Fixation – part one
The woman who answered the door was older than me by about a decade, slim and immaculately dressed, with waves of dark hair around her shoulders. The townhouse didn’t seem to fit at all down this side street near Piccadilly that I’d never even noticed before.
‘Are you Arabella Bishop?’ I asked – that was the name on the postcard bookmarking the dog-eared copy of “The Canon” I’d found under my seat on the slow train from Liverpool. The front of the postcard had looked like a Rothko painting. It was a long shot, really, but the woman nodded.
‘Usually,’ she said, with a half-smile.
I looked around the grimy surrounding streets again, still convinced I might be imagining the whole thing.
She didn’t know why some random woman was on her doorstep, but she didn’t seem too surprised. I was wearing the “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” t-shirt which had been the informal uniform in my previous job. Perhaps she’d just called out an engineer.
‘And you are?’
‘I’m Morgan,’ I said, beaming and sticking a hand out with feigned enthusiasm, and launching into the story of how I’d found her book. Before I could pull it out of my Aldi carrier bag she’d turned and walked back into the house. Six feet down the hall, she looked over her shoulder.
‘What are you waiting for? Come in, then.’
I followed her through the house – every bit as imposing on the inside, glimpses of marble fireplaces and a library with stacks of books and a green leather roll-top desk – until we reached the kitchen. It was old, that’s what it was, not my style at all. A house where I couldn’t touch anything in case I broke it.
Arabella Bishop tucked the grubby old tome into a cubby-hole as though it were a cookbook, and emptied a tin of cat food into a bowl on the table. The cold tap was dripping, and I longed to go over and mess around with it. I’ve never been a plumber by trade, but I was pretty sure it’d only take a few twists here and there with the flat blade of a table knife.
I only noticed the black cat skulking when it leapt up to the table and began to eat, while its owner tickled behind its ears.
‘Her name’s Hattie,’ said Arabella, looking up at me as she spoke.
I nodded politely, and she continued:
‘Short for Hatshepsut.’
I snorted. Memories of primary school ancient history lessons flooded back.
‘Wasn’t she an Egyptian queen?’
‘Not exactly. A pharaoh. She was a king.’
I wondered whether Cleopatra had also been a king, and what, if anything, that would have meant for Mark Antony.
‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘I swear she’s more trouble than she’s worth – haughty as anything, as bad as Kipling’s cat.’
‘Any relation to Schrödinger’s cat?’ I asked, thinking it might be bad taste to suggest locking Hattie in a box with a vial of cyanide, but Arabella just frowned at me. Great, so neither of us had any idea what the other was on about. Talk about the stereotypical literature/science divide.
She wasn’t bad looking, I decided, but I tended to be the older one in my relationships, such as they were.
‘When she misbehaves, I shut her in the hallway,’ she said, still looking at Hattie. ‘There’s no books there for her to read or anything.’
I filed this away with the other weird jokes, and wondered whether it was time I left.
‘Are you sure you don‘t want a drink?’ she asked, as though she’d already offered, which she hadn’t.
‘I ought to be going. My friends will be waiting for me,’ I lied. Hattie lifted her nose sharply from her food to stare at me. Creepy.
My phone buzzed conveniently.
‘That’ll be them now,’ I said, heading for the door.
The text was from my brother, Robbie. All it said was, “Please come round. She’s gone.”
By Kirsti. Continued next issue…