THE bell jingles diffidently.
Bridie whispers around the door jamb, ready to scuttle away at the least sign, “Am I on time? It is today, isn’t it?”
“Perfect, love. I’ll get a cuppa, shall I?”
She sidles to a chair. “I can’t stay long. I can’t leave my babies on their own.”
“No, of course not.”
She takes small nervous sips, her eyes darting everywhere and nowhere, then they brighten. “I’ve got another one, a tabby. I wasn’t going to take in any more, but she was left on my doorstep in a box, and her just a few weeks old. Too young to have left her mother, really. How can people do that?”
“You’re an angel in disguise, love.”
She goes pink with pleasure.
I haven’t a clue how old Bridie is. She could be sixty or a hundred; huddled into those shapeless clothes you’d never guess. Thursday she gets her money and her shopping: cat food, sliced bread and baked beans. Twice a week she goes to mass, and Friday she comes to me. The rest of the time she watches soaps.
The neighbours think she’s nuts. What I know is, her sense of smell died long ago. The doctor told me her house is a bio-hazard. Today she’s not so bad, but sometimes the smell lingers for hours.
She forgets she’s supposed to pay me, but I never remind her. I’m the only person she speaks to aside from the welfare. I’m about to ask does she want a once-over, but next thing she’s folded over, weeping silently. I sit on the chair arm and put my arm around her. “What’s up, Bridie?”
“They want to put me in a home,” she finally says, through her hiccups. “They say I can’t look after myself, but I do, don’t I? I have, since Tom left.”
That’s a new one on me. “Your son?”
“No, my fiancé. We were going to have babies one day, but I think it’s too late, now. He went to England to get a job. I said I’d wait for him.”
“I don’t know. He promised. I got letters. I read them sometimes. They say he loves me, he misses me. When the letters stopped coming I knew something bad must have happened, but I keep hoping.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” I say. Tom probably has a houseful of kids somewhere else, and grand-kids most likely. Probably deep in her heart she knows that.
“The cats are keeping me company till he comes home, but I don’t know if he likes cats. I can’t remember.” She dabs her face with a paper hanky. ‘If they put me in a home, Tom won’t know where to find me. And what will happen to my babies?’
“If he comes looking, I’ll tell him where to find you, and if you have to leave, I’ll look after you babies, love. Don’t you worry.”
“You won’t murder them?”
Jesus wept. “Cross my heart, I won’t murder them.”
She rests her hand on mine; I try not to look at her fingernails. “People say you’re bad, but you can’t be, if you like cats.”
To tell the truth, I don’t have a clue about cats, but what’s a girl to do? “If it happens, I’ll send you a letter every week telling you how the cats are getting on. I promise.”
As I watch her shuffle up the hill, I think, what a sad waste of a life, waiting for a shit bag who was too cowardly to tell her he wasn’t coming back.
I prop open the door to allow a breeze through.
That sorts the bloody bell out, doesn’t it?