Audrey Ambrose had been married, but that was in another time and place. She’d left the luxury of 54a Codrington Crescent, Mission Bay over two years before. Now in early 2019 she lived alone at 32 Awa Street, Otahuhu. This cottage had once been a railway house – back in the heyday of that worthy employer. The railway still existed of course, but not like it used to. 

No longer did the magnificent Ka steam locomotives pull the passenger expresses on New Zealand’s main trunk line. No longer could you hear from Mangere Road, the racket made by the construction of rolling stock at the Otahuhu Workshops. And no more could Audrey share with her mother, Nora Mathison, their passion for embroidery and quilting. That was a long while ago now; a time when her dad, Tom was a guard on the ‘subbies’; when he was strong and at the helm at home. Now Audrey was in charge.

When her marriage broke down (irreconcilable differences Will Ambrose had said, but Audrey knew there was someone else) she and Will sold their four-bedroom 1960s ‘hideaway’ in pretty Mission Bay. With her share of the proceeds, she was able to buy the railway cottage which had been her childhood home. It was fortuitous really, that she went back to Awa Street when she did. Her dad had developed dementia. 

“Change the channel for me Girly, will you”, he would say. 

“No, not that episode, I’ve seen that one”, he said once when she put Escape to the Country on.

“Are you sure, Dad?”

“Yes, I recognise the cows.”

He wasn’t aware that Audrey had recorded his favourite shows. What was the point in telling him? He didn’t recall how to use the remote control – even when she wrote the instructions down. Instead, he called her to operate ‘the new-fangled pointer thing’. Audrey didn’t mind. She loved her father and was happy to care for him, except for the bathing; she engaged a community nurse to attend to that. He wasn’t angry or oppositional as others with dementia could be. He was really quite sweet, and his quirky reasoning often gave her cause to smile.

“No, Girly, I don’t enjoy that quiz show now. The compere prattles on to the contestants when they’re considering their answers. Having to listen to him wastes the poor beggars’ precious time. It must be his ploy to prevent them from winning the money,” he’d said.

Nothing good would come out of exposing her father to the daily news either. The American President was a reality television star who vowed to build a border wall, horrifying wars continued in faraway lands leaving children dying of starvation, climate change was a certainty and South Africa beat New Zealand at rugby. 

‘The first three on the list are worrying enough, but, good grief, he’d spit chips if he heard the last,’ Audrey reasoned. ‘And as for that nonsense, they call reality television – well that would distress him no end. I can imagine what he’d say. People being nasty to each other for the purpose of monetary reward. Ridiculous. Bless you, dear Dad, I might be controlling your life now, but I’m doing it because I love you.’       

Tom Mathison had nodded off a quarter of the way through Rosemary and Thyme. Audrey put the log-cabin quilt over her father and let him rest.

‘Funny,’ she thought, ‘he loves Felicity Kendal and usually manages to last two thirds the distance with that show.’

Tom Mathison died that night.

Audrey organised the funeral, booked a venue for the wake, hired a caterer and ordered drinks and hors d'oeuvres. And she delivered a loving eulogy on the day. Despite her immense grief, she engaged with the mourners in a dignified manner, though one thing irked her.

‘If one more person says that at ninety-five, he’s had a good innings, I think I’ll scream,’ she thought. 

She was glad when it was over.

In a week Tom Mathison was beside his beloved wife Nora in their pre-purchased plot in Otahuhu Cemetery. Audrey was alone. In fact, she was now totally alone. No family left in her immediate world. She folded the log-cabin quilt and draped it over her Dad’s favourite chair. She sat down and let the tears fall. She cried for her dear mum who’d taught her all she knew about fabrics and yarns and sewing and embroidery. She cried for her marriage, for Will who’d promised to love and cherish her yet had cheated and married again the day their Decree Absolute was granted.  She cried for 54a Codrington Crescent where every bedroom faced the pool and where they’d enjoyed wonderful celebrations in the expansive downstairs rumpus. And she cried for her dad who despite being hard work, had given her joy in his final years. Her tears depleted, she rested her head on the wing of the chair and fell asleep. 

