• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 08

Varnished Floorboards

The decorating project had taken far longer than she’d expected. But as Fiske finished applying the final coat of varnish to the floorboards, and then stepped back from the room into the hallway, she believed her effort had been worthwhile.

Fiske bent to replace the lid on the tin of varnish. She felt something brush against her leg. A cat padded into the room and across the glistening floor.

‘No,’ Fiske said. ‘Come back.’

The cat ignored her. It turned and sat with its back to the cream-coloured panels that covered the wall.

Fiske frowned and inspected the floorboards. Oddly, the cat’s paws had left no marks on the sticky surface.

‘How did you do that?’ Fiske asked.

In response, the cat stared obstinately back at her. Fiske noticed the creature’s shadow on the wall’s panels.

The day is grey, she thought. The cat’s shadow should be blurred in such light. Instead, it’s sharp, as though unobstructed sunshine is coursing through the open window.

She closed her eyes and wondered whether the resinous scent of the varnish had affected her perception. When she opened her eyes, she saw two paintings propped against the wall.

‘What’s going on?’ she muttered. ‘Those pictures aren’t mine. And they weren’t there a moment ago.’

The nearest painting portrayed a cat dressed in Elizabethan costume. The animal’s face suggested pain and privation.


Varnished Floorboards

If I recollect, Fiske mused, the people of the Elizabethan era had an ambiguous relationship with cats. At one time, city-dwellers killed them in the mistaken belief they spread plague. Of course, rats spread disease; and once the cats had gone, the rats ran riot.

She gazed at the other picture. It showed a self-satisfied, vacuous feline dressed as an eighteenth century merchant.

Cats may sometimes look smug, Fiske thought. They’re not usually mindless, though. On the contrary.

Rubbing her forehead, Fiske addressed the corporeal cat: ‘I don’t know where you and these pictures have appeared from, but please leave.’

The cat narrowed its green eyes. Fiske knew that she shouldn’t attribute human motives to an animal. Yet, feeling those eyes upon her, she knew that in this centuries-old home, the cat intended to take possession of the freshly decorated room for itself.

In the hallway, Fiske gathered up the tin of varnish and the brush. With her free hand, she closed the door of the room. She never ventured to open it again.