The House Sitter
The strange cat next to him is staring, her eyes bright green in the dusk. He looks out through the long windows. The light through the balcony on the side of the big house opposite continues to fade. The sun falls away. A goldfinch lands on a telephone wire and sits there without moving. From behind it has the shape of a bell. The windows are open. There’s the sound of blackbirds protecting their nest. He looks down at his gut. Silver droplets of sweat are going grey. There are dancing lights on the alarm of the house opposite. They dance right to left, left to right. Rapid footsteps approach and then fade. They come back and fade again. His right hand reaches slowly across to the beer bottle as light rain leaves scratches on the window glass.
They were there and then they were gone. A fortnight in Barbados, something like that. The door closed behind them all and then he was in there all alone. He had never tried Netflix before. He put it on and searched through all the films for something he knew. He watched Jackie Brown. What a woman.
He walked the rooms. Three floors and a cellar. Four bathrooms, yes, four bathrooms. He took a dump in each one and didn’t flush. He washed his hands, dried them, and dropped the towels to the floor. He heard the soft brush of footsteps behind him. The green eyes shone on the cool wooden floor. He rubbed his cock and kept walking.
There were books he didn’t know. Records he couldn’t play. Coffee he couldn’t make. Picture frames without pictures, lipsticks without lips. He walked across the patio, his feet cracking the shells of snails. He walked into the garden and fell to his knees. He gripped at the herbs, ripping them out of the ground, and then turned and lay on his back below the blazing July sun. Beside him was the plastic circle of an empty pond.
Dark now, he walks the rooms again. He sits down on the rug in the living room, his body distorted in the reflection from the switched off TV. It sits in a black baize before him. The piss sinks into the rug and leaves a spreading blotch. He gets up and walks down to the cellar without switching on the light. His feet bruise a little on the cold stone floors where the concrete has set in ripples. Passing the washing machine and dryer and a shelf filled with nails and glue he walks into a room filled with pigeons. They shift and shatter and shit. Flying around his head, they hit each other midflight and fall down. Feathers fall away and land on the blue floor.
Searing pain surges from his big toe. He limps to one of the four bathrooms. There are no longer any muscles on his arms. His swollen belly pushes at the mirror. There is a razor there, at the side of the sink. He looks at his beer gut and then back up at his beard.
He walks to one of the front bedrooms and looks through the window. Silver slug trails criss-cross the driveway where there is room for two cars to park off road. The ‘Flat to Let’ sign remains next door, red lettering on white board. Polish men carry planks of wood inside. There is constant drilling and hammering and banging and sawing. It is a haunted house of peeling brown paint and swollen windows, twelve separate studio flats housing single men and women at £350 a month. If he looks sideways he can see into one of the windows. A young woman sits before a wooden dresser applying make-up. He watches her until she is finished and then he moves away from the window, his neck sore and aching. In the living room he searches Netflix again. He watches Donnie Brasco while drinking bottles of Coors Light.
Jura campsite. The haunted scraping sounds of short eared owls in the night, like the sound of tearing plastic. And then the sounds from the distillery, and the oystercatchers and curlews in the bay. But most of all the throaty scraping sounds of the short eared owls at night.
Four-fifty am. Sunlight hits the tent walls. He zips open the door, looks out across the bay. Clouds have covered the sun. He pisses on the grass among a spray of midges. She won’t leave the tent. He puts on his midge hood and fills a pan of water from the burn. He puts it on the stove to boil. Swallows flash and glide and swoop and feast in the midge filled morning.
They pack up and fill their panniers. Then they cover themselves in midge hoods that reach down to their waists and cycle the long road back to the Feolin Ferry, where they hand their dampened tickets to the ferryman. Back on Islay, he stops for a moment to ask her about the wisdom of carrying on. She says nothing and cycles straight on to the ferry back to the mainland.
On the journey there, they had marvelled at the Paps of Jura, the quartzite rock glistening under a cloudless blue sky. He had run down the charger on his phone by taking so many pictures. It was only when he looked back at them that he realized he had taken none of her.
It was while they were drinking Jura Suspicion, one of a variety of single malt whiskies produced by the island distillery. A death was contained, somewhere in ill-chosen phrases. The football continued on the TV. It was the World Cup. Later they chatted to a German guy from the campsite. He was cycling too. He looked like a cross between Richard E Grant and Rutger Hauer, and said he was going to Colonsay.
He comes back with another crate of Coors Light. After watching The Color of Money on Netflix he lies on the couch in the living room, looking out through the long windows at the dancing alarm, and the light fading behind the balcony. There are the brightening green eyes of the cat. Rapid footsteps come and go on the pavement outside. Droplets of sweat cool on his body as he sleeps, and he wakes to the shrieking of the short eared owls.