February 1, 2023

Parapraxis

Writer's Showcase

THE VISITOR

14 min read

The Visitor

The room was silent, save for the occasional sounds made by Nigel turning the pages of his book. He had been engrossed in it for over an hour, comfortably slumped into the welcoming cushions of his sofa. Only two things had moved during that time: One was Nigel’s arm, which had reached over the armrest to pick up his bottle of beer a couple of times, and the other was Silverjack, his cat, who just occasionally had stretched out one of it’s paws, spreading and stretching open the pad whilst dreaming. It was a scene of calm and contentment.

In one of these moments of motion Silverjack’s paw had come to rest on Nigel’s withered ankle, and its claws had made contact with skin beneath his woollen sock. It felt just like tiny needles resting on the surface of his skin. They weren’t hurting, but Nigel thought the wisest thing would be to move Silverjack’s paw, just in case his dream happened to be about climbing a tree; in which case those claws would be sure to impale him, and Silverjack’s claws were razor sharp!  He put his book face down on the side cushion and leant forward, at the same time reaching down to gently move the paw. It felt soft, sleek and supple between his fingers, and as he moved it the cat luxuriantly uncurled itself, and without opening its eyes, stretched itself out long and lean in front of his feet.

Nigel smiled down at his pet, thinking that in profile he looked as though he was leaping through the air with his front paws stretched out forward and his back ones trailing out behind. He gave the cat’s luxurious long-haired grey coat a prolonged slow stroke, gently placing his hand on the top of Silverjack’s head and smoothing down slowly along his back, slipping off at the beginning of his tail.  Silverjack twitched his ears, arched his back to press himself harder against Nigel’s hand as it passed over him, and started to purr.

Nigel was sad for a moment. He could just see the lump on the underside of Silverjack’s belly. In reality, beneath the fur, it was like a golf ball hanging down, and the Vet had said there was another one growing inside, close to one of his kidneys. An operation was out of the question. Pills would delay the inevitable.

He just couldn’t imagine what life would be like without the cat. He’d had him for about ten years, and remembered back to the day when he had been handed the kitten by his next door neighbour at his previous house – all cute, tiny and skinny, big blue trusting eyes, just begging to be cuddled and loved. That is just what Nigel had done, cuddled and loved Silverjack. The cat, in return, had given Nigel love in many forms; including gifts… usually small rodents dropped out of his mouth at Nigels feet, or left at the back door step as had hapenned this morning!

Nigel smiled at the memories, and continued with the stroking. Silverjack was a wonderful, loving friend, who didn’t demand anything much, just the odd fussing… well, OK, actually a lot of fussing… and meals of tuna flavoured cat food, his favourite.

Silverjack lifted his head a little and turned to squint a look at Nigel through narrowed eyes. Nigel recognised that look, the one that almost demanded, pleaded even, for more of the stroking… more of the fussing. More… more… more… Silverjack was a glutton for it.

“There you go, old boy.” He said, chuckling Silverjack under the chin, and wobbling his flesh around in just the way that the cat adored. In return, Silverjack filled the room with his tremulous purr, and put his head back down, enjoying all the attention.

“OK, now… Think I’ll go get myself another beer.” Said Nigel out loud, draining the last dribble of beer that had been left in the bottom of the bottle.

He stood and walked through to the Kitchen to grab another beer from the refrigerator. Silverjack opened one eye, the one that wasn’t pressed into the rug, and watched Nigel’s departing legs with great fascination. Only when he heard the refrigerator door open and close, the bottle-opener rattle, the newly opened bottle fizz into life, and Nigel’s markedly uneven, limping footsteps beginning the return journey, did his interest wane: It was patently obvious it wasn’t going to be feeding time, so he flicked the end of his tail a couple of times, closed his eye again, and drifted off to sleep.

Nigel settled himself down on the sofa, picked up the book, and recommenced his involvement with the story. At almost that precise moment, he heard a rat-tat-tat at the window. It made him jump, and turning to his right towards the window, he saw the smiling face of an old man. He thought to himself, who the hell’s that at this time of night? Glancing at his watch as he once again put his book down and rose to his feet, he confirmed the lateness of the hour: Eleven thirty… who’d be out here at this time of night?

