Myrtle studied the label on the tin. She didn’t particularly like the cat’s face only it was a nice, mustardy colour.
“Same as my coat.”
A child stared at her when she spoke – a small girl with badges on her jacket. She stared at Myrtle and Myrtle stared back, leaning forward and making her eyes bigger until the child turned away, reaching for her father’s hand.
“Recipe de Luxe,” Myrtle read in a whisper. “Trout and Tuna.”
That was a new one and it didn’t say Trout and Tuna flavour – it said Trout and Tuna. She lifted two tins and went to the check-out. The man in front of her turned around and the child with the badges on her jacket was beside him.
“Not very quick are they? They must think we have all day to stand here.”
Myrtle blinked away from his busy eyes.
“Yes,” she said.
She clamped her teeth and lips together and looked at the man’s feet, the thin legs in tight jeans.
“Da, what’s wrong with that lady?” the child asked.
Someone moved in behind her and her shoulders twitched. She held the tins tightly, willing the queue forward.
Outside the sun shone, the sea so bright Myrtle had to squint. She walked home, stopping sometimes to lean against the railings, to watch the tide rushing in, to follow with her eyes the black mass of seaweed beneath the waves. She looked across to Carrickfergus. One of these days she would go – she would! She’d go on the bus and have a look round, and a cup of tea maybe, and she would talk to people, make friends . . .
“I wish I was,” she sang, “in Carrick-fer-er-gus . . . “
And then she stopped; that was all she knew.
She went into the house, dropped the tins on the kitchen table and put the kettle on. It was a long time since breakfast. She adjusted the waistband of her tracksuit, rubbing at the red marks on her skin. She read the labels on the tins of cat food and wondered where to put them. There was hardly room to put them anywhere.
She had every flavour – Chicken, Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Veal and Beef, Chicken and Rabbit, Salmon with Crab. The tins covered the worktops; there were rows of them on the floor. She balanced the Trout and Tuna near the front because they were new. She stared at them until the kettle boiled.
In the sitting-room she sat with her feet to the radiator, warming them and drinking her tea. She stretched, leaning back in the chair, and wondered would she eat the doughnut or keep it for lunch. Ah . . . she’d have it. There was a frozen tart – she could have that for lunch. She bit into the doughnut with her eyes closed; her tongue poked at the jam and she grunted softly.
The car door slamming in the street made her climb slowly out of the chair. She gripped the edge of the curtain and stared at the sleek, black car, shiny with polish. A man with sleek, black, shiny hair stood beside it holding a small suitcase. Myrtle watched as he went to a door across the street, knocked and waited. May’s house, May Toal she was called. She always wanted to chat and Myrtle had tried to chat back but all she could manage was yes and no and it might rain. May spoke so fast, jumping from one thing to the next . . . ah, there she was, holding the door half-open.
The man set down his case and opened it, then closed it as May shook her head. He went to the next house and the next, the drove to the top of the street and turned the car.
Myrtle watched him get out again. He would come here – knock on her door – expect her to talk. Well, she wouldn’t – she wouldn’t even answer the door. Just let him . . . no . . . wait! This was a chance – she could try at least. She could say hello, make friends with him.
She went in and out of the hall, waiting, listening . . . anyway, she wouldn’t have to say much; he would do the talking: he was selling things. Myrtle looked into the mirror on the hall stand; when she smiled there were bumps on her cheeks. She lifted a hand to her hair; the long ponytail was untidy. Vaguely she patted the loose bits then went back to stand at the window. The car door banged again and there he was. He straightened the edges of his jacket, pushed the shiny hair down behind his ears, and then he smiled and walked up the steps.
The knock made her jump all the same. She wavered in the hall, wondering if he would knock again if she didn’t answer, and then she moved quickly.
“Good morning, Madam, good morning. Isn’t the day great?”
He lifted his head and sniffed deeply at the salty wind and smiled at Myrtle. His hair shone in the sunlight; his teeth glistened, shining at her. He seemed to have teeth everywhere. Myrtle stared, motionless.
“Could I interest you, Madam?”
He moved his right foot forward.
“Something for your pet?”
Swiftly he bent, set down the case and opened it.
“Does Madam have a pet? A little dog maybe, or a cat?”
“Cat . . . “
PART 2 TOMORROW . . .