‘Chimes’

Chimes

When twilight fell, on her first evening alone, Mrs Turkington felt fearful in the silence all around her. Her two daughters had stayed for two weeks, on alternate nights, after burying their father. Even in those strange moving days they noticed the strong, black hair of her seventy three years begin to look limp, on the verge of grey.

They’d packed away some of Billy’s belongings during the two weeks and drank each evening to his memory. Mrs Turkington had met him just after college and had been with him for fifty two years. Every night during all that time she’d felt so secure knowing they were journeying through life together. He’d paid her compliments years after they might have stopped, and each time they were re-united after separate outings he’d always asked if she’d enjoyed herself. It never ceased to amaze.

When Billy died of an unexpected heart-attack people at the funeral said he had left this life without regret or rancour.

The little white cat rose now, meowed and left. She always left late afternoon. Pussy belonged to neighbours two doors down but as a kitten had meandered to the Turkingtons’ window and was soon fed scraps of fish on days they ate it. It was the only source of disagreement between them but one she’d perversely enjoyed. Before long, unnoticed, a routine ensued of breakfast, departure, return for a bowl of milk and a long sleep under the staircase. Whenever Mrs Turkington lifted the celestial white cat, green-grey stripes across her mane and neck, she always marvelled at the sea green eyes of the curious creature.

Once the door was shut and the chimes in the hallway calmed, the small lady returned to the silence. It was darkening powerfully. She was seventy three. Her soulmate was gone. They’d promised each other their entire lives, a protection she felt in their embrace before bed each night, a silent hug by the bedroom window. She sat to calm down, turned on a lamp, tried to read. No phone or doorbell rang. She walked to a window and listened to children outside, and wondered again if he’d regretted they’d never had a son.

By seven it was pitch dark. Mrs Turkington reflected on what the rest of her life would be like if absence would always be this piercing. She picked up a book again, tried to read in that absorbed way Billy had in the evenings if talk had ran its course, either a newspaper or a big, fat book. She’d never been able to read like him, but loved his love of it. Now she shivered.

Something stirred her from the book. She knew not what, but turned on the radio. Even the music irritated her. She walked to the front door and opened it. There was the white cat, who looked up then sauntered inside without her customary meow, the chimes swaying in the trail of cat and lady.

Pussy went straight through to the sitting room and stood by the unlit fireplace. Mrs Turkington looked at her. ‘He’s not here, he’s gone Pussy. What more I can I say?’

The old woman sat down on the armchair, easing into it, and wondered if this comfortable position was to be her new life. The lean, white cat stared at her intensely, looked around, then hopped up on the old woman’s lap.

Mrs Turkington smiled as the cat clutched at her tweed skirt, tilting her head as her green-grey mane was scratched. The cat began to purr, long reverberations that soon became intermittent: torrents of dramatic silence between the exclamatory pulses. Eventually the animal swept herself into a ball and slept, her chin in the shape of a smile.

In seven years of feeding, caring and love, it was the first and last time the cat ever hopped up on Mrs Turkington’s lap. The old lady sat back and relaxed, and when someone dropped a leaflet through the door box sometime later she thought she heard the chimes lilt again. There was peace among their presences.

© Stephen Dineen 2013.

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