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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Of Refinement and Spoilt Cats (A short story) C.A. Powell

"What are you going to tell her, she'll be furious?" Maggie May's Devonshire accent was always detectable when nervous. She pulled her shabby cardigan across her front, to keep out the autumn chill.

Charles ignored his wife as he walked brusquely towards the doors of Gatwick's airport complex - an intense look of urgency was etched upon his face.

Maggie looked comical as her five-foot-three-inch frame, jogged behind in an effort to keep up with his the long strides. "Charles, slow down please – you’re walking too fast."

He stopped and turned - Maggie almost crashed into him. "She's not expecting us Maggie. She'll come out of arrivals and jump on one of those doors to door buses."

Maggie sighed. "I would prefer to break this horrendous news to Elizabeth when she gets home. Not at the airport! Oh, I wish we'd never agreed to take care of her precious cat."

"We could never refuse - you know how she loves the thing. I have the whole matter worked out Maggie, she'll be all right, honestly." He was so cock-sure of himself, acquiring a nonchalant swagger, which she thought out of character for him, and somehow out of place with his unstylish appearance.

Going through the sliding doors, Maggie felt as though they were a nineteen fifties couple that had walked through a time warp. Charles and she would never contemplate going abroad for a vacation - they always took two weeks at Jaywick sands.

Excited holiday makers, dressed in designer jeans and various brand name sports clothes, were hurrying about excitedly.

Pushing her fingers through her untidy dark hair, she looked at the happy people. Many were older than her twenty-eight years and it made her feel left out as she lifted her pale blue eyes to look at Charles. His greasy brown hair was flattened to his scalp, and his side parting looking very outdated. His sad brown eyes returned her scrutiny, and she wondered if he felt the same way. He looked a lot older than twenty-nine - a six-foot four-inch skeleton covered in pale skin.

"Come on Maggie, let's sort this mess out." His enthusiasm was still unwavering.

"Why tell Elizabeth the bad news here? Please, let's do it at home - it would be better for her. She's going to be very upset." She felt more flustered than ever.

"Elizabeth will be all right. She'll come round when I tell her." He replied with confidence.

"My God Charles why are you so blasé about things? You've suddenly become a typical Yorkshire man, since knowing Elizabeth. You always try to act suave in front of her. What is it that makes you all so cocksure in her presence." She scoffed angrily.

"Let's not get on to that old argument Maggie." He huffed.

She watched dumbfounded, as he went into the tide of holiday makers that wandered aimlessly, reading signs, and searching for information about their departures. Here and there, bewildered children clung to trolleys that were piled with suitcases. She thought everything seemed so disorganised and wondered how anyone ever found their way around.

"Charles, wait for me," she hurried after him but was forced to stop as her path was blocked by a trolley of suitcases. She gasped as the monotonous sound of the announcer fanned out informing of another incoming craft. "Flight BA3127 from Rome will be arriving at terminal seven."

"That's Elizabeth's flight." She turned, pleased with herself - anxious to tell Charles. He was gone! Her eyes nervously scanned the holiday makers for his outdated form. He was nowhere in sight. Realising she would have to break the news to Elizabeth, herself, filled her with a more intense dread. Charles, she knew, would be running about like a headless chicken.

Resigned, she found a security guard who directed her to the relevant terminal, and like a condemned criminal, she stood amid a small throng of people - waiting for her neighbour to come through the customs.

Elizabeth made her entrance, looking radiant - adorned in gold jewellery, wearing an expensive full-length coat and high heel stilettos to increase her tiny five-foot height. At forty she still retained a young look that took ten years from her age. Her shoulder length fair hair had a beautiful shine, and swung neatly, like delicate silk curtains around her tanned face. Her inquisitive grey eyes were wonderfully complimented by black eyeliner and a twinge of blue eye-shadow - making male heads turn in her feminine wake.

Maggie secretly marvelled at her, for she always had wealthy young men at her beckon call, did a high profile job, and had a home furnished in the most lavish of manners. She was the Essex version of Za Za Gabor, boasting that men were terrific - though she would never marry, because there were too many scrummy ones to choose from and one, was never enough.

Her eyes widened as she came through the barrier, and a big beaming smile was fixed upon her face.

"Maggie darling, how divine of you to go to such trouble for me." She bent forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Maggie began to stutter and whimper before the charismatic woman. "Elizabeth, a most dreadful thing has happened."

A severe look appeared upon Elizabeth's face. "What is it, Maggie?"

"Well you know you asked us to look after your cat, Amanda?" stuttered Maggie.

For a moment, Elizabeth's eyeballs threatened to pop out of their sockets. "Not my Amanda, please nothing's happened to her, please Maggie no! Don't tell me Amanda is..."

"Oh no, no Elizabeth, nothing like that, Amanda is fine."

Elizabeth softened. "Oh thank God."

Maggie plucked up more courage. "Well it was Charles, you see, he decided to cook Amanda some liver because he said cats love liver and..."

"LIVER!" Elizabeth's face twisted in disgust. "He gave my Amanda LIVER. What happened to the filleted fish that I put aside for her! Has she been sick?"

"No, no Elizabeth. Amanda never got the liver! You see Charles was cooking it in your kitchen and set the place alight and..." she stalled and began to whimper. "Well, you see, by the time we got the fire brigade out and..." More whimpers followed.

"Is my Amanda all right? Are you sure Charles did not give her the liver?" asked Elizabeth.

Maggie frowned, perplexed as she visualised Elizabeth's beautiful kitchen cupboards going up in flames - followed by a quick flashback of the spoilt Persian cat, sitting next to a saucer of milk.

"Did Amanda get out?" Elizabeth needed reassuring.

"Yes Elizabeth, Amanda is fine."

Charles suddenly appeared with a trolley containing Elizabeth's suitcases. "Oh Charles, you absolute darling," smiled Elizabeth.

"Oh mon pleasure," he replied, giving Elizabeth a cheesy grin, which Maggie thought, rather syrupy.

"You naughty boy," Elizabeth's nose wrinkled excitedly. " My Amanda, LIVER."

"It was the only decent excuse I could think off," he answered nervously.

"Well," she replied. "I told you about that absolute peach of a man who's fitting the new kitchen for my birthday. The insurance man is a dear friend of mine, which will make the claim substantial - therefore, with your half of the claim, you can now take Maggie on that dream holiday you've secretly been planning."

Maggie thought her chin would hit the floor as Elizabeth's face turned into a bundle of shining joy and Charles wore a do or dare look of triumph. So the scoundrels had pre-planned the entire thing and it had all been for her and a dream holiday plus a new kitchen for Elizabeth. What absolute and wonderful rascals they were.

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