The Cats of the Crescent
- Slamming Doors -
Emma sat on her bed looking out the window into her neighbours overgrown backyard. The sound of her drunken mother arguing with her latest boyfriend downstairs reverberated through the floor. It was 3am and she had school in the morning. But this was nothing new. She seldom got more then four hours sleep a night. She knew once the argument was over and the doors were slammed she would have to go downstairs and clean up the spilled wine, empty beers cans and turned over ashtrays. Otherwise she’d get it as soon as she came home from school.
BANG! There it was, the first door slammed. Followed by the thunderous rumble of her mother’s footsteps on the stairs and - BANG! The second door slammed. Time to shine.
Emma creaked out of bed, she was far to young to be creaking, but at twelve years old she often thought that this is what it must feel like to be old, like thirty-four or something. She made her way downstairs to the sitting room where world war nine had just occurred and opened the door to the outstanding disarray her mother had managed to concoct for her tonight.
“Wonderful,” she said with only the slightest hint of sarcasm, “Thanks, Mam, thanks a lot.”
And on she marched. Until 4am. Until the birds started to sing. Until the light of morning crept up like an uninvited acquaintance at the most inconvenient time. By then Emma was too tired to make the Everest like trek back to bed and so she pulled a musty blanket that smelled of smoke around her small frame and curled up on the couch and boarded the first bus the Dreamsville.
Morning cracked with a load bang that startled poor Emma awake far too soon for her liking.
“What now?” she said in a raspy grumbling voice. But she knew. Her mother was up. Then came the sound of smashing glass, followed by the delightful sound of her Mother, still drunk, swearing and cursing.
Emma meandered her way to the kitchen to find her mother, still in her crumpled clothes from the night before, on her hunkers, picking up shards of glass with one hand while holding onto the counter with the other so she wouldn’t fall over.
“Mam, what are you doing?” said Emma. Her mother looked up, losing her grip on the sink she fell onto the floor. Emma walked over to help her, putting her hands under her armpits and pulling her up.
“Shhhh” hissed her intoxicated mother, “You’ll wake my baby… hic.”
“Emma, my lil’ buba.” Emma shook her head.
“I’m Emma mam,” she said, “and I’m not a baby anymore.”
Her mother was now on her feet, though probably not for long. Emma looked at her until her mother managed to stop her eyes from spinning for enough time to focus on her daughter. A crocked smile spilled across her haggard face.
“Embub, lil’ Embub,” she managed before throwing up in the sink. It was then that Emma noticed a piece of glass stinking out from her mother’s elbow.
She couldn’t hear anyway. Emma carefully removed the shard from her mother’s arm. Probably not the best thing in the world to have done, so she realised when a stream of blood squirted, as if from a hose, all the way across the room and hit the wall opposite.
The blood drained from Emma’s face rather then her mother’s, who was oblivious. Reacting quickly Emma grabbed a tea towel and wrapped it around the wound and tied it tight.
“Ouch!” said her mother and reached for another glass.
“Stop,” yelled Emma, “be careful, you’re cut.”
“Don’t you talk to me like that,” slurred her mother.
“You need to sit down, Mam,” said Emma, trying to lead her mother to a chair. The tea towel was all ready soaking wet and a vivid red.
“I don’t want to sit down,” said her mother, wrenching her arm away from Emma. That’s when the pain hit her and the ever-increasing loss of blood caused her legs to lose their function. Emma was quick enough to get a chair under her and interrupt her trajectory to the floor.
“Mam, where’s your phone?”
“Your phone, where is it? I have to call an ambulance.”
“You’re not getting my phone, you’ll just run up the bill calling your friends.” Emma was all ready rummaging in her handbag.
“I don’t have any friends. Found it.”
“Hello. I need an ambulance...”
“Gimme that phone you little bitch…” Emma’s Mother tried to grab the phone, Emma moved back, out of her reach.
“Yes… Hello… I need an ambulance to 60 Scarlet Crescent… my mother has cut herself badly, she’s losing a lot of blood you have to hurry…”
“Where is the cut?” Asked the voice on the other side of the phone.
“On here elbow, I can’t stop the bleeding.”
“Ask her mum to hold the wound and keep pressure on it.”
“Is she unconscious?”
“No, she’s drunk”
“OK, just try to keep her calm. Keep pressure on the wound. There’ll be someone with you soon.”
“OK,” said Emma before hanging up the phone.
“See, I knew you’d be calling your stupid little friends, wasting my money.”
