I have a good view of the front door from here. Not that it opens much. The glass is coloured and wibbly, so there’s little to see most of the time. I’m opposite the parlour door, but these days it remains shut. At one time, she would leave it open so I could watch the fire flicker.
She doesn’t pay me much attention anymore. I have become too familiar, a pattern on the wallpaper to be glanced over. Once, I was her favourite.
Cat is my only friend – and cat friendship is pointedly indifferent. Cat likes the way the light dances on the tiles through the door windows at a certain time of day, wallowing in the warmth and magic of the fractured colours. It’s company for me.
One day has been much like the next.
Until now; a knock!
She is surprised, not expecting visitors, stalking suspiciously towards the door. She scrutinises the shadow without, but all that is revealed by the glass is the shape of a tallish person. She applies the chain, hunches herself over, opens the door a mere crack.
Pleased by what she encounters, she removes the chain and opens the door to let the shape in. For a dazzling moment there is a flood of light, noise, colour, movement, smells of spring, flooding in from the outside – sensory overload. Too distracting for me to focus on the shape, until the door closes again.
It is a man shape. He is young and dangerously handsome. Dangerous for him.
She is ushering him into the darkness, bent almost double, shuffling, presenting herself as the harmless old lady, smiling benignly.
He pauses, looks directly at me.
His eyes are most beautiful thing I have ever seen; astonishingly blue, deep and soulful. He stares so intently, that I almost believe he sees me.
I scream silently at him to run.
She is taking him away from me, luring him into the parlour. She sits him down in an armchair, hobbles back out, down the hall to the kitchen, forgetting to shut the door.
I watch him stand up, alert, taking in the room, gazing at all the photographs in turn.
I keep shouting, but to no avail. He cannot hear.
A shameful thought: If he were to hang where I could see him, it would be rather pleasant for me.
She returns with a laden tea tray, samovar steaming.
I remember this. It had been so very cold that day. The dark had fallen suddenly, taking me unawares. I’d lost my bearings. The light in the window had been so welcoming, and she been so kind, letting me sit by the fire, bringing boiling-hot tea. Warming and sweet, it had made me feel sleepy and comfortable. Everything had become like a dream.
She is setting things out in front of him on that same occasional table, making polite conversation, pulling the door almost closed.
“It used to be the only house on the hill,” she tells him. “A long time ago. Just us.”
I hope he might question her use of the plural, but Cat ruins it, slipping through the gap in the door, wanting to know what’s happening.
“You’ve made a friend,” I hear her say. “What a floosy! Drink your tea while it’s hot.”
I have never been more jealous of Cat.
“Please excuse me for a moment.”
She marches past me, striding determinedly up the stairs. That’s where she keeps it.
Upstairs, the sound of rummaging.
A gleeful exclamation. She has found it.
The parlour door opens quietly. He watches the top of the stairs, Cat rubbing against his heels.
She rumbles down the stairs triumphantly, noticing too late that he is observing to affect her wizened demeanour. She laughs, abandoning pretence, holding up the camera and taking aim. Cat dashes at her frenziedly and there is a blur as he brings something out from behind him –
Blindingly bright, obscuring the world for a few seconds…
All is in disarray. She is slumped at the bottom of the stairs, looking dazed. He is standing over her, brandishing the silver tea tray. The oldest trick in the book. Perseus in the Gorgons’ cave. The tea tray clatters to the floor; he wrenches the camera out of her grasp.
“Right. I think you’d better come with me,” he says to Cat. “I’ll give social services a call. They can clear up this mess. But I don’t want you to go hungry.”
My only friend!
He turns to me. Smiles.
He reaches towards me, unhooking me from the wall.
“You’re coming too.”
Inspired by the song by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Ed Harcourt