“Readers who enjoy the prickly pleasure of stepping into a strange alternate universe will welcome Simon’s hypnotic second Blackie and Care mystery, set in a blighted unnamed city” Publishers Weekly
I watch the girl.
She is sitting at the desk, as she has since daylight, reading over the letter she has perused a dozen times or more, the page laid flat before her on the stained old blotter. I have eaten and slept, but lightly, in the hours that have passed, aware at all times of her slim form dwarfed by that old oak desk and the tension that keeps her hunched over that one piece of paper. That has her murmuring, anxious, as if by repetition she will soothe what worries her.
‘Tenant deceased,’ she reads out loud, and I believe she would argue if she could. ‘Vacate,’ she adds, reading further. The words stir something in me. A memory and a regret. But the girl only sighs and shakes her head. ‘If I had the money,’ she says, and falls silent once more.
This one room has been our shelter for weeks now. Our home. A shabby office in a rundown area of town, rented by the month by the old man who was her mentor and her friend. As much an efficiency as a workspace, with its kitchenette and the battered sofa, where I slept, yesterday, as the spring rains fell. As need drove her out, despite the cold and wet, to forage in our ruined city.
I woke as the paper slid beneath the door, which has been broken and must now be crudely barred. Guarded it until she returned, her worn cloth sack fragrant with broken fruits. Already, I had examined the notice, cataloguing the scent of the hand that brought it, the ink that forms the words as well as the strange imprint at its top. Markers I may once have known, but which now mean nothing.
The girl took her time with it as well, upon her return, staring at the imprint before putting it aside. With deliberate focus she then parceled out the contents of her sack onto the larder counter. Apples already darkened by decay, but which she separated into piles: wrinkled and sweet, bitter. Gone. She’d looked over as she did this, turning toward me, the question clear in her large green eyes, and I did my best to respond, settling myself comfortably on the windowsill and turning away to signal my disinterest in such vegetable matter, fresh or rotten. Only then did she eat, devouring one small fruit, fragrant with rot, and sucking each finger clean. She is hungry, this girl, to the point of weakness, and yet she would share her food with me, a cat.
She owes me nothing, this child, burgeoning on womanhood. Despite the time I spend here, my predilection for this sill and for a certain worn spot on that sofa, I am sufficient unto myself, a creature of the streets, and I have no need of her meager provisions. I appreciate her generosity, however. Few of her kind would choose to share – shelter or food – with such a beast as I, ragged and undomesticated. But I have little taste for what she consumes, the fruit of plants halfway to fermentation. Not in this form. In this life, and what came before is fading.
Even if I did feel such yearning, hunger burning beneath my coal-black hide, I would not take from her. My green eyes may seem distant, focused on other matters, but I see the blue tinge of her skin, the fraying lips. She is hungrier than I, as well as cold, and I – I would remedy both, if I could. For although I am a beast, I am not without heart. Indeed, I have tried to feed her, bringing her the choicest of my prey on several occasions only to see her turn aside. And as I cannot will her out of such dainty habits, I have taken to dining in private, sharing her company only once I have fed, before I return to sit and brood on lives past and that possibilities that remain.
I sit now on the windowsill, aware of how I must appear: a large, black cat at rest, my paws tucked neatly beneath me. As ruminative as any pet to the undiscerning eye, but what I brew upon is not fit for most to hear. My thoughts are dark. Although my eyes may seem to close, I remain alert. On a vigil. Waiting for what may come. For now, I watch the girl.
AS DARK AS MY FUR by Clea Simon is available now in hardback and eBook.
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