“Just shut up,” snapped Emma, finally reaching the end of her very long and very patient rope. “For once in your life do something to help yourself.”
“Don’t you speak to me like that, I’m your mother…”
“No you’re not! You’re nothing like a mother. You’re useless, selfish, mean… I should let you bleed to death. Maybe then I could have some peace.”
“You ungrateful little bitch. I brought you into this world. I gave birth to you…”
“I don’t know why you bothered. You forget all about me after that part. Motherhood is more then one act of childbirth. I’m surprised I even lived this long.”
“You don’t know how hard it was for me…”
“No, I don’t have a clue, I’m just the one who cleans up your mess at 3 in the morning on a school night, I’m just the one who patches you up because you’re too drunk to do it yourself, too drunk to even realise you’re bleeding.”
With that the doorbell rang, stopping the argument. A moment of breathless silence hung between them. Emma turned and went to the door. She opened it. Two smiling paramedics, a man and a woman in yellow coats entered the hall.
“Hello, love,” said the man, “How are you doing? How’s Mum?”
“Been better,” said Emma, “She’s in there,” pointing.
“What’s your name?” asked the woman.
“Emma,” said Emma.
“And your mother’s name?”
“Hello Melda,” said the woman as the two entered the kitchen, both noticing the blood on the wall and the floor. By now Emma’s mother was nearly unconscious. The woman kneeled in front of her while the man gently took her arm. Emma saw them exchange worried looks.
“Can you hear me Melda?” asked the woman, “You’ve had a accident and cut yourself. We’re going to take you to hospital.”
While the man examined the wound he turned to Emma, “Is there someone you need to call love? Another family member perhaps?”
“No,” said Emma, “There’s just us.”
“OK, well, why don’t you pop on a coat and some shoes and come along with your mum in the ambulance.”
“I should stay here. Clean up.”
“I’m sure your mum wont mind the mess.”
“Hah!” scoffed Emma, “You don’t know her.”
“Well, come along anyway,” said the man with a smile. Emma knew adults, the first time they asked always sounded like you had a choice, but the second time, it usually became clear that you didn’t.
“OK, I’ll get my coat.”
Inside the ambulance was cramped and cold. The siren made it noisy too. The man was driving and would occasionally smile back at Emma, as if she was supposed to be having a good time or sometime.
“It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m taking my drunk injured mother to the hospital,” she thought, “Please don’t smile at me.”
“We’re here,” said the driver.
Inside Emma separated from the paramedics and nurses as they wheeled her mother into a curtained cubical and while they were not looking she took of wandering through the halls. She peered into the darkened rooms and wards at the patients asleep in there beds. She was tired and longed for her own bed. Her eyes were stinging and she found it hard to focus, things blurred in front of her and the strange light and smell soon began to make her head spin. And for some strange reason the floor was rising up in front of her…
Emma opened her eyes to find a nurse looking at her.
“What happened?” she asked.
“We lost you there for a while,” said the nurse, “You fainted.”
“I’m sorry,” said Emma, trying to sit up, until an unspeakable bolt of pain hit her in the back of the head and forced her back down.
“My head,” she groaned.
“Just you lie still,” said the Nurse, “You got quite a knock.”
“She’s sobering up in A&E,” said the nurse looking slightly miffed, “They stopped the bleed and gave her a few stitches, she should be fine.”
“What time is it?” she asked. The nurse looked at her watch.
“Seven,” she said. Emma tried again to sit up.
“Where do you think you’re going?” said a nurse
“I have school,” said Emma, “I can’t be late again, I’ll be suspended.”
“I’m sure your principal will understand this time. Now sit, rest. You can go home a little later. We’ll call the school. I’m sure they won’t mind you having the day off.”
The nurse sat down beside Emma, her face now more serious. Emma suddenly felt very self-conscious.
“Is everything OK at home darling?” asked the nurse and took her hand.
“Why do people think they can call you Darling and Love whenever they want?” she thought to herself, “It’s a bit familiar for my liking.”
Emma gently but firmly took her hand back.
“Everything’s fine,” she said, “Thank you.”
“You know you can tell me,” said the nurse, “I’ll listen. I can help.” Emma shot her a fierce glare.
“OK,” said the Nurse and smiled and stood, “But if ever do feel like talking, even for just a friendly chat, let me know. OK?”
“Yeah. I will. Thanks,” said Emma, knowing she was lying, “nosey old so and so,” her mind began, “who did she think she was sticking her nose in, assuming I need help…” it rambled on like that for a time. Emma never noticed the nurse leaving and the next time she looked up a demented looking woman stumbled into the room. Her first thought was not to make eye contact with the mad lady, in case she tried to talk to her. Her second thought was realising that is was her mother.
