This is another extract from Sylvia's story. Sylvia is a character who haunts me and whose story may be on the way to being a novel!
“Blood Donors Required…… cats and dogs need transfusions too”. Sylvia squinted to make out the rest of the poster pinned to the notice board. The next line answered the question forming in her head. She looked down at Henry’s bulk spilling out of the cat carrier at her feet. He was sure not to miss a pint or two – maybe she should think of volunteering him. But then again, maybe not. Henry would not like that at all. He hated going in the car and he hated the vet. Like her, he lived an ordered and settled life. Unlike her, he seems to still like it. Henry was not troubled by the ripples of discontent that seemed to be heralding an oncoming earthquake in Sylvia’s life.
The door opened ushering in a whoosh of cool air, a scattering of autumn leaves and the scent of patchouli oil. The normally sullen faced receptionist beamed a wide smile.
“Hi Caroline. Oh, Pyewacket is in great form I hear.”
“Oh yes, I have been serenaded all the way in, in the car. She is as vocal as always.”
The sun broke through the grey clouds and the waiting room was filling with a soft buttery light. A large crystal hanging in the window was catching the sunlight and dropping tiny dancing rainbows on the tiled floor. The smile was still stretched across the receptionist’s face and the heady musky aroma of patchouli was making Sylvia feel dizzy and disorientated. The smell had hurtled her back to the hippy heaven of the Dandelion Market in the 70’s. Another life, another Sylvia.
“Sorry about this” announced the receptionist, “but there is going to be a bit of a delay. David is dealing with an emergency RTA. He should be done in about twenty minutes or so.”
“Oh, no problem. All is as it should be.” said Caroline “isn’t that right?” she added looking directly at Sylvia.
“Oh, mmmm yes, right. No problem.”
“Sorry about the racket though. Pyewacket sings like this when she’s nervous, or cross, or hungry, or bored…. In fact she sings most of the time.”
Sylvia smiled back and wondered how a trip to the vet had suddenly become so complicated. She is in uncharted territory here. What on earth was she meant to say to this woman and her singing cat, who was now sitting on the bench beside her, making her feel colourless and dull. Caroline was wearing a battered and torn pair of jeans, soft, tan leather boots with huge heels and a flowing, finely knitted, multicoloured top which seems to be shot through with golden threads. Sylvia is immediately reminded of her favourite poem, by Yeats. Yes, Caroline seemed to be ‘enwrought with golden and silver light’.
“She’s a Siamese, an awful indulgence I know. She’s fussy, only eats chicken which has to be cooked fresh every day. She is highly neurotic. Hates strangers coming to the house, which is not ideal in my line of work. But she has a beautiful spirit and her voice is so true that it clears the air of negative energies very effectively. We’re partners really I suppose, aren’t we Pyewacket?”
Oh God, thought Sylvia, is she talking to me or the bloody cat? How do I answer her when I have no idea what she is talking about? The cat’s spirit? Negative energies?
“She is very exotic.”
“What have you got in your cat carrier? All I can see is a rump of grey fur. Although I have to say whatever it is, it looks very relaxed.”
Sylvia looked down at her carrier, out of which poured her substantial feline.
“This is Henry. He is a moggie. And he is a bit overweight. He doesn’t sing, but he would prefer to be at home in the conservatory, taking the sun on his favourite chair.”
Caroline suddenly moved and placed her left hand over Henry’s carrier. She closed her eyes for a moment. Her nails are the longest Sylvia has ever seen.
“Oh, he’s a calm spirit alright. But he does seem to be a little upset. And not just because he is here. Henry is worried – could it be about you?”
Sylvia looked straight at Caroline trying to establish if this is some kind of joke. But Caroline returned her stare, her slate grey-blue eyes seeming to bore right through to her soul.
Sylvia felt her world spinning out of control. She was suddenly close to tears. Again. Only last week, just seeing that stupid ‘New Age’ book title, ‘Who Will Cry When You Die’ prompted a huge emotional reaction. She had come home and cried noisily and messily all over the conservatory, disturbing Henry form his deep slumbers and causing him to retreat to the calm of the garden.
Trying desperately to regain her composure, she smiled weakly at Caroline and said quietly “Oh I don’t think so. Henry was hit by a car a month ago and so maybe that is what is bothering him?”
“Ah – didn’t you know that cats are here to protect the feminine. Taking that hit was his way of trying to protect you from something. He is also signalling that there is something in your life that you need to attend to. Otherwise there will be more accidents. He is minding you – but you need to learn to mind yourself.”
As lone tear slipped from Sylvia’s eye and began its slide down her cheek, David poked his head through from the surgery, “sorry for the delay ladies. Henry’s next.”
Muttering thanks at Caroline and covered in confusion and swirling emotions, Sylvia stood up and bent down to pick up Henry. It is at that moment that her back went. She gasped in pain, dropping the carrier back to the floor.
James Tate Prize
1 day ago