The crescent moon waxes her tips towards Venus and your hand reaches for the shovel. Always the same: four foot long, two foot wide and not a sound. No rustling in the undergrowth, no wind to speed the course – just the eerie silence that accompanies your backyard chore. Nanny always said ye had the gift, the ability to see ahead, but you didn’t believe her. Yet night after night it came: four foot long, two foot wide, the thud before you woke…
Your hand stretches for the phone, eyes blinking to the gloom. 5am. You flick to the news, fingers scrying, chest tightening, quickly forgetting your midnight vision to the looming storm – the country was preparing for lockdown. You stay the hours but sleep doesn’t come and decide to head out early, check the small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket, apply it liberally as you warily eye up the trolley handle at the supermarket. Some of the shelves are already empty, the wholemeal pasta standing ever steadfast in its row. A good sign – the populace was not desperate yet.
You force a smile at the checkout, watch as the lady scans can after can of cat food. She smiles back, a knowing kind of smile, pitying almost, that you would be seeing in the lockdown alone. You return to you flat with your weighted load, the cat waiting by the door, her lips behind the Perspex already moving, already screeching for the treasure within.
Tea never tasted so mediocre than when you had done nothing to deserve it. The hours slipping into days that lost themselves in a flurry of statistics, percentages ever rising. The cat seemed immune to it, devouring each meal like she had never eaten, pawing at your face as if your only job was to amuse her.
You’d never really been good at being alone. Even with the addition of the outside world the piercing silence of your own company was deafening. You had gotten the cat for companionship, had hoped she would somehow hold back the walls that threatened always to buckle. Instead, she filled the silence with her own screaming, an incessant need for attention, and you begin to long for the quiet you so feared. Eying up the emptying cupboard, you start to think your Nan was right. Four foot long, two foot wide. The cat or your sanity – you wonder which will be buried first.
Claire Loader’s short fiction has most recently appeared in The Cormorant, Harbinger Press and Crannóg. Shortlisted for the 2019 Allingham Flash Fiction Prize, she is currently on lockdown in County Galway with her husband, son and the world’s most annoying feline.