By James Gray
Rosalind punched her arms out to either side as wide as she could, clenching her fists and stretching hard. With one hand she felt the warmth of the morning sun which shone through the shutters, creating tiger stripes on the duvet. With her other hand she patted the bed next to her until a sudden trill told her she had found what she was looking for. Agatha arched her back, a furry white circular saw blade visible above the soft peaks of the quilt, meowed and thudded to the floor, no doubt heading in search of breakfast. Rosalind slipped into her mules and, wrapping her dressing gown around her, followed Agatha’s heavy steps downstairs.
It was Thursday. The routine was the same every day but she liked Thursday more than any other day. Wednesday was such a non-day but Thursday, Thursday was nearly Friday. She grabbed the stumpy red pencil strung to the kitty calendar hanging from a loose nail on the kitchen wall and put a thick cross through today’s date. “Thurs-day,” she said. “You know what that means, Agatha.” Agatha sat on the worktop and licked her lips. “Tuna!” Rosalind opened a fresh can and began to spoon the contents into a small plastic bowl. “Patience, Agatha!” she said, scooping up Agatha with one hand, grabbing the bowl in the other and dumping both onto the floor.
Rosalind insisted on a warm bowl of porridge every morning, rain or shine. “Porridge power, Agatha!” she said, but Agatha was long gone. She scooped a thick dollop of treacle from a tin and dangled the spoon like a pendulum over the surface of the porridge, staring as the treacle circles disappeared one by one, and then began to eat. After a while the silence was broken by the rhythmic clanking of stainless steel on a near-empty dish and Rosalind glanced up at the kitchen clock. “Goodness!” she said.
Rosalind bounded upstairs – porridge power! – and grabbed a pair of jeans and a fadedáKnight Riderát-shirt from a chair in the corner of the bedroom. She began to hum and huff and puff as she pulled on the t-shirt and squeezed into her jeans, and removed a crumpled list of chores half-done from her back pocket. Going through the list she ran a hand through her hair, wincing when her fingers caught on a knot. Agatha came trotting into the bedroom.
“I don’t know what you’re looking at! If we don’t get these chores done before father gets home, we’re both in deep do-do!” Rosalind tipped out the laundry basket and scratched her head, wondering how she’d managed to fall so far behind on the housework. She gathered up the entire pile and, leaving a Hansel and Gretel-like trail of socks and sundry items behind her, made her way to the washing machine. She tossed in the entire load, turned on the machine and pulled out her list. “Right, what’s next, Agatha?” But Agatha was long gone.
Rosalind returned to the kitchen, lit the stove and watched the gas ring whoomph into life. So much to do, but there was always time for a cuppa. Rosalind enjoyed the familiarity of her battered leather breakfast chair as she waited for the kettle to boil, and once she had writhed and squeaked herself comfortable she began to gaze at the door at the far end of the kitchen. The gas whispered behind her and Rosalind sank deeper and deeper into her chair.
Rosalind!á”Ugh?” Rosalind was still trying hard to entrance the prince with her ethereal voice as the whistling kettle snatched her back from the tower room. Rosalind lunged from her chair and knocked off the gas. “Goodness!” she said. She squinted at the clock and rubbed her eyes. When the world was back in focus she looked at the calendar. “Thursday,” she said, and walked through the door that led to her father’s office.
With one hand she flicked the door closed behind her, the black tip of Agatha’s tail barely making it through before the door clicked shut. Standing stock still, Sergeant Major Rosalind inhaled, holding an invisible pencil between her nose and upper lip. She surveyed the three tall, grey filing cabinets which lined the far wall beyond her father’s custom-made oak desk, each containing alphabetical client files. When she was younger Rosalind had been made to help with the filing and she paused to gaze at the black felt-tip letters on the front of each cabinet. “A to H, I to P, Q to Z,” said Rosalind. “Zee,” she said. “It’s not zee, it’s zed!”
Rosalind continued her Eagle-Eyes inspection, head perfectly motionless as she scanned the wooden shelving which filled the right hand wall. Under the weight of cascading papers and trade directories the shelves bowed into a smirk. Rosalind snorted, and shifted her gaze to the old school desk behind the door on which sat an Olivetti typewriter. Rosalind heard her father’s voice: “State-of-the-art, that.”
Outside a tractor clanked and rattled past and Rosalind noticed Agatha perched on a stack of local newspapers on the coffee table in the front window. She bent to pick up the mail on the door mat, tossed the junk into the wastepaper basket and the rest onto her father’s desk, burying a single coffee-stained sheet of headed paper which read “JM Landscaping & Excavating Ltd.” Rosalind positioned herself behind the desk and began to shuffle papers like playing cards, picking up and nodding at the odd sheet before assigning each to a pile. “This goes here, this goes there, this one here, this one there.”
Rosalind laboured on until she reached the final document and held it up to the light for a better view of the faded print. “Urbanů lakesideů tender,” and dropped it into her father’s inbox. “Phewee!” She placed her hands either side of the four neat piles she had created and nodded her head, “done.” Then she rose from behind the desk and wheeled her father’s chair back into position, dead centre.
She pulled out her list of chores but her attention was drawn to the front window. “Look at the rain, Agatha! No wonder it’s so gloomy in here!” Rosalind folded her arms, cocked her head to one side to listen to distant wind chimes and watched the rain stream down the window like one of those glass wall fountains she’d seen at the shopping centre. Agatha rolled on her back and stretched all four paws before curling up again on her warm pile of newspapers. Rosalind kept vigil as the rain pounded on.
“See how it sparkles, Agatha,” said Rosalind. Orange beads continued to dance on the pavement below the street lamp outside the window and Rosalind waited through the next wave of commuters returning home. She strained to hear the crescendo of the train departing from the station on the hill behind the house, but was momentarily startled by a man yelling as he splashed through a puddle, holding a newspaper above his head. “S’only water,” she said.
Rosalind could see the bus stop across the road and another number 17 came and went. Every stop on the route and the time it took between each one was imprinted on her memory. It was the route she had used for the journey to and from school Monday through Saturday. With her father up and out early doors and always home late after a hard day on site, Rosalind had grown accustomed to looking after herself as well as her father. She remembered the one and only occasion in all her time at Notre Dame Secondary for Girls that he gave her a lift, dropping her off at the gates in his white transit with the blood-red lettering down the side and the tagline professing her father’s earth-moving skills. How quick Tabatha Maguire had been to seize on that one. Rosalind breathed in, exhaled hard and unclenched her fist as she did so.
The lull in the rain seemed to coincide with the drop in traffic and Rosalind looked out onto an empty street. Only now did she notice the stuttering street lamp which shone like an intermittent spotlight on Agatha; on, off, on, off. Rosalind ambled towards the office door and, disappearing back into the kitchen, said, “Beddy-byes, Agatha.” Agatha sat Egyptian-like, basking in the limelight, and pondered her next move before sliding from the stack of local rags. As she did so her tail slithered beneath the sun-bleached but still visible headline of the last issue ever added to the pile:Local Man Drowns in Dredging Accident.