I’d just left art school and I was fortunate to have secured a bijou wooden hen house with rotten walls in which to live, deep in the perimeter hills of the South Lakes. I had to climb up through a farmyard and cross a sheep dip to get home every night – the young farmer (who within a year of us leaving) died falling off a ladder whilst repairing a gutter) used to keep his dog Jen shut up all day in a hut with no windows – even in the height of summer. Despite the fact that that dog loved, respected and would do anything for him, I still winced each time I passed the man, in the knowledge of his such obstinate and ignorant behaviour.
My shack had low windows, flaking black paint and an outside toilet. With winter coming on,one of the most important things I did to the place was install a wood burning stove and so although the wind blew unchecked between the planks, I kept warm in that one room at least.
Night after night with rain lashing at the windows I’d sit in comparative comfort huddled close to the heat listening to the storm outside. One night above the hubbub of the gale and the whipping of spray on the glass I heard a noise – a scratching scrubbing sort of noise on the window behind the sofa on which I sat. Between the gloom and the sharpness of my own reflection, at first I saw nothing. Then I jumped back startled, as a pair of eyes met my own. It began again, and this time I made out a diminutive figure standing on two legs and tapping on the glass with a paw…
I froze. Not only was I not expecting a visitor in that storm, even less was I prepared for the arrival of a stranger banging on the window, demanding to get in. The fact that this figure appeared to be feline did little to settle me. A creature unknown to me possessing such clarity of purpose could surely be no ordinary cat. My whole being chilled as against all rationality, I sensed a violation – that I was being singled out as the subject of a visitation of portent – even malice.
My skin crawled. In retrospect I recognize that there was something profoundly gothic about this – the storm, the lashing of the rain and the arrival at the window of another being intent on attracting my attention. At the time I surprised myself by my own fear and it took several more minutes for me to pluck up the courage to consider inviting my guest in.
But I did and although I continued to be cautious I found that he was indeed a cat, a wet cat at that and that it seemed he wanted nothing more than to be stroked initially, and subsequently, to pace about the premises with great curiosity,even asking to go beyond the closed door into the cold bedroom beyond.
This pushiness continued to disturb me and before long, though it was still blowing a storm outside, I put him back out and went to bed.
Days later he came again and as the month of October unfolded he came with increasing regularity and although his familiarity continued to unnerve, I let him in with less and less argument.
I happened to mention his visits to a colleague of mine who lived further down the fell in the village and within days having aired it with some other locals, he came back to me with the story of how Brandy (for that apparently was his name) came to be such a persistent presence at the old shack.
Prior to my arrival, the building had been unoccupied for three or four years and although there’s no doubt that in that time the place will have gone downhill a bit, it is still hard to believe that the previous occupants, a family of two adults and five children had dwelt there for a period of five years. Towards the end of their stay the mother who had for some time been seriously ill, became bed-ridden and the father took increasingly to drink. One night as was customary, he declared his intention of going to the pub, but on his way out he asked his wife if there was anything she would like him to bring back. She asked him for a small bottle of her favourite tipple and off he went. At the end of a raucous night at the Red Lion, and a mile or so into his three mile walk back home, it occurred to him that he’d overlooked his wife’s request. Ridden with guilt began to despair.
After some further walking in the light of a half moon he became aware of a shadowy figure behind him. Turning to take a better look he recognized it as a cat. He knelt down and coaxed and cooed and stroked and before long, there on the road he befriended the animal who was apparently not at all shy himself. Tucked inside the warm overcoat of the still sozzled gent he was soon on his way to meet his new keeper who upon being woken from sleep and being presented with same cat was assured that this was the very Brandy that she herself had ordered.
None of this made me feel any better about his visits however. When they left, they’d abandoned him and like Argus he must have waited , night after night, month after month, season after season (unlike Argus he would have had to hunt, scavenge and find whatever way he could to survive) until at last, one cold and stormy night in September, three years later… the lights came on again.