The cat was strangely uncommunicative this morning. I was chattering away in my usual inane fashion (I think I was talking about apartheid, from memory) and she wasn’t saying a thing. I mean, she’s not exactly chatty most mornings, but she normally at least acknowledges my presence: heaving up her head and blinking in her slow, disdainful, lion-like way; flicking her tail in annoyance if my voice is making it particularly hard for her to sleep; charging my shins if I make a comment she vehemently disagrees with: that dogs are quite nice for instance, or that I don’t think Quentin Tarantino is a particularly good director. Today though, not a thing. I was starting to get concerned.
‘So, I noticed the mynah birds were out on the deck this morning,’ I said with deliberate casualness. (The mynah birds are her arch enemies.) ‘Must have been the seed I put out for them.’
Nothing. I tried again. ‘I was watching Reservoir Dogs yesterday – what a load of rubbish!’
Still nothing. I tried once more. ‘Speaking of dogs, I saw a new Alsation has moved in next door. A big one. Vicious looking. Ex-police I’d say. Very sharp teeth.’ (This was a lie but I was getting desperate.)
She didn’t even look up. I could only conclude that she was dead or in a coma. I hoped she hadn’t been trying to read Umberto Eco again. I’d warned her about that. I leant over to have a closer look…
The cat chose that moment to saunter in from the back yard. And it was then I realised that I had been talking to a pair of brown shoes for the past hour.
I phoned Richard in annoyance. ‘Will you please stop leaving your shoes all around the house?’ I snapped.
‘Can I call you back? Now’s not a good…’ he began. I cut him off.
‘It takes ten measly seconds to pick them up and put them in the bedroom. I don’t understand why that poses such an insurmountable challenge!’
‘I’m actually in a meeting with the managing…’
‘It’s untidy and slovenly. What would the real estate agent think if he stopped by for a surprise inspection?’
‘I’d be more worried about him seeing the cat,’ he muttered. This was the wrong thing to say.
‘What are your trying to imply?!’ I exploded, ‘That the real estate agent has better eyesight than me? That I’m completely blind?
There was a long pause. ‘Oh no, you haven’t been talking to the feather duster again have you?’ he said sympathetically.
‘Of course I haven’t been talking to the feather duster – I’m not a complete idiot! I’m just very upset about this shoe thing and I don’t think you’re taking it seriously enough. It’s an occupational health and safety hazard!’
‘Look, it’s not that big an issue. Shoes can be moved.’
‘Exactly – they can be moved. So in future, when you take your shoes off will you please move them to the wardrobe,’ I finished triumphantly, and hung up.
Of course, it wasn’t really the shoes that were the issue. It was my eyesight, which has never been particularly good (too many evenings spent reading under the covers as a child), and lately seems to be deteriorating rapidly. I now need my glasses to see the computer at work or to read a book, the 30cm between my face and the page constituting a ‘long distance’. And Fina’s ability to blend in with the furnishings doesn’t really help things.
I’ve always loved her beautiful camouflage coat – along with her sarcastic sense of humour, it’s one of her best qualities: a dappled tawny colour with flecks of russet, gold and black, it exactly mimics the effects of sunlight on the forest floor. It would be perfect if she were hiding out in the Amazon or fighting in Nam. But, you know, she isn’t. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen a more conspicuous cat.
I also should have thought more carefully about how I decorated the house. The brown sofa cushions were an error, as was the fawn throw-rug. The cat-sized teracotta pot on the patio was also a mistake. And the green armchair. And the bright yellow safety vest hanging from the door.
Because it isn’t Fina; it’s just my eyes: even if her coat was pure white like a gleaming patch of snow, or the warm glowing marmalade of sunlight caught in a jar, I’d still be mistaking scarves and shovels and pot plants and refrigerators for her.
And when I think about it, there are advantages to being a few vitreous millimetres away from legal blindness: without my glasses, I occupy a pretty, Monet-style world of blurred pastels and gentle contours. It’s curiously restful, like looking out through a window washed with rain, or drifting about underwater: the real world seems much too harsh, angular and sharp-edged in comparison. Mine is a magical world of metamorphosis: ‘What a gorgeous dog!’ I’ll coo, my brain mysteriously filling in the details, so that where my friend sees only a burly man with a gym bag under his arm, I’ll see him cradling a wriggling, bright-eyed puppy. ‘Look at that beautiful white bird!’ I’ll exclaim, while others see only a plastic bag tangled in the branches of a tree. In my world, an overflowing garbage bin is a gypsy dancer with a rose between her teeth. An ordinary mail box a long-necked jungle creature wandering lost in the suburbs. A child’s red balloon in the distance the most brilliant sunset ever. And the cat my constant faithful companion…
Haiku: Looking Out of the Back Bedroom Window Without My Glasses by Wendy Cope
What’s that amazing
new lemon-yellow flower?
Oh yes, a football.