heart sounds & bruits
With its low ceiling, panelled walls and red velvet sofa, the lounge at Dunford Bridge was like the lounge of some comfortable country hotel. It was full of indoor plants which Pam had planted in brass jugs, casseroles, bits of terra cotta balanced on tall awkward wooden stands, even a coal scuttle made of some orange-blonde wood– “Anything,” Lucas pretended to complain, “but proper pots.” Every evening Pam’s footsteps would go tap-tapping restlessly across the polished wood-block floor, as, increasingly nervous, she looked for something to do. She rustled the newspapers and magazines they kept in a wicker basket by the fireplace; went from picture to picture on the wall–a head in pencil, turned at an odd angle away from the artist; a still life with two lutes more real than the room; a bridge. In the end she would flick the ash off her cigarette and sit down with a copy of The Swan in the Evening or A View of the Harbour, each of which she had read half a dozen times before.
She could not put away a feeling of dread, even with the doors closed, a life settled.
“Was that a noise in the garden ?”
And she was up again, tap-tapping in and out of the shadows among the bulky old furniture she had chosen at some auction in Halifax.
“It’s the cat,” Lucas would tell her.
“I must have a cat!” she had said when they were married.
But she showed no interest in the kittens her neighbours offered, or anything Lucas could find in a Manchester pet shop, and in the end adopted an old, blind-looking tom; brindled and slow. In the summer evenings this animal would move thoughtfully round the garden, marking each station of its reduced territory with a copious greenish spray. Suddenly it became bored and jumped in through the open French window. All evening it weaved about in the open spaces of the wood-block as if it were pushing its way through a thicket of long entangled grass. It smelled strongly, and its ears were full of mites. Pam put down her book. In a flash the old cat had jumped lightly on to her lap!
“Do you think he’s in pain ?” she would ask Lucas.
“He’s not in pain. He only wants attention.”
“Because I couldn’t bear that.”
From The Course of the Heart, 1991