- Vol. 09
- Chapter 01
The wind which persistently blew through the town eroded the sandstone façades. This corrosion had begun the moment the builders completed each property a century ago. Now, with many of the structures worn away and collapsing into heaps of timber and slate, most residents had left. Only four people remained, occupying a house which surrounding oak trees had helped to protect from the destructive blasts of air.
Of the occupants, two had not risen from their beds for more than a decade. The attic held one of the beds; the other lay three flights down on the ground floor.
A pair of live-in nurses tended to the supine patients. Occasionally, the nurses would pass in a hallway as they went about the work which kept their charges alive, but they never spoke or gave any sign of greeting. They continued walking with measured steps, twin-like in their uniforms of lilac dresses overlain with white tabards and aprons.
At mealtimes, the nurses took turns to use the kitchen. Here, they ate at a table covered with a linen cloth, a rare luxury in a dwelling of bare floorboards and functional brown furniture.
One evening, with the wind coursing round the oaks in its attempt to abrade the exterior of the town’s final home, the nurse in the kitchen heard a cry. She frowned, placed her spoon in her bowl of soup, and listened. A cat leapt on to the table and cried again.
The nurse sat upright; her shadow, silhouetted on the wall behind, became rigid. The cat, an intruder from goodness-knew-where, rubbed itself against the rim of the soup bowl and jumped on to the nurse’s lap.
Although she had no experience of domesticated creatures, ignorance did not prevent the nurse from acting; instead, professional self-control told her that this cat, sensing her dislike, would spring to the floor and disappear. However, despite the unwelcoming tautness of the nurse’s body, the sleek feline settled across her thighs.
Confused, the nurse placed a hand just above the cat. The animal responded by purring at what it saw as an impending act of kindness. Slowly, the nurse curved her hand, allowing her fingertips to stroke the delicate fur.
Absorbed by the cat’s warmth and weight, and its trust in her, the nurse failed to keep track of the time. After a while, the second nurse entered the kitchen, expecting to have the room to herself.
Careful not to disturb the animal on her lap, the first nurse turned and smiled. The second nurse stared for a moment and came to a decision. She moved to the table and placed the palm of her hand on her colleague’s back.
Presented with this unexpected scene of intimacy, the wind outside eased and died away.