Audrey awoke at 3.00 pm and rose to make a cup of tea.

‘It’s odd the things you think of in a time of emotional upheaval,’ she thought. ‘ There’s no one left to call me Girly.’

A week went by and Audrey thought she was ready to engage with the world again. But then she decided she wasn’t. She thought about the quilting club girls and how their projects would be progressing, but she wasn’t inspired to join them for their regular monthly chat and stitch. Chat and bitch, her father had called it. He wasn’t wrong.  Esme Johnson, the club secretary, was frequently petulant and disagreeable. It was unpleasant for everyone.

Audrey thought about quilting some runners or rugs for the upcoming craft market, but she lacked inspiration. She tried to watch television, but she liked the same shows as her dad and found herself in tears whenever she sat to view them.

One Saturday evening Audrey watched a documentary on Depression. She recognised symptoms in herself. She didn’t want to, of course. No one wants to think they have a mental illness. 

I suppose I should see a doctor, she thought.

As she began to wash up, she heard mewing. Faint, pitiful cries. She opened the back door and switched on the light. There, by the step, looking up at her was a skinny, bedraggled, ginger kitten whose mews turned to meows, as loud as it could summon, when it saw her. 

“Oh, you poor little thing. How could such a tiny, wee kitty be so alone in the world? Where’s your mummy, little one?”

Audrey picked up the kitten, grabbed a torch from the kitchen drawer and began to scour the yard for a mother with the rest of her litter. The kitten continued to meow, and she hoped the sound would alert its mother, but she found nothing.

“Well, I can’t find your mummy, so it looks like I’m it,” Audrey said soothingly. She took the kitten inside.

She examined it and determined it was female. The kitten continued to meow and watch her even when Audrey put her on the floor.

“Well, you can walk properly, you don’t appear to be hurt or sick. But I’ll take you to a vet on Monday just to be sure. Meanwhile, I’ll warm up some milk. Rice milk or goat’s milk, those are your choices,” she said to the cat. “Let’s try goat’s milk first.”

Audrey sat on the floor beside the kitten. She was delighted with her response to the warm milk. The saucer licked clean; the animal nuzzled her leg.

“You sweet little thing. Is that your way of saying thank you? What shall I call you? Blondie? No, not dignified enough for a brave wee thing like you. Missy? No, not special enough; no substance to it. Ah, I know, Pandora – because bringing you into my life is opening a new chapter – like opening Pandora’s Box.  Only, little kitty,” Audrey said to Pandora. “I hasten to add that you shall bring wonderful things into my life, not trouble, like the opening of the mythological Pandora’s Box, okay?”

Pandora could wash herself so Audrey surmised that she must have been at least six weeks old. The vet was able to confirm this, and he determined that the kitten was healthy, despite her wobbly and uncertain start in life.

From the moment Pandora mewed her way into Audrey’s heart, she lifted the sad woman’s spirits. Audrey began to tend to the vegetable garden again. She cleaned and oiled the sewing machine and planned new projects. She cooked savoury mince for cottage pies and bolognaise, she made spanakopita, moussaka, lasagne, and then rock cakes and afghans for treats. When the dishes had cooled, she froze single-serve portions so that she didn’t have to stop sewing to prepare meals from scratch. She commenced a queen size Moroccan Mosaic quilt and found herself smiling excitedly because it was fat quarter friendly and she knew she had her favoured blues, greens, and lilacs in her fabric stash already. She even made Pandora a quilted rug for her basket.

Pandora, on the other hand, had her own ideas regarding sleeping arrangements. She had no intention of using the basket. For the first few nights, she climbed onto Audrey’s abdomen and gingerly stepped up to her face where she parked herself on Audrey’s chest right where her moist pink nose could touch her human’s chin. It was there that she proceeded to sleep.

“That might be sweet and acceptable for a night or two,” Audrey said to Pandora, “but it’s not at all practical. You’ll grow and I’ll be in strife. You’ll be too heavy, and I won’t be able to breathe.”

Eventually, the kitten found her place on the bed. She settled in a different place every few nights, on the very same spot in each different place, and always right on the edge of the bed.  

