Jean hung her handbag on the back of the chair and sat down at the kitchen table. She clasped her hands neatly in front of her. ‘Mum, Sonia rang me yesterday. She’s worried about you.’
Maggie smiled at her daughter. ‘Don’t worry about her dear. She’s just a busybody.’
‘This is serious Mum.’
Maggie sighed, ‘What’s she complaining about now?’
‘It’s the cat.’
‘What does she expect?’ Maggie clicked the switch on the jug and turned to face her daughter. ‘Everyone around here has cats. We’ve got yards the size of pocket-handkerchiefs.
Cats fight – there’s nothing you can do about it.’
‘It’s a pedigree Siamese for heaven’s sake, not some street moggy.’
Maggie crossed her arms and stood with her back to the sink. ‘Well she should just lock it in the house then. Those Siamese are fighting cats and hers is a vicious little brute.’
‘That’s not the point. And it’s not the cat’s behaviour now – it’s yours she’s complaining about.’
‘Mine! I like that. I’m not the one standing on the back stairs hosing my neighbour’s cat in its own yard. You know she nearly got me last week. “Oh Mrs McManus I didn’t see you there” Stupid woman!’ She pulled out a chair and sat opposite Jean.
Jean fought back a smile. ‘And what did you say?’
‘I thanked her for watering my garden but pointed out that I wasn’t on holidays so she didn’t need to trouble herself.’
‘She didn’t mention that.’
‘Of course not. What am I supposed to have done now?’
‘It’s the cat litter.’
‘Cat litter?’ Maggie frowned, puzzled.
‘She says you are throwing it into her garden.’
‘I don’t use cat litter.’
Jean raised an eyebrow, not quite convinced.
‘Check the laundry if you like. George is house trained.’
Jean remained in her seat. ‘You know her first husband’s name was George.’
‘Well that’s not my fault. So what’s she saying?’ The kettle clicked off and Maggie got up and went to the bench.
‘You are supposed to have been throwing cat turds over the back fence. She got hit in the head by one while she was gardening And the day before yesterday there was a little pile of them on the front door step with a trail of litter going from her door to yours.’
‘Give me some credit.’ Maggie poured hot water into the mugs sitting ready with their tea bags. ‘As if I’d be so stupid.’
‘OK then, but can you try not to antagonize her?’
‘How can I not – I exist.’ She added a dribble of milk to each mug.
‘Do you want to know what she’s up to? She wants this place. Theirs isn’t big enough. They want to extend. Two terraces side-by-side would be ideal.’ She set the mugs on the table.
‘Where did you get that idea?’
‘Jeremy, you know, her stepson, comes in for a cup of tea and a chat when he’s staying next door.’
‘I think you must have half the neighbourhood through that door for a cup of tea,’ Jean smiled at her mother.
‘It doesn’t hurt to be friendly. I reckon her plan is to give you the idea that I’m going senile. Have you cart me off to one of those detention centres for the elderly. Then she can buy the place.’
‘Some people really enjoy living in those retirement villages.’
‘Well I’m leaving here feet first’
‘Mum!’ Jean wailed.
‘Alright. I’ll change the subject. Have a biscuit?’ She pushed the plate across the table towards Jean. ‘Now tell me what those little angels of yours are up to?’
Maggie looked up from the garden bed she was weeding as the wire door slammed.
Jean practically ran down the yard towards her. ‘Mum I’ve just been in with Sonia,’ she said, breathless. ‘She has your Staffordshire shepherdess sitting up in pride of place in her dining room.’
Maggie gasped. ‘My Staffordshire shepherdess?’
‘Yes. She said you gave it to her.’
Maggie stood up slowly and rubbed the dirt from her hands. ‘Why would I give her that? I can’t stand the woman.’ She frowned then said slowly, ‘You know she’s been quite friendly lately. She came in for a cup of tea and a chat yesterday. She was admiring it then.’
‘You’re sure you didn’t give it to her?’
‘Of course I didn’t,’ Maggie snapped.
‘You know you can be a bit forgetful at times.’
‘I’m not that forgetful. That was given to my grandmother as a wedding present. It’s well over a hundred years old. I’ve told your Melanie she can have it when she’s older. Why would I give it to that … bitch?’
‘Well at least she admits it came from you. I’m going back in there to get it.’
‘Would you dear? I don’t think I could face her. She’s such a bully.’
Jean strode back down the path. Maggie followed her into the house. She went into the laundry to wash her hands. Reaching under the trough for a new cake of soap, she carefully pushed a packet of cat litter further into the shadows at the back of the cupboard.
This story had its origins in a neighbourhood situation concerning cats – the less said the better!
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