Mrs. Bell’s Cat
One fall day, Mrs. Bell opened the bay windows in her sitting room as she was dusting. She didn’t notice the lithe little shadow that slipped in, slid through the doorway into the dining room and up the stairs to her guest bedroom on the second floor, where it found a nice dark closet to rest.
Mrs. Bell bustled about her Saturday cleaning, a kerchief over her soft white curls to keep them neat. As always, the house was in perfect order, each item replaced where it belonged as soon as she was done with it. Her husband, Harold, God rest his soul, had been a fastidious man but even he had felt Mrs. Bell’s wrath when he had carelessly left a newspaper on a chair.
No, now that she had the house to herself, Mrs. Bell kept everything just so. Therefore, Saturday cleaning did not take more than half the day. In the morning, she pulled out the glass cleaner, scouring powder, vacuum and mop to make sure the house positively sparkled.
She started by emptying all the waste baskets and then cleaning them before relining them with white plastic bags. Then she scoured the sinks and scrubbed the commodes. She replaced the cat litter and vacuumed the house from top to bottom before mopping all the floors that were not covered in carpeting.
Twice a year she took down the curtains and washed them while she cleaned the windows, washed the woodwork with oil soap and the wallpaper with a special cleaner.
After a modest lunch of soup and half a sandwich, she went out to the garage to get her car. As she stepped out the door in the breezeway and turned to pull it shut, her neighbor, who happened to be out walking her little Jack Russell Terrier, hailed her.
Mrs. Bell put on a reserved smile and walked down the little sidewalk, refusing to yell across the yard as her neighbor did, though she didn’t get too close to the yappy little dust mop her neighbor called a dog. “Good morning, Edith.”
“I see you finally got yourself some company?” her neighbor said, nodding toward the front window.
Mrs. Bell turned toward the house and followed her neighbor’s gaze to see the gray cat that she had brought home from the humane society, sunning itself in the window. She glared at the cat but smiled sweetly before turning back to her neighbor. “Yes, it’s so much company, I almost can’t stand it.”
Once she’d managed to extricate herself from the conversation with Edith, Mrs. Bell pulled her car out and drove down to the market to pick up a few provisions, then visited the library and, finally, drove her little gray Honda home again. Once everything was put away, she relaxed in the sitting room with a book until time to make dinner, some nice poached fish and peas. After dinner, she watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
That night, she was cleaned up and dressed in her long white nightgown, tucked up in bed, thinking of the lovely sermon to come in the morning, then the social hour after, where she would serve coffee and cookies with the other ladies of St. James Church.
Mrs. Bell’s houseguest, though, was just beginning to stir. It slipped out from under the door and puddled there for a moment. It slunk along the wall of the room, as if testing the confines. At the door into the hallway it hesitated then the whole shadow seemed to vibrate.
It flowed more surely now as it slid back down the stairs and under the door into the kitchen. It stopped and vibrated again.
The gray cat turned from its water bowl and hissed, standing on tip toe. The cat’s fur stood up in a ridge as it curled its back end around, trying to protect its flank.
It didn’t matter, it was over in a minute. The shadow flowed over the cat, thinning to slide in through the nostrils. The cat shook its head side to side and staggered a few steps. It shook its head then dropped to the floor. At last, the flanks did not rise. The cat’s green eyes stared blindly.
After a few minutes, the cat clumsily stood and shook itself. It put one paw in front of the other and staggered, as if it were drunk. With each movement across the room, though, it became more graceful and natural. Finally, it reached up and batted with one paw until it managed to turn the lock on the doorknob and shouldered the door open to escape the kitchen.
It was moving easily now and took a lap around the downstairs, looking and sniffing.
At last, it came to the stairs and climbed them, going directly to Mrs. Bell’s bedroom, where the door stood open. The cat padded silently into the room and leapt easily onto the bed.
Mrs. Bell woke with a start. She switched on the lamp to find the cat sitting serenely next to her.
She stared for a moment. “Howard? Is that you?”
The cat blinked slowly and then began to purr. With a cry, she gathered him into her arms. “Oh, Howard! I knew as soon as I heard about the cats turning up suffocated around town that you’d be back soon so I went right out and got this one from the humane society.”
She kissed the cat as it purred then wiped the fur from her mouth and wondered how long she’d be able to put up with that.
*I hope you enjoyed the story! ~ M.