Archived fiction #1 Cabinet Pussy-cat

Creative Commons License
Cabinet Pussy-cat by Daniel Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://waffleandwrite.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/administrative-notes-about-the-license-my-work-is-attributed-under/.

CABINET PUSSY-CAT
By Daniel Brown

Glynis sat in the bay window of her front room, staring at the cars passing down the road outside her bungalow. The traffic had calmed down in recent months since the local council had placed speed bumps, but the lure of a short-cut to the high street was still too much for a lot of motorists to ignore. Tom would have enjoyed seeing the speed bumps placed, having campaigned for so many years to have something done about the way people would tear up and down their street at break neck pace, for no other reason than to shave a minute or two off their journey to or from the local supermarket.

The same supermarket that had driven Tom out of business ten tears earlier. Not that they had any reason to be bitter, Tom was ready to retire anyway and they had no children to pass the little butcher’s shop on to. They had always put a little away each week and after selling the shop and the three bedroomed house they had bought when they first married, anticipating children who never came, they had bought their little bungalow and the remainder made for a nice little pension. All told their retirement was shaping up to be a nice experience for both of them.

Instead, she had let her poor Tom down. Barely two months after they retired she had a massive stroke, losing all mobility in her left side. Worse than that though, she had lost forever the ability to express herself with speech. The words would line themselves up in her head, as nice as you like, but as soon as she opened her mouth out would pour a string of nonsense; words and phrases that bore no resemblance to intelligent speech, let alone the sentence she was trying articulate. Every day after that her heart had broken a little further, ashamed for the fact that Tom, far from relaxing and enjoying his final years on earth, found himself burdened with a gibbering, self soiling old cripple. Tom would never have put it that way of course, always insisting that she was the main reason he got up in the mornings, just like every day since she had first walked into his dad’s butcher’s shop so many years before.

Every day thereafter would follow the same routine. After waking up Tom would lift her onto her commode and leave the room, waiting patiently for her to shout to signal she had finished. Once he had heard the call he would come back in and gently wipe her clean, before lifting her into her wheelchair as delicately as a man holding a newborn baby. Being Tom of course, there would often follow a little joke about liking liking any chance to touch between her legs, but Glynis knew those kinds of thought never passed through his mind when he was helping her with the toilet. Sometimes she wished that they would, since they had always been… healthy in that respect, right up until she had the stroke. She had tried telling him how she felt but the words she longed for would never come out. The closest she ever came to it was a string of obscenities that had made Tom blush, having never heard that kind of language from his wife, a woman who had previously never sworn properly in fifty three years together. She had tried using her writing pad to ask him once, since she could still write as clearly as ever, but he had just smiled at her and told her he was happy to wait till she was a little better.

Glynis had never found out if he meant what he had said, or if he was just repulsed at the idea of doing those things they had enjoyed so much with the wreck she felt she’d become. So many times she had wanted to ask him, burning to know the reason a man who had always been so enthusiastic about their physical relationship was now so reticent. A few times a week she would put pen to paper, trying to phrase the question properly, but every time her courage deserted her. She would imagine herself looking at him as he read her notepad and seeing a look of revulsion on his face, a flicker of some deeply hidden emotion in his eyes that would reveal what she lived in terror of knowing. That she disgusted him, that he felt every ounce of the utter bloody repulsiveness she herself felt at the loss of her independence, trapped in a body that no longer worked and reliant on the one man on earth she felt it was her duty to look after as he approached his dotage.

Other than that one niggling doubt, Tom had been a better husband than she could ever have dared to ask for. He had never once treated her like an idiot, never talked down to her and never showed even the slightest hint of weariness at the constant twenty four hour care she had needed in those early days of her long, slow recovery. He would take her out every day, rain or shine, to do the things they had always done together. They would go shopping, or to the cinema; he would take her to her favourite café for lunch and then on to the local park to watch the bowls matches or to admire the floral displays the town was so well known for. She would stare at the flowers, enchanted by their beauty, the riot of colours and scents always a source of joy to a woman who had spent most of her working life surrounded by raw meat and the ever-present smell of offal and dead flesh. In her entranced state she would be unable to hold her usual self imposed silence and try to express her delight aloud. She would concentrate fiercely focusing all of her will on saying just two little words, “Beautiful flowers.” but the words she grasped for never came. Her addled brain would let her down every time and instead out of her mouth would come “Cabinet pussy-cat”, the one consistent phrase in her otherwise hopelessly muddled vocabulary.