The figure outside the window slid along to the right, following Nigel’s movement across the room making for the hall and the front door, and must have matched his pace during the invisible part of that journey because as Nigel opened the door the face had just arrived there, and it had this enigmatic smile upon it.

Nigel took in the spectacle that stood before him, looking it up and down. Starting at the bottom were a pair of old, scuffed, brown shoes that hadn’t seen any polish for some considerable while. Leading down to the shoes were a baggy pair of dark trousers, their bagginess matched by a liberal splattering of dried mud. These apparitions could be seen poking out from beneath an old beige raincoat. A raincoat that gaped open beneath the waistline, where a belt of old string tied it together a little too tightly. Above the make-do belt, the coat was buttoned right up right to the neck. A chequered pattern scarf, ragged and partly fraying, stuck up from under the collar of the coat … and above that, was the smiling face.

Nigel thought that the face was strangely aged. A strange thought in itself. But it wasn’t really as old as it looked, he was sure. It had the appearance of being wrinkled, but the wrinkles, such as they were, were not very deep, and the tone of the skin was more like that of a younger person who had spent a long period of their lives in sunshine, slightly browned, and slightly paper-like.

“Good evening, kind sir…” started the old man, “…I wonder if I could trouble you for a drink? Water would do very nicely…”

Nigel had initially decided that this character was probably a harmless old man, but his extreme politeness when he spoke had made him wonder: Could he possibly be a bit of a scrounger? An old con man?

Nigel was inherently compassionate, so he gave him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, he imagined, he must be cold, too. He certainly looked cold. He imagined himself in the same position, and decided that he wouldn’t like to be in those old scuffed shoes in this weather.

The wind had got up, as was evidenced by the old man’s greying hair flopping backwards and forwards in the air that had started whistling around the porch. Surely his request would have to be met with compliance.

“Why don’t you come in out of the cold.” He asked. But the old chap just stood there unmoved, still with the smile upon his face.

Nigel at first thought that the man was deaf. So he made an exaggerated movement with his hand, and stood aside, indicating the old fellow should come in, but he remained unmoved. Still he smiled.

Next, he tried shouting a little… and repeated his invitation for the old boy to come indoors. No movement. Just the smile. The same unblinking smile. The same somewhat disturbing smile.

Nigel, perplexed, smiled back. “Look old fellow, you can’t stand out here in the cold. Please come in, and then I can close the door against the wind…” The smile did not change in the slightest degree, nor did the old man budge a single inch.

Nigel was now in a quandary: It would be rude to close the door on the fellow’s face, and yet he didn’t want to leave it open to the weather. What should he do? He reached forward and touched the sleeve of the old raincoat, pinched a little of it together between his thumb and forefinger, and gently pulled. His action had the desired effect and the old man stepped forward a few paces – until there was no longer any pull left from Nigel’s fingers – at which point he stopped his forward movement halfway through the door. Nigel repeated the exercise, and pulled him in for the next three footsteps so that he could move behind him and close the front door.

“Wait here then, I’ll go and get you a drink.” He said, and turned and walked into the kitchen.

It was while he was reaching up in the cupboard, to get a glass, that he relived the memory of the texture of that raincoat between his fingers. It was as smooth as silk. Soft and luxurious to the touch. Quite an incongruous sensation when he had expected it to be stiffer and probably a bit harsh. With a glass in his right hand, the cupboard door handle in his left, he turned and looked over his shoulder at the old man. “Would you like something else… I mean, not just water?”

“What are you offering my friend?”

In actual fact, old man having spoken did take Nigel a little by surprise, but he hid his surprise well, and suggested some alternatives to the water, “Well … there’s some beer… some wine… some whisky… I can make you a cup of tea… I have some nice green tea if you’d like that?” The enigmatic smile remained unchanged. Nigel continued towards the end of his list, which actually comprised every conceivable item that could be drunk in the entire house, “There’s coffee… orange juice… I have some Coke somewhere…” He opened the cooler to check, “…oh, and I have some Cranberry juice too I see…” He ended with a tonal question mark, hoping to elicit another response.

“Water will be fine.”

