This, the man decided, as his eyes took in the comfortably chintzy living room with its gentle colours and mysterious nooks and crannies, was the most unbelievable stroke of luck! Not an hour since, the lady who owned this house had been a total stranger; a far-off star of loveliness way beyond his reach.
Since he first met this woman he had been besotted. He had (there was no other word he could honestly use) lusted after her, watching her through her windows from his shop across the street and dreaming. Only In the silent watches of the night, alone in his room, had he found the words he sought to seduce her and cried them aloud, knowing she would never hear them. A purity, an innocence defended her, so he could never speak plainly. His innermost desires, his private yearning, remained a sad and rather squalid secret.
Now? Now he was sitting in her living room. Suddenly it was all possible! Somehow, her cat had turned up in his bookshop, the cat he had seen on her windowsill; the cat she brought into his shop once on one of the occasions when she came to buy a book and her radiance had, as ever, rendered him tongue-tied and stupid. It had made a home for itself upon his bookshelves and refused to leave. In the end he had no choice other than to carry it across to its proper home.
She had answered the door. Her face had lit up with pleasure; no, with joy, when she saw he had brought the cat. And now he was sitting on her sofa in her front room, drinking her tea.
“I must just leave you for a moment. I won’t be long.”
Another opportunity was slipping by. He was alone with the cat, which sat upon the armchair, watching him.
“Oh, Kitty, what a night I could spend with your mistress!” He enthused. This was man-talk, of course, but then it was deeply felt; and after all, this was only a cat. Who was it going to tell?
“Just a night?” The cat responded.
“Well, alright, two or three nights I suppose. We’d probably get bored with each other after that.” He checked himself. “Wait! I shouldn’t be telling you this! I should be telling your mistress.”
“I wouldn’t advise it.” Said the cat. “Do you usually conduct your amours at such a noble pitch?”
“Too direct? A little unsubtle, I concede.” Something felt odd. “Just a moment! Why am I talking to a cat?”
“I am a pretty creature, am I not? Or so my mistress describes me, after she has called me Furis, which is my given name. I do not answer to ‘Kitty’, generally.“ The cat stretched, anchoring its claws into the fabric of the armchair.
“You are certainly a very fine cat.” The man agreed. “But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should engage in conversation”
“Why not? All humans talk to their animals, don’t they? They see their own image in our eyes and they talk to that. They even persuade themselves we understand them, a little.”
“And do you?”
“All too well.” The cat flowed from chair to window sill with liquid grace. “Sometimes I can see myself as if I were another cat, here in this glass, in the dark time. We might play with one another and hone our skills for a while, my pretty other self and I, but I know my reflection: I am not a fool.”
“This is different. I think you do understand me and I can hear you, quite clearly. Your mouth does not speak the words, yet your meaning is distinct. I’ve not experienced this before.”
“Does it make you uneasy?”
“Then stop talking.” Said the cat, licking a protruding paw with an air of distaste.
The man tucked his legs beside him on the sofa, and lapsed into an edgy, impatient silence, but it was clear to the cat this restraint could not last long. “Very well;” it said. “Let us test your assertion. Ask me something, and try not to make your question too boorish.”
The man stared, for the cat had formed these words without interrupting its wash. It had draped itself before the window, relishing the light of a bright spring morning. Taken aback, he groped for something to say. “Is that your favourite window?” He muttered nervously.
“Oh, do speak up!” Snapped the cat, brusquely. “ Is this my favourite window sill? I cannot answer that. There are two you see –two windows, two sills, two worlds. With the morning sun upon it this is my choice. At night the window at the back of the house is where I sit, making my plans for the gardens and fences and waste bins outside the glass that are my world – my night-time world. There I can chase down the little creatures, to play with them a while before I kill, or sit with my brothers upon the copings, telling tales or serenading the moon.
Now, though the street beyond this window is not of my world the sun is warm: all the little ones sleep; while here I stretch myself on the warm paint, do the combing and washing so necessary to my body’s machine, and some sleeping too. There! Was my little speech sufficient to prove your point; or mine?”
“Well, you certainly weren’t speaking in the normal sense;” acknowledged the man, frowning. “It could be that my mind is inventing words for you; lending articulation to things I would expect a cat to say.”
“Could it? I gather you have the monopoly of what is normal?”
“Ten minutes ago I would have presumed so. Not now.”
“Nevertheless, I am just a ‘normal’ cat, aren’t I? Look at me – you can stroke me if you wish! Admire my claws. See how I hide them, so my feet are soft and silent? I can pat you – thus – and you will barely feel my touch. Now see how sharp are my claws when these outstretched limbs reveal them? They are my secret. When my mistress cuddles and plays with me I pat and dab and keep them to myself. But they are weapons, and the little creatures have reason to fear them.”
Somewhat hesitantly, the man reached out to run his fingers over the soft fur of the cat’s warm flank. “You must want to sleep, if the night is your time.”
“ I feel tired – I do! Such luxury!” The cat yawned. “So easy to sleep, here in the sun, on the safe side of the glass. You have questions to ask, though, don’t you? I promise I will stay awake. What would make you feel at ease? Should you have brought one of those repulsive books you keep beneath your bed to help you pass the time?”
“So you know of those, too. What do you not know? Explain to me. Why are you so harsh with me?”
