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Shadow

by Marg Wright


    Miss Fraser made a small sound of displeasure and marched into the parlour.
    “Marjorie, the cat has been in my room again.”
    “Shadow?”
    The woman in the arm chair shifted her lapful of knitting, continuing to stitch with practiced rhythm.
    “Are you sure?”
    “Of course, I’m sure. I always know when he’s been in my room.”
    “Well, you always think he’s been in there, and half the time it’s your imagination.”
    Miss Fraser twitched with indignation.
    “It most certainly was not my imagination this time. He was up on my bureau.”
    “How do you know?”
    “Because he knocked over Mother’s picture, the one in the silver frame. Right over on its side, it was.”
    “If you’d keep your door shut?”
    “I do keep it shut. I’ve told you and told you that it doesn’t latch properly.”
    “Well, we’ll have Mr. Soto look at it, when he comes to do the garden.”
    “You said that before?”
    “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.”   
    “Yes, well.”
    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 you?”
    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.
    “Stop that!”
    “He likes you, Ida.”
    “I can’t think why. I never encourage him.”   
    “Perhaps you’re a challenge.” Miss Fraser ignored this.
    “Another way that I know he’s been in my room is that he smells, Marjorie. He’s old and smells.”
    Mrs. Selby chuckled.
    “We’re none of us getting any younger, dear.”
    “Well, we don’t all smell. And anyway, I’m allergic to cats. You know that the doctor said?”
    “The doctor told you that you THOUGHT you were allergic to cats. Allergies are all in your mind. That’s what the doctor said.”
    “Sneezing 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.
    “Well, it would be a first, wouldn’t it?”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “I said, you always did get nervous when males were around, didn’t you, Ida?”
    “What a perfectly horrible thing to say!”
    “Poor old 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 otherwise.
    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.
    “Nice kitty,” 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.
    “I’m off to bingo. Everything all right?”   
    “Oh, yes,” Miss Fraser said, brightly. “Yes, indeed. Will you be late?”
    “Probably. Jerry and I go out for coffee after bingo.”
    Miss Fraser sought for a small, conciliatory gift to proffer and found one.
    “Shall I feed the cat?”
    “That would 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.
   
“Kitty, kitty? Shadow?” To her relief, there was no response and she went into her room, where for no particular reason, she locked the door.
   
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.
   
“Scat!” 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.
   
“And stay 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.

 


Marg Wright
 

Wedge Tomb