“Here comes that cat again,” gasped Matron. The cat’s swaggering silhouette melted a vortex through the descending afternoon mist. “How exciting,” said Matron, the frail bump of Lilian’s pulse against her finger tips no longer holding her attention.
Dropping the blue veined hand back onto the bedcover she rushed to the window to get a better view of the visitor. Lilian winced as the crispy sheets slapped the paper thin skin wrapping her tender nerves.
“You know what the cat means don’t you Lilian? It’s an omen.”
Lilian summoned up a dreg of energy to force her eyes to look at Matron’s pinched face. Her dry stone lips twitched but failed to form words. Matron busied herself ramming the sheets tightly around Lilian’s icy body, oblivious to her patient’s efforts.
Lilian’s puny thigh spasmed as Matron’s finger nail dissected a lump from its motionless form. “He’s a messenger from the Grim Reaper,” she laughed, “The cat always visits just before one of our residents drops off the mortal coil.”
Lilian; a human statue, lay clinging to the tapestry of her life as the final stitches unravelled. Months of endless day had passed in the cocoon of her bed. Her eyes were tired from following the hands of the wall clock, each tick counting her out. Her ear drums rattled to the chaotic symphony of the nursing home as it ebbed and flowed incessantly.
She longed for peace. She prayed for comfort.
“Oh look Lilian, he’s come to your door! How splendid!” Matron chuckled coldly. “Come on cat… come and visit Lilian. It’ll be a happy release for her, and for me too.”
The cat prowled into the room, sniffed the air and wiggled his predatory whiskers. Lilian watched his movements with hungry fascination. A rosy bloom tickled her cheeks as she recognised her childhood pet mirrored in this snow white visitor. ‘Hello cat,’ she called silently. ‘Do come and warm my poor frozen feet.’
The cat leapt up onto the bed. His timbrous purr announced he had found Lilian’s icy feet. He curled himself around them as they slumbered numbly under the covers. His paws pounded as he began rapturously playing the piano, razor claws snagging the bedcovers. ‘That’s delicious,’ swooned Lilian’s eyes, ‘I can feel your rhythmic ripping talons. I’ve not felt anything for months. Wonderful cat, you have awoken my poor lifeless toes.’
Fluffy fur lifted and balled as the cat moved. It danced with the dust in the weak afternoon sunbeam dividing the room. The bed became a new world of exploration; his paws. Lilian’s breath held in a tight bubble as he drew invisible scenes for her delight with each swish of his upright tail.
“Russs- hhh,” popped her breath as he flopped his whole weight down to lay on her pigeon chest. Heart to heart, beat to beat.
Mesmerizing emerald eyes gazed into hers, the pupils expanding as his velvet purr soothed her.
“That’s right,” jeered Matron, “hypnotise her before she drifts off. I shall be glad to get this bed empty. There are plenty more folks out there who would willingly pay for this sunny room. People with healthy bank accounts who are a lot less trouble than Lilian.”
‘I’m so very thirsty,’ Lilian’s tongue clicked, though the syllables stuck stubbornly down her throat. Her faded blue eyes begged the Matron, ‘Water…. please rub some water over my lips.’
Matron hummed as she turned her back. “This blasted drip has stopped again,” she fiddled with the tubing that dangled down to leach onto Lilian’s knobbly veins. The steady bleeping of the monitor sprang back to life. “There we are,” said Matron, “that’s all sorted. Not much longer Lilian, it’s time you were off.”
She frowned and tapped her forehead, “Look at the time. I better ring the Undertakers, they can be a bit slow. I don’t want them wasting my evening. The sooner we get you processed, the sooner we can all go home and put our feet up.”
A sticky cloud of stale lavender perfume tortured Lilian’s nostrils as Matron bustled from the room. Slap, slap, flap echoed her large shoes as she stalked off down the corridor.
‘I’m feeling so deliciously sleepy,’ mused Lilian’s synapses. ‘Not the usual rollercoaster painful drowsiness with its bursts of waking agony.’ She slipped off her frayed coat of pain and threw it into a mental bonfire. The flames licked at the pain and she felt a surprising regret for the loss of its solemn company.
Her mind wandered over the hills of her lifetime. She replayed her favourite scenes, savouring their intensity. The distant echoes of her favourite songs pulsed inside her head. Her lips formed a lop-sided smile as her eye lids slowly descended to tie once flirty lashes with tender cheek bones.
Cat licked her face, his rough tongue dragging against her skin. ‘Let me sleep,’ her heartbeat begged him as it thumped through the covers to tango with his. ‘Let me sink into this peacefulness.’
Matron slammed back into the room. “I’ve called the undertakers. They will be here in a couple of hours. Let go Lilian! It’ll be for the best.”
Jingling metal singing against fine china jolted Lilian from her slow breathing slumber. She swam up to consciousness. Her ears rejoiced at the familiar jangling song of a spoon stirring a hot cup of tea. ‘I would die for a cuppa,’ said her tonsils and her stomach laughed at their joke.
Matron wiggled her bulky form into the downy cushions of the armchair opposite the bed. The dusk sun slid away to hide behind the thickening soup of fog that had bloomed from the earlier mist. She slurped her creamy tea and sucked hard on a ginger biscuit.
“Hurry along Lilian,” she chortled. “I’m sure that you must have someone waiting on the other side for you. Ha, it’s not like you’ve had anyone visit you here.”
The cat meowed and soothed Lilian’s flare of temper. He felt her anguish through the bedcovers. Purring a lullaby into her ear, he led her down through rainbow layers of oblivion.
‘Not long now,’ mused Lilian as the arms of coma reached up to wrap her in black velvet slumber.
Thwack! The crash of the door bursting open woke her with an electric jolt. The flustered undertaker and his assistant tumbled in to the room.
“So, so, sss -sorry to keep you waiting Matron, the traffic was terrible and I know you wanted to get off early…” The undertaker stubbed his foot against Lilian’s bed, shaking the frame and waking her fully. “Oh my God…” he spluttered. “Would you look at that!”
Lilian and the assistant followed the ashen undertaker’s pointing finger. Matron lay blue and lifeless in the armchair, a huge white cat curled on her lap. Her drained teacup hung from her stiff fingers and a piece of soggy ginger biscuit dangled artistically from one of her chins.
“She must have choked on her biscuit,” decided the undertaker. “Strange though, this old lady is still in the land of the living. And this is the one the Matron called me to collect!”
Lilian’s eyes stroked the cat as he stretched languorously before jumping from Matron’s lap. She noted the silken layer of white cat hairs spread evenly over Matron’s nose and mouth. A night breeze danced in through the window and wafted the snowy filaments away.
‘Praise be! They never noticed,’ Lilian’s heart sang. ‘Can’t have cat getting the blame, bless him.’ Cat heard her silent song and joined her on the bed.
He kept a stoic vigil as the room filled with a steady stream of police and officials. “Let’s get all the paperwork sorted. What a funny business,” they agreed as they discussed the exit of poor Matron.
‘I’m invisible,’ said Lilian’s eyes, ‘they’ve all forgotten about me. They’ve got more exciting fish to fry.’ Her fingers twitched against his fur as his paw knocked the cannula from her vein.
‘Meow, Me-Omen,’ he mewed rubbing his satin cheek against hers. He blinked solemn eyes so hard it was almost a wink.
As the dawn chorus ruffled their feathers and puffed out their chests ready for song, he bid her a final farewell. Lilian gasped a ragged breath and waggled her tongue. “This is heavenly. I feel better somewhere down inside,” she rasped deep into his fur. “Thank you and Goodbye.”