My wife tells me she thinks someone’s trying to poison our cat. I don’t reply. We’re in bed – I’m reading – and about to go to sleep. I decide I must be hearing things. But the next day I’m in the kitchen washing some potatoes for our lunch when she comes in and says, I really think we need to do something about Edie.
I turn the tap off and decide to play along, the cat? She says, of course the cat, who else would I be talking about? I wipe my hands on a tea towel – I thought Edie was her niece, not a cat – and say: What’s wrong?
– I told you last night.
I don’t remember. Then I do. I ask where he is.
– She. Get the sex right at least.
– Oh, right, sure, I say, and we go through to the living room so she can show me what’s wrong.
It’s empty. I say, where is she?
Helen says, I don’t know. She was here a minute ago, and calls the cat’s name.
– Maybe she’s gone out.
Helen glares at me, gone out? She never goes out. You know that, what’s wrong with you, and she leaves the room. I shrug and go back to preparing lunch. When I call to tell her it’s ready she tells me she found her in the bedroom. She doesn’t look well.
I say, maybe she’s got an upset stomach or something.
Helen puts her fork down, she’s been ill for days. You know that. It’s not that. She’s being poisoned. I’m sure of it.
I take a sip of tea and say, by who?
– I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.
I joke, well, it’s not me, and put my hands up all innocent-like. I haven’t seen her.
Helen says, of course it’s not you. Don’t joke about something like that.
But the next day she’s not so sure. This time I’m in the garden pulling up some weeds. She comes out on to the patio and says, what are you doing?
I say gardening the way she said ‘of course the cat’ the day before, like it’s obvious or something. She says, not that, and points at the patio door, that. What do you think you’re doing leaving it open? Anyone could get in. Are you trying to poison Edie or something?
I say no.
– Then keep the door closed.
– Sorry, I thought he – sorry – she never goes out?
– That’s not the point and you know it. She might, and someone might get in, put some poison in her tray.
– Who? The garden gate’s closed, and I nod at it for good measure.
Helen says, for now, but what if you get distracted or go off to do something else?
I say, fine, and putting a pile of weeds down on the lawn, make for the door. Helen says, don’t bother. It’s too late now anyway, and goes back in sliding the door shut behind her.
That night at dinner I decide to ask her how Edie is and she says, no better no worse, no thanks to you. I ignore her and say, hesitantly, shall I call a vet? I think that’ll be the end of it. Or at least bring the whole thing to a conclusion, but she says, no, we already did, remember? He said she just needed rest. That was all.
I say, we could try another one. Get a second opinion.
Helen shakes her head, no. They’ll just say the same thing, so I decide to let it go.
The next day I go to the post office in the morning for a paper. When I get home Helen’s in the living room crying. I put the paper on the coffee table, and say, what’s wrong? She sniffles, Edie’s getting worse. Someone must’ve got in last night. She can barely move now.
I ask where she is.
– Does it matter?
I say, we have to call a doctor, vet – yes, it matters.
– But what’s the point? She’ll die anyway.
I say, but the vet can do tests, find out what the problem is, make him – her – better.
Helen blows her nose, what for? So she can be poisoned again?
I say, I’ll protect her.
– I don’t know. Keep her with me at all times.
Helen says, and how are you going to do that? You need sleep. Who’ll watch her then?
I tell her we can sleep in shifts, or get a babysitter in. She shakes her head, no, no strangers, so I ask her where Edie is now.
– In bed, of course. Where you left her this morning to go for the paper. She came in during the night, remember?
I nod and head up the stairs. The bedroom’s empty. No sign of Edie or any cat anywhere. I lie down on the bed. Helen calls, have you found her, and I decide to make things easy for myself.
– Yes, she’s here. I stroke the bed covers and close my eyes.
Two minutes later Helen’s in the room with a bowl of milk. She says, where is she? I open my eyes, what? She was here a minute ago. Helen drops the bowl of milk, where?
– On the bed.
– You had your eyes closed. How would you know?
– I was stroking her.
– How? Your hands were on the bed covers. Was she even here when you came up?
– Of course she was.
– Well, where is she now? She could barely move.
– I don’t know.
– What’s wrong with you?
I repeat, I don’t know, and she turns and leaves the room. I hear her call Edie again and again.
That night around six I call to say dinner’s ready. After ten minutes Helen comes down. Her eyes are red and puffy. She says, Edie’s dead. I tell her I’m sorry, do you want me to bury him?
She rubs her eyes, thanks.
– Where is she?
After dinner I go up to get her. Helen follows. I tell her not to worry, that I can do it myself, but she comes anyway. When we get to the bedroom door, I pause. Helen says, what’s wrong?
– Nothing, I say, and open the door.
I turn the light on. There’s no cat.
– Go on, Helen says.
I pause again.
– Go on.
I look at her, and she stares back at me. I don’t move.
– You don’t know where he is, do you?
I head to the bed. Helen puts a hand on my shoulder and I stop.
– It’s okay, she says, I understand.
I turn to look at her, she’s not here.
– I know, she says. Don’t worry. I know.