I bring cats to Restful Acres. I guess they’re called therapy animals now.
I’m a widower, in my 50’s, and fortunate enough to have time on my hands. In the last few years, the faces here have come and gone, and some have become friends to me. My old Mum was a mainstay here, but she passed just over a year ago.
There’s an old fellow that came here about two months back. I don’t know his circumstances, but I can tell you that I’ve never seen him have any company. His name is George, and each time I come, I bring The Captain with me to try and cheer him a little.
Captain is a fat old grey tabby with a bent tail and only one eye. I “rescued” him from a sordid life on the streets, although I think he mainly resents being domesticated. But, he is gentle enough with people and affectionate to a degree.
When I come, George is always in his big rocking chair. It’s an antique, and no doubt belongs to him or to his family. Its ornate woodwork and plush upholstery seem at one with his ever-present cardigans of cashmere and their buttons of bone. Today’s colour is a pale mauve. Yesterday’s was pastel green. I think he may have one for each day of the week.
George does not speak. Indeed, he has never made a sound in my presence, save for the occasional and unavoidable escape of gas. I have learned that he has his own private nurse, and that he must have come from a well established family, for he is always impeccably groomed. No hair out of place, moustache trimmed just so, manicured hands, cologne in just the right amount. The nurse tells me that he is a veteran of two wars, and that he has not spoken since his arrival. She encouraged me to come visit him with the cat, as nothing else had seemed to reach him.
The first two visits I made evoked no response from him at all. I made no attempt to speak to him, save to ask him if he would like to hold the Captain. His startling eyes stared at a point a little above him and to the right, as if in contemplation of a thing terrible or celestial, and he seemed not to blink. The offer of the cat had no effect upon him, even if I set it gently in his lap. The third time I came, I noticed that while his big hands rested palm down on the flat of the rocker’s arms, his right index finger was keeping up a steady beat upon the wooden surface. Like a metronome, it never lost or gained time. After watching this for a spell, I realized that each beat was exactly one second. The clock on the wall confirmed this.
I will say that nine minutes had elapsed with his steady tapping when he stopped abruptly and turned his hands palm up. His stare did not change, but he leaned forward slightly and brought his hands together. I knew this was Captain’s moment, and I placed him gently into George’s hands. He leaned back, gathered the cat to his chest, and for the first time guided his gaze away from its singular focus. George was now present, at least for the moment, as he bent his head to study the purring animal he was stroking. I could not see his face clearly, but I fancied I saw a slight crinkling of that grey moustache as a smile of serenity spread. As he raised his face, his eyes were closed and wet with tears. His bottom lip quivered before he regained some control, and then he handed Captain back to me. I offered him a handkerchief. He gave the smallest nod, and took it to wipe his eyes.
Two deep breaths he took, then raised his chin once more, his eyes moving back to that point inscrutable. I then felt like an interloper, a voyeur, because I could see quite clearly that George was reliving something. Terror, shame, blame, courage, and things unholy were shown out in the rendering of his spirit. Now I knew that George had only been waiting. Waiting at the gate.