Disclaimer: this is an original work of fiction; please don’t use anything without asking me first. I’m nice, I won’t bite! And I’m British, so what might seem to be strange spelling, word usage or punctuation is in fact English English.
Any resemblance to anyone living, dead or feline is purely coincidental.
Email me at Ceri.Lloyd@bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Synopsis: Martin has two new neighbours: Bob, a black and white cat, and Lucy, the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He can’t believe his luck, but things are not as they first appear.
The cat and the fence
The door bell rang. When Martin answered it, standing on the doorstep was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Beautiful, but obviously agitated: she was moving from foot to foot, as if running on the spot.
“My cat” She blurted out
“What about it?”
“He’s in your garden”
“Well, that’s okay”
“No it’s not. Can I get him?”
Martin stepped to one side and the beautiful woman ran up his hall, through the kitchen and out of the back door. Unsure what to do, Martin stayed holding the front door open. After a couple of minutes, the woman came in from the garden, holding a small black and white cat in her arms. Relief was evident on her face, her smile lighting up her entire body. She was scratching the little cat’s ears; Martin could hear the bass of its purr.
“Thank you. We’ve just moved in and he’s not supposed to be out for at least three days but you know how it is, somehow he got out. I’m Lucy, by the way”
She proffered him her free hand, which he shook.
“Well, Martin, thank you for being so understanding”
“No problem. Would you – would you like a cup of tea or something?”
“That’s very kind but I really ought to get this thing home”
“I’ll see you around then?”
And just like that, she was gone. Martin stood with his back against the glass of the door. He’d not even asked where the woman and cat had moved into. Nowhere on his street, he knew that for a fact. Things had been remarkably settled after a spate of house sales about a year ago. If the little cat had got into his garden, their house might be one of the ones in the parallel street, maybe even the one that backed directly on to his. That wasn’t so bad, he figured, at least she wasn’t streets away. He found the idea strangely comforting.
Dark hair cut into a short bob, tucked behind her ears, slim, eyes the colour of the sea. Incredible. And there she’d been on his doorstep, in his house. Martin couldn’t help himself: an enormous grin crept over his face.
There was a thud. Startled, Martin looked up from where he was hoeing in between his runner beans. It was the little black and white cat. He looked directly at Martin before scuttling away and hiding under a bush. Martin hunkered down a little way off rubbing his fingers and making the soft chucking noise he made at anything living that was unable to talk: cats, ponies, babies.
The cat pointedly ignored him, even when he reached out his hand for the cat to smell and rub its head against.
“Aw, c’mon, don’t be so tight”
Suddenly there was another thud and a scrabbling noise coming from the wall that divided Martin’s garden and the one the other side. Both he and the cat looked over towards the noise and saw half of Lucy’s face appear over the top of the wall. Sea coloured eyes clocked Martin, he pointed down to under the bush where the cat had flattened himself against the sparse grass. The face slipped away but then her hands reappeared; there was more, concerted, scrabbling of feet trying to get purchase on preformed concrete. The next thing Martin saw was Lucy, head to waist, pulling herself up and then doubling over the top of the wall. The cat made a dash for the house end of the garden as Lucy dropped onto the grass at the base of the wall.
“Bob, you get here, you little bastard”
Bob, however, had taken this opportunity to throw himself into Martin’s kitchen.
Lucy ran past him and in through the back door. Martin followed at a more sedate pace. When he got into the kitchen neither Bob nor Lucy was anywhere to be seen. He found them both in the living room. Lucy was looking up at the top of the bookcase where Bob was sitting.
“He’s obviously not going anywhere. I’ll put the kettle on”
The three of them sat: Martin looking at Lucy, Lucy looking at Bob and Bob looking at anything that wasn’t either Martin or Lucy. Lucy sighed.
“Lex is going to kill me”
Martin felt his good mood evaporate. He shouldn’t really be surprised that a woman like Lucy had a boyfriend, a husband even.
“He your boyfriend?” He tried to sound as casual as possible “husband?”
Martin in his happy bubble didn’t notice that Lucy wasn’t really listening, that her attention was on Bob. Martin leant forward, putting his tea mug on the coffee table. He started to speak:
“I was wondering – maybe – maybe you’d like –”
“Quick! There he goes!”