“OK, I have some bottled water here in the cooler…” He rummaged around through the bottles on the bottom shelf, and retracted the one with a picture of the sea breaking on a beach on its label. “Yes, here we are, ‘Day Fresh’ natural water… Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come into the kitchen?”

“May I?”

“Of course… You must be cold…”

The man advanced, rocking slightly from side to side as each leg proceeded the other down the hall, but he stopped once more when he reached the threshold of the kitchen.

“Come in… come in…” Nigel beckoned, pouring a glass of the water, and quite certain now that the problem was one of the man’s utmost shyness. He was obviously not deaf. Perhaps just reticent to impose.

The man entered the kitchen.

Nigel closed the door to the hall, and quickly crossed in front of the old chap to pull a chair out from under the kitchen table. He motioned for the man to sit as he pulled out another chair for himself. They both sat.

Nigel took yet another bottle of beer out of the refrigerator, and took a swig.

“So… what brings you out on a night like this?”

At the very moment he asked this, the man raised the glass of water to his lips and started to take small repeated sips, so there was no immediate reply, and the question faded away into infinity. And then Silverjack began nuzzling around at Nigel’s legs. Giving Nigel a little cupboard love; Some nuzzling… Some serious nuzzling… Some incessant nuzzling… Hopefully all in return for a dish full of food.

Silverjack, tail in the air, and leaning heavily against Nigel’s bad leg on each pass, walked first one way – rubbing his head against Nigel’s ankle – then turning, came back the other way to repeat the bribery.

The man looked down at the cat, “That’s a nice cat you’ve got there… Very loving, I’d say…”

“Oh, yes. He’s a loving cat all right… But at this moment there is a little more to his loving than just loving? It’s feeding time I think..”

So saying, Nigel lowered his left arm down and allowed Silverjack to stroke himself against it as he made his passes backward and forward around his feet.

“OK, OK, boy… I take the hint. You can have some food…”

Nigel made his way to the cat’s bowl on the kitchen floor, Silverjack in hot pursuit. And as he started getting a fork out of the drawer and then the opener to start a fresh can of food, the cat stood up against the kitchen unit, up on its hind legs as usual, and as usual impatient for the tuna dinner. But, amid this everyday feeding routine the man, looking down at the cat, said, “Come here little one…” and lowered a hand towards the floor making clicking noises with his fingers. The cat immediately transferred his attention to the old man, and trotted, tail high in the air, across the kitchen towards him, nuzzling hard against his hand.

“Now you are a very good cat, aren’t you…” The man said, carrying on a one-sided conversation with the obedient cat.

“Wow!” Said Nigel. “That takes some doing, that does! Are you a cat whisperer or something?” Staring in amazement at Silverjack, who had never… never ever… had his attention taken away from f-o-o-d before.

In fact, normally there was absolutely nothing that would stop Silverjack purring, rumbling, pacing backwards and forwards, jumping up on hind legs and meowing profusely around his feet until the food was served.

Nigel forked some food into the cat’s bowl and broke up three tablets of medication into tiny pieces. He was still looking at the unusual spectacle over his shoulder as he vigorously stirred the broken tablets into the food to disguise them.

“No, not a cat whisperer… I just love animals…”

Nigel placed the bowl of medicine laden cat food on the floor for the cat, who continued to make a fool of his self at the man’s feet. Rolling on his side having his tummy tickled; playfully patting the man’s shoe with his paw as his ears were tweaked, and generally going quite bonkers for all the fussing… as was usual for Silverjack.

“He’s a sucker for a bit of fussing.” Advised Nigel.

“I can see that?”

“Come on now… your food is ready…” Said Nigel, picking the bowl up again and putting it down to attract the cat’s attention.

“Yes… Now go and eat…” Said the man.

Silverjack looked up at the man at the sound of his voice, and then trotted over to the bowl. Once there, he started his curious combination of eating and purring which would have anyone think that he would choke himself to death in his orgasm of eating one of these days.

“You certainly have a way with cats.”

“Some would say that, I suppose.”

“Well I c-e-r-t-a-i-n-l-y would. That’s amazing!”

“It’s just empathy.” Dismissed the old man.

