Here is the fifth in a series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub. Charlotte Comley is a writer, creative writing tutor and professional storyteller. Her fiction has been published by Ether Books, Darwin Evolutions, Flash Flood, Chuffed Books, Dagda Press and 1000 words. Her non-fiction work has appeared in magazines such as The Green Parent, Take a Break, Woman’s Weekly, The Motion Online and Grow It. She has written and published 10 educational resources books.
Punkat looked at the bowl of cat food carefully placed on the patio as if it was beneath him. Eventually, he eats some then gives me a slow, languid blink which makes my day, before disappearing through the hedge.
I move the electric wheelchair away from the patio and open the front door for the Ghastly Gina, my carer. My hearts lifts when I see Chloe.
‘Don’t hurry,’ she complains, shaking her dipped purple hair. Her dark eyes are enhanced by the flick of black eyeliner. She doesn’t wait for me to reverse, she pushes past me, puts the kettle on and then heads to my vinyl collection.
‘I can’t believe you saw The Clash live!’ she says again when she sees the photograph of me, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. It makes me sad the way she eyes the way I used to look. How she admires the ripped clothes, black turtleneck, drainpipe jeans and leather jacket complete with studs and safety pins.
When I was younger, and mobile, I was feral. I oozed sex appeal, broke girls’ hearts and pockets, refused to settle down. So when diagnosed with motor neurone disease, I was alone. Most people only see the chair; they don’t think about who I use to be. Not Chloe. Each time she comes I wonder if it will be her last. I recognise the itchy feet.
Chloe sits on the kitchen counter lights a cigarette, passes it to me. I shake, but manage to take a drag. She used to be my carer before she got sacked. Some of the older ladies complained about her smoking and swearing when she remembered to turn up. I adored the slight panic of wondering if she’d remember to show.
The key turns in the lock, Ghastly Gina. She sneers at Chloe, makes a small fake cough and opens the window.
‘And how are we today Mr Atkins,’ she says. How I hate the royal we. Chloe rolls her eyes in the delicious way of the young.
‘I saw that nasty stray cat again on the way in, I think you should stop feeding it.’
‘Fer... ferr...al,’ I struggle.
‘What dear?’ Ghastly Gina asks. She wipes my face with the tea towel; it’s another one of her habits I hate.
‘It’s not a stray, and it’s feral. That’s why its ear’s docked. Johno got the cat league in to capture them and neuter ’em when he first moved in. Didn’t Johno?’ Chloe says.
‘I’m sure Mr Atkins is thinking he’s doing a good deed, but it’s no good feeding strays. They should be rounded up.’
I struggle to speak. I want to tell Gina that will lead to more cats, who will move into the area.
Ghastly Gina. She takes the list with my spidery writing and crosses off cat food. At least today she doesn’t make the suggestion of me getting a pet cat, an animal I would never let out of the house, so there could be two trapped souls in the bungalow.
I struggle to find words of complaint. Tap the paper insisting Gina puts it back on the list.
‘Okay.’ Gina says. But like a true passive aggressive when Gina does the shopping there is no cat food.
I hope Chloe will visit again, but I’m not surprised that she doesn’t.
Punkat sniffs the bowl filled with rain water. I no longer get the slow, languid blink which used to make my day. I carefully scrawl CAT FOOD in capital letters and even manage to underline it. Then one day when Gina is pegging out the washing she deliberately kicks the food bowl under the bush and out of sight.
I let my mind run over the wondrous sarcastic remarks which would reduce Gina to tears.
Punkat stops coming every day. I’m lucky if I spot him once a week. The strange thing is that if I had my legs, I wouldn’t remember to feed him.
I take my frustration out on Gina. I’m difficult and stubborn. When I can speak, I swear at her. She leaves our visits in tears, and it gives me pleasure.
And then I used a word that she wouldn’t ignore. She announces that she will no longer visit, that the agency will have to send someone else. The old ladies love her; she’s reliable; she’s kind. She points out that I’ve never appreciated her.
It’s true, the Punkat and Chloe get my appreciation. I admire the selfish.
It was a simple mistake, but you can’t make them when you are in a chair. In a fit of fury, I’d managed to throw the panic button at Gina. When I tried to reach and pick it up from the floor, I fell, trapped my arms under my body, my face looking out through the patio door. Gina will not be back tomorrow.
I sleep. When I wake, there is a pair of amber eyes. Punkat. He looks into the living room; he’s never come this close to the house before.
He begins to wail and caterwaul. Like a human child who’s been hurt the cries get louder and more demanding. I hear my neighbour dragging a bin in the alley behind my house, and next, I see his head over the gate.
‘Good job you were able to shout for help,’ he says when the ambulance comes.
If they could understand what I was saying, I would explain it was the cat.
I look for Punkat when they strap me to the stretcher. They restrain my head. When they roll me out of the front door, I see him sat high on the wall. He gives me a slow, languid blink which makes my day.
And I realise that I may not have words, but I can give a slow blink in return.
Have a story you’d like to appear in The News? Send it to the Portsmouth Literature Worker, Tessa Ditner at [email protected] For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub Facebook page: facebook.com/groups/portsmouthwritershub