOUGHT you were allergic to cats. Allergies
are all in your mind. That’s what the doctor said.”
and coughing and not being able to breathe are not in my mind”.
I just choke up when that animal is nearby. And what if he sprays
in my room? What then?”
Mrs. Selby spoke
to her knitting.
would be a first, wouldn’t it?”
“I beg your
you always did get nervous when males were around, didn’t
“What a perfectly
horrible thing to say!”
Shadow,” Mrs. Selby crooned. “Mustn’t bother
Aunt Ida any more.” The cat fixed Miss Fraser with a filmy
eye and, rubbing against her foot, began to purr. She whirled,
dislodging it ungently, and fled to her room, closing the door
noisily behind her.
She was furious
to realize that her eyes were full of tears. It was just so damned
unfair, she thought, and winced at the epithet. Miss Fraser was
not in the habit of cursing, even inwardly. She paid her room
and board to Marjorie, for the smallest space in Marjorie’s
large house and Marjorie’s large life. She wasn’t
a poor relation. They were supposed to be friends, had taught
school together for years and always got on well. And it had been
Marjorie’s idea that Miss Fraser should rent the back bedroom
and bath and share the food expenses. Not that Marjorie needed
the money. She wanted the company, she said, and of course, Miss
Fraser couldn’t take charity. True, she’d never lived
on her own, but that was because she’d cared for her mother
all those years, teaching English to bored seventh graders and
then going home to that dark, cluttered, old house and its querulous
invalid at night, to relieve the latest in an endless series of
lazy, uninterested day-helpers. Marjorie’s life had been
very different, indeed. She’d buried three husbands, produced
an indecent number of children and grandchildren, and pursued,
even now, an active social life that included evenings out, and
sometimes in, with gentleman friends. Not that Miss Fraser objected
to such things. It was certainly not her business. However, the
dreadful cat was another matter. It was a violation, an intrusion
in the small area that was hers. She had never mentioned that
cat’s habit of perching on the sill outside her bathroom
window, while she bathed, with its face fairly pressed against
the glass. Of course, the glass was frosted, but still it was
most unnerving. She knew how Marjorie would laugh at her, for
being so silly. But, like sneaking into her room, it was an invasion
of privacy and quite intolerable. She must make Marjorie understand
that, nicely, of course.
She sniffed and
moved to the bureau, straightening her mother’s grim visage
in its silver frame. It stared off somewhere over her left shoulder,
the strong jaw unsoftened by the faintest hint of a smile. Had
she always looked so severe? Miss Fraser could not remember her
The room was stuffy.
The sun had crept the length of the porch roof and the garden
lay, warm and somnolent as a sleeping cat, in the late afternoon.
Miss Fraser opened her window and breathed the heavy sweetness
of the lilac bush which topped the sill and threatened to thrust
itself into the room.
Her mood had softened,
with the day. She must not allow herself to overreact so violently
to small annoyance. Marjorie was a good friend, the only friend
she had, really. And the cat was very old. She must be more understanding,
less quick to anger. She went in search of Marjorie, rising above
the fact that her door had come open again and the cat waited
in the aperture, blinking his rheumy eyes with pleasure at the
sight of her.
she said, nervously, “good Shadow.”
Marjorie was collecting
things from the kitchen table and stuffing them into the pockets
of an oversized tote bag. She looked up and smiled, neutrally.
off to bingo. Everything all right?”
Miss Fraser said, brightly. “Yes, indeed. Will you be late?”
Jerry and I go out for coffee after bingo.”
Miss Fraser sought
for a small, conciliatory gift to proffer and found one.
feed the cat?”
be lovely, dear. Only half a can. He just nibbles, you know.”
She spoke directly
to the cat. “And you be a good boy, won’t you, and
not upset Aunt Ida?” The animal regarded her, steadily.
“Well, see you later, then.”
She was gone. Miss Fraser
watched her climb into the car waiting in the driveway, the driver
leaning across to open the door for her, reaching to relieve her
of the heavy bag. Bingo night, Jerry, she thought. Square dancing
every other Tuesday, Harry, bowling, Mr. Canby - she stopped,
ashamed of thinking spiteful thoughts. Or was she envious? Certainly
not. Marjorie’s life was Marjorie’s and suited her.
Miss Fraser’s life might seem spartan in its order, perhaps
even boring and lonely to some, but it suited her. It must. She
had chosen it.
She fixed that
cat’s supper, moving quickly and trying not to flinch when
his gaunt, ginger side caressed her ankles. He ate slowly, his
elderly digestion making little rumbling sounds of complaining
and effort. Occasionally, his dull eyes turned toward her with
something like love and she wondered if he even tasted the food
any more or if eating, like everything else, had become only a
matter of routine. When he finished, he mewed rustily to be let
out and she did so, grateful to be able to prepare her own meal
without his company.
When it was bedtime,
she realized that he had not returned and steeled herself to step
outside and call into the darkness.
Shadow?” To her relief, there was no response and she went
into her room, where for no particular reason, she locked the
She was tired and
slept, soon and soundly, waking several hours later to a soft
thump on the foot of her bed. Very little light filtered into
the room, but she could see the dark shape of the cat. Of course!
She had forgotten to close the window. She jerked her feet away
and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
she said. “Shoo! Bad Shadow!” The cat sat, motionless,
and then in the stillness, she heard him begin to purr, a deep,
rasping sound. She overcame her aversion and picked him up. He
made no protest, but hung, limp in her hands, continuing to purr
as she moved to the window and put him firmly over the sill.
out,” she hissed, shutting the window hard. She was trembling
and her chest had begun to tighten, just that quickly. Marjorie
was wrong. She was allergic to the cat and the infernal animal
probably knew it and tormented her deliberately.
She got back into
bed and made herself breathe deeply, feeling the breaths grow
slower and less ragged. Eventually, she sank toward sleep, entering
a not-unpleasant period of semi-paralysis. In this warm and passive
state, she heard the door, (locked, surely), open slightly and
felt the cat jump back onto the bed. She lay in her comfortable
lethargy and watched his angular frame pace, slowly and carefully,
the length of the bed and settle with patient finality on the
pillow by her head. He began to purr and they slept.
Some time toward
morning, she had a vivid dream. She stood in a green meadow, ringed
by masses of lilac, ripe and purple as autumn grapes, which pushed
inward, seeming to reach out to her. Above on a gently curving
hillside, new lambs pressed close to their mothers’ warm,
woolly flanks. And in the centre of the meadow, a young Shadow,
golden and lithe and strong, stalked purposefully toward her,
his clear green eyes never leaving hers. On soft, furred feet,
she moved forward to meet him.
Taken from ‘This Is Where We Came In’
(1992), pages 106-109.