I am here to look after a Siamese cat. This cat seems to have lived a better life than me.
When my great Aunt died, she had not necessarily left things in order. No one in the family knew who would ultimately get her country home or who would receive her rather lucrative collection of antique toy cars. The only thing her will, if you could call it a will, stipulated was that until we all figured it out, someone would have to stay in her house and take care of her cat.
That somebody is me. Currently, I sit in a wicker rocking chair by the window. The cat sits on my lap and kneads my left thigh contemplatively. We both look out the window. She is absorbed by the birds and occasional chipmunks that flit past our view. My attention is pulled across the grassy grounds to the rocky cliffs and the ocean horizon beyond.
My leg begins to fall asleep. I pick up the creature, warmed by the sun, and place her on the ground. Then I click my tongue as I walk to the kitchen. An invitation.
I give the cat a small serving of tuna as consolation for disrupting her position on my lap. It is served on a little tin bowl I found in the cupboard. The cat sniffs it and looks up at me incredulously. We hold each other's gaze for a long, silent time, punctuated by the chirping of birds. I don't know exactly why, but I eventually turn back to the cupboard and reach for a little blue and white saucer which seems to be porcelain and reminds me of Holland. Not that I've ever been. I set the saucer on the ground and transfer the tuna into this superior vessel. The cat tucks in greedily.
With the cat so occupied I ascend the stairs to the second floor of this beautiful house. It really is beautiful. Everything smells warm and like it's just been touched. The whole interior is made from a rustic wood, not the wood paneling I grew up with. Real wood.
As I reach the top stair, my head is enveloped in a shimmering brightness. I can see dust particles floating lazily in the air, seemingly out of time. The second floor consists of a narrow hallway, a window as wide as the wall, a closed linen closet, and my Great Aunt's bedroom, which has no door. I walk into her bedroom and immediately am drawn to the small window by her bed, where I'm granted a perfect view of the unending sea. The window is already half open, and a breeze comes in, stirring the lightweight curtain. By the bed is a glass light fixture in the shape of a tulip, the only thing sitting on a narrow night stand. It seems there was once a mural painted on the ceiling, but the sea air has caused it to fade into indecipherable abstractions of green and blue.
No sheets on the bed. I step out to get them from the linen closet.
But something is wrong. dread rises in my body, starting from the soles of my feet. I look down.
In front of the closet door, a shadow is plastered across the floor.
This wasn’t here before- I would have noticed it. The shadow on the floor does not grow, but maintains, almost vibrates in its deep stillness. There is nothing in the hall that could reasonably cast such a shadow, and the closet door is closed. Suddenly I want to comfort myself- maybe it’s just water damage, liquid seeping into the wooden floorboards. Slowly I reach down, extending my finger to touch the ground...
A scream cuts the air. Not human but feline. I whip around to see the cat crouching on the stairs, only her eyes and ears visible above the threshold. Her eyes are wider than I've yet seen them, and she is yowling at an incredible pitch.
She continues to wail as I stand up to go towards her and then falls silent. I look back to the ground and the shadow is gone.
This is the most notable thing that happens on my first day at my Great Aunt's house. The cat and I are both sufficiently rattled, but as the day wears on and the evening draws near, we fall into a rhythm again. I make tea and the cat takes a bath. I make dinner and let the cat sit on the table as I eat it. I wouldn't usually, but she seems to expect it, and she doesn't nose around my plate like other cats might. She simply sits at the other end of the table, eyeing me seriously and then looking at the empty candlestick holders between us. I'm hungry, but I stand up to find two candles in the drawer and a match. I light them and set them in their place. The cat seems pleased now, and she closes her eyes. Her whiskers catch the flickering light.
After dinner we sit in our chair and I read. The night draws on and I do not move to get up. The cat seems to disapprove of this after a while. At around midnight she rubs her head against my arm rather forcefully making me lose the place in my book. She then looks meaningfully over towards the staircase.
I am reluctant to go upstairs. But I know, eventually, it has to happen. Apparently sensing my acceptance, the cat jumps from my lap and trots to the stairs. I follow, and together we ascend. I must admit, it's comforting to not walk up alone.
When I get to the little but elegant bed, I realize it is still bare. I hold on to the brass bedpost. "Courage" I tell myself. I walk into the hallway. The floor is silvery with moonlight. I open the linen closet with dread...but nothing is there to frighten me. Only sheets. Only a light quilt, perfect for a summer night.
As I lie in bed, the cat is stationed at my feet. I can feel myself falling to sleep. I think of my ex-husband a little. I think of how good it is we didn't have children. And then suddenly I do have a child. The child is a cat. Yes the child has human legs but a cat’s torso, a human head but cat's ears-
The cat is upon me and my arm stings. She is growling low. Her nails are extended, glistening and she looks at me urgently, wildly.
But I can feel what. It is standing above my bed. Large, large, and I can't move. Spreading up the wall by the foot of my bed. The shadow begins to reach across the ceiling, towards me, now over me-
The cat delivers another sharp swipe to my forearm and suddenly I can move again. I scramble to the little light by the bed and fumble desperately for the switch, which turns out to be beneath the base. The room floods with warm artificial light, and I see the cat's pupils constrict rapidly. We sit still for a while, and I can only hear my heartbeat. Then I can hear the crickets singing outside. The cat moves closer to me and licks my arm where it is bloody. An apology.