Inimical: episode one
A cat, having made acquaintance with a mouse, professed such great love and friendship for her that the mouse at last agreed that they should live and keep house together.
The Cat and the Mouse in Partnership
Boxing Day, 1936. Mid-afternoon on a mild Saturday, river mists and chimney smoke lingering in low places, eddies of rank cellar air trawled up by gusts of wind.
Soft rain was falling. A policeman stood on a street corner in Whitehall. He was meant to keep a general eye on things, report any odd visitors seen in the area. As a colleague had once remarked, “Define odd.”
He had volunteered for this duty. December, last year, he’d sent a card to his uncle in Leeds, his only living relative. The card’s design―a snow-bound cottage, one window aglow beneath an ornamented star―had induced, he did not know why, an impulse to make contact. He’d included a note of apology. The uncle had been gassed in the war; he wasn’t right in the head. So the constable had been told. He had never visited.
From his uncle’s wife, he’d received a three page letter. He’d had no idea she existed. Poorly spelt, sad and rambling, the letter told of his uncle…deeply touched, moved to tears. She apologized; they were wrong not to have tried visiting. “Some days,” she had written, “are bad”. She’d invited the constable to spend Christmas with them.
Their rooms had been hopeless, in a state of tidying projects half-completed, smelling of coal-fire and fish, overlaid, all of it, with the yellowed tones of a brittle photograph. His uncle had sat in silence; his aunt had been querulous and anxious. “Is there anything you’d like?” she had asked him, over and over.
Yes, there was. The constable was determined to work this holiday, or insist that he was expected to.
A grey terrier, trailing a lead, came stumping along the street opposite. One moment its tongue lolled ecstatic, the next the creature seemed to stop and blink, backtracking then to double-check a lamppost just passed. The several minutes’ anticipation before it became clear the owner was not to follow, were as close to a diversion as the day had thus far provided.
At 12:45 p.m., the constable’s attention was drawn to a corner building that faced him across the thoroughfare. Lights had been switched on in a first floor room; arched windows obscured by slatted blinds now threw an irregular copy of themselves onto the rain-glossed sidewalk. At the bottom of a short flight of steps was an entry door he knew to be locked.
The door opened. A balding man, wearing a checked coat, peered out; he surveyed the street and retired, shutting the door firmly. A black Morris saloon pulled to the kerb opposite. A passenger, sheltering under a mackintosh, made a quick exit through the rain. The constable, advised of this one o’clock meeting, allowed the expression of his face to rest between impassive and alert, avoiding curious…he was, in fact, bored.
(2014, 2018 Stephanie Foster)