There’s a sound like someone managing two sharp turns of a rusty bolt, then a cat walks in – or rather, rocks from side to side, easing its hips.
The cat is ancient, its fur clumpy and all over the place, like someone tossed a tiny black and white throw in the washing machine then slung it over some sticks to dry. The cat’s eyes burn fiercely, fixing it to this life. I imagine if it blinked, the whole thing would simply vanish in one, final, dusty meow, and the little black and white throw would gently settle onto the rug.
‘Twenty three’ says Agnes, pre-empting the obvious question.
‘Wow! Twenty-three! We had a cat that was nineteen and I thought THAT was old. But twenty-three…’
The cat stares at me: Say twenty-three again – I dare you – I double-dare you… I hear in my head.
‘Where did you get him?’
‘He was about one they reckon, with his head caught in a can. The fire brigade had to snip it off. It was in the papers. When I read about it I went down to the shelter. He was furious with everyone of course. But I spent some time there, sitting with him, just talking about this and that. And he seemed to come round. And when I asked if I could adopt him they said yes! And here we are!’
‘So what did you call him?’
‘Guess,’ she says.
‘I don’t know. Lucky?’
She shakes her head.
‘It was a tin of cat food. I don’t suppose he’d have tried so hard if it was an old tin of beans.’
‘No. You’re probably right. I don’t know, then. I give up.’
‘Actually I didn’t call him Tintin. The girls at the centre did. But it seemed to stick.’
‘Like the can.’
Agnes doesn’t respond to that; Tintin certainly doesn’t.
‘YOU’RE SITTING IN MY SPOT!’ shouts Agnes suddenly leaning forward. ‘THAT’S WHERE I LIKE TO JUMP UP!’
She sounds so cross I actually flinch. For a second I think she means I’ve inadvertently taken her place on the sofa. But – jump up? The last time Agnes did any jumping up was maybe the Marquee Club in 1962.
‘That’s what Tintin’s thinking,’ she says, relaxing back again. ‘But don’t let him bully you. Now then – where were we…?’