The Photographer's Cat
Copyright 1996, Sarah Hartwell

Alice Timms was a youthful sixty-four years old. Her late husband, Peter, had died four years ago and Alice had decided that it was time to get out and about and meet people of a similar age and equally youthful outlook on life. That summer she booked a Pastures New holiday to a picturesque part of Scotland to join another forty-nine 'retired persons' with interests in painting, drawing, rambling and other leisurely, but definitely, outdoor pursuits which were a far cry form the tea-dances, scrabble games, knitting circles and singalongs so often presented to people of her age as suitable activities. Alice far preferred to think of herself as a 'retired person' than an old age pensioner; after all she now had the time to pursue the activities put aside during her working life. Her only real regret was that Peter could not enjoy these leisure years with her.

Edgar Plucinski was sixty-eight, born of Polish immigrant parents and widowed for eighteen months following the death of his childhood sweetheart and wife of fifty years. He had almost resigned himself to the OAP round of scrabble and reminiscence about the past, but his children had insisted he get out and about instead of moping in his house. He was, as they pointed out, still hale and hearty and still enjoyed more vigourous activities than those available at the local Community Centre. Against his admittedly mild protestations, they had booked him on a week's holiday in Scotland to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his wedding to Sybil. Edgar admitted that Sybil would have heartily, even though she was not able to accompany him. Sybil had never been one for sitting around doing nothing when there were hills to be walked.

Coincidentally, Edgar lived less than a mile from Alice although they met for the first time on the luxury coach taking them from Dunstable to the even more luxurious hotel in the Scottish Lowlands. Like Alice, Edgar enjoyed capturing the scenery, but he preferred to use camera and Kodak while she found pencil, paint and paper a more satisfying medium. If forced to admit it, Edgar didn't mind the odd game of Scrabble to test his wits and keep him sharp.

For the first few days of the holiday, both Alice and Edgar went on the leisurely guided rambles offered by the hotel, he with is auto-zoom camera, she with a small sketch pad and pencil. Edgar kindly offered to photograph some of the scenes and put them through the express developer service at the hotel so that Alice could paint from them later although she far preferred to paint from life as the changing light revealed colours and textures and shadows as she worked.

Set in a valley, the hotel grounds were extensive and scenic, ranging from a formal garden to idyllic scenes of streams and stone bridges against backgrounds of mauve heather and green fern. A ghillie was available to assist those who wanted to fish in the river bounding one side of the grounds and Alice had made several quick and humourous sketches of would-be fishermen 'mucking about in the river' as she described it. In the early evening Alice frequently painted small watercolours of the scenery around the hotel and Edgar enjoyed the odd relaxing game of Scrabble or Bridge on the lawn, with the occasional turn at Croquet, a game which could be surprisingly competitive and strategic in nature.

Alice noticed that a marmalade and white cat which seemed to live at the hotel had taken a liking to Edgar. Although he paid it not attention, and hardly seemed to acknowledge it was there, the creature frequently chose to sit under his chair. It even trotted after him at a discreet distance when he chose to walk around the formal garden and the less formal, park-like hotel grounds. For a change from painting landscapes, she painted a small portrait of the pretty cat sitting on a rough stone wall against a background of muted heather tones.

A day or two before the fortnight was up, Edgar agreed to take some group photographs using his camera timer. The whole group giggled like schoolchildren as they Edgar jogged to join them before the camera took the photo and as they jostled into place for the pictures which the hotel would get developed before they left for home. When her copy arrived, Alice noticed the marmalade moggy sitting at Edgar's feet in her copy of the photo. She forgot to mention the pretty cat to Edgar until she was looking at her photos and postcards on the coach home.

"I didn't notice any cat," Edgar admitted, "I didn't notice one around the hotel grounds though I suppose there might have been a hotel cat."

"It was following you all over the hotel, it was sat right under your chair on the lawn some days. I even painted its portrait, it sat so still for ages that it made the perfect subject. Here, I'll see if I can find it."

Alice leafed through her art folder until she came to the painting of the marmalade cat sitting on the wall.

"Here it is. I thought it such a pretty thing that it deserved a portrait. I thought maybe you didn't much like it, but it still kept following you around," she said with a smile, "I never could get it to come to me to be stroked," she admitted ruefully.

Edgar put on his reading glasses to take a closer look. "Blow me, it looks just like Tiggy," he said with a half-smile. "Right down to the red blotch on her cheek and the notched ear - got that fighting the biggest rat I've ever seen."

On the journey home, Edgar began to tell Alice about Tiggy, Sybil's pet cat for many years. Soon he was talking about Sybil herself. It felt good to talk about his late wife, sharing thoughts he'd shared with no-one since her passing. He realised just how much he had missed talking to other people. For too long he had kept himself to himself, bottling up his feelings of loss and abandonment. Alice also found it good to share experiences. She had come to terms with her own widowhood over the last few years and suggested to Edgar that he join the social club in Dunstable - after all, it wasn't all singalongs and Scrabble (she said the latter with a grin); there were other keen photographers, some of whom arranged outings or occasionally obtained use of a the local art college's studio and the services of amateur models.

Their friendship bloomed as Edgar came out of himself. Sometimes Alice visited him and enjoyed looking through his albums of photos, taken all over the world. Alice had not had much opportunity to travel widely and found Edgar a great raconteur. Some of his photos were of Tiggy, the cat Alice had painted, and Alice had given the painting to Edgar. Alice, who was quite comfortable with the thought of a spectral cat, often told Edgar that Tiggy was still close by, she could see the cat sitting peacefully near him and suggested that Tiggy was keeping an eye on him. Edgar didn't doubt that Alice could see the cat, after all she had painted her far too accurately not to have seen her and he sensed that Alice was not the sort of person to make up such tales. He joked that he was being haunted by Sybil's little angel, a nickname he'd given Tiggy when she was young.

"She's sitting on the Chesterfield at the moment," Alice would sometimes say, since only she seemed to see the marmalade and white cat.

"Hello Tiggy, good girl," Edgar would add and the visitor would wash herself in satisfaction.

In a small family ceremony attended only by children and grandchildren, Edgar and Alice married on the anniversary of their meeting each each other and as part of their celebration they went together to the graves of their previous partners and placed their own wedding flowers by the headstones. It seemed only right that their departed partners should also share in their happiness.

One Sunday, after church, for both were regular churchgoers although they had previously attended different churches, they took flowers to Sybil's grave to mark her birthday. Alice noticed Tiggy sunning herself in from of the headstone. Before she could tell Edgar that Tiggy was making an appearance, the old man grinned.

"Hello Tiggy sweetie," he cooed, "Finally showing yourself to me, eh?"

Tiggy stood and stretched, luxuriating in the sunshine, eyes bright and ears and whiskers pricked. Then, as if satisfied with what she saw, she rubbed around the edge of the headstone and disappeared behind it. Neither of them saw the little cat again, but Edgar believed he had an explanation.

"I think Sybil wants us to know she approves. Life's too short to spend it moping so maybe she sent her special angel to find you and bring us together," and he gave Alice a hug, "now she needs her little angel back again."

Alice's portrait of Tiggy hangs above their fireplace now and in front of the gas fire Thomasina, an old and portly black and white cat from the local cat rescue, washes her whiskers. As Edgar would have said, had it not been obvious to both of them, Sybil would have approved.

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