by Rebecca Swirsky
Your insides are raising a party, you say. The kind that continues until dawn and causes our neighbours to complain.
While you drowse, sleep-logged, underworld-bound, I turn from brown-plastic prescription bottles marching to the drum-beat of your illness (ta-dah) and stare instead at the painting over your bed. It’s a copy (aren’t they always?) of the Real Thing by Philipe Mercier, painted 1861, hanging in the Scottish National Gallery.
A rosy-cheeked girl in a white frilly hat holds a cat. If I pointed out this rhymes, you’d think me fatuous. We differ in opinion – it’s long been our way. You think the girl shy; I think she’s sly. You feel the painting portrays charm, gentility, beauty. I think it twee. You cling to the belief (when?) you’ll one day own a cat, black, just like that. For years you’ve pestered me, a sweet-sticky child bothering its mammy. I’ve been resolute. Cats give me fleas, I’ve said (yet again), one of my many (you replied) boring allergies.
Days tumble forward, chunky wooden steps clattering in time. You go on your drifting way, horizontal, melancholy, accepting with a queen’s graciousness those small gifts I bring you. A fleshily glowing orb of persimmon fruit, its taste reminding you of home, South Africa, an Elle magazine for you to pooh-pooh as you flick swiftly through its slick, glossy pages. A lipstick by Tom Ford, its outer case a golden phallic bullet, its cost outrageously expensive. I’d gulped at its price but took out my wallet anyway. You see, don’t you, how we love in the dark, blindly, faithfully.
And at the end of the year, when the leaves are yellow and crumbling and you a neat brushstroke fading from our bed, I’ll visit Battersea Cats home and buy us a cat. Most probably black.