On those occasions Tom would keep his face deadpan and say something like “Very cabinet indeed.” or “Funny place to keep a cat.”. If anyone else had tried that she would have used her good hand to scratch their eyes out, but that had always been Tom’s way. Brush things off with a joke, laugh at everything. There was no-one else, anywhere in the world who could make her laugh at the pathetic wretch she felt herself to be and it was during those times together that she felt she loved him so much her heart would burst; shatter into a million little pieces at the pain she was sure he was masking with his jokes and asides, but it didn’t. Instead Tom’s heart did and just as she was beginning to accept her circumstances, for the first time in her life she was alone.

Even after five years of attempting to adjust to life on her own, she missed Tom with as much passion and fearsome agony as the very first morning after the heart attack had taken him from her. She thought she had felt shame about her condition before, but after Tom’s tender ministrations and justifiable expression of faint distaste, seeing the look of brusque efficiency on the face of the care
attendant sent out by social services four times a day to help with her toilet needs was almost more than she could bear. Being helped with your needs by the man you adored and had known for almost a lifetime was embarrassing, being helped by someone you didn’t know and who treat you as just one more doddery old fool who couldn’t go for a piddle on her own was an exercise in degradation. She had redoubled her efforts to improve her state of dependence, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy had all been undertaken with renewed vigour, and while physiotherapy was the only area where any great improvement was made, it was enough that with the help of her occupational therapist she was able to use the toilet on her own, cook her own meals again and live a life relatively free of other peoples interference. Free that is apart from Helen.

Helen with her sniping and her vicious tongue. Helen, who could cut through Glynis’ fragile self confidence with one well chosen remark, leaving her once again the frightened and lonely woman she had been after Tom’s death. It was Helen who had gotten in so well with the home help that the gullible woman had taken to talking down at Glynis in the same pitying, mock cheerful tone that made her nerves jangle every time Helen spoke to her. It was Helen who had called the ambulance three years ago when Glynis had a heart attack of her own, saving her life and delaying her reunion with Tom. Helen was all of that, and she was coming over for coffee.

Sighing heavily, she moved the controls of her electric wheelchair, turning away from the window and back into the living room proper, glancing up at the mantle as she did so towards where Tom’s ashes rested. She moved past the sofa they had chosen together getting ready for the big move into their small house; past the old fashioned dark mahogany sideboard that was far too big for the tiny living room, a wedding gift from her mother that neither of them had the heart to get rid of, the top of it cluttered with photos and keepsakes. Their wedding pictures, photos of holidays and family get-togethers, from their honeymoon as youngsters through middle age and right up to the night of her late husband’s retirement party.

As she moved into the kitchen, she pressed the switch down on the kettle in preparation for the visit of her neighbour for her habitual coffee and bourbon cream biscuits, the same routine as almost every morning for the past nine years since Helen had bought the bungalow next to hers. Reaching into the cupboard for the cups, the coffee the milk powder and everything else she knew her friend needed in her brew. Helen was very particular in her tastes, lashing out viciously with her tongue if her meticulous standards weren’t met by all she encountered. Sometimes Glynis wondered why the woman bothered with other people at all when her expectations were always let down so appallingly.

She had always been a bit demanding, not the easiest of company to keep at the best of times, but since Tom had died she had really shown her true colours, berating Glynis at every turn. Constantly reminding her of how useless she had become, she would spend sometimes an hour or more telling Glynis how much she pitied her, how she was only living half a life and that in itself wasn’t much to write home about; how she was dependant on other people’s good will for the mostly independent life she was living. In order to illustrate her point she would often move Glynis’ things around at random, placing precious objects where she couldn’t retrieve them herself and would have to ask Helen to put them back for her. Several months she had picked Tom’s ashes from their place on the mantle-piece and put them onto the high shelf built into the corner of the room nearest the window, leaving them balancing precariously on the edge where the slightest vibration could send them crashing to the floor.