“There you are,” slurred her mother, “They wouldn’t tell me where you were. Come on, we’re going,” she was quickly followed by a young doctor and two orderlies.
“Mrs. Willard please, you’re not ready to leave just yet,” said the doctor.
“You can’t stop me,” said Emma’s mother, “I’m not under arrest. Come on.”
Just then the nurse entered the room.
“Mrs. Willard, what are you doing?” she said.
“You mind your own,” said Emma’s mother, “I’m going home with my daughter.”
“Your daughter fainted and banged her head Mrs. Willard, she has a concussion, she needs to be kept her for observation…”
“Don’t you tell me I can’t take my daughter, she’s mine, you hear, mine.”
“Mrs. Willard, please do not force me to call child services.”
“How dare you suggest I’m a bad mother.”
“You are still drunk and you trying to take your daughter from hospital when she needs care. What else am I supposed to think?”
“I’m OK,” said Emma suddenly jumping up and getting to her feet, “I feel fine. Really. The headache is gone. I think I just need to sleep for a couple of hours. You don’t have to call anyone. We’re fine. Thank you. We can go now Mam.” Emma took her mother by the hand and led her into the hallway. Her mother scowled like a stroppy teenager as she swaggered by the nurse. The nurse ignored her. She was more concerned for Emma.
The door of their tiny terrace mess swung open and bounced off the wall with a clatter.
“I need a drink,” said Emma’s mother as she entered and made her way to the sitting room. Emma closed the door and watched her mother shoulder the doorframe as she walked into the sitting room, almost falling over. So she climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
She entered her room and closed the door behind her. The room was sparsely decorated. It lacked any sign that it belonged to a vibrant and imaginative twelve year-old girl, of course, Emma had not been vibrant or imaginative for some time. On the walls were the shadows of posters that no longer adorned her space. She took them down a long time ago, for fear of letting dreams cloud her judgement, letting hope be a false friend. Best not to get caught up with that nonsense. Best just to stay in reality. Last night proved, once again, that she had to be ready for anything.
She looked at the clock, it was 8:20am - she could still make school. She gathered her uniform. Her white shirt was missing.
“Where is it?” she rummaged in the closet to no avail. She went into her mother’s room, which was a complete mess, clothes everywhere, bed a mess, an ashtray full of cigarette butts on the bedside table and the floor, empty beers can and the smell, horrible and stale.
“First things first,” thought Emma as she held her breath and made her way to the window, drawing the dusty curtains and opening the window. It was then that she saw Mrs. Stewart from next door drive into the cul-de-sac and park.
Mrs. Stewart was her next-door neighbour, on the left if you were looking out of the house, right if walking toward it. She was a volunteer for the local animal rescue centre and she looked after the cats. The trouble was that the centre had no facilities so she brought all the cats back to her own house. So there were about twenty cats there at anyone time, sometimes less, often times more. Emma had counted thirty-five once out her bedroom window.
She watched as Mrs. Stewart hurriedly got out of her car, went to the back and took out a carrying crate. She seemed flustered, more so then usual, as she carried the crate to the house. Then something strange happened. As walked toward her house cats suddenly came from all over the cul-de-sac, from every gate, doorway, fence, nook and cranny and some of them, it almost seemed, from nowhere. They trailed after her, forty or more, like some kind of living coat train of colourful fur. It was the strangest sight she had ever seen. And what was more unusual was the fact that all the cats were completely silent.
Emma watched as Mrs. Stewart opened her front door walked inside. Only some of the cats followed her in. The rest seemed to know they were not to follow. They just stood to one side and allowed maybe ten of the others to pass. The door was closed and the others stood watching. Some looked in through the window while the others watched the street.
A beeping sound distracted Emma and she looked to her mother’s bedside table, her clock read 8:30.
“Damn!” - now she was late.
She spun around, spied a white shirt, grabbed it and ran from the room.
Emma felt uneasy as she left the house. She felt as if the cats might attack at any minute. As she quietly passed by she felt a sense of unease, a nervous anxiety in the air. All the cats were still, quiet and on edge. Only one of them watched her, a Siamese cat with pale blue eyes, watching her every move as she made her way down her path.
When Emma was a little way clear of the house she broken into a run, only glancing back once to make sure she wasn’t being followed. She was not. But the Siamese was still watching her.