“You are a funny thing, Pandora,” Audrey said.

Over the months, human and feline settled into an agreeable routine. The kitten was often made into the bed without her human noticing and when Audrey changed her bed cover to the white Battenburg Lace, she put Pandora’s new quilt on top, being mindful of placing it close to the edge of the bed. She popped the kitty on the quilt and told her that the quilt was for her, not the white lace spread. Then she left the room. When she returned Pandora, pink nose resting on white front paws was fast asleep under her quilt on the Battenburg Lace.

“Oh, Pandora, you are adorable, truly.”

In time Audrey was comfortable leaving her cat alone in the house while she drove to markets to sell her quilting. She began visiting friends again and even occasionally went to dinner with Hannah and Jill from the quilting group.

It was on one such outing that a gentleman bumped into her. He was on his phone but apologised and went on his way. Later, when Audrey had stepped away from the table, the gentleman slipped a note to Jill and asked her if she would be so kind as to give it to the lady he’d bumped into. The note read: -

‘I most humbly apologise for nearly knocking you over and I’d very much like to make it up to you by taking you to dinner next Friday evening. Please call me on this number.’  Phillip Armidale.

“Did you notice that he was well dressed and very good looking, Audrey?” asked Hannah.

“And he drove a Porsche,” said Jill.

“Oh, c’mon girls. I’m not interested in dishy guys with flash cars,” Audrey said.

“We’re not suggesting you move in and wash his jocks and socks; just go out for a change. Enjoy an intelligent man’s company. And besides, I told him you’d call,” lied Hannah.

“I don’t feel like going to quilting club let alone on a date,” Audrey said. “In fact, I’d much rather sew at home than go traipsing over to quilting to listen to Esme Johnson whinging about the state of the world or the price of zucchinis,” Audrey said to her friends.

“Yes, we feel the same way, which is why we are asking you if we can join you at home and quilt together, just the three of us,” Hannah asked

“Yes, of course, that’s a great idea, but only if you like cats,” answered Audrey.

“Why? How many do you have?” asked Jill.

“Just one, but she’s a spirited wee thing,” Audrey answered.

The evening ended and the three friends went their separate ways after Jill and Hannah encouraged Audrey to call the dish with the Porsche.

So, Audrey called. The ensuing date was pleasant enough. Phillip Armidale was intelligent, witty and chatty. He seemed genuinely interested in Audrey, but he was a stockbroker, excessively stressed and his phone didn’t stop. The instant Audrey pictured washing his jocks and socks was the moment she realised that Phillip didn’t ignite any passion in her at all. They parted on friendly terms.

The following Sunday, Hannah and Jill took their projects, sewing machines and scones with jam and cream to Audrey’s.

“I saw Will in the street at Stonefields on Wednesday,” Hannah said.

“I wonder what he was doing there,” said Audrey.

“Probably looking at an apartment. Haven’t you heard? Codrington Crescent is on the market. Straight after they married, he bought that woman a high-end boutique in Blockhouse Bay,” Jill said.

“But rumour has it that she had neither retail experience nor fashion expertise. They lost the boutique within the year and now they have to sell the house,” Hannah added.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” Audrey said. “Will loved that house as much as I did.”

“Don’t you be feeling sorry for Will Ambrose, Audrey. It wouldn’t be lost to either of you if he hadn’t done the dirty on you and chased after a gold-digging dolly-bird,” Jill said.

“Jill’s right, Audrey. He doesn’t deserve your sympathy,” Hannah added.

“Whereas, you, my friend,” Jill said, “own your home outright, you’ve made it gorgeous, inside and out, you don’t have to wash any man’s jocks and socks and, you seem happier than you’ve been in a long time.”

Audrey laughed. “I am,” she said as Pandora pounced up the back steps, bolted in the door, slid over the polished wood floor, and landed with her nose in her biscuit bowl.

“What on earth…” exclaimed Jill.

“Oh, that’s just her way of completing whatever adventure she’s been on,” Audrey said. Stalking butterflies makes her hungry.”

When the cat had finished eating, she wandered, as she often did, up the passage and into the sunny sitting room. Jill and Hannah left at 5.00 pm and Audrey sought her cat for company.