In her panic Glynis had forgotten all about the writing pad around her neck, breaking her self imposed vow of silence and shouting at Helen to lift them down immediately.

“Violin the paper, speaker box button tight! Orange reflectors!” Helen had stared at her, shocked momentarily into silence by the vehemence in Glynis’ voice. Then she had started to laugh, that patronizing little snort she made whenever she was describing somebody else’s shortcomings.

“Would you listen to yourself Glynis? You sound completely ridiculous. If I ever end up in the state you’re in I’ll do away with myself pretty bloody sharp-ish. There’s no way I’m letting myself end up the pathetic mess you’re in, I’ll tell you that for nothing!” Helen had reached up for the ashes then, her little victory complete, and restored them to pride of place above the fire.”Don’t worry, pet. Your hubby’s ashes are safe and sound, you poor little thing.” Glynis had been so anxious and angry that she had to take one of her heart tablets as soon as she saw Tom put safely back where he belonged. Even thinking back on the incident now, she could feel her heartbeat skipping in her remembered panic.

The kettle clicked loudly in the silent kitchen, bringing Glynis out of her reverie. She looked at the digital clock on the cooker and saw the time was eleven twenty nine. She poured the still boiling water into the cups, stirring Helen’s coffee thoroughly to dissolve every last little grain in her mug before seeing to her own cup of lemon tea. No sooner were the drinks prepared, when she heard the front door open. She could hear Helen’s heavy breathing, even through two rooms and the hallway. Her neighbour wasn’t usually one for pointing out faults, at least not in herself, but she cheerfully owned up to a total inability to give up a sixty a day cigarette habit.

Glynis looked around as her neighbour bustled her way through the living room, puffing and blowing outrageously as she went. Helen came into the kitchen, red faced and sweating slightly from the walk up, then straight back down two deceptively long garden paths. She leaned down and grabbed her coffee from the lowered work surface, nodding a curt thank you at Glynis as she did so, then turned around and hurried back into the living room to put her, rather large, backside into the armchair beside the window. Glynis put her tea and the packet of biscuits onto the tray attached to her wheelchair and manoeuvred herself into the other room,bracing herself to listen to her guest carp moan about every subject that came into her nasty little mind.

Helen had already lit up a cigarette when Glynis arrived at her habitual parking spot and was blowing smoke around herself with a proprietary air. She waited patiently for her guest to get her breath back, then gestured towards Helen and raised her eyebrows.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking, pet. How are you today?” Glynis waved her hand in the universal gesture for “so-so”. Helen nodded perfunctorily, indicating to Glynis that her part in the conversation was over. She flicked her cigarette ash onto the floor, rubbed it in with her foot and muttered “Good for the carpet, isn’t it?”. Glynis looked down at the patch of darkened weave, where her neighbour had done that every day for years. She wondered briefly, where exactly Helen had picked up that pearl of carpet care wisdom. Perhaps her own carpets were covered with grey patches like mildew or creeping damp. If that was so, she was pleased that Helen wasn’t responsible for the cleaning duties in her house. The large harridan took a gulp of her still steaming coffee and Glynis thought the woman’s mouth must be coated with asbestos.

“The coffee’s bitter today isn’t it? Just because you don’t drink it yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t replace it when it goes stale.”. Matronly disapproval was written all over Helen’s face. Glynis reached for the writing pad dangling around her neck but the other woman waved her hand dismissively.

“There’s no need to apologise, pet. I wouldn’t expect someone who’s damned near a vegetable to remember everything.”. Glynis managed to keep her face impassive, saying to herself that she was actually going to write “Choke on it, you fat old witch!”, still there was no sense in winding her up just yet. Two more gulps and the coffee was gone, Helen placing the empty cup on the floor beside her feet. She looked over at Glynis, her face adopting the usual look of spiteful glee reserved for when she was about to impart some particularly nasty piece of gossip.

Helen launched into a tirade against Alan Jamieson from just down the road who, according to the rumours, was having a fling with the young woman who drove the library van, but Glynis was only half listening. She was lost in her own thoughts, wondering whether the home help was going to call at her usual time of between three o’clock and three thirty. She certainly hoped so, as she had a few things she wanted to say to her neighbour in privacy and really couldn’t be having with any interruptions.

