© Copyright 2002 by Jill Sadowsky
Lynn and Johnny moved into their sprawling old house on the outskirts of the town on a Friday. The tomcat arrived on Sunday. Lynn opened the kitchen door and the cat, crouched low, squeezed past and leapt into the rattan basket left by its previous owner. Lynn’s startled shriek brought Johnny into the kitchen. He threw the cat out: “Hope the ugly brute won’t be back,” he said, running his hand over his right thigh – caressing the tattoo of a snake.
“He’s not ugly. He’s a Siamese and the poor thing’s desperate to get out of the rain.”
“I’ll eject it if it ever comes in again.”
The cat retired to the shelter of a doorway where it lay like a ribbon of fur. Johnny returned to the basement and while he hammered away at the shelves he was crafting, Lynn made overtures to the cat. He was fully-grown with unusual violet eyes. Lynn wondered about his flat, oddly shaped head. She put down a saucer of tuna fish and the cat approached hesitantly. The cat watched her suspiciously but the smell of tuna was too strong to resist. He ate hungrily the rubbed his wet fur against her legs. She felt absurdly pleased.
She noticed the word Cosmo inscribed on his collar.
“Where do you come from, Cosmo?”
“That cat is a pest,” Johnny muttered when they were getting ready for bed. “The way it sits under the eaves of the barn roof and yowls. Can’t you shut it up?”
“Only if you let him in.”
“Over my dead body.”
Next morning Lynn was in the garden with Cosmo when a shaven-headed youth approached on his bicycle.
“Hello old thing,” he said to the cat. So she left you behind, huh?”
“Do you know him?” Lynn asked, surprised.
“He belonged to the previous owner. He’s a wild one. She wanted him gone but he refused to leave. Eventually, she moved away. Clever animal that Cosmo.”
“I was about to call and ask whether she wants to come and get him.”
“Don’t bother. She’s probably relieved,” he said, riding on.
Lynn prepared lunch and they sat down to eat.
“I’ve decided to keep the cat,” Johnny.
He looked at her strangely: “You seem insistent. All right, you can keep the cat, but make sure to keep that creature out of my way.”
He needn’t have worried. If Johnny entered, Cosmo left his spot beside the stone hearth and stalked out, whiskers quivering with disapproval. If forced to share a room with Johnny, the cat crouched, immobile, except for the tip of his long tail that twitched as if suppressed rage had sent an electrical charge running along it.
Spring buds flew open and a battalion of flowers sprung up in the fields.
“It’s like taking a flower bath,” she told Cosmo.
She shared her cat’s attachment to the old house, which was built of granite and covered with ivy. The twisting, wooden staircase had rough, uneven treads and creaked with age like badly set bones. The handrails had been worn smooth.
“I must replace those rotted steps,” Johnny told Lynn, a determined gleam in his eye.
“But, they’re beautiful. Repair them, but please don’t replace them. They’ll lose their charm.”
Cosmo’s favorite retreat was an ancient cupboard that stood at the top of the staircase. He reached it by leaping onto the post at the head of the stairs then lay there, washing himself. Lynn threw up an old blanket for him.
Summer sped by and as autumn approached, Lynn watched Cosmo play among the scurrying leaves. She breathed in the scents of autumn. She’d fallen in love with the house, the surroundings, the fields and … Cosmo. She and her cat belonged there. He folded himself around her neck like a boa and she whispered secrets to him. One day slid lazily into the next.
Johnny stayed later and later at his office and on several occasions, the cleaner answered the telephone. One evening, Johnny telephoned: "Lynn, I won’t be home tonight. Pressure of work, you know.”
She climbed into bed and wasn’t surprised when Cosmo leaped onto her pillow and curled himself into a ball beside her, taking care not to touch Johnny’s side of the bed. He returned the following day with a case full of expensive short shirts and bright ties. She smelled a new after-shave and was amazed to see him go jogging in a startling read sweat suit. Johnny arrived home breathing with difficulty. She stared at him.
“Have to keep in trim,” he mumbled.
One Sunday he sprained an ankle that ballooned out, forcing him to hobble. Despite his aching foot, he leapt up every time the telephone rang, before Lynn could reach it. If she picked up the receiver first, the line went dead.