“Pandora, what have you done?” she exclaimed when she saw the crocheted matinee jacket, yarn still attached, on the floor with her cat on top of it. It was no longer fit for donating to the maternity hospital.   

“Pandora, you naughty girl. I’ve told you a hundred times not to touch my crocheting.” 

The cat, pupils big and black, knew she was in trouble, but she remained exactly where she was. She also knew what was going to happen next. Audrey walked briskly out of the room and returned with a spray bottle of water. She ensured the nozzle was turned to ‘Mist’ and pointed it at Pandora.

“Off the crocheting, or you’ll get wet,” Audrey warned.

Pandora looked directly at her human.  Then she moved swiftly – sideways – a centimetre. 

“Oh, you are naughty, Pandora. I’m spraying you; this is your last warning.”

The cat bounded in the air and landed back on the jacket and wool. 

“Right, you’re in trouble,” Audrey said, and she sprayed a swift light mist of clean water on the wilful cat.

Pandora tucked her head in her furled front legs and hunched down right where she sat.

“Oh, my goodness, Pandora you are the funniest feline I’ve ever met. Didn’t anyone tell you that cats don’t like being sprayed with water? I’m not rewarding bad behaviour so I’m not picking you up, but you’d better move off that garment without doing any more damage or I’ll...”

Audrey didn’t know what she’d do. She just smiled and shook her head. She knew it was pointless spraying the cat again.  This was the first cat she’d encountered that didn’t respond to this simple disciplinary method.  She returned the sprayer to the kitchen and re-entered the sitting room to pick up the jacket and wool. Pandora was sitting in the sun washing. 

“Well, I suppose I can finish it and put it in the op shop.  Having you is like having a naughty child,” she said to the cat who continued to groom and didn’t look up.

Audrey knew Pandora had misbehaved because her attention had been taken for a good part of the day by Hannah and Jill. Nevertheless, she was mindful of not engaging lovingly with the cat until Pandora came to sit by her bowl at dinner time.  Audrey picked her up and cuddled her. The feline’s rhythmic purr reminded her of a wringer washing machine. She smiled and kissed the fluffy head just behind the ear where the fur was short and soft. She felt an overwhelming love for her.

“We needed each other that Saturday night, didn’t we? You wanted food and a safe place, and I longed for joy and companionship, the very qualities you continually give.” 

Rhonda Valentine Dixon


New Zealand colloquialisms

subbies       -  Suburban passenger trains

jocks           -   Men’s underwear, named after the Jockey brand

op shop      -  Opportunity Shop/Thrift Shop

2910 words

May 12, 2020 13:11

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Kathryn El-Assal
18:11 May 19, 2020

Loved the details you incorporated into your story: a ginger cat and a Moroccan patterned quilt; divorce, a dad with dementia, and the protagonist’s depression; location names and colloquialisms that evoke New Zealand. In this age of coronavirus, I appreciate any opportunity for armchair traveling to a country better governed than my own.


22:55 May 19, 2020

Oh my goodness, that last sentence made me roar with laughter. But I confess I have to agree with you. Thank you so much for your lovely words and for getting so much out of my story. Coincidentally, your Finger Food told me much about something of which I'm unfamiliar too.


Kathryn El-Assal
01:27 May 20, 2020

I named my story’s parakeet Kiwi because I love the fruit, the color, the bird and the people. I also love watching public television shows set in New Zealand and Australia like 800 Words, The Brokenwood Mysteries, A Place to Call Home, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Hope to read more of your NZ stories, Rhonda.


20:51 May 20, 2020

I don't know 800 Words, but I love Brokenwood Mysteries - I've just realised why Shephard isn't interested in women. His wife suffered mental illness and he's still grieving her loss. I wonder if the relationship between Kahu and Kristin will develop. I'm quite surprised to find it's filmed near Warkworth, north of Auckland. There are parts of the country with prettier distant vistas (as evidenced by Lord of the Rings) but Northland still has pretty farmland of course. I love the Kiwi humour - when Jared introduced Kristin to Kahu (not ...


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