His arm is round the woman’s shoulders now and they’re both laughing. He puts his glass down and lifts his arm to point, waving his hand round in a way that makes her laugh even harder. He reaches back for his glass, shouts and lurches to his feet.
On the end of his arm, all four claws hooked into his hand and teeth locked on his forearm, is the enormous white cat, its tail lashing. He reaches his other hand round to try to tear it off and it whips out one paw. Slash! He pulls his hand back scored from wrist to thumb. He heaves his arm up, tries to shake it, but the cat is a dead weight. The woman is on her feet now, dodging from side to side as he stamps across the carpet, leaning her head round him to see the cat. She puts her hands out, draws them back, clutching them together across her bosom. He stops, bends his knees, turns his body sideways and with an effort swings his arm in a low arc. The cat hits the wall and the woman screams. The cat goes tumbling down the wall, its paws weaving, falls heavily on its back and springs to its feet, hissing. Fallen on his bottom, he is sitting clutching his hands against his neck. The woman kicks out at him, falls down beside him and begins to hammer on his face. He puts his hands up to protect himself and rolls sideways into a ball. The cat crouches, growling, its eyes fixed on him. The woman gets to her knees and reaches for the cat, screams again as it lashes out a long stroke down her neck and chest. He is on his feet now, trying to step over her to get to the door. She grabs his leg and holds on so that he has to drag her full weight as he semisteps semihops to the door. At the door he bends and wrenches her arms off his leg, their faces almost touching as she heaves her body up. Then he is out and half-running, half-falling down the stairs.
But this morning, as he scoops the beer out of the sink with a mug, Barry doesn’t remember the cat. He thinks he remembers hitting the woman with something heavy, maybe a lampshade. Why? That bit he can’t remember. But he hit her, he’s sure of that. Her body made a thud against the wall. The bright spot is, he’s pretty sure he didn’t kill her. He’s almost sure she came out after him, that she was yelling down the stairs. All the same it was pretty crook. Got to give up the booze, mate, he says aloud. He’s finished the beer in the sink now so he cracks open another. Just have this to settle him down. Get out of here up to Albury and go fishing.
It wasn’t his fault. Look at the state of his hands. Look at his face, for fuck’s sake. She gave as good as she got, the bitch. He’s not the type to lay into a woman without a bloody good reason. He’s not a mad fucker. She must’ve done something to deserve it. He runs a bath and lies a long time, topping up the hot water, dozing, working through the rest of his tinnies. When he wakes in the cooling water the sky outside the high bathroom window is grey. He sits up, thinking of souvlakis.
A couple of kilometres away, the white cat puts its nose to the stairs, twitches its whiskers, and thumps downward. At the foot of the stairs it noses round again and then sets off at a steady lollop. It is the size of a big rabbit. Down a grubby little lane it goes, its nose to the ground, its tongue hanging out slightly, stops as it comes to a busy street, raises its nose, its eyes darting from side to side. It hangs its tongue out and pants. It is the size of a small poodle. Then off again, its fat haunches rolling from side to side, its long fur blown back by the passing traffic. On it goes, over pedestrian crossings, through a subway, up and down the steps of a bridge, stopping from time to time to get its bearings. By the time it stops outside his flat it is the size of a Labrador.
Oh no! come back next week for the denouement.