Lucy had leapt out of her seat just as Bob sprang from the top of the shelves towards the windowsill, dislodging a football trophy that clattered to the floor. The sudden noise distracted Bob who fell slightly short of his target only to be grabbed by Lucy whose speed and dexterity impressed Martin. Lucy stood four-square, holding a wriggling Bob by the scruff of the neck like a prize.
From his kitchen window, Martin watched as Bob, on his third day of enforced captivity, crested the top of the wall and then slinked his way into the garden. He waited to see if Lucy would follow him. After two minutes she hadn’t appeared and he went back to washing the plates. After four minutes the door bell rang and with barely suppressed excitement, Martin ran down the hall to answer it. His obvious disappointment was reflected in the deepening scowl on the face of the woman standing on the step. Her hair was the exact colour of Lucy’s, though worn a little longer. If her hair was longer, the woman herself was a couple of inches shorter, and whereas Lucy held her body with unconscious ease, this one had the compact furious energy of a wasp in a jam jar. She looked past Martin, out towards the kitchen.
“Is Bob in your garden?” Her voice was tense, her words terse. Martin’s happiness completely vanished. He nodded.
“Can I get him?”
“Of course. He’s quite the escape artist, isn’t he?”
Because he’d closed the front door behind them, Martin didn’t see the woman bend her head to the cat’s ear, nor did he hear her mutter to him.
“Why that garden, eh? Why that garden when you’ve got an entire street of gardens to go into? I never realised you hated me that much.”
Lex lay in the half light of just before dawn. The birds were starting to sing in the trees outside the window. For a moment, she closed her eyes and thought about the blackbird that had sung throughout a winter of nights, the notes clean, clear and beautiful, entirely magical in their being out of place. That was in the old house, before they’d moved here. Lex turned onto her side and raised herself up on to her elbow so that she could look down at Lucy’s face. Lucy slept like a child, curled up, smiling slightly, her limbs heavy under the lightweight duvet. Nothing would wake her, not the dawn chorus, not Bob’s insistent yowling downstairs in the kitchen. Today they’d let him out and if he chose to spend all his time in that man’s garden, well that was up to him. Lex rested her hand on Lucy’s hip, Lucy shifted in her sleep, pushing herself back into Lex, who slipped an arm around Lucy’s stomach and held her lightly. Lucy’s hand closed over Lex’s, her lips moving soundlessly as she spoke in her dream.
As predicted, as soon as the back door was opened, Bob ran into the garden and made straight for the ugly concrete wall. Lex stood with her coffee mug watching him. Soon as we’re settled I’ll get rid of that, she thought, put up a 10 foot wooden fence, that’ll slow him down. Slow both of them down. She took a sip of her coffee and wished she hadn’t stopped smoking. Lucy was peering through the window, her hands cupped against the glass.
“I’ve never seen a cat move so fast”
“I’ve never seen that cat move so fast”
“I wonder what it is about Martin’s garden that’s so attractive. Maybe he’s got a hidden stash of cat nip”
“He fancies you”
Lucy turned to face her.
“What makes you say that?”
“He was gutted it was me that got Bob back yesterday”
“That’s just silly”
“You didn’t see his face. He looked like I’d pissed on his chips”
“Only you could take against someone on first meeting”
Lex stared down into her mug.
“There’s just something about him that I don’t trust”
She looked up and saw frown lines between Lucy’s arched eyebrows and instantly regretted saying anything.
“It’s because he looks like Danny, isn’t it?”
Lex sighed. Well, she’d brought that one on herself.
Lucy had been with women in the past but when Lex first met her she was living with the charming Danny, a man who played on his little boy lost helplessness and good looks. He and Lucy looked so right together, everyone said so. Lex’s heart dipped every time she thought of him. Yesterday she’d stood on the doorstep not knowing quite what to expect when this Martin opened the door, Lucy had been typically vague, but she hadn’t expected him to look enough like Danny to have been his brother: the same tousled fair hair and sleepy eyes, as if he’d just rolled out of bed, the same smile that said Yes, I know I’m sexy. Of course, that had disappeared the second he saw it was Lex at the door and not Lucy. Bastard. Transparent, obvious bastard. She was used to being overlooked by men like him, their sights set on a better prize. She told herself she didn’t care, and really she didn’t, not in that way. What she hated was the way she was discounted, never factored into the equation. She knew he was thinking Martin + Lucy, the possibility of Lucy + Lex never crossing his mind. Bastard. Lucy never saw it, that look men like Martin gave her and Lex was glad. This was her own monster, one she’d had from childhood and one she had to try and keep reigned in otherwise it would tear through the house and destroy everything.