She let Helen prattle on for a while, staying serene as the venomous words washed over her, paying close attention to the other woman’s face. It didn’t take long, Helen’s face got progressively paler as her monologue went on. Sweat was dripping out of every pore on her face and her eyes became wider and less focused with every passing second. Her hand fluttered to her chest, while a panicky expression crossed her face. Glynis smiled at her discomfort, watching dispassionately as Helen tried to stand up, tottered a few steps away from the armchair and collapsed backwards, sprawling face down, right on that god awful stain she had made with years of abuse by cigarette ash.

That’ll be the digitalis- thought Glynis. She knew exactly what her neighbour needed in her brew. Ever since that business with Tom’s ashes she had saved one out of every three capsules that she was supposed to take, carefully emptying them into a food bag that she stored at the back of her cutlery drawer. She didn’t know exactly how many were needed for a fatal dose, but once she thought she had enough she emptied the bag into Helen’s mug, stirring it in like coffee-mate. Looking down at the fat harridan now, she was pretty sure she could have given her half the amount and still got the same effect. Still, her Tom had always told her, “Too much of something is far better than not enough. Except syphilis.”. She smiled at the memory of his words. Always the joker.

On the subject of words- she reminded herself, she had a few choice ones for Helen, before the miserable cow was past hearing them. Her lips were starting to turn blue and strings of vomit were trickling from the sides of her mouth. Glynis leaned forward and started to shout at the woman dying at her feet.

“Ostrich steam iron holy? Table knickers the coronation street, tuppence-a-head the trousers, indigo and cushions! Prawn bloody cocktail them vacuum, picture frame plumber’s mate handlebars!”. Glynis sat back in her wheelchair, pleased with standing up for herself at last. If that hadn’t told the cow then nothing would.

-END-

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7 responses to “Archived fiction #1 Cabinet Pussy-cat

  1. Thanks are due to Jake, of http://jaykayel.wordpress.com/ who was good enough to point out a couple of errata in my original posting of this story. Thanks Jake!

    For those who can’t be bothered to read a great big post like this, a PDF of the story will be available soon.

  2. First off, I will be essentially copying and pasting from a previous comment, but surely that’s allowed! For a revenge story this is very touching, and with a nice line in dark humour to boot. That can be a difficult mix to pull off, but I think you managed it, and I loved the last line! Also, speaking as someone who has worked with disabled people, I must say the relationship between Glynis and Tom struck me as very true to life. The affection and absolute dedication can be very humbling. Her anxiety about how Tom saw her and felt about her was believable too, and I’d imagine I’d feel very much the same in her shoes. Sadly, the relationship between Glynis and Helen is also very believable. I’ve known (thankfully few) carers who could be staggeringly cruel when they thought they could get away with it, and the affect they have on the people in their “care” makes your blood boil. So, as you can probably guess, I’d say Helen got exactly what she deserved!

    Hope lack of original commentary is OK by you Dan! I’d say it still holds true in any case.

    Jake

    • Seeing as your comment is so nice, you can repeat it as much as you like. I’m tempted to print it up on a t-shirt!

  3. Pingback: The Ball-upery is Unending « J a y K a y e L

  4. Pingback: The Balls-upery is Unending « J a y K a y e L

  5. blackwatertown

    I very much like this story. Very nicely done. That it is a revenge tale is kept from us for quite a while – in a good way.
    I love the way you have conveyed the speech distortion.
    I am daring to make a point about one of your sentences.
    “She let Helen prattle on for a while, maybe five minutes, staying serene as the venomous words washed over her, paying close attention to the other woman’s face.” You could maybe do without the “maybe five minutes” bit.
    (By the way, I got here Jay KayeL)

    • You’re quite probably right, it does appear out of Glynis’ voice. Third-person omniscient narration, as opposed to the the third-person limited approach everywhere else. Thank you for mentioning it. I’ve snipped the line out, to reflect that.

      I wrote it a long time ago now, and I think I may have had time line issues in my head, wanting to emphasise that the poison took several minutes to work into Helen’s system, as opposed to acting instantly. I may also have been “showing my work” with the research I did on digitalis overdose. A natural enough inclination I suppose, especially considering the story is my only ever attempt to write in the crime and mystery genre.

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