“Because you richly deserve every barb you draw, dear man. Yet I see there is a sweeter, finer side to your nature and so I would teach you, if I could.”
“Really?” The man managed to dredge up some dismal sarcasm. “Perhaps we could concentrate upon my finer points?”
“You carried me here, didn’t you, across that frightening street. The world which is not mine. Your hands are gentle. Just as my mistress was carrying me, out there, when first I saw you; as you stroked my side a moment since. You may not purr, but you are not all the leprous creature you pretend. Your hands betray you: you are capable of love.
“Come and join me, look down to the street that is a good jump below us, watch as I watch: humans blundering about, vile smelling cars and lorries and vans dashing by. Oh, I can mingle down there – sun myself upon the step, or collect plaudits from passers-by; and It is amazing what I can achieve by simply purring, or rubbing myself against an ankle – mutual grooming; favours, even food. But the street is a place of horrors. I have seen friends taken to Forever Stillness by the stroke of a car wheel, or crushed to meat beneath a lorry’s tyre. To make a crossing there is fraught with peril, so my mistress carries me across, when there is the need.”
Mollified by the cat’s altered tone, the man rose to his feet, carefully balancing the cup of tea the cat’s lovely mistress had brought him. His eyes followed the gaze of the cat, across the thoroughfare to the bookshop where he worked. “She brought you to see me the other day. I think she wanted to show you off. She dotes on you, you know.”
“As I dote on her.” The cat said.
“I still don’t quite understand, then, how she managed to leave you behind in my shop.”
“My mistress has bought a lot of books from you in recent weeks.”
“True.” The man frowned. “Should I deduce something from that?”
“If you wish. What better contrivance than to let me hide among the shelves for a while, knowing you would discover me? Then you would have cause to return me to my owner, wouldn’t you?”
“Just so I could have an excuse to come here?” The man found himself wondering if the object of his desires shared his feelings and needs: but no – this was, after all, no more than an imagined conversation. “Surely your mistress missed you. She could have come to the bookshop. She must have known where you would be.”
It was important to me to bring you to our home. My mistress is beautiful, is she not? Her raven hair, her dark eyes, her warm smile?”
“Yes. Yes, she is. Wait a moment! Important to you? You make it sound as though you plotted this.”
“Do I? Is she not grateful? She will return in a moment. Meantime, you sip her warm tea and seem as though you belong here. Was I wrong?”
“Yes….no…I don’t know. I’ve no precedent. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been invited to tea by a cat, especially one with critical faculties as sophisticated as yours.” He thought of the cat’s owner, of the bottomless lake that seemed to exist behind her eyes and the intoxicating scent she wore. And he realised that although it was a month since he had first encountered her, he had been too shy even to ask her name.
The cat was watching him intently: “Well, then, will you stay?”
“Stay?” Had the question been framed by a person the man would have been shocked. But when a cat asked it, it was amusing. His lips curved in a smile. “What, you mean – actually stay? The night, and so on?”
“And so on. Yes.” The gaze of the cat was suddenly focussed on his face, keen, almost harsh. The intent look of a predator ready to spring. “You must agree to stay. Willingly agree.”
“Well, perhaps with time, if your mistress and I got to know each other better…” What made him wary? Why did he suddenly want to run?
“No. Not ‘with time’. Now.” The cat rose to its feet, back arched. “Feel in your pocket. The left one.”
The man decided to remain silent. This was becoming ridiculous.
“Check your pocket.” The cat insisted.
“Where is your mistress?” He countered. But his hand explored his left jacket pocket, nonetheless.
“She is near. She will be waiting.”
The man’s fingers encountered something roughly rectangular, which he withdrew. “How did this get in here?”
The small rectangle of paper that now lay in the palm of his hand was wrapped, curiously, in hair – human hair. When he pulled the hair away the rich perfume of the cat’s mistress assailed his senses, and when he examined the paper inside he saw it was a photograph of himself.
“My mistress, or I, we put it there.” The cat replied. “It does not matter which of us – we are one and the same. It is a spell that binds you, and now you must fulfil your promise. The promise you made in the night, when you believed you were alone. But you were not alone. I was watching. I am always watching.”
Feeling his anger grow, the man rounded upon the cat: “What if I choose not to? You presume a great deal, for a cat!”
“Or a woman.” Said the woman, who had transmuted from the cat before his incredulous eyes, standing with her back to the window so he could no longer see the street. “For I am both. My name is Ellandra, by the way.”
Although his heart pounded in his chest the man’s anger melted, because Ellandra was every bit as beautiful as he had thought her the first time they met. “I don’t know what’s happening to me!” He protested. “This isn’t real. It can’t – you can’t be real!”
Ellandra smiled a bewitching smile, and said simply: “Stay.”
“But I can’t. I mean if this was real I couldn’t. I have a business…”
“You have no choice, I’m afraid. You are bound by my spell, and if you try to leave, I shall simply have to turn you into a mouse.”
“And” she said, suddenly a cat again; “I would hunt you down and kill you.”
Aghast, the man collapsed into the sofa. Breathing in storms, he could find no words. The cat immediately slipped onto his lap and curled up, and there, after a few seconds, no more, it began to purr.
© Frederick Anderson 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.