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Frank Whiteside




‘Pet Hate’

Pet Hate

The room should have been cosy, but it was too cold. An ornate Victorian fireplace sheepishly housed a three-element electric fire; a single bar glowed a  dull red. Opposite the fireplace Emma dozed fitfully in her chair, an old blanket served as a shawl against the evening chill. A sudden movement startled her - the cat was upon her in a single bound - "Oh Cleo you frightened me are  you hungry ? what's the time?".

Emma glanced up to the clock, her eyes  narrowing to bring it into focus. Half past six and the day was as good as over. There was no-one to talk to - she scarcely knew the other tenants - there was  nowhere to go even if she could manage the four flights of stairs more than once a day. There was always the television; she looked at the mute grey box in the corner, the licence had run out last month and, well you never knew where those detector vans were. A rasping tongue demanded attention "all right Cleo, all right".

Emma gently pushed the cat away. It dropped quietly to the carpet and  padded expectantly toward the kitchen. Painfully she stood and followed; it wasn't quite so bad once she'd got going, it would have been easier if it hadn't  been so cold but, what with the cost of heating her money scarcely went anywhere these days. The cat rubbed against her legs as she struggled with the can  opener. Finally with food on the saucer and Cleo satisfied Emma returned to her  seat.

Quiet hung in the room broken only by a soft lapping of water from the kitchen. Emma looked toward the fireplace again, her gaze settling this time on the photograph. The cheap frame was tarnished with age now and she was no longer  sure exactly when the picture had been taken. The man was stripped to the waist, balding but well muscled, his hands around the shoulders of the boy who stood in  front. Both smiled self-consciously at the camera from some faraway summer  beach.

Denis had been no-ones fool, a hard working and sometimes hard drinking man few willingly crossed. She had known the side others seldom saw, the little poems he would leave for her, the small gifts. Sometimes it would be a trinket  or perhaps a bar of chocolate, another time it would be a flower. The poems had  stopped when their youth had faded but the gifts continued until almost six years ago; until the heart attack. Now there was just Allan the awkward,  hesitant boy who'd grown into the self-assured businessman she seldom saw. Of Course, he'd visit her more often if only he had the time Emma reassured herself. She hadn't seen him in months. Allan was always going to do those jobs for her when he could get round to it; he was going to redecorate the flat, he was even going to repair that banister on the landing out side her door. The  banister was of course the landlord's responsibility, she'd mentioned it once  when paying her rent; it was rotten and unsafe and someone could get hurt she'd said. The landlord had looked at her darkly and asked what she expected for such low rents, didn't she know people were queuing up for flats such as hers ? Emma  hadn't mentioned it again.

Someone was knocking at the door. Emma looked up in surprise, who would that be ? Then she smiled - Allan - it must be Allan ! She rose and hurried to the door more quickly than was good for her, if he  thought she was out Allan would be gone ! As she opened the door the greeting  died on her lips; the youth was perhaps seventeen, tall and too thin. There was a mop of greasy black hair, eyes of an indeterminate colour and the beginnings of a thin moustache.

Emma managed a smile and said the only thing she could  think of "yes ?". The youth did not answer but merely stared at her, or was it  through her ? He seemed to be having trouble focusing those queer eyes. She  repeated the question. Now the eyes lost their vagueness and bored into her own. 

Emma looked away. "I, we..." he began "we just moved in today , below you and..." his voice was high, nasal and there was an unpleasant odour in the air between them. "We seem to have run out of milk and I wondered if you... you know... had any  ?" he finished lamely.

Emma looked back up at him, the distant look had returned. "Yes of course" she stammered "I'll go and see". She turned away toward the kitchen; there was something about this boy Emma didn't like, best give him some milk so he'd be on his way. There was half a bottle left, it would  have to do. She closed the fridge door and started back.

He was in the living room. The eyes now were furtive, darting from side to side as if seeking something out. Emma moved toward him uneasily and mutely offered the bottle.  Ignoring it completely he pulled the knife from his back pocket and began to stare at the blade as if it possessed some cryptic inscription. "Actually... actually it's the money I really want".

"Money ?" stammered Emma "money ?" he  came toward her "yes money". "But I don't OOOH!" the punch sent her reeling into  the chair, the room swam, his voice came from everywhere at once.

"Yes you do" he sneered "pension money, savings - that sort of thing". He began to ransack the room. She could hear but not see, the pain forced her eyes shut. There was a  screech and the sound of something soft being kicked "bloody cat !" - Cleo -

"Don't hurt my cat !". Emma found there was anger in her voice for the first  time. The noises stopped; perhaps he'd found something that satisfied him but  she couldn't think what, she had nothing of real value. Footsteps came toward  her. She felt the knife on her cheek and screwed her eyes tighter still. 

"I'll be going now old girl, so just sit there a bit and it'll be all right". Footsteps going now to the door "and don't go telling people about this - I can  always come back you know".

The door closed; Emma sagged; it was over. Then from beyond the door came another screech, a shout of surprise and a strange, crumbling sort of sound. Seconds later - though it seemed much longer - there was a crash from somewhere below.

Silence. Finally Emma opened her eyes; she went to the door, opened it, went out. The youth was gone; so was the banister. Edging out as far as she dared Emma looked down. Four floors below the youth  sprawled like a smashed puppet. The eyes, though she could not see them, misting over in death. A movement caught her eye, Cleo darted back inside and Emma knew with certainty what had happened. The youth had trod on the cat, tripped and  fallen against the banister. The rotten banister that Allan had never got around to repairing.

"Thank you Allan" she said to the empty air and started painfully  downstairs to fetch the landlord.