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After Vince

After Vince

When Alice buys a house she inherits a cat. he's not the sort she really wanted so she decides he'll have to go.

5

Paranormal fiction / Magic realism


author-small

Mary Rogan (United Kingdom)


After Vince
It was a couple of weeks after Vince died that Alice started seeing the ghost.
It wasn’t Vince, although at first glance, it did look a bit like him. But this cat was female, and slimmer than Vince had been, and apart from anything else it had both its ears and all its tail. It could have been one of Vince’s many girlfriends, or perhaps it was the cat Vince might have been if he had been less of a battling Casanova and more of a lap-warmer. Less of an all-round disappointment, in fact.
This cat loved laps, particularly Alice's. Which was strange, she thought, considering that as far as she knew she'd never met it when it was alive. It did look vaguely familiar, but then, didn’t all black cats? She couldn't see it clearly, but she could see its shape, like a cat-filled veil, and feel a faint vibrating warmth on her knees.
Occasionally the cat would uncurl and spring soundlessly down, then whoever occupied the flower-sprigged armchair on the other side of the fire – Kate Farrell from next door, perhaps, or an unusually lucky Jehovah's Witness – would give a startled jump and spill their coffee. They'd continue to chat, but their conversation would become stilted and forgetful, and their pleasant, social expressions ones of alarmed bewilderment, which made Alice think that perhaps only she could actually see the cat. It made her feel strangely privileged, though she’d have like to be sure. She felt she couldn't ask if her visitors could see it, because either way, she'd look a fool. If they couldn't see it, they'd think she was bats; if they could, they'd wonder why on earth she'd asked.
Muriel (she'd decided the cat looked like a Muriel), didn't appear every day - not at first – and never outstayed her welcome: another way in which she differed from Vince. Vince never knew when he wasn't wanted. Or at least he did - and that was the problem.
A visitor who disliked cats? Vince, whom Alice would imagine to be safely out of the way, brawling somewhere, or canoodling with one of his paramours, would materialise, purring like a chainsaw, and weave round their ankles as if trussing them for the oven. A caller who was afraid of cats? Vince would greet them like a long lost relative: wailing; fawning like a feline Uriah Heep; kneading them with his massive paws; butting his bullet head into whichever part of their shrinking body they weren't able to shield. When eventually, like a gangster tired of torturing his victim, he'd had his fun, he’d saunter out insolently, leaving behind a traumatised guest and a catty aroma you could almost taste. And as one end of Vince smelt of mice and the other of unwashed bottom, the smell was a trauma in itself.
Alice had bought Vince with the house. He had never shown his face during all the negotiations, then when everything was done and dusted, he'd appeared in the kitchen, looking battered and bashful, like a man who despite his best intentions, kept finding himself in fights. His owners told Alice he'd be no trouble, and she'd thought, well okay, he wasn't the prettiest cat, but you can't always go on looks, and he'd be company for her. She'd been lonely since her divorce; it would be quite nice to have someone to greet her each evening when she got home from the bank.
But she soon found that the bashfulness Vince had shown on their first meeting was about as genuine as a photocopied fiver. His predatory behaviour in and around the neighbouring gardens was nothing short of obscene, and inside the house it became clear that in Vince's view, he was the householder, not Alice. When Kate Farrell called round, Vince shadowed her to her chair like a store detective. When the vicar arrived, wondering if Alice was a churchgoer (she wasn't), Vince laid half a pigeon on his knee then leisurely lapped the spilt tea, ate the dropped vanilla slice, and saw the quivering man to the door.
So, in the end, Vince had to go.
Afterwards, Alice told herself and everyone else, that he'd died in an accident; and in a way that was true, because she'd meant to run him over after only one go, but by accident, it took three. On the first attempt, her little green fiat did hit something, but it wasn't Vince. Some silly cat - one of the besotted girlfriends probably - had been sunning itself in the gutter in Vince's usual place.
“Disaster!” Alice told the ghost-cat, who was nestled, purring, on her lap. Muriel, who had taken to visiting daily now, often staying the whole day, gave a mew of what was obviously sympathy.
“Still, I managed it in the end,” Alice said. “Goodness! It’s amazing how fast a fat cat can run. I suppose it was a tiny bit cruel, but I took no pleasure in it you know; I was actually sick, clearing up the mess. But oh, the relief! In fact double relief, because now I don’t have his horrid little groupies creeping round.”
Then just as she said it, she remembered. A couple of hours before the assassination attempts, she’d seen what looked like a two-headed black cat, sitting on the drive in front of the garage. On closer inspection it had turned out to be Vince and another cat, snuggled so close, they’d looked as if they were sharing the same set of whiskers. The same other cat, she realised now, who’d been the unintended first victim.
“Oh Muriel! No! It wasn’t you was it? Oh it was! Sweetie, I’m so, so sorry!”
She stroked the cat’s nose; it was like stroking a cloud.
“Poor little Snookums. Silly old Alice. But you know … it was probably all for the best really. I mean - I know you… sort of … went first - but if Vince really was your one true love, you wouldn’t have wanted to go on without him, would you? So, actually, I was doing you a favour. Yes?”
She stroked the fairy nose again. “He was a bad lot, darling. You weren’t his only girlfriend you know, he had dozens. But you’re okay, now; you’ve got me to love you. And I do. I love you to bits. You’re so perfect. I only wish you were real, so I could show you off to everyone.”
The ghost-cat stirred and stretched and Alice felt a twinge of surprise.
Was it her imagination, or did Muriel feel heavier? And could it be possible that she was even beginning to look more substantial? Surely not. Although… Feeling foolish, even though there was no one to see her, Alice stroked the cloudy shape and gave a gasp of delight.
The fur beneath her touch was as soft as spring grass. The dinky stub nose felt cool and damp. The cat, fully visible now, reared onto its hind legs, purring, resting black velour paws on Alice's shoulders. Alice lay back in the chair, hardly daring to breathe; stroking the rose-petal ears; fingering the wiry strength of the waving tail.
Muriel’s rumbling purr filled the room. Her yellow eyes squeezed open and shut in bliss.
Alice closed her own eyes; felt the leathery little nose nuzzle hers. Whiskers like dandelion-clocks brushed her cheek.
“You’re so beautiful,” she whispered. “My own little darling. If only I’d known about you earlier, I’d have got rid of Vince straight away.”
The paws on her shoulders, nudged gently, edging her further into the pansy-patterned cushions.
“Oops, careful,” laughed Alice, struggling to sit up.
She opened her eyes just as Muriel, as daintily as if she were skirting a puddle, stepped up onto her face, gave a comfortable little wriggle and settled cosily down.
When the police broke in a week later, they told Kate Farrell that they couldn't work out why, when the rest of Alice was cold, her face felt so warm.
And what that purring sound was, the scene-of-crime officer said, was anybody’s guess.


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