Silas Bell followed Myrtle into the sitting-room; he opened his case and handed her the catalogue and set a laptop on the table.
“Fresh outside today, Madam,” he said, sitting down when she did. “Bracing. Very warm in here though.”
Myrtle turned the pages and the pictures slid past her eyes. She could feel him watching her.
“Page sixteen, Madam,” he suggested.
“I thought, since you’re getting a cat you might like a basket. There’s a really nice wicker-work model, well lined with cotton. It’s just the thing for cats these sharp nights. You can’t be too – “
“Yes.” Myrtle looked up at him. “A basket.”
Silas Bell opened his laptop and typed into it very quickly.
“You’ve made a good choice, madam. I thought you would like that one.”
“Name?” he said, fingers poised.
“Oh – Smith – Myrtle Smith.”
“Well now.” Silas Bell beamed at her.
“My dearest aunt was called Myrtle, dead now I’m afraid. Lovely name I’ve always thought – lovely, and you don’t hear it much these days.”
Myrtle watched him as he put in her address and the details of the cat basket.
“Phone number, Miss Smith?”
“Oh . . . no . . . I don’t – “
“Well, you’re just right, so you are, they can take over your life.”
He put away the laptop and the catalogue. Myrtle’s heart jumped – he’d be gone in a minute – should she ask him to have a cup of tea? What could she say? Would you like tea? What about a cup of tea? She stood up and so did he. She tried the words in her head but before she could speak he was holding her hand, shaking it up and down.
“Delighted, Miss Smith, Miss Myrtle Smith.”
He pressed her hand harder; his eyes and teeth shone at her.
“Would this day week be convenient for delivery? About twelve?”
Myrtle nodded slowly.
He bowed from the waist and then he left. Myrtle stood at the window, hands clasped together. She had forgotten to take off her old lilac fleece but it didn’t matter.
The hailstones hurt her face and her fingers were frozen from holding up the hood of the raincoat. If she could just put on her gloves, but her hands were too wet. She had to lean into the wind to walk forward, her breath catching. The sea was black and white and grey and the hailstones fell in silently.
“I wish I was,” Myrtle sang, “in Carrick-fer-er-gus . . . “
It was almost dark in the sitting-room when she got home and she turned on the lamps, but it was warm and quiet and she stood still for a minute, savouring the comfort of it. In the kitchen she unpacked the tins – Liver and Bacon, the label said. The cat in the picture was pale yellow with green pointed eyes. Myrtle balanced the tins against the others and put the kettle on.
He’d be here soon. In a minute she’d go upstairs and comb out her hair, put on the black dress and redden her lips.
She dipped her biscuits and curled her toes in the warm socks. Rain hissed in the chimney and the window shook – she’d have to jam it with newspaper, and she would, in a minute. She folded her hands on her stomach, the heat of the tea still in her throat. Her eyes closed, the fire burned, the wind rattled at the window. She could call the cat Bunty – or Bella – or Sammy . . .
The knock at the door frightened her. She sat up looking straight ahead. It was him! She’d have to get up and open the door; she’d have to talk. There was a louder knock; he’d be cold out there, waiting . . . Myrtle stood up and thought briefly about the black dress. She looked at her thick, tennis socks.
“Good morning, Madam, Miss Smith. What a day, what a day.”
Silas Bell tried to smile, fighting the wind. There was a parcel at his feet and he picked it up and darted inside. The rain shone on his black hair.
“Cosy in here, Miss Smith, great altogether.”
Myrtle stared at the floor.
“And here’s your lovely basket. I got the best one there was, the very latest.”
He unwrapped the plastic covering and pushed the basket towards Myrtle. It was dark brown; the lining was blue and padded like a dressing-gown.
“Well.” Silas Bell stood up.
“Where had you thought of putting it?”
Myrtle breathed loudly; her shoulders were high, her fingers moving.
“Over here in the corner? Or not?”
“Just . . . it’ll do . . . just – “
“No, no, we must find a place for the little kitty. It might be better in the kitchen – more heat there at night you know. It holds the heat from the cooker and that. Is it through here?”
He elbowed the kitchen door open. Myrtle put out her hand to stop him but he was already in, looking at the tins of cat food, his eyebrows high on his head.
“What?” He turned to her, swinging the basket.
“Have you got the cat already?”
Myrtle lifted the Trout and Tuna and hit him very hard on the side of the head. He dropped quietly at her feet, his face saying, oh . . . his legs were sprawled out, there was a smudge of blood at his temple and she wondered if he was dead but then he made a sound and moved his hands. She curled his legs neatly and pushed him into the corner.
I’ll tell him he slipped, she thought, splashing water on the floor, he slipped on the water and banged his head.
She rolled up a bit of newspaper and stuck it into the rattling window-frame. The black car parked at the kerb shone in the rain. Myrtle looked at it for a minute, shrugged and sat down.
Myrtle is one of nineteen stories from the interlinked collection: We All Die in the End available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.