He then downed the remainder of the water. Putting the glass back down on the table with such care that it closed the last inch at a progressive and exact de-acceleration so that it settled on the formica surface without making a single sound.

“Would you like some more?” Asked Nigel, nodding at the empty glass.

“No… you have been very kind. One was plenty.”

“Are you quite certain?”

“Yes. Thank you… I must be on my way.” So saying the man arose from the chair, and started to walk towards the hall door.

“Are you quite sure I can’t get you something to eat?”

“No, my friend. You have been very kind. The water was what I wanted. That is all… I am most grateful.”

He turned himself towards the door, and stopped still, just looking at it. Nigel rounded from behind and opened it for him. “You are absolutely sure there’s nothing else I can do for you? Wouldn’t you like to get warmed up in front of the fire before you go?”

“No, no. I’m fine, my friend… I must go now…”

They reached the front door, Nigel ahead.

“Well, thank you for the water again.” Said the old man.

Nigel opened the front door. The wind seemed to have died down quite a bit, it was now just quiet darkness outside.

The man turned and held out his hand, Nigel put his forward to shake, and realised he still had the fork in his hand from the cat food. In the slight confusion that followed, the fork dropped to the floor, but their hands were so close together, so close to clasping one another, that they both ignored the fork and shook hands.

“Well, goodbye then…”

“Yes, good bye for now.” Answered the man, and then he walked forward and became swallowed up by the darkness outside.

Nigel stooped down to pick up the fork, and as he did so, he was sure that he heard the man say, “Have a good night now, Nigel…” but of course he couldn’t have done, they never even exchanged names. Still, all the same, Nigel poked his head through the doorway into the silent darkness, and called out, “Goodnight…” All that he could see beyond the few feet of pathway illuminated from the open door, was darkness. And all that could be heard was the gentle rustling of leaves in the trees.

Nigel closed the door and made his way back to the Kitchen, where he put the fork in the washing-up bowl in the sink, and then walked back into the lounge.

“Well Silverjack… was that strange or was that s-t-r-a-n-g-e?” He asked the contented cat, as he walked across the room to resume his reading.

Silverjack noticed the difference immediately, but being a cat, he couldn’t actually say, “Hey Nigel, buddy… Your leg’s better, I see…” Instead he made one of his prrrruuupp’ing noises – which in cat talk meant the same thing anyway.

Nigel sat himself down and picked up the book. As he did so, a small white feather dropped from it. Silverjack lifted his head and watched it floating slowly and steadfastly down towards him, and then, as it settled on the floor in front of him, between Nigel’s feet, he stared at it intently for several seconds understanding completely its significance. Silverjack repeated his comment about Nigel’s foot, “prrrruuupp.”

Nigel’s hand absentmindedly reached down and stroked the cat’s belly. The fact that it was now perfectly and absolutely smooth completely escaped his attention; he was lost in his book again.

Silverjack lowered his head back down so that it was comfortably and comfortingly half rested against Nigel’s left foot, and half on the floor. Then he started a contented purr… It was especially loud.

 

© Allen Ansell 2022

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6 thoughts on “THE VISITOR

  1. Oh my… This was quite an engaging read. I would have never pegged the stranger as a “miracle worker”. In fact, I thought he was some sort of con man that stole from people, lol. The prose ended well and I let out a contended purr at the end. At least, Silverjack won’t die now and Nigel will remain happy for a long time.

  2. A guardian Angel, maybe? But whatever he was it was a most enjoyable read, taking me effortlessly along, and I thought the ending just right – not laboured.

  3. Whoa! What the hell was that man. So damn good! The way it catches your focus and all your mind it was so good. End in the middle I was what’s going to happen next what’s going to happen next wish i could fast forward it to know what happens next. And the ending was tremendous. Keep bringing us these fabulous writings.

      1. The perfect description of Silverjack as a loving friend and the old man’s outfit was spot on.
        I also loved the way the author had fun with the suspense…it is really creative.
        While having such a strange visitor at night can be quite creepy, the events that unfolded and the lovely twist was really good. And it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

        This is an interesting read…from the first paragraph, it had an allure that kept me hooked till the end.

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