Monday, September 17, 2007

Stroking the Cat

Further to my newspaper advertisement, I had a reply from an old lady who lived in Borth to say that although she wasn’t the woman I was looking for, she had a lodger during the late 1950s that was probably my lost love.

I had to look up Borth. I guessed it was in Wales because of the funny stamp on the envelope but where was beyond me. I soon found it on the coast of Cardigan bay, about eight miles north of Aberystwyth where only the Brummies would go – they have direct train lines from Wolverhampton to Borth.

When I got there I could see that the town had been popular in its day. Great four-storey houses lined the edge of the beach, the only road running from the southern hills to the mountains of the north (which weren’t, contrary to a certain art show I visited last week, red). The houses on either side of this road straddled the only patch of dry ground, there being a marsh (also known as ‘an area of outstanding natural wildlife’) on the opposite side to the beach.

The tide was out when I arrived, slipping out of the portal behind the Friendship Arms and startling a young lad sipping a cola in the beer garden.

It took me three minutes to find The White Dolphin which was not, as I had thought, another pub but a picturesque little cottage with a white door and a stained-glass fanlight depicting the aforementioned mammal.

“Mrs Wallis?” I said when an old lady opened the door. They’re very trusting, these people. I could have been anyone. A thief, a confidence trickster, an angel.

“Yes?” she said. “Are you the gas?”

“Er, no.” Tempted as I was to say yes, just for the deviltry. “You wrote to me about Lydia?”

“Well then,” she said. “You’d best come in out of the air.”

Who was I to argue? I waited while she closed the door and followed her in to a sitting room. It was surprisingly light and airy with a set of windows across the whole of the back of the house overlooking the sea.

“You’ll take tea?” she said, and I agreed. I looked at the décor while she bustled in the kitchen, almost surprised that they had electricity.

“Only I was expecting someone a bit older, see.”

Her statement surprised me. It was as if she’d had a whole conversation in her head while the kettle boiled. I thought of a plausible explanation for my search for an eighty year old sweetheart.

“No,” I said. “I just kept my looks.”

Mrs Wallis, or Edith as she insisted I call her, set out a silver tea tray on the embroidered tablecloth. “Do sit down,” she said.

There were three seats to choose from, two armchairs and a dining chair that had, to judge from its stern upholstery, been used as an instrument of torture for generations. One of the armchairs was obviously Edith’s, as it had a bag of embroidery thread on one side and a TV listings magazine and remote control on the other.

I bent at the waist to lower myself into the other.

“Not there,” she said. “You’ll squash the cat.”

I stopped myself and looked at the seat. There was no cat, neither living nor spirit. That said a lot about the state of Edith’s mind. I coughed and pretended to stroke the non-existent cat. “Nice puss,” I said. “What’s his name?”

She looked at me with a frown. “Mr. Timkins,” she said. “But he’s in the kitchen. I meant my embroidery.”

“Ah.” I picked it up. It was indeed a half-completed embroidery of a cat, the needle standing proud. I’m glad she warned me else I’d have had a prick up my bottom. Lucifer knows what she though of my mind after my pretence of stroking it, though.

She coughed. “Milk and sugar?”


Until the morrow. X

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