“Cat . . . “
The word popped out of Myrtle’s mouth.
“Wonderful. How nice – “
“No! I . . . No, I – I’m getting a cat . . . soon.”
“A new arrival then! How exciting! Now let me see . . . “
He rummaged in the case.
“I don’t seem . . . “
He shook his head.
“I have a lot of toys for dogs you know. I find these days most people have dogs, for the company – they like the company when they get on a bit – of course you’re not . . . “
Myrtle stared at the top of his shining head as he lifted plastic bones and leather dog-leads.
“Very little for cats with me. They’re so independent, as you know I’m sure, no interest in toys. What’s this? Ah no, worm and flea powders – Madam won’t be needing those.”
He laughed and Myrtle shook her head. He moved his left foot forward.
“There’s a new catalogue in the office – I could call tomorrow if that would suit – you could have a look. I’m sure there’s cat-baskets, yes, and bells, door-flaps, all that. Would it be convenient?”
He whipped a business-card from his pocket.
“There you are.”
He flourished it at Myrtle.
“That’s my name there at the top – Silas Bell. Mr Silas Bell, that’s me.”
He smiled and made a little bow.
“Until tomorrow, Madam. Same time suit you? It’ll be a pleasure to see you again.”
” . . . Yes,” Myrtle said.
She clutched the card to her side, watched Silas Bell get into the shiny car, and then slowly closed the door. For long seconds she stood in the hall, staring at the letter-box. Minutes passed; her feet began to get cold. She lifted the card to read it again and breathed out noisily. She had talked, she had made a friend! Didn’t he want to come back the next day? He had almost begged her to let him come back.
Myrtle ate a huge lunch and cut the apple-tart after. She was conscious of her new position as someone’s friend and she felt virtuous, holy almost. She licked cream from a spoon and eased the waistband of her tracksuit, trying to think of names for cats and wondering what would be in the catalogue. Her fingers were sticky and she wiped them on a tissue.
She’d have a bath instead of a shower, she thought, a lovely, long hot bath. On the window-sill she found an old bath bomb. There was a smell of violets when she dropped it into the steaming water but it wouldn’t dissolve. She poked at it with a toothbrush until it broke apart. Gingerly she sat down; such an expanse of skin. Her long, pale hair hung wet and straight, and then she remembered the rollers.
She dried quickly and tied her dressing-gown, but she couldn’t find the rollers! Where were they? Where! Drawer after drawer was tumbled. Myrtle breathed with quick, loud, anxious gasps and spit ran across her chin. There! She had them! She divided her hair carefully into ten sections, rolled it around the curlers and snapped the elastic into place.
In the morning she was up early. Her head ached in ten places. She stared at the ringlets, pulled them down and watched them shoot back up again. She drew a hairbrush through them, gently over the sore spots. The tracksuit was dropped to the floor – it wouldn’t do – wouldn’t match the curls. There must be something – there’d be something in the spare-room – there was a box . . .
The black dress fitted very neatly; Myrtle held her breath to get the zip up. It was all right only she was cold. She put on her old lilac fleece – she could take it off when he arrived. The face in the mirror looked odd, not like her own face at all, and too pale against the dark dress. Lipstick! She should have lipstick, but . . . wasn’t there a book with a hard, red cover . . . yes. She wet her finger and rubbed until the colour began to run, then pressed the colour to her lips. Well . . . it would do only she couldn’t have a cup of tea now.
What time was it? He said, at the same time. She stood in front of the fire, trying not to lick her lips or bite them. Eleven, half-eleven, nearly twelve – and there he was, the shiny, black car coming to a stop outside her door. Silas Bell pushed his hair flat behind his ears, lifted his case from the back seat, and smiled.
“Well, here I am again as promised,” he began when she opened the door.
He gaped at her, his mouth open; there was a glitter of teeth and then he went on:
“I’ve brought the catalogue.”
He waved it in the air, smiling and sliding his right foot forward.
“Yes, Myrtle said.”
He shivered suddenly and hunched his shoulder against the breeze.
“Maybe . . . “
Myrtle opened the door wider.
“Maybe, would . . . ?”
“Yes indeed, thank you. I would indeed.”
Silas Bell followed Myrtle into the sitting-room; he opened his case and handed her the catalogue and set a laptop on the table.
End of the story tomorrow.