When the McKinnons moved out from next door, they left their cat behind. Nobody really blamed them. The thing was an enormous fat tabby female which stank and had fleas. It was, more importantly, a vicious killer. Usually it lived on a diet of songbirds, but it would catch and kill mice, rats, other people's pets and whatever rare little furry creatures it could find. Nobody really bothered to feed it after the McKinnons left, but it didn't grow noticeably thinner. I never knew its name, but my dad always called it "you BASTARD, get the HELL out of my garden."
Not long after the McKinnons moved out, Miss Timmons moved into their old house. She was old, tiny, grey, timid and mouse-like. When she spoke, it was in a little excited squeak. When she went to the shops she moved in quick, darting movements and when she stopped to talk to me in the street she twitched constantly like she couldn't bear to be still for too long. I loved her.
I started to go around to hers for tea sometimes after school to get away from my house full of grabby, grubby brothers. She'd offer me a bit of bun, a muffin or biscuits or something and sit there nibbling herself, sending crumbs shooting all across the plate and her lap and the floor.
I found it fascinating looking round her house. I didn't know many other old people. She had weird, old-fashioned-looking latex undergarments hanging from the radiators. She had endless pots of pills and lotions and sprays and medicines cluttered onto every windowsill and side-table (I never saw her ill so I guess they worked). She had a chest full of dusty old necklaces she let me muck about with. Costume jewellery, she called it, but it seemed real enough to me. She even had a flowery-covered journal I was under strict instructions not to touch. I looked into it once when she wasn't in the room, but I couldn't read the tiny scratchy writing anyway.
It must have been about a month after Miss Timmons moved in that we saw the McKinnons' cat torturing a mouse in her back garden. It kept releasing the thing and catching it again with obvious delight. Miss Timmons was in tears when the mouse eventually died, which kind of shocked me at the time. That was why I was surprised, next time I went round, that she seemed to have adopted the cat.
The cat was sitting on a lacy pink cushion in Miss Timmons' front room. It had a pink ribbon around its neck and it looked embarrassed, if a cat can look embarrassed. "Do you know her name?" Miss Timmons asked in her squeaky little voice. I shrugged. "I'll call her Tibbsy," she decided.
The next time I saw Tibbsy, she was wearing a pink doll's jacket with a matching pink bonnet. She was trying, unsuccessfully, to stalk birds despite the weight of twelve or thirteen bells around her neck. I couldn't help but snigger.
Tibbsy never really had much appetite for cat food. If it wasn't small, warm and still wriggling, she wasn't that interested. When she stopped catching creatures she started to get thinner, but that wasn't really a bad thing. She was clearly well looked after. Miss Timmons managed to bathe her I'll never know how and get rid of the fleas, and she used to sit there brushing her fur for hours on end.
I don't know how she did it, but the poor cat got to be scared of its own shadow, and terrified of the little creatures it used to torture and eat. Running away from a wren, one day, it blundered in front of my dad's car reversing out of the driveway. We all felt the thunk and heard the sickening crunch. My dad stopped the engine and pulled Tibbsy out from underneath the wheel, but it was too late. Tibbsy had died instantly.
He took me around with him to break the news to Miss Timmons, because I was the only one in the family the old lady had ever really spoken to. She took the news fairly calmly, actually. My dad escaped as quickly as he could, leaving me to keep Miss Timmons company in her grief.
I felt uncomfortable. I was trying to change the subject away from the dead cat but Miss Timmons kept bringing it up again and breaking off into giggles. I assumed this was hysteria and it scared me. She sat nibbling a biscuit in her twitchy, toothy way as I made my excuses to leave barely five minutes after my dad.
Walking down Miss Timmons' front garden path, I thought of the squashed dead cat lying there on the tarmac and felt guilty I hadn't said more comforting things. I turned to go back to check the old woman was OK. Through the window, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I watched as Miss Timmons threw back her head and laughed. Then, with a characteristic twitch of her whiskers, she picked up her tail and scurried away into a hole in the skirting board.
My dad buried the cat. He blamed himself when Miss Timmons was never seen again.