So she took a sip of her cooling coffee, wished for a cigarette and shrugged again.
Lucy slowly walked over to her and took her mug, setting it down on the draining board before putting her arms round Lex and kissing her on the mouth. Lex felt her eyes involuntarily close, the way they always did when Lucy kissed her, however hard she wanted to keep them open. Lucy moved her mouth away and Lex’s eyes opened themselves. There were Lucy’s eyes: today blue grey, calm. Good weather. Lex found she was smiling.
“He might fancy me, but that doesn’t mean I fancy him”
Lex’s eyes closed. Lucy’s mouth was pressed to hers again.
The door bell rang. When Lucy answered it, there standing on the doorstep was Martin with a bottle of wine in his hand and an expectant smile on his face. He was the spit of Danny: she could see it now there wasn’t the distraction of Bob and she understood Lex’s miserable anxiety. Feckless, self-absorbed Danny, arrogant and incapable of fidelity, she’d kicked him out and taken him back more times than was healthy she knew, but he’d appear on the door step just like Martin now, with flowers or wine and the half asleep smile that unravelled her and before she knew where she was, she was on her back with the sensible part of her brain switched off.
However, she couldn’t leave Martin outside; she stepped to one side. He stood in the narrow hall as close as he could without being rude, his smile unchanged offering up the bottle.
“A housewarming present”
“Thank you” She hugged the bottle to her chest.
“O sorry. You have a glass by all means but it’s a little early for me. I’ll have a cup of tea”
“A cup of tea’ll be fine”
His mouth might’ve said it was fine but his face said something different. I’m sure you’re a nice bloke, Lucy thought, probably nicer by far than Danny but you are not getting me drunk at half past two in the afternoon. He followed her into the kitchen, his eyes scanning the room lightly taking in the fittings and fixtures, the décor, before catching on the photos pinned to the cork notice board. In the middle was the picture Lex had sweet talked an American tourist into taking of them on a ferry on Lake Como. Lex tanned and relaxed in brilliant sunshine, happy against the background green of the mountains and the grey green blue of the lake. Lucy gazed at Lex the same way she did in the photograph: with joyful disbelief. When she looked away, Martin was staring at her. She smiled at him, the bright, dazzling smile she knew distracted people. With relief she saw him smile back.
“Your friend not here today?”
“Yes the one who came round for Bob yesterday, the one in the photos”
“O you mean Lex”
The kettle boiled and Lucy filled the teapot, crushing the tea bags against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. Lex hated it when she mashed the pot but Lucy couldn’t help it, it was how her family did it, producing the strong, thick tea they were addicted to, the inside of the pot stained black with tannin. There was comfort in habit, she knew, and a distraction. A glance at Martin’s face showed that he was working up to asking her something.
“So this Lex, is she your housemate then?”
There it was. Now she had to act. She lifted her head from the teapot.
“Lex isn’t my housemate, Martin”
Lucy poured milk into two mugs and then tea, rich and brown. She handed one of the mugs to Martin before turning her back on him and looking out of the window. Bob was sitting on top of the concrete wall.
“She’s my girlfriend”
She faced him, her smile this time softer, less devastating.
“If we’re going to be friends, you have to understand something: there’s only Lex, no one else matters. I hate it when she’s sad and insecure; I hate it even more when it’s me or anything to do with me that’s made her feel like that. You’re a nice man, but you’ll never be her”
When asked if she believed in love at first sight Lucy would smile and say she didn’t know. All she knew was that she met a woman at a party and from that day onwards she didn’t want to be separated from her. A woman sitting on the stairs with hair the same colour as hers and eyes of such a pale blue they were lit from within; a red shift, light and gravity held in tension, she left no doubt that she was made of the same stuff as the galaxy, preventing a super nova purely through strength of will. And Lucy was drawn to her the same way she was to a sky full of stars.
They sat on the stairs and by the end of the night they were holding hands.
“Can I come home with you?”
Lying on her back in Lex’s bed, Lucy watched a shifting Orion fill up the skylight. Lex, energy dissipated, was sleeping next to her, her breath warm on Lucy’s neck and shoulder, her hand resting on Lucy’s stomach. Outside, a blackbird was singing against the frost of 3 o’clock on a winter’s morning. Turning onto her side, Lucy pulled Lex close, kissed her mouth and fell asleep.
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