“I’m plain, plump and about to be dumped,” she whispered to Cosmo – “traded in for a younger model. When we got married I was very young and overly attached to my father. When he had a heart attack and subsequently died, I felt abandoned. Johnny was there for me – but there were characteristics that I should have noticed. He showed me around his office. There was a very large certificate of his Law Degree on one wall and a larger one of him receiving it. He had a miniature Rolls Royce on his desk and ostentatiously embossed business cards. I soon discovered that we did not love one another. He found me dull. That doesn’t bother me now. Let him make a fool of himself. I won’t miss him but I love this house. Johnny didn’t want me to work. A wife with a career would have been a threat to his ego, so everything is his. He didn’t want children and I agreed to that but I’m sorry now. If we divorce he’ll get everything. I have to think of something.”
Johnny strutted about the house and whenever he came too close to the cat, Cosmo rolled back his upper lip to reveal needle-sharp teeth. Lynn could have sworn that the cat was sneering.
Things came to a head when Johnny packed a suitcase full of new sport clothes and jeans then announced: “I’m going away for a few days to a business conference.”
“You’re having an affair.”
Her words hung between them and she regretted her outburst. She’d meant to wait a bit.
“Yes. I ‘m having an affair. She’s fresh out of law school. She’s bright and charming.”
“And what does a bright, charming young woman want with a boring, middle-aged man?”
“She finds middle-aged men fascinating.”
“She only wants you for your law-firm. Same way you wanted me for the money my Dad gave us. Without it you wouldn’t have gotten through university and might still be working as a clerk somewhere.”
“I’m planning to offer her a partnership and I want a divorce. We can come to an agreeable settlement.”
“Oh you do, do you? Agreeable to whom?”
“Lynn, don’t deny me happiness because you’re discontented.”
“What about the house?”
“We’ll sell it and divide the money. There’ll be enough for a small apartment.”
“I don’t want a small apartment,” she wailed. “I want this house.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, walking out of the bedroom onto the landing without a backward glance. She flew after him and grabbed his sleeve. He tried to shake her off but she hung on, shouting:
“You bastard. For twenty years I’ve kept house for you and been nothing but an unpaid housekeeper. All you ever gave me was a roof over my head – and for that my father paid half.”
“It’s not my fault that your life isn’t fulfilling,” he snapped.
“You hypocrite,” she yelled, grabbing his jacket sleeve again. He gave an exclamation of disgust and shoved violently, loosening her grip and sending her spinning backwards. She struck the wall behind her hard and landed on the floor, one leg folded beneath her. Johnny stood with his back to the staircase, rigid with self-righteousness, looking down at her contemptuously.
Neither of them noticed Cosmo crouched on top of the old cupboard. His ears were flat, his tail lashing. Without warning, he sprang. To Lynn, sitting on the floor, the creature with the flat head that flew through he air resembled a missile. His fur bristled and flames shot from his eyes like pools of fire. His sharp white teeth were bared in a ferocious snarl, front legs outstretched like a bat’s wings and as he hurtled through he air, he let out a bloodcurdling yowl. Johnny stepped back in horror and raised an arm to protect his face. It was too late. Cosmo wrapped himself around Johnny’s head. Scarlet lines appeared across the man’s cheeks. Blood spurted where sharp claws had dug deep. Johnny stepped backwards, lost his balance and rolled headlong down the stairs, trying to push the cat away while grabbing the railing. Cosmo clung obstinately to his head. Halfway down, Johnny hit a rotted stair. It collapsed and he bumped down helplessly, head banging. Man and cat were locked together in an awful embrace. They landed with a thud. Lynn got up with difficulty and hurried downstairs.
“Cosmo, are you all right?” she called.
He purred and smiled, violet eyes gleaming. Then she approached Johnny who was half-turned on his back. She knelt beside him. His eyes flickered and his lips moved. Thick dark blood tricked from one ear, from his nostrils and mouth.
“Ambulance,” he mumbled. She recognized desperate urgency in his eyes. He didn’t move. She ran to the telephone to pick up the receiver but heard a warning growl. She looked up. Cosmo’s eyes were fixed on hers with mesmeric power, forbidding her to summon aid. Obediently she replaced the receiver and sat immobile at the phone, shivering beside the figure of her husband. She didn’t move for a quarter of an hour. Then she walked over to Johnny. She peered into eyes that were sightless. She called the police and the ambulance service. While she waited, she planned how she would turn her house into a bed and breakfast guesthouse.
* * * *
The telephone rang four times. She looked at Cosmo and decided not to answer.
I teach English
as a second language and specialize in teaching children with special needs.
in my spare time
and have had a book published in Hebrew, here in Israel. A personal
essay of mine was accepted for publication for an anthology and I have
had short stories published in various magazines. I left South Africa
in 1963 and have been living in Israel ever since. I have a husband of
43 years, two daughters and three grandchildren.
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