“Well, I don’t care what you say, George, I know he is responsible for our cats’ dying”. Mary sat and put her, already, tear laden handkerchief to her eyes. They had just come in from the garden; they had just buried the third of her, ‘children’, as she called them.
“Oh, come, Mary”, replied George, standing over her and placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, “I know you must be upset. It is a shocking thing to have happened; three of your cats in as many weeks. But, really, we have no proof that it was the gentleman next door who is responsible. I mean, he is such a harmless chap. He never speaks to anyone, he just keeps himself to himself. I think he must spend most of his time reading, judging by the bundle he carries home from the library each day”.
“Well!”, replied Mary, sounding incredulous, “ That’s preposterous, George, his appearance doesn’t mean a thing, does it? Dr Crippen looked harmless, but he murdered his wife and buried her in the cellar!”
George sat on the arm of Mary’s chair and put his arm around her, “Oh, I know, Mary dear, but, I think it is because you’re upset. I understand, of course, but we can’t make accusations without evidence, and even the vet’ couldn’t explain how the cats had died, remember?”
Mary lowered her head, “ My babies, my poor babies”, a sigh shuddering from her bosom, “First it was my tiny, ‘Winksy’, she was only a year old, hardly more than a kitten. Then poor ‘Harold’, her father. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, George”. Mary buried her face in her hands, “Oh, it’s just too much, I can’t bear it, my favourite, my darling ‘Tamster’, what a beautiful cat she was”. Then added, quietly as if giving a eulogy, “She won, ‘best moggy’, in last year’s church fair, George, remember? Tamster was so proud of that”
“And why must you be so like a lawyer, George?”, protested Mary, “My poor cats have started dying ever since that man complained to me about them sitting on the garden wall. He was very rude to my cats, George. He said they spread disease and should be got rid of. My cats were there, at the time. They must have heard him say such horrid things. And I told him, straight, remember?, I told you about it. It was about four weeks ago”.
“Yes, I remember, Mary”, interrupted George, sighing and kissing the top of her head, “You came in from the garden, really upset. I asked what was wrong, and you were so perturbed, you couldn’t answer me for a while”.
“ I most certainly was perturbed, George”. Her emotion rising further, as she remembered just how she felt at the time, and what she had said in defence of her beloved cats, “I said to him that the garden wall was shared between our two properties and that my cats had a right to sit there if they wanted, and were not a bother to anyone”. She looked up at George, dabbing her eyes, “And I told him my cats are lovely cats, and they don’t have a disease. Do they, George?”.
“No, of course they don’t, Mary, but, as I said ...”.
Mary wriggled to the edge of her chair so she could turn to point a wagging finger, “ Oh, I know what your going to say, George, ‘Highly circumstantial’, that’s what your going to say, isn’t it? But I don’t care if it is, what you say, ‘Highly circumstantial’. It was him”, pointing towards next door, “I just know it, George, I just know it”.
With superb timing of the dramatic’, ‘Jasper’, the last of her ‘children’, jumped onto her lap. Mary gathered Jasper into her arms, “Oh, my poor darling, come to me, what are we going to do. You’re going to be so lonely, but we have each other, dear Jasper, don’t we?” She began to rock him gently, soothing her baby.
It sometimes irritated George, the way Mary fussed over her cats, but he knew she did love them so, and, in the absence of children, George was fully aware of the gap they filled in her heart. He knew what he wanted to say next, but was reluctant to do so. He wanted to remind Mary what the vet’ had said on his last visit yesterday, about him not coming across anything like it before.
“ A mystery”, is what the vet’ said.
But George was afraid it would remind Mary of the ghastly sight of the dying cat. For, ‘Martha’, that was the dead cat’s name, (named by Mary, after a favourite aunt), looked nothing more than an empty bag, made of fur. The only part of Martha that appeared to have anything left inside, was her head. Martha’s eyes were dull, sunken, and sightless, as though unable to wait for death, they had already began to decay from the inside. Martha’s mouth lay open, her tongue protruding and making a lapping movement , as if she was thinking of her morning saucer of milk.
George felt genuinely sorry for Mary. He stood and turned towards the window, feeling a little tearful himself, for Mary’s sake, rather than for her dead cats’. It was raining. It seemed appropriate, to be raining on such a sad day as this. He looked at the three small mounds of earth at the bottom of the garden, then he saw movement in the box bushes.
Their neighbour had parted the branches and was looking through at the small graves, and smiling.
It was most unlike George to feel anger. But the accumulation, of Mary’s grief, and the cruel deaths of her cats, and now, the grin, on the face of their next door neighbour, was sufficient to incite him. He felt he had a duty, as head of the family, as it were, to do something .
He turned and said, “Mary, I’m just going out to the garden. I won’t be moment”.
Mary looked up and nodded slowly, Jasper was still in her embrace.
The neighbour watched George approach, then looked down at the last of the Hydrangeas, and spoke softly, “ I told your wife her cats had a disease. I was right, wasn’t I? I’m afraid the last one will die soon, as well”.
“Now, look here, this is outrageous”. George’s face flushed with unaccustomed rage, “How do you know our last cat will die?, tell me that”.
Looking up, the neighbour gave a stare that made George feel a little unnerved, then replied, calmly, “ No matter, I just know, that’s all. Good day”. His head drew back into the box bushes, and was gone.
George was determined not to let the matter rest without a response. He knew how Mary felt about her cats, and how cruelly they had died. This gave him aggression which he had never possessed before. He walked to the wall and shouted over, “ My wife thinks our cats have been poisoned, by you. Do you hear? We are going to report you. You’re going to find yourself in trouble. Do you hear?”
George took an involuntary step backwards as the smiling head appeared again suddenly, “ Report me, really, for what? Your cats had a disease, I told your wife as much. And I’ll tell you something else, cat’s can give their owners a disease too. You might die soon, as well. Good day”.
“Well, really”, George spluttered. He had never felt so outraged ever in his entire life. He strode quickly forward, and shouted through the bushes,
“That sounds like a threat. That’s against the law too, you know. I will report you for that as well”.
The neighbour gave no reply but walking back into his house, he chuckled to himself.
George and Mary were now in his domain. He didn’t have to avoid eyes anymore. He could speak now, as and when he wanted. His learning and his inner knowledge had made him powerful. He could impose his will now. He could